Today (25 August) there are no more British saints on yorkthodox, but Miss Dunbar helpfully provides the story of St Hunegund, who is acknowledged
by the Antiochians and features in Fr Andrew’s list
of western saints as well:
St. Hunegund, V., Aug. 25, in the French Martyrology Nov.1.7th century. Founder and patron of Homblières, in Vermandois, département del’ Aisne. Some times represented kneeling at the feet of the Pope.
Hunegund was born at Lembais or Lembaïde, an estate belonging to her parents, near the town of St. Quentin. St. Eloy, the friend of ST. BATHILDE, was her godfather. Being a considerable heiress, she was betrothed in her infancy to another child, who died in his cradle. When she came to marriageable age, she was again betrothed, to Eudaldus, a nobleman of the same country. It is not certain, from the somewhat contradictory accounts, whether the marriage took place, but Hunegund persuaded Eudaldus to take her to Rome before beginning their married life, that they might secure the special intercession of the apostles by visiting their tombs, and that their union might receive the blessing of the Pope, which would bring them a numerous family and many other advantages temporal and spiritual. Eudaldus acceded to her wish, and instead of preparing a bridal feast, they made ready a travelling carriage and a suitable train of servants and horses. They accomplished the journey very happily, visited the holy sites in Rome, and prayed with great devotion on the ground saturated with the blood of hundreds of martyrs. At last the day came that they were to be presented to the Pope and receive the nuptial blessing from him. No sooner were they in his presence than Hunegund, either in obedience to a sudden inspiration of piety, or in accordance with a deliberate intention threw herself at the feet of the Pontiff, made a solemn vow of perpetual virginity, and besought His Holiness to give her the veil of a consecrated nun. In the first moment of his disillusion, Eudaldus felt an impulse to run his sword through his lost love, but resisting this temptation, he turned and left her without a word of farewell, and taking all his retinue, he set off for Picardy, leaving her without a servant and without a penny. He nursed his indignation all the way home, and intended to punish her by taking possession of all her property that was to have come to him as dowry. On his arrival in his own country, he found that Hunegund was already there, living among the nuns of Homblières – a community that had existed for several years, subject to no congregation – and that she had presented all her property to this convent. She soon became abbess, and built a church in honour of the BV Mary, so that she is regarded as the founder of Homblières.
After a time, Eudaldus understood the purity and holiness of her motives his affection revived, he repented of his anger and ceased to wish for married life. So far from claiming any of her family possessions, he endowed her church with all that he was to have given her had she become his wife. He craved her pardon for his anger, and begged her to accept as a servant him whom she had refused to take for a husband. He became her most devoted friend and servant, and transacted all the secular affairs of the convent. He chose a place within the walls of the nunnery where he wished to be buried. He died before her, leaving all his lands, slaves, and other property to the Church of Homblières. She rewarded his devotion by burying him in the spot he had chosen. 690 is the latest date assigned to her death, which occurred when she was about fifty, but some authorities place it several years earlier. Some writers say the Pope she visited was Martin I, who sat from 649 tp 654, while others say it was Vitalian, whose reign was 657-672.
The first translation of her body was made in 946. In the 15th century one of her ribs was given to Louis XI. ( 1461-1483).
She is spoken of in ancient grants to the monks who succeeded the nuns at Homblières, as joint patron with the B. V. Mary of the Church and Monastery of Homblières.
Stilting, in AA.SS. Mabillon, AA.SS. O.S.13. Her name occurs in some very ancient calendars, one of which (to be seen in D’Achery s Spicilegium, p. 130) is ascribed to the year 826. She is also mentioned by Baronius, Saussaye, Baillet, Cahier. Migne, Dic. des Abbayes.
Well, poor Eudaldus! I can quite understand his violent feelings – how embarrassing, and not at all the life he thought he’d let himself in for. (I’m reminded of the wife of St John of Kronstadt Ahem. The orthodoxwiki article does not even mention that he had a wife! However, I am happy to note that I’ve come across a memoir of Matushka Elizabeth by her niece.) But the unfortunate Eudaldus rises to the occasion, and how. If Hunegund is an example of fearlessly giving in to the sudden impulse of grace, he is one of a more considered and no less true – certainly harder – process of metanoia, a true changing of life.
Tu fus baptisée par le saint hiérarque Eloi,
Et tu refusas de t’engager dans l’hymen,
Préférant te consacrer à l’Epoux céleste.
Tu allas pratiquer l’ascèse à Homblières,
Et tu devins higoumène de ce couvent.
Saint Hunégonde prie le Seigneur pour nos âmes!
You were baptised by the holy hierarch Eloi,
And refused to be married,
Preferring to consecrate yourself to the Heavenly Spouse.
You went to practise the ascetic life at Homblières,
And became abbess of that convent.
Saint Hunegund, pray to the Lord for our souls!
– French original composed by Claude Lopez-Ginisty
Holy St Hunegund, pray to God for us.