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Died 16th April, 743 AD. Translation - 8th July, 974 AD.

SAINT WITHBURGA was the youngest of the daughters of Anna [Onna], King of the East Angles, and was thus nobly born. She was taught all things regarding the Heavenly Kingdom and was brought up close to the sea by a guardian and tutor at a village within her father's royal estate. This village is known as Holkham, where a church was eventually built in her memory and which is still called in English - Wihtburhstow. Hearing of the demise of her father, the holy maiden took recourse to the profession of vows as a nun. Thus in the protection of the wings of the Lord, she acquiesced happily.

Shortly after this, the young nun travelled about 20 miles and reached a place called Dereham, a place of low origin but also a royal estate of her late father. There she chose to live as a solitary, but also founding a monastery.

It so happened that when she had built a church in honour of the Lord she had no victuals, other than the dried bread which she customarily served to the attendants of the monastery who were helping to build the church. Thus she had recourse to the Holy Mother of God and besought her with prayers to come to her assistance. Whilst St. Withburga was dreaming in her sleep, the Holy Virgin Mary came to her and taught her not to be anxious concerning food for the body, nor to be anxious about worries regarding the morrow. Thus the maiden of the Lord of Heaven, having been thoroughly instructed, in the following morning sent milkmaids to a woodland spring which had been prophesied to her, and which was close to a pleasant stream. Upon their arrival, the maidens saw two roe deer. The deer belonged to the monastic household and were allowed to be milked. One by one they submitted to the hands of the milking girls and filled up the vessels, sufficient for two men to carry, thrown upon their shoulders, using the handles as levers. This abundance of milk supplied all the guests of the monastery.

Whilst such devotional practice continued the community also assisted (?) the reeve of Dereham. He was a man of trickery who gave little regard to such miracles. Driven by spite and ambition, he brought dogs to seize the deer at the spring in order to show sheer contempt for the favours which the deer had bestowed upon St. Withburga's monastery. The dogs became exasperated and were frightened away by the servants of God. Thus the reeve held his spite in check and decided to postpone the punishment.

Very early one morning, the reeve came to the said place on a stallion, driving the wild animals before him. Having spurred his horse on, he ran into the sharp stake of a fence which pierced him through. His horse reared backwards and thus was the arrogant rider executed with his face upwards and killed with a broken neck.

Consequently the wild doe milk was not taken away and our Lord did not fail his flock, the food having returned in abundance. The community never ran short of food, for somehow manna rains from Heaven. Thus was Elias fed by means of a raven and by the Zarephathan Widow. Such abundance has also been bestowed upon many of the Saints.

After a time, Withburga, full of good works and goodness of character, committed her flock to the Eternal King and died on the sixteenth of April and was accordingly buried in the graveyard of Dereham Church. After almost fifty-five years her body was found to be incorrupt and was duly translated into the church which she had founded. There she was venerated until the time of King Edgar and up until the time of 974 AD. So she rested in Dereham churchyard for 176 years.

In 974 AD, Abbot Brithnoth, with the consent of King Edgar and Bishop Ethelwold caused St. Withburga to be translated from Dereham to Ely on the 8th of July, and to be buried there.

Just as if the country was burning or an enemy host was carrying out slaughter and destruction, they were lamenting that the sole glory of the province of East Anglia had been removed by way of cunning tricks and deceit, just as the Ark of God had been removed by the Philistines, a captive had been abducted. Immediately they took recourse to weapons and proceeded to investigate, united in their fury. Thus, dividing their band into two parts, they occupied both the right and left sides of the river, as in a blockade, and determined to obstruct the river courseway. Uttering reproaches, they stretched out spears and cursed the treacherous theft of sacred things which had been undertaken through deception. They filled the air with shouting, terrors, threats and abuse. They did not abuse the Abbot himself, due to his status, and uttered no threat against sacred and virginal land of Ely. The Abbot, as though deaf and oblivious to the roaring, invoked divine assistance with repeated utterances and urged the sailors and their ship onwards with much encouragement, just as a soldier drives the horse with spears. So they escaped with the protection of God, the wearied pursuers retiring in confusion.

