Posted by: anna | May 31, 2010

St Elgiva

Today (18 May) we commemorate St. Elgiva (AElfgifu, Elfgyva), mother of St. Edgar and abbess of Shaftesbury (944). From Dr Baring-Gould:

S. ELFGYVA, Queen (a.d. 971.)

[Anglican Martyrologies, but by some on May 5 th. By Mayhew on June 30th. Authorities : William of Malmesbury, Florence of Worcester, and Roger of Hoveden.]

S. Elfgyva was queen of Edmund the Magnificent, who came to the throne of England in 940, succeeding his brother Athelstan. Edmund did not reign long. In the year 945 he was keeping the feast of S. Augustine of Canterbury at Pucklechurch, in Gloucestershire, and there came into the hall one Liofa, a robber, whom he had banished six years before. This man went and sat down by one of the chiefs, near the king himself. Edmund bade his cup-bearer remove him; but instead of going, Liofa tried to kill the cup-bearer. Then the king got up and went to help his servant, and seized Liofa by the hair and threw him on the ground, but the robber had a dagger, and stabbed the king from below. Liofa was cut to pieces at once by the king’s men, but Edmund died of the wound. Elfgyva and Edmund had two sons, Edwy and Edgar, but as they were very young, Edred, the brother of Edmund, was chosen to succeed him. He must have been a young man himself, for his elder brother Edmund was only twenty-four when he was killed. Edgar was born in 943.

The poor young queen had lost her husband early, but this was the least of her sorrows. In her widowhood she laboured to heal the wounds of the sufferers. “She was the adviser and ennobler of the whole kingdom, the consoler of the Church, the support of the needy and the oppressed.” ‘

But her heart was wrung by the vicious conduct of Edwy, her eldest son, whose wantonness became a general scandal. Edwy became king in 955, and was succeeded by his brother Edgar, whose morals were in no way superior. William of Malmesbury says of the queen-mother, ” She was a woman intent on good works, and gifted with such affection and kindness, that she would even secretly discharge the penalties of those culprits whom the sad sentences of the judges had publicly condemned. That costly clothing, which, to many women, is the occasion of evil, was to her a means of liberality ; as she would give a garment of the most beautiful workmanship to the first poor person she saw. Even malice itself, as there was nothing to carp at, might praise the beauty of her person, and the work of her hands.”

She retired at length into the convent of Shaftesbury, which had been founded by King Alfred, and there died.

– Miss Dunbar lists four St Elgivas, distinguishing between the queen and the abbess of Shaftesbury. I don’t know whether any of the others will turn up on their feast days (quite possibly not), so here are all four of her brief lives, which I will move if they do take their own proper places later in the year:

St. Elgiva (1), Oct. 19 (ALGIVA, ANGINA). End of 7th century. The holy woman who taught FRIDESWIDE to be a saint. St. Elgin’s church, at Fordingham, near Hull, in Yorkshire, is supposed to take its name from Elgiva, the festival being on the same day as that of St. Frideswide. Miss Arnold
Forster thinks Elgin is perhaps Elphin, an obscure Welshman, a saint who has a church at Warrington ; he was contemporary with St. David.

St. Elgiva ( 2), June 4, V. Abbess of Shaftesbury. Daughter of Alfred, king of England, who built that monastery for her in 880. Commemorated in the Benedictine Martyrology, but the Bollandists think she has no place in the calendar, and that Bucelinus and others have confused her with ELGIVA (4).

St. Elgiva (3) of Glastonbury, Oct. 23 (AELGINA, Alfgina, Algina, Algisa, Elfgiva, Elfleda, Elgina, Elgisa, Ethelfleda, Ethelgiva, Ithelgeofu, etc) +936, Niece or other near relation of Athelstane, king of England (925-940). Yepes calls her Elgina, and says she was camerera maior to the queen, and governess to her children. Hearing of the sanctity of St. Dunstan, she determined to settle at Glastonbury, that she might profit by his instruction. She therefore built a house close to his monastery at Glastonbury, and with his sanction she built a chapel in honour of the Virgin Mary, and appointed a certain number of canons to perform the offices, for which service she endowed them with fat livings.

Hearing that the king was coming to Glastonbury, she sent and asked him, with all his followers, to rest and dine at her house. He accepted the invitation, and some of his attendants came before him to see that all was in order for his reception. They said to her, ‘Your preparations are perfect ; you have everything that king or man could wish for, if only you do not run short of mead.’ She replied that the Virgin Mary would not allow such a misfortune to happen. Athelstane arrived with his suite, attended mass, and then came to Elgiva’s house and sat down to dinner. At the first draught that he took, he emptied a flagon of mead all but about half a pint. The saint continued to help him and his retinue out of the same flagon. There was but a cupful at the bottom of the flask, but it was miraculously increased, for she poured without stint, and after her numerous guests had all had enough, there was still a cup of mead left in the flask.

After living very piously at Glastonbury for some years, Elgiva was taken ill, and felt that death was near. St. Dunstan came to see her, and exhorted her to bear all her sufferings with patience. She charged him to give all her things to the poor, and to sell her land for the benefit of the Church. He stayed so late talking to her, that when he got back to the monastery, the door was locked for the night, so he stood outside it, saying his prayers. While he was singing the psalms, he saw a shining white dove fly in at Elgiva’s window. He returned at once to her room, where he heard two voices talking about eternal life. He saw that the room was brilliantly lit up, and he heard the well-known voice of Elgiva thanking the other speaker. He opened the door, and found her alone. ‘Who were you
talking to ?’ asked he. ‘The Lord, who appeared to you when you were waiting and praying at the door of the church, has visited me, and promised me eternal glory, and now I no longer fear the devil.’
She then asked him to bring her the last sacraments next day. This he did, and afterwards buried her in the church where she had so often prayed.

St. Elgiva (4), May I8 Queen of England. Wife of Edmund the Elder, king of England (940-946), Mother of Kings Edwy (Eadwig, 955-958) and Edgar the Peaceable (958-975). Grandmother of ST. EDITH (5). Some accounts say Elgiva died before her husband, and that he married again. According to others, she survived him, founded the monastery of Shaftesbury, with the help of her son Edgar, and died a nun there about 966 or 970. There seems to be some confusion between her and ELGIVA (2).

Holy St AElfgifu, pray to God for us.

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