Urith of Chittlehampton

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Virgin, foundress of its church. Leland and N.L.A. do not mention her, Roscarrock knew of her existence, but said: ‘What she was more, I know not. I would to God others would learne.’ In fact there was a book of her life in the shrine, with a record of her miracles. The rhyming Latin poem about her in Trinity College, Cambridge (MS. 0.9.38), is probably based on this. Hence and from Camden we learn that she was born at East Stowford (Devon), that she was a maiden dedicated to the religious life and was killed by haymakers with their scythes at the instigation of a jealous, possibly pagan, stepmother. A stream sprang out of the ground from where she fell. These last details are the same as in the legends of Sidwell and Cyniburg. Urith is a Celtic name; she may have been a victim of the Saxons. Her date is unknown.

The offerings to her shrine were sufficient to build the tower of Chittlehampton, reputed the finest in Devon, and even in the last year of the pilgrimages there, the vicar's share of the offerings was £50, or three times his income from tithes and glebe. The removal of her statue in 1539–40 caused the loss of another £50 in offerings to the church. The pulpit of c.1500 survives with a figure of St Urith holding a palm of martyrdom and the foundation stone of the church; her body may still be buried in the church. There is a 16th-century stained-glass window of her at Nettlecombe (Somerset). Urith is a Christian name favoured in Devon to our own day. Feast: 8 July.

M. R. James, ‘St Urith of Chittlehampton’, Cambridge Ant. Soc. Proc. (1902), 230–4; J. F. Chanter, ‘St Urith of Chittlehampton’, Rept. and Trans. Devon Association, xlvi (1914), 290–308; G. McN. Rushforth, ‘St Urith’, Devon Notes and Queries, xvii (1933), 290–1.

Subjects: Christianity.

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