Posted by: anna | March 30, 2011

St Withburga

Today (17 March) we commemorate St. Withburga (Whitburh), hermit at Holkham and East Dereham (ca. 743).
First I have a funny story about St Patrick, whose day it also is. Or rather a story occasioned by the commemoration of his feast on the Gregorian calendar but of course moved to the Sunday following… during the recent trip to Paris I had a surreal experience at St Etienne du Mont – walking in to the middle of St Patrick’s Day Mass (or something), in English, led by a woman in a stole, full of ex-pat and/or tourist Americans in green ties, singing impossibly melodically complex and textually dreadful hymns (‘For God and St Patrick’ featured strongly.) Printed on green paper of course. (I’m somewhat bemused by the way St Patrick’s Day celebrations have become such a generalised American thing. Why St Patrick, and why green beer? and more to the point, why don’t other immigrant groups’ national saints become public figures? St George’s flag doesn’t stand for good things in this country these days, very sadly. And why in St-Etienne and not the American Cathedral?) Eventually the thing wound up and the organist thundered out something rather splendid to see them off. It was gloriously sunny, so at least it was a nice reason to have to stand still for quite a few minutes and take in all that stained glass!
Now for St Withburga – also commemorated 8 July, according to celt-saints. From Miss Dunbar:
St. Withburga (1), WIHTBURG, or VITBURG, March 17, V. + 743. She was the youngest of the saintly daughters of Anna, king of the East Angles. Her sisters were SS. ETHELBURGA (3), SEXBURGA and ETHELREDA; they had an elder half-sister ST. SEDRIDO. Withburga was niece of ST. HILDA, and aunt of ST. ERMENILDA. She was sent to live with her nurse at Holkham in Norfolk, where in process of time a church was built in her honour and the place called Withburgstowe. After her father’s death she built a convent at Dereham. While she was building it she had at one time nothing but dry bread to give her workmen. She applied for assistance to the B. VIRGIN MARY, who directed her to send her maids to a certain fountain every morning. There they found two wild does which yielded plenty of milk. In this way the workmen were fed and the work prospered until the overseer of those lands, in contempt or dislike of the saint and her miracles, hunted the does with dogs and made them leave off coming to the fountain to be milked. He was punished for his cruelty, for his horse threw him and he broke his neck.
Withburga was buried in the cemetery of the abbey of Dereham, and her body being found uncorrupted fifty-five years afterwards, was translated into the church which she herself had built. In 974 Brithnoth, abbot of Ely, determined to lay the body beside those of her sisters : he went with armed followers to Dereham, where he invited the men to a feast and made them drunk. He carried off the body. They awoke and went in pursuit, and the men of Ely and the men of Dereham fought lustily for their treasure, javelins were thrown and hard blows were exchanged. At last Brithnoth triumphantly carried off the saint and deposited her at Ely.
So far I am unable to find an icon or a troparion for St Withburga. I have yet to visit Dereham, but when I do I shall visit the Norman church (another St Nicholas) and see what I can find – there is one painted rood screen panel showing a figure of Withburga.
Holy St Withburga, pray to God for us.

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