St. Ethelburga of Barking

12 October

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Born at Stallington, Lindsey, England; died at Barking, England, 678; feast day formerly October 11; feasts of her translations on March 7, May 4, and September 23 at Barking. The histories of the various saints named Ethelburga are confused almost beyond my ability to sort them one from another. Two, including today's saint, are said to have been the daughters of King Anna of the East Angles and died within 20 years of one another.

Not enough is known about Saint Ethelburga's life to make it remarkable to commemorate it more than a thousand years after her death except that she hailed from one of those incredibly holy families. Her eldest sister Saint Sexburga, married King Erconbert of Kent and greatly influenced her husband to order the complete abandonment and destruction of idols throughout his kingdom. He issued an order that everyone should observe the Lenten fasts.

Her sister Queen Saint Etheldreda was abbess of Ely. Her youngest sister, Saint Withburga, took the veil after Anna died in battle and live mostly in the convent she founded at Dereham. Her brother Erconwald, who later became bishop of London, founded monasteries at Chertsey, which he governed, and at Barking, over which he placed his sister Ethelburga. A late tradition notes that Erconwald invited Saint Hildelith to leave Chelles in France and serve as prioress at Barking in Essex. She was placed in the difficult position of teaching Saint Ethelburga the observance of monastic traditions while remaining in a subordinate role. Eventually Ethelburga learned and governed alone as a great abbess.

The Venerable Bede wrote that "she showed herself in every way worthy of her brother, in holiness of life and constant solicitude for those under her care, attested by miracles from above." He then relates several unusual events that occurred shortly before the death of Ethelburga, including the death of a three-year-old boy after calling out the name Edith three times, and the cure of Saint Tortgith of paralysis after a vision of Ethelburga (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer).

In art, Saint Ethelburga is depicted as an abbess holding Barking Abbey. Sometimes she is shown with Saint Erconwald, her brother, or with Saint Hildelith, who trained her (Roeder).

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