I like to think that, even though I was raised by people who hated religion, and the Catholic religion in particular, it was the many Catholic saints to whom I am related who have been praying for me and the rest of their relations, whose intercession I can thank for eventually leading me to the beautiful Catholic faith.
In gratitude for their prayers, and out of love for them, I am attempting to learn as much as I can about all the family saints. Saint Edburga of Winchester is one of them, as she is my 31st Great Grandaunt, and her feast day is today, June 15, as it is the anniversary date of her death.
Often, when I make reference to this type of relationship, people will express some skepticism, until I explain that, with regard to the nobility of the British Isles, we have quite a bit of historical information. Those folks couldn't sneeze without someone noticing. The lines of descent are easy to trace from this wealth of information, particularly those of us whose family lines date back to the earliest settlers of America.
Edburga was born to King Edward I of England and his third wife, Eadgifu of Kent, in about 920. It is said that her father divined her future vocation when, at her tender age of 3, he laid before her a small chalice and paten on one side, and gold and jewelry on the other. She took up the chalice and paten (items used in the Catholic liturgy) and King Edward took this to mean that his daughter would be attracted to holy things and therefore had a vocation as a religious. Not long after this, the King put her under the care of the Nunnaminster Monastery, where she was educated by Abbess Ethelthritha, in exchange for which the King provided yearly endowments of money and other presents.
Edburga's reputation became one of gentleness and humility. In one story, she is reputed to have washed the socks of the other nuns while they slept. She was widely revered and loved as a very holy woman.
She died in 951 and was buried at the Monastery. In 972, she was declared a saint, though she was already considered such during her lifetime. At the time of her official designation as a saint, a large amount of her relics were translated to Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire, which is dedicated to her. Only a very small portion of the Abbey remains today.
Both Pershore and Nunnaminster fell prey to the suppression of the monasteries by Henry the VIII. Nothing remains of Nunnaminster, save a few waterways. Parishioners managed to purchase the monk's quire of Pershore, and this small portion remains as the parish church, though it has been destroyed and rebuilt. As late as 2001, it was being repaired and/or refurbished. Contemporary photographs of the Abbey can be seen on its official web page: http://www.pershoreabbey.org.uk/g-aerialcam.html
Although history has not left us with a lot of personal details about my great aunt, I find her life inspiring nonetheless, as an example of someone who steadfastly maintained a holy life, dedicated to God, from the time of her youth and that she attained such sanctity that it was recognized during her lifetime.
Silver "Rose" Parnell