Catholic Truth Society of London – Saint Editha of Wilton

detail of a painting of Saint Edith of Wilton b Juan de Roelas, c.1605; church of San Miguel and San Julián, Valladolid, Spain; swiped from Wikimedia Commons(961984)

“Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? and who shall rest in Thy holy hill? He that walketh without blemish.” – Psalm 14

The motives which induce persons to embrace religious life are perhaps as varied as their vocations. Yet briefly they may be reduced to the following heads, (1) There are those who have sinned deeply and, having been converted to God, feel the need of devoting the remainder of their lives to penance and atonement. (2) Then there are those who dread the temptations to which a secular state would expose them, and wish by leaving the world to ensure as far as possible their eternal salvation. (3) Others again, having probed the hollowness of the world, long to find in a holier atmosphere a happiness which shall endure, a beauty which shall never fade, love which shall not disappoint, truth without alloy. (4) Finally, there are those whose love for God makes them long to give Him all they have and are, to make reparation to His outraged Majesty for the neglect and coldness of their fellow-men, to be victims of His love: in short, to attain to the highest degree of union with Him compatible with their exile. In the monastic state examples of all these classes may be found, it has its penitents as well as its innocents; yet, taken as a whole, the Benedictine spirit is rather one of innocence than of penance, and by far the greater number of its saints are those who, like Saint Editha, have rather never known the world than left it. They have not turned to God when all else failed them, but they have offered themselves to Him from the very outset, and embraced religious life at an- age when hopes are highest and the world seems brightest. They have given to God their first freshness, the bloom of their youth, not a faded offering dried up and withered. Many, it is true, were called upon afterwards to mix with the world, to combat vice and to defend the Church against her foes; but we do not find a Hildebrand the less fitted for the struggle because he has borne the yoke of monasticism from his childhood. Yet the majority, both of monks and nuns, lived and died unsullied, like the subject of the present sketch, within the walls of their monastery. These are, so to speak, the spring flowers of God’s garden; and those who live in an atmosphere impregnated with worldliness and sin would do well at times to refresh and revive their drooping souls by imbibing the pure air and life-giving fragrance which distills itself from the history of those whose lives were innocent, and who saw God because they were clean of heart.

Saint Editha was born in 961. Her father, King Edgar, was a great-grandson of King Alfred the Great, and a son of Edmund, one of Alfred’s three grandsons, who succeeded his brother Athelstan. Editha was called after her aunt, the Abbess of Tamworth, who had died in the odour of sanctity. The Princess Editha of Tarn worth had been betrothed to Sightric the Danish king of Northumbria, upon the occasion of his making peace and claiming the friendship of her brother Athelstan. The engagement was based merely on motives of policy, and it is therefore not surprising to find that the Dane proved faithless. Editha, rejoicing to be free from a tie which she had never courted, hastened to ally herself with a Bridegroom who could never fail her. She took the veil in the Abbey of Polesworth, and not long afterwards the news reached her of Sightric’s miserable end. In course of time she was judged worthy to undertake a new foundation at Tamworth, the home of her childhood. She died in 925, after a life devoted to prayer, good works, and penance, and her tomb was much resorted to on account of the miraculous favours there obtained. King Edgar caused a church to be erected in her honour, directly her canonization made it possible to do so, and dedicated his little daughter to her, calling her by the same sweet name.

Editha of Tamworth had a sister named Edburga, whom her father, Edward the Elder, had offered to God from her very infancy in a monastery at Winchester, where, says William of Malmesbury,’s she gained the affection of all by her obsequious diligence, and was in due time clothed with the habit of a religious virgin. The sublimity of her birth did not at all exalt her mind, for she esteemed it a most generous and noble thing to become vile in the service of Christ. Her sanctity increased with her years and her humility grew with her stature, so that it was her usual practice by night to steal away her religious sisters stockings, which, after she had washed and perfumed, she would again set down by their beds. Now, though Almighty God did in her life time honour her with many miracles, yet, omitting them, I would rather choose to set down this example to show that all her actions were begun by charity and consummated by humility.”

The intercession of Edgar’s two holy aunts may perhaps have recalled their erring nephew to a sense of the wickedness of his life, for, previous to Saint Editha’s birth, he had been anything but a good man. Yet his former vices only served to throw his subsequent virtues into a brighter light, while the story of his repentance forms one of the brightest pages in our Saxon annals.

It runs as follows: “When the knowledge of the king’s excesses reached Saint Dunstan he was deeply moved with grief. Whereupon without any delay he went to the king, who, according to his custom, reverently met him, and when he would have taken him by the hand to lead him to his seat, Saint Dunstan with a troubled, severe countenance drew back his hand and would not permit him to touch it. Hereat the king was astonished and asked him why he refused him his hand. To which the bishop answered, Sir, I do not give into your sinful hands this hand which has immolated to the eternal Father the Son of a Virgin. First cleanse your hands by penance, and then you may reverently embrace a Prelate’s hand which is to reconcile you to the favour of God. These words did so terrify the king that he presently fell prostrate at the bishop’s feet, and with words interrupted with many deep sighs acknowledged his sins. Saint Dunstan, seeing so great an example of humility in the king, immediately embraced him and raised him up with a mild, cheerful look, discoursing with him familiarly of matters touching the good of his soul and imposed upon him a seven years penance. He therefore having obtained pontifical absolution, applied himself with a zealous diligence to perform his enjoined penance, and moreover, by the counsel of his spiritual father, added super-abundantly many other good works of piety thereby to pacify the wrath of God. Saint Dunstan forbade the king for all that long space of seven years to wear the crown of his kingdom; he commanded him every week to fast two days, to dispense his treasure liberally to the poor, and moreover to found a monastery for devout virgins to praise God. He enjoined him likewise to expel out of their churches such clergymen as lived scandalous lives and to intro duce congregations of religious monks; to enact just and wholesome laws agreeable to God, and to take care that they were observed by the people.” How well the king carried out his severe penance, we shall see in the course of the narrative.

