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The three saints of 6th July….

an early church

6th July is a day of three saints, St Godelva (d. 1070), St Sexburga of Ely (679-700) and St Merryn of Andresey. I have only previously heard of St Sexberga. Were they all celebrated on this day in medieval churches? (The above illustration is merely an example of an early church – the building depicted is not specifically concerned with any of the three saints.)

Who were they, these three holy ladies who share a day in early July?

St Godelva of Gistel (aka Godelieve, Godeleva, Godeliève and Godelina) was a Flemish saint. According to Wikipedia she was a pious young girl and then a beautiful woman, much sought after by lusty suitors. A lord called Bertolf/Berthold was determined to marry her, and sought the help of her father’s overlord. Successfully married to her, although maybe not able to get into her bed, Berthold ordered his servants to feed her with only bread and water, which she promptly shared with the poor. She managed to escape and go home to her father, but he, with two bishops and the Count of Flanders, forced her to go back to her husband. She escaped again and returned to her father. Her husband then had her strangled by two servants and tossed into a pool, to make it appear that she had drowned by accident. She died on 6th July 1070.

Legend has it that Berthold married again and had a daughter, named Edith, who was born blind. St Godelva intervened and cured her. Berthold repented his sins and went to Rome for absolution. Then he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and became a monk. Edith founded a Benedictine monastery at Gistel, which was dedicated to Saint Godelieve. This saint is regarded as a “weather saint”, like St Swithun. I do not know why.

St Sexburga of Ely (also various other spellings) She is the only one of the three of whom I had heard before, she led a blessedly dull life in comparison with Godelva. She was the queen of a king of Kent, as well as an abbess and she had four sisters. Her marriage produced two daughters, and two sons, both of whom ruled. Sexburga acted as regent until her eldest son came of age.

St Sexburga

Next, she founded the abbeys of Milton Regis and Minster-in-Sheppey, where one of her daughters became a nun. Then Sexburga moved to the monastery at Ely, and succeeded one of her sisters (St. Etheldreda) as abbess. Her saintly status came when her coffin was opened after sixteen years, and her body was found to be miraculously preserved. No terrible death, then, just a good, pious and holy woman.

As a matter of interest to Ricardians, and indeed to anyone interested in the ancestry of the Kings of England, Sexburga was the great-niece of Raedwald, the king of the East Angles, who died circa 616-627. He was a very sensible man, who on conversion to Christianity, did not forbid the continued worship of the old Anglo-Saxon gods. Raedwald may be the king who is buried at Sutton Hoo, and thus provided us with such amazing treasures from that far-off time. Collateral descent from Raedwald leads through the Houses of Wessex and Dunkeld, to include Richard III, which means that Sexburga was one of Richard’s ancestresses. Richard’s coronation was on St Sexburga’s Day, which cannot have been an accidental coincidence!

The third saint is St Merryn of Andresey. It seems that she is also known as St Modwenna/Monnina, who was a Christian anchorite on the island of Andresey in the River Trent at Burton-upon-Trent, just across from the then abbey. She is said to have been the daughter of a pagan Irish king, who rejected a robber baron’s offer of marriage, and then gathered a troop of virgins around her to travel to Britain. She raised a number of churches, particularly in southern Scotland. Conflation may have introduced elements from other saints, so that Modwenna’s father sought to have an incestuous relationship with her, or tried to force her to marry his powerful pagan ally. Or maybe her father finds her when she runs away, beheads her and seals her body in a cave.

Andresey Island - Burton upon Trent, Staffs.

Another version of her story: “Born to the Flemish nobility, the daughter of Hemfried, Lord of Wierre-Effray. Married to Bertulf of Ghistelles, a Flemish nobleman, who abandoned her before the wedding feast was over. Abused by her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law, Godelieve was variously locked in a cell, starved, and subjected to assorted physical and mental abuse. Her father threatened to turn the husband and in-laws over to state and Church authorities; Bertulf appeared to repent, Godelieve returned to him, and was soon after murdered; she is generally considered a martyr. Always a friend of the poor and sick, post-mortem miracles ascribed to her include restoration of  sight to her step-daughter.”

St Modwenna

The road to sainthood was usually a terrible one, mostly strewn with danger, torture and, ultimately, martyrdom. Of the above three ladies, only St Sexburga was blessedly free of such things. She led a flawless Christian life, and—presumably—died a natural death. It is good that this is so, and that her kindly and pious ways led to becoming a saint. It seems a pity that she would not have known of her destiny when she passed away. But I think that her descendant, Richard III, honoured her example. Not that I imagine he strove to be a saint! No, but I do think he did all he could to reign by example. Thanks to traitors, he was murdered in battle before he could prove himself to the full.

So…which of these ladies was most generally venerated on 6th July in medieval times? One? Two? Or all of them?

Raedwald again

Basil Brown’s work at Sutton Hoo, on secondment from Ipswich Museum, began in summer 1938 and reached “Mound One” today in 1939. In time, he explored the many mounds on that site, one of which probably includes the remains of Raedwald, King of East Anglia to about 624 and Bretwalda of England from 616. Raedwald, of the Wuffing dynasty, was a Christian convert and his collateral descendants fed into the House of Wessex and their successors from 1154.

