Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saint Noble-Strength

Today is the Feast of St. Etheldreda, whose name was in the original Anglo-Saxon, Aethelthryth, and whose name is also the original for the common name Audrey. She was born into the Wuffing dynasty of East Anglia as one of four daughters of King Onna of East Anglia who became saints. Early on she made a vow of perpetual virginity, but, as princesses often are, she was married off for political reasons to Tondberct of South Gyrwe. He seems to have been a decent man, though, because she convinced him to respect her vow. He died a few years later, and she retired to the Isle of Ely, which her husband had given her as a wedding gift, to build an abbey. (Ely at the time was basically a patch of dry ground in the middle of very marshy fenland.) However, she was married off again, this time to Ecgfrith of Northumbria. She was less than pleased with this state of affairs, and after considerable argument managed to convince Ecgfrith to let her become a nun. According to some stories, Ecgfrith attempted to get St. Wilfrith, the bishop of York, to persuade her to give up her vow, and St. Wilfrith's refusal became a factor in the intense feud that developed between the bishop and the king. Regardless, she retired to the Abbey of Ely again. Aethelthryth's abbey would last for almost two hundred years before it was destroyed in 870 by Danish Vikings.

The Venerable Bede wrote a hymn in her honor.

The English word 'tawdry' comes from St. Etheldreda's name; there was a fair in Ely that sold cloth goods, among which was an inexpensive neck ornament, St. Audrey's lace, shortened eventually to tawdry lace. 'Tawdry', of course, preserves the cheapness of the ornament rather than its saintly origin.

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