Posted by: anna | February 26, 2010

St. Ermenhild, abbess of Ely

Today (13 February) we commemorate St. Ermenhild, abbess of Ely. From Miss Dunbar:

St. Ermenilda, Feb. 13 (ERMELINDA, EORMENGILDA, EORMHILD, EORMENHILDA, HERMYNHILD). Queen of Mercia. Abbess of Ely. Daughter of Ercombert, king of Kent (040-004), and SEXBURGA. Niece on her father’s side of ST. EANSWITHA, abbess of Folkestone, and on her mother’s side of ST. ETHELREDA and the other daughters of Anna. Mother of St Wereburga. Born probably between 630 and 640. She married Wulphere, king of the Mercians (656-675), one of the eight children of the heathen king Penda.

Oswy, king of Northumbria, had defeated Penda, overrun Mercia, and annexed it. He granted half of it to his son-in-law, Peada, who, however, only lived to reign a year, being poisoned by his wife. Wulphere, Peada’s brother, was then placed on the throne of Mercia, by the help of three of the chief ealdormen, and his position was strengthened by his marriage with this princess of Kent, to whom he promised to extirpate idolatry in his dominions, and root out paganism and superstition.

For love of his dead brother Peada, and of the Abbot Saxulf, he greatly favoured the abbey of Medehamstede (now Peterborough), which Peada and King Oswy had begun to build. He finished the work, and gave an immense grant of land to St. Peter and the Abbot Saxulf, free of all tribute, and to owe obedience only to Rome. To the hallowing of this church, Wulphere invited all his thanes and the neighbouring kings and bishops. With his finger he signed the charter with the cross of Christ, as did his brothers and two sisters, SS. KYNEBURGA (1) and KYNESWIDE.

About 666 Wulphere and Ermenilda received St. Wilfrid, when that bishop was out of favour with Oswy. They gave him an estate on which to build a cathedral for himself.

Wulphere inherited much of the ferocious nature of his father Penda, and was subject to fits of ungovernable fury. Ermenilda partially succeeded in soften ing his temper and making him more just and forbearing, but not before their two promising sons, Wulfade and Rufinus, had fallen victims to his unbridled rage. About this time, Werebod, a heathen thane, and great military leader, under Wulphere, wished to marry ST. WEREBURGA, Wulphere’s daughter. Her brothers, who were saintly youths, devoted to St. Chad and his teaching, objected to their sister marrying a heathen. Werebod, unable to defeat their opposition, poisoned the king’s mind against his sons, making him believe them guilty of treason. They were arrested, and finally executed. Too late the king found out the conspiracy of which he had been the dupe, and his heart was wrung with remorse. The murdered princes were honoured as martyrs. Wereburga begged her father never again to speak of a mortal husband for her. Wulphere set about fulfilling his hitherto somewhat neglected promise to promote Christianity. He and Ermenilda were in the habit of visiting St. Chad in his cell at Lichfield, and receiving instruction from him in Chris tian doctrine and practice. This teaching now bore fruit. Wulphere converted idol temples into Christian churches; he founded a priory near his own residence at Stone, where his sons were buried ; and in 674, yielding to the wishes of his wife and daughter, and supported by the counsels of St. Chad, he consented to allow Wereburga to become the bride of Christ. He took her to Ely, making a royal progress, attended by kings, princes, and nobles, who came as to a great wedding-feast. The Abbess of Ely, Ethelreda, queen of Northumberland, with her sister, Sexburga, queen of Kent, and a great procession of nuns and clerics, came out to receive the new postulant.

Wulphere died in 675, and was succeeded by his brother Ethelred. After her husband’s death, Ermenilda took the veil in her mother’s monastery at Sheppey, of which she became abbess when Sexburga went to Ely as second abbess. Ermenilda became third abbess of Ely after her mother’s death, and was one of the great patrons of that monastery, where she was buried.

Ermenilda’s son, St. Kenred, succeeded his uncle Ethelred as king of Mercia in 704, and ultimately became a monk at Rome.

Once a master was going to whip some boys, and they fled to the tomb of Ermenilda, calling to her to help them. The master caught them and beat them, insulting them by asking if they thought Ermenilda would always be the patron of their faults. The next night the saint appeared to the master and bound his hands and foot, so that he could not move them until he had called the children and asked their forgiveness. He was then carried to her tomb, and recovered the use of his limbs.


A propos of my recent musing about regional/local calendars, here’s one for Ely.

Holy St Ermenhilda, pray to God for us.

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