Here are some pictures from The Cricketers, Ipswich, about Raedwald, his family and his times:

Developments at Sutton Hoo

This East Anglian Daily Times article reveals that Sutton Hoo, almost certainly the burial of Raedwald, the Wuffing King of East Anglia who was Richard III’s collateral ancestor, will be the subject of its first major dig for nearly thirty years.

A new viewing tower (left) will be installed during the process, between May 29th and June 2nd. Tranmer House, home of the late Edith Pretty will also be transformed, as the result of a substantial National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

Anyone for tennis?

There is an i220px-Edmundbeingmartyred05ssue with Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, who was shot and beheaded by Vikings, today in 869. He isn’t England’s patron saint, although he is far more English than St. George, who is thought to have originated in modern-day Turkey or Syria. However, unlike St. Edward the Confessor, whose brother-in-law Harold II and great-niece Margaret of Wessex are ancestors of centuries of English and British monarchs, St. Edmund does not seem to be connected to our Royal family at all, even though he reigned during the late Heptarchy and counted Raedwald and the other Wuffings among his predecessors. In short, he is a genealogical island.

Now it seems that St. Edmund, as were Richard III, Henry I and other kings, is on the verge of being rediscovered in plain sight, under a tennis court in his case.

Another Anglo-Saxon find?

This Cambridge article reveals s0003598x16001861_figaba little about the possible early Christian burial site near Sutton Hoo, first discovered nearly eighty years ago and which probably contains Richard’s collateral ancestor Raedwald.

Sutton Hoo and Raedwald of East Anglia (2011)

(originally published in the Ricardian Bulletin)

Saturday 30 July saw nearly twenty of us visit Sutton Hoo, a National Trust property that overlooks Woodbridge from across the Deben. Members travelled from London, Ipswich or by themselves, using booked taxis from Woodbridge station. We were there for three and a half hours, joining an official tour of the Burial Grounds and visiting the indoor Exhibition Hall.
The main grave is supposed to be that of Raedwald, at least a third-generation Anglo-Saxon immigrant from Angeln. Like his grandfather, Wuffa, Raedwald was a “Bretwalda” or high chief of all Saxons south of the Humber and east of about Birmingham, and his “Wuffing” successors became Kings of East Anglia as part of the Heptarchy. Raedwald ruled from 599 to 624/5 and converted to Christianity late in life, yet was still buried in pagan style, possibly at the behest of his sceptical widow. Two of his great-nieces are St. Ethelreda (aka St. Audrey) who is buried in Ely Cathedral and Sexberga, who married Earconbert, King of Kent, their great-granddaughter becoming the mother of Egbert III of Wessex, grandfather of Alfred. Raedwald’s brother Eni is, therefore, an ancestor of every undisputed monarch of England (except possibly from 1066-1154). The Wuffings ruled East Anglia until 20 November 869 when their last King, Edmund, was martyred by the Danes.
In summer 1938, the widowed Edith Pretty was overtaken by her own curiosity about the estate she owned and hired an amateur archaeologist and tenant farmer, Basil Brown, to investigate. Other authorities, at county, University of Cambridge (Charles Phillips) and University of London levels became involved – before war was declared and the task was suspended, the artefacts already discovered being stored in disused Tube stations. The British Museum, under Rupert Bruce-Mitford, resumed the process in 1965.
On arrival at Sutton Hoo (a Saxon word for hill), we booked our places on the official tour. It started at twelve thirty and was barely supposed to exceed an hour but lasted about ninety minutes. Our guide was Neil Montgomery of the Sutton Hoo Society, who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic with a good voice. We first passed Tranmer House, formerly the home of Colonel and Mrs. Pretty, and reached the seventeen mounds. In the first, Brown found a random selection of rivets because grave-robbers had beaten him to it and no other evidence remained.
In the second, he found rivets arranged in the shape of a wooden ship (a “clinker vessel”), together with soil that had absorbed the wood and changed its chemical characteristics. Knowledge of pre-conversion Anglo-Saxon burial rites, the personal possessions (a helmet, bowls and spoons by the head; weapons, a purse, shoulder-clasps and a great buckle by the torso; drinking vessels and other artefacts lower down) and the size of the ship showed that only a prominent chieftain could have been laid here. Brown found no human remains, save for phosphates in the soil, but many of Raedwald’s successors were Christians and thus would have been buried differently. The important mounds were reconstructed in the sixties, to heights calculated trigonometrically, but have started to erode again.
After viewing the principal mounds, we were shown the grave of a younger man, who died in his twenties during the same era and could be Raedwald’s son, buried with his horse. There are also the graves of a number of people who were hanged or beheaded in the later Saxon era. The Exhibition Hall features a lot more information and artefacts from the Wuffings’ era, including a recreation of the burial chamber and a film shown at regular intervals.
We expected to spend just under an hour exploring Woodbridge but there was insufficient time for this although there some old buildings such as the Shire Hall and C16 Bull Hotel, visited by Defoe. Edward Fitzgerald, the translator, is also commemorated in the town. During the summer, an open-top bus runs hourly around Woodbridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays, stopping at Sutton Hoo.

Further reading:
http://www.wuffings.co.uk/MySHPages/SHPage.html (Dr. Sam Newton)

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