(d. 683)

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(d. 683),

first abbess of Coldingham (Berwickshire). Daughter of Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, she fled to Scotland on his death in 616, when Edwin conquered Northumbria. Later she became a nun at Coldingham and subsequently abbess of this double monastery. In 672 Etheldreda was separated from her husband, King Egfrith, with the counsel of Wilfrid, and became a nun under Ebbe (who was her aunt) before founding her own monastery at Ely. In 681 Egfrith visited Coldingham with his second wife Ermenburga, who was then seized with some kind of sudden illness. Ebbe, now famous for wisdom, interpreted this as a punishment for the imprisonment of Wilfrid, disobedience to Roman decisions in his favour, and the theft of his relics and reliquaries by Ermenburga. Egfrith released Wilfrid; Ermenburga restored the relics and soon recovered.

Not long afterwards, the aged Ebbe was warned by the priest Adomnan of the relaxed state of her community. The nuns were said to spend their time weaving fine clothes, to adorn themselves like brides or to attract the attention of strange men; while both monks and nuns alike neglected vigils and prayers. In spite of Adomnan's threat of divine punishment, the community mended its ways only for a little while. A few years after Ebbe's death, the monastery was burnt down (686). These failures of Ebbe's community did not destroy her reputation for holiness. Her name was given to Ebchester and to St Abb's Head, where the remains of a fort possibly indicate the site of her monastery. Interest revived in her during the 12th century, following the discovery of her relics in the late 11th. At this time, according to an account attributed to Reginald of Durham, she was known from York to Lanark. Calendar evidence for her feast comes from Durham, Aberdeen, and Winchcombe, while Durham and Coldingham shared her relics. She is also the titular of a church and street in Oxford. The present church at Coldingham (part of the priory founded by Durham) is more than a mile away from Ebbe's monastery.

Feast: 25 August; translation, 2 November.

Bede, H.E., iv. 19, 25; B. Colgrave (ed.), Two Lives of St Cuthbert (1940), pp. 79–80, 189–90, 318;id., Eddius' Life of St Wilfrid (1927), p. 79; N.L.A., i. 303–7 (abridged from the Life in Bodleian Library, MS. Fairfax 6, attributed to Reginald of Durham); E.B.K. after 1100, pp. 161–6.

Subjects: Christianity.

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