lundi 12 octobre 2015

Sainte ETHELBURGE de BARKING, vierge et abbesse

 'Gaude mater Ethelburga', British Library Harley 2900, f.68v 

Sainte Éthelburge

abbesse de Barking (7ème s.)

Sœur de saint Erconwald qui fonda pour elle l'abbaye de Barking, Essex, Angleterre. Eduquée par Sainte Hildelite qui lui succéda, on connaît peu de choses sur sa vie si ce n'est qu'elle est d'une famille ayant comporté de nombreux saints et saintes. Elle serait morte en 664 ou en 678 suivant les sources consultées.


Ethelburga (Æthelburh) of Barking V (AC) 

Born at Stallington, Lindsey, England; died at Barking, England, 678; feast day formerly October 11; feasts of her translations on March 7, May 4, and September 23 at Barking. The histories of the various saints named Ethelburga are confused almost beyond my ability to sort them one from another. Two, including today's saint, are said to have been the daughters of King Anna of the East Angles and died within 20 years of one another.

Not enough is known about Saint Ethelburga's life to make it remarkable to commemorate it more than a thousand years after her death except that she hailed from one of those incredibly holy families. Her eldest sister Saint Sexburga, married King Erconbert of Kent and greatly influenced her husband to order the complete abandonment and destruction of idols throughout his kingdom. He issued an order that everyone should observe the Lenten fasts.

Her sister Queen Saint Etheldreda was abbess of Ely. Her youngest sister, Saint Withburga, took the veil after Anna died in battle and live mostly in the convent she founded at Dereham. Her brother Erconwald, who later became bishop of London, founded monasteries at Chertsey, which he governed, and at Barking, over which he placed his sister Ethelburga. A late tradition notes that Erconwald invited Saint Hildelith to leave Chelles in France and serve as prioress at Barking in Essex. She was placed in the difficult position of teaching Saint Ethelburga the observance of monastic traditions while remaining in a subordinate role. Eventually Ethelburga learned and governed alone as a great abbess.

The Venerable Bede wrote that "she showed herself in every way worthy of her brother, in holiness of life and constant solicitude for those under her care, attested by miracles from above." He then relates several unusual events that occurred shortly before the death of Ethelburga, including the death of a three-year-old boy after calling out the name Edith three times, and the cure of Saint Tortgith of paralysis after a vision of Ethelburga (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer).
In art, Saint Ethelburga is depicted as an abbess holding Barking Abbey. Sometimes she is shown with Saint Erconwald, her brother, or with Saint Hildelith, who trained her (Roeder).

St. Ethelburge, or Edilburge, Virgin and Abbess

THIS saint was an English Saxon princess, sister to St. Erconwald, bishop of London. To the end that she might live entirely to herself and God, she in her youth renounced the world, and neither riches nor the tempting splendour of a court could shake her resolution; for the world loses all its influence upon a mind which is wholly taken up with the great truths of faith and eternal salvation. A soul which is truly penetrated with them, listens to no consideration in the choice of a state of life but to what virtue and piety suggest, and being supported by those noble principles which religion inspires, whether she is placed in the world or in a religious state, whether in opulence or poverty, amidst honours or in contempt, equally carries all her desires to their proper mark, and studies with constancy and perseverance to acquit herself of every duty of her state, and to act up to the dignity of her heavenly vocation. This makes saints who live in the world the best princes, the best subjects, the best parents, the best neighbours, the most dutiful children, and the most diligent and faithful tradesmen or servants. The same principle renders them in a cloister the most humble, the most obedient, the most devout, and the most fervent and exact in every point of monastic discipline. St. Erconwald considered only the perfection of his sister’s virtue, not flesh and blood, when he appointed her abbess of the great nunnery which he had founded at Barking in Essex. Ethelburge, by her example and spirit, sweetly led on all the chaste spouses of Christ in that numerous house in the paths of true virtue and Christian perfection. How entirely they were dead both to the world and to themselves, and how perfectly divine charity reigned in their souls, appeared by the ardour with which they unanimously sighed after the dissolution of their earthly tabernacle, desiring to be clothed with immortality; in the mean time exerting continually their whole strength and all their affections that they might not be found naked when they should appear before God. When a raging pestilence swept off a part of this community, in 664, all rejoiced in their last moments, and thought even every day and every hour, long before they went to the possession of their God, to love and praise whom with all their powers, and without interruption for eternity, was the pure and vehement desire with which they were inflamed; and the living envied the dying. The comfort of those that survived was in the divine will, and in knowing their retardment could be but for a moment, that they might labour perfectly to purify their hearts, before they were united to their friends, the saints, and swallowed up in a glorious immortality. St. Ethelburge survived this mortality for the support and comfort of the rest. Having sent before her so many saints to heaven, she met her own death with a great spirit, 1 and her glory was manifested by miraculous visions. See Bede, l. 4, c. 6, 10. St. Ethelburge’s body was honoured at Nunnaminstre in Winchester. Leland Collect. t. 1, p. 10.

Note 1. Ecclus. xlviii. 24. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.


St. Ethelburga of Barking,

Abbess of Barking

(Died AD 675)

St. Ethelburga was first Abbess of Barking. Of the family of Offa, King of Essex, she was sister of St. Erconwald, Bishop of London. Before his promotion to the bishopric, the latter founded two famous monasteries: one for himself at Chertsey (Surrey) and the other at Barking (Essex) for his sister. He invited St. Hildelith, from Chelles in France, to teach Ethelburga the monastic customs. Ethelburga proved herself a sister worthy of such a brother and Barking became celebrated, not only for the fervour of its nuns, but for the zeal they displayed for the study of the Holy Scriptures, the fathers of the Church and even the classic tongues. Like her brother, she had the gift of miracles.

Hers was a double monastery. It is recorded that when the pestilence of AD 664 ravaged the country and the ranks of the monks were being rapidly thinned by the terrible scourge, Ethelburga consulted her nuns as to where they would themselves wish to be buried when the pestilence came to their part of the monastery. Nothing was decided until one night, at the end of matins, soon after midnight, the nuns had left the oratory to pray beside the graves of the departed monks, when suddenly they saw a light which seemed to cover them as with a shining shroud. It was brighter than the Sun at noonday. The sisters, alarmed, left off singing and the light, rising from that place, moved to the south of the monastery and west of the oratory. After some time, it was drawn up again to heaven. All took this as a heavenly sign to show the place where their bodies were to rest. Several revelations were made to the nuns during this plague as to the deaths of each other. St. Tortgith had a vision of a glorified body, wrapped in a shining sheet, being drawn up to heaven by cords brighter than gold. Within a few days, the Abbess Ethelburga died - on 11th October AD 675 - and so fulfilled the vision. The church of St. Ethelburga in Bishopsgate is named in commemoration of this saint.

Edited from Agnes Dunbar's "A Dictionary of Saintly Women" (1904).


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