Having travelled with great hurry for twenty miles by water and as far as Tidbrightsey [that is the Isle of Tidbeorht], secure in their sweet and pleasant triumph, with transport arranged, they escorted their charge overland and sang praise and glory to the Lord. Thus arriving with new fame for herself and much eulogy provided for her, Withburga was received into her new shrine and for long exposition, many of the people running to meet her and many of the monks and clergy singing together with great rejoicing and triumph.

Her most blessed sister and principal of the Monastery of Ely, Etheldreda, together with her exalted sister, the holy matron Queen Sexburga and her daughter, Ermenhilda, in the company of the choir of holy souls who shone forth for the Lord, surpassing human understanding and measure, embraced Withburga’s arrival at her permanent abode.

The solemn service of the festival of the translation of Withburga, in the region of Ely, was instituted on the 8th of July by King Edgar who ruled over the oceanic domain of the English, with the goodness of David and the peace of Solomon, together with that true prelate Dunstan of Worcester [who radiated glory throughout our native land] and with Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, who was like an eagle in the ark of the Church and who caused Withburga's fame to become illustrious.

How Abbot Brithnoth translated the body of the gracious virgin Withburga to Ely - [this explains the contention described on previous page].

Along with other verifiable things, the monastery got together a splendid military force, provided by King Edgar and proceeded towards Dereham and its most precious treasure Withburga, for whom translation was to be provided.

Following consultation between the most holy Bishop Ethelwold and the most devout Abbot Brithnoth, it was agreed unanimously that the most illustrious adornment of the Church was to be moved without upheaval, to a superior dwelling where the most brilliant and pure virgin of church domain would adorn and illumine (with her decoration and brilliance) a higher sanctuary than the one in which she rested.

Having been provided with royal largess and support by the obliging King Edgar, and supported by the great favour and wishes of the Virgin Withburga herself, Brithnoth sought her assistance through earnest prayers, so that they might fulfil their holy intention and without disorder.

Thus the faithful robber Brithnoth, having besought the presence of the Lord through confession, psalms and fasting, and having foreseen the outcome of events, together with the more skillful of the brethren, came with a military force to the aforesaid Church of Dereham. He came to his own hereditary possession and thus no one questioned the reason for his arrival. Though he had been granted by royal authority to act with power and violence, he preferred to carry out his purpose with respect and prudence, lest insurrection or confusion should break out amongst the townsmen of Dereham.

He invited the citizens to abundant feasts in accordance with the exercise of the rights of the townsmen. He left the hired hall to them and took himself to the church sanctuary for vigil and worship and for the purpose of the theft of sacred things, a faithful theft and advantageous plunder, like unto Jacob supplanting the blessing of his brother Esau.

As night drew on, the townsmen and dignitaries of Dereham (now fully sated and drunk) took to their quarters and beds, whilst the vigilant robber of God and his monks went into hiding, waiting to carry out the holy villainy. Next, Brithnoth went on bended knees, and with profuse warm prayers begged the kind maiden to be friendly to him, justifications now being tiresome.

In due course, after a sermon and a censing, they opened up the tomb with reverence and due trembling, together with wonderment, and discovered the incorrupt and springtime beauty of the whole body, as though resting only in a pleasant slumber. They raised her out with due respect, having removed and replaced the tomb cover with sliding braces and levers, and carried her away with assiduous psalm singing and triumphal rejoicing, just as victors triumph with seized prisoners. The soldiers and attendants ran out to meet and reinforce them with arms and rigor and prepared to resist anyone who might oppose them.

Thus they progressed twenty miles, reaching the river at Brandon [Creek], and boarded ship with the precious litter, and with oars and tackle they eagerly watched over her. In truth, an astonishing and unsurpassed sign was given. Whilst on their journey, a most brilliant and large reddish star shone forth above the shining body of Withburga, with bright beams of light pouring forth. It shone perpetually whilst their companion was making her journey.

The parishioners of Dereham, following the burden of their deep sleep, slowly organised an inspection of the quarters of the Abbot in the Church. They discovered the unbolted doors and a total silence with no one present, and realised that the tomb had been emptied of their blessed mother Withburga, abducted by way of the trap of hospitality.

Horrible shoutings and lamentations were made.

Translation: Marilyn Back and Fr. Elias Trefor-Jones

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