St. Edith (+984), Abbess of Wilton,
Daughter of Saint Edgar and Saint Wilfrida,
Who Was Distinguished for Her Generosity to
the Poor and Familiarity with Wild Animals
Born at Kensington, England, in 961; died 984. Saint Edith was the
illegitimate daughter of King Edgar and Saint Wulfrida (Wilfrith, f.d.
September 9), a noblewoman whom he had been raped. (The king underwent
a seven-year penance for this crime according to the "vita" of Saint
Dunstan (f.d. May 19).) After the death of his wife, Edgar entreated
Wulfrida to marry him. She rejected his solicitations and took the
religious veil at Wilton instead. Thus, Saint Edith entered the convent
as a baby and never left it, so that, in the words of the "Roman
Martyrology", "she rather knew not this world than forsook it."
Although Edith was always sheltered from the allurements of the world,
Wulfrida also raised her carefully and taught her the
lessons of Christian perfection. Edith chose to be professed at the age
of fifteen in the presence of her father, who gave his
permission only after a struggle. Thereafter Edith combined a life of
prayer with one of active charity. She fed the poor, tended the sick,
and dressed their most loathsome sores.
Edith expressed her great devotion to the crucified Christ through the
constant repetition of the Sign of the Cross. She also
undertook austerities, e.g., abstinence and the wearing of a hair shirt.
Three times she refused the abbacy of three different convents,
preferring to remain a simple nun at Wilton under the direction of her
mother, who was abbess. When her father and then her half-brother Saint
Edgar the Peaceful (f.d. July 8) died, she was pressed by her brother's
adherents to accept the throne, but refused it.
Before her death at the age of 22, Edith built the church of Saint Denis
at Wilton. During its dedication, Dunstan cried profusely because he
had a premonition of her death. Less than two months later Saint
Dunstan assisted at her deathbed. She was buried in Saint Denis.
William of Malmesbury, writing at the beginning of the 12th century,
relates that her feast was kept with great devotion
In art, Saint Edith is depicted as a royal nun (not an abbess) giving
alms to the poor. She may also be shown with a purse or
washing the feet of the poor
Saint Edith is commemorated in the diocese of Clifton and venerated at Wilton
The Holy Well named for her, located at the village where she spent her
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Page last updated: 8 October 2008
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