Posted by: anna | April 6, 2010

St. Hildelith, abbess of Barking

Today (24 March) we commemorate St. Hildelith, abbess of Barking (ca. 712). From Miss Dunbar:

St. Hildelid or HILDELITHA, March 24, V. 4- c. 720. Princess. Second abbess of Barking. One of the first virgins of the English nation who conecrated herself a spouse to Christ. She went for that purpose to a French monastery, where she quickly became so perfect as to be fit to teach and direct many other virgins, as their mother and mistress, in the holy discipline of a religious life. When, therefore, St. Earkonwald founded for himself the monastery of Chertsey, and for his sister, ST. ETHELBURGA, that of Barking, not being able to find in England ( where there were at that time scarcely any nunneries) a religious woman fit to model this new establishment, he invited St. Hildelid from France, and committed his sister to her care and teaching. St. Ethelburga was the first abbess of Barking; St. Hildelid the second. She lived to a great age ; the exact date of her death is not known. St Cuthberga, who in 713, founded the abbey of Wimborne, was one of her nuns and disciples. St. Aldelm dedicated to her his Book of Virginity (De Virginitate) and her memory was highly honoured by St. Dunstan, St. Ethelwold, and St. Elphegius. St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, is supposed to have meant this saint when he wrote, in his twenty-first Epistle, ‘What he learnt from the venerable Abbess Hildelid.’ With her are commemorated the nuns of her convent who, about 150 years after her death, were all burnt by the Danes when they ravaged the eastern shores of England, in the time of St. Edmund, about 870. Bede, iv. 10. Britannia Sancta.

Michael Lapidge’s ODNB article adds: ‘Aldhelm’s remarks imply that these nobly born women were remarkably well educated in the scriptures and in patristic literature. …[A]lthough little is known of Hildelith’s life, it is clear that she enjoyed intimate contact with the outstanding scholars of the time, and may herself be presumed to have achieved a respectable degree of education.’

Further, from Bede, Hist Eccl IV.x (translation from Medieval Sourcebook): HILDELITH, a devout servant of God, succeeded Ethelberga in the office of abbess, and presided over that monastery many years, till she was of an extreme old age, with exemplary conduct, in the observance of regular discipline, and in the care of providing all things for the public use. The narrowness of the place where the monastery is built led her to think that the bones of the male and female servants of Christ, which had been there buried, should be taken up, and translated into the church of the blessed mother of God, and interred in one place; whoever wishes to read it, may find in the book from which we have gathered these things, how often a brightness of heavenly light was seen there, and a fragrancy of wonderful odour smelled, and what other miracles were wrought.

More:

    Holy St Hildelith, pray to God for us.

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