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Withburga

(d. c. 743)


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St Etheldreda (d. 679)

St Ethelwold (c. 908—984)

 

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(d. c.743),

virgin. The youngest daughter of Anna, king of East Anglia and a sister of Etheldreda, she lived as a solitary at Holkham (Norfolk), and later at East Dereham, where she is reputed to have founded a community and to have died before the buildings were completed. She was buried in the churchyard, but after fifty years her body was exhumed, found incorrupt and enshrined in the church.

In 974 Brithnoth, abbot of Ely, stole the body under the pretext that she would have wanted to be buried near her sisters. A band of his monks accompanied by soldiers went secretly by night to Dereham, having obtained the approval of King Edgar and Ethelwold. They removed the body to their wagons, drove twenty miles to the river Brandun, on which they continued their journey by boat to the dismay of the men of Dereham, who had pursued them by land and could only watch helplessly while their treasure slipped away. The body was reburied at Ely where, however, the incorruption story was never exploited, as it might have detracted from Etheldreda's glory. In 1102 Withburga's relics were moved into the new part of the church; in 1106 they were joined by the bones of the other three Ely saints (Etheldreda, Sexburga, and Ermengild). The church at Holkham is dedicated to her; water in Withburga's well at Dereham churchyard was reputed to have sprung up when her body was first exhumed. Withburga's emblem in art, as on six Norfolk screens, is a tame doe, which William of Malmesbury described as her companion in solitude who provided her with milk. Feast: 17 March; translation 8 July; 18 April at Cambridge (C.S.P.).

E. O. Blake (ed.), Liber Eliensis (C.S., 1962), pp. 120–3, 221–34; A.S.C., s.a. 798; G.P., pp. 324–5; N.L.A., ii. 468–70; M. R. James, Suffolk and Norfolk (1930).

Subjects: Christianity.


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