June saint Etheldreda

Not much is known about Etheldreda, and digging around on the Internet did not help much either. I could not find much more about her than is said in the usual book for saints: The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.

That states: "Etheldreda (in Old English Æthelthryth, meaning noble strength, known in medieval times as Saint Audrey) was one of four daughters of Onna, king of East Anglia, and was born in Suffolk in the first half of the seventh century. At an early age she was married to an ealdorman of the kingdom, but she remained a virgin. On his death three years later (c. 655), she retired to the Isle of Ely, her dowry. In 660, for political reasons, she was married again, this time to Egfrith, the king of Northumbria, who was then only fifteen years old and several years Etheldreda’s junior. He agreed that she should remain a virgin, but twelve years later he wished to consummate their marriage. Etheldreda, advised and aided by Wilfrid, the bishop of Northumbria, refused. Etheldreda left Egfrith to become a nun at Coldingham under her aunt Ebbe. Their marriage annulled, Egfrith married again." (and I am glad for him!)
Etheldreda founded the double monastery (for women and men) at Ely in 673. She oversaw the restoration of an old church there, reputedly destroyed by Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, and built her monastery on the site of the present Ely cathedral. For seven years she lived an austere life of penance and prayer, eating only one meal daily, wearing woollen clothes instead of linen, and keeping vigil each morning between Matins and dawn. She died around 678 of a tumour on the neck. She was revered as a woman of austerity, prayer, and prophecy.

St aethelthryth
By monk - Public Domain, St aethelthryth

Bede (in his Historia ecclesiastica) gives more information on her life and especially her dead body; it seems to have been uncorrupted after 15 years and was finally laid to rest in a marble sarcophagus in Ely Cathedral.
I could not find a statue, any depiction of her in her "own" church, Etheldreda's church in Ely, or even any prayer or other more personal text said to be written por prayed once by her ....; though I did find a poem/hymn that Bede wrote about blessed women in faith, which holds verses like these: "Yea, and our day likewise a peerless maiden has blessed; peerless our Ethelthryth shines". And:  "To Heaven all consecrated she lived, abounding in lofty deeds, then to Heaven all consecrated she gave up her soul".

Actually, I wondered why she would be still considered as a saint in our modern time. It seems all so far away from our needs of our time….

And then I thought how easy it is to frame others in the frame we want so that we can understand them… in that sense saint Etheldreda still teaches us humbleness and willingness to listen to those who are other than we know or understand.


The collect for saint Etheldreda on 23 June:

Eternal God,
who bestowed such grace upon your servant Etheldreda
that she gave herself wholly to the life of prayer
and to the service of your true religion:
grant that we, like her,
may so live our lives on earth seeking your kingdom
that by your guiding
we may be joined to the glorious fellowship of your saints;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Saints and Blesseds Page
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints 3rd ed. OUP, 1992.
I do not possess this book, I took it via an Internet source from the Diocese  of Ely, http://www.ely.anglican.org/about/etheldreda.html
I do not possess “the Bede” either.

  • Created on .