Soon after Saint Editha’s birth her mother retired into a monastery at Wilton despite the entreaties of Edgar, who was sincerely devoted to her and was really desirous, now that his first wife was dead, of sharing his crown and his throne with her. It is evident that she had been rather sinned against than willingly consented to evil, in testimony of which we have the lessons from the monastic breviary, which may be thus freely translated. “By the intervention of Saint Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, or rather, urged on by that love for Christ which is strong as death, the venerable Queen Wilfritha, mother to Saint Editha, withdrew herself from the kingdom and bride-chamber of this world and retired into a monastery at Wilton, in honour of the Mother of God. Instead of fine purple, interwoven with gold, she clothed herself in a “black tunic, and in place of the royal diadem she wore a dark veil; and having taken upon herself the religious habit she made such progress in the paths of perfection, that she was looked upon as a teacher of holiness and placed at the head of the monastery. Here her daughter Editha was guided by divine providence like a branch of frankincense, and a beautiful olive growing out of so holy a root. Here also came the most Christian king Edgar, with a great crowd of princes and nobles and a vast gathering of people as though coming to the court of Christ and to assist at divine nuptials. The city rejoiced at the coming of the king, welcoming him as the father of his country and the prince of peace. Edgar had come to offer a gift at the nuptials, to present his first fruits. In obedience to an inspiration of the most High, Edgar caused a splendid carpet to be laid on the steps of the high altar of our Lady, as it were before the throne and at the feet of the Divine Majesty. On this carpet he placed all the different tokens of worldly honour, beautiful diadems, golden bracelets, rings, jewels and brilliant ornaments of every description, which he offered to Editha. Meanwhile her mother showed to her a nun’s black veil, a Psalter, a chalice, and a paten. All prayed together that God, who knoweth all things, might deign to show to one still at such a wayward age what life she should choose for herself. But the holy virgin Editha, in the midst of all that brilliant array chose the veil and tokens of sanctity and left all the rest untouched for the maidens of the world. Then the king, with his consort now become his sister, betrothed the little Editha to the Child Christ Jesus, in the presence of angels and men and congratulated themselves on thus becoming allied to the Lord of heaven and earth. Gathered thus early into the very bosom of the Church and into that virginal band, Editha passed her life in such charity, goodness, and cheerfulness, that she deservedly seemed to be none other than that paradise of delights and that perfume of a fruitful field which God had blessed.”

Wilfritha trained her little daughter with the utmost care, fostering the natural piety and gravity of her character. Editha readily responded to the teaching of her mother; she was studious and painstaking, and nothing pleased her better than to read the lives and writings of the saints and holy fathers. Among her many virtues, she especially endeared herself to the nuns by her sweet humility in rendering them every lowly service. Yet, desirous as the child was of consecrating herself for ever to the Spouse to whom she had been betrothed, her mother thought it well that she should be brought up with a view to the possibility of having to take her place in the world as the king’s daughter, in the event of it not proving to be the will of God that she should remain in the monastery. She therefore caused other children of high rank to associate with her as her playfellows, and made her dress according to the luxurious fashion of the day instead of in the habit of a religious. To all this Editha submitted, waiting patiently for the time when she might lay aside once for all her worldly garments and put on the poor clothing of a nun. In the meantime she knew how to carry a detached and humble heart beneath her royal robes, and to macerate her innocent and tender body with practices of penance and a rough haircloth, which, even as a child, she constantly wore. Once when the holy bishop Ethelwold came to visit the monastery, Editha was decked out in her best for the occasion, and the good bishop was some what astonished to see such gorgeous apparel among the sombre habits of the nuns. Calling Editha to him, he said,’s O daughter, these are not such garments as our Lord takes delight in.” But she, knowing that love of display held no place in her heart, meekly replied, “Believe me, my father, as poor and humble a mind may, through God’s grace, dwell under these garments as under the roughest goatskins; God looks to the heart and not to the exterior.”

Not far from the monastery was a large hospice where wayfarers were entertained and the sick nursed and cared for. Editha was sent daily to this hospice by her mother to cheer and comfort the sick, to minister to their wants, and even to dress their sores. She would wait on the poor beggars, giving them food and alms with those sweet words which are above the best gift. On one occasion, as she was standing distributing alms to the poor, a child came to her, destitute in appearance, yet with so fair a face that Editha’s heart went out to him at once. On giving him succour she laid her hand in blessing on his head, and as she did so the child vanished, leaving only the happy conviction in her heart that while she always served Christ in the person of His little ones, on that occasion He had sent her His approval by an angel in disguise. We read that her predilection was for lepers, seeing in them a more perfect image of her Spouse, who for our sakes willed to be esteemed a leper and the outcast of men. In her lessons we are told that “she preferred lepers to the royal children, and the more vile and deformed any one appeared the more eager she would he in serving him.” Truly one scarcely knows which to admire most, the mother or the child. The faith of the mother in letting her only daughter risk the contagion of that most terrible and repulsive of all maladies, or the charity of the child in her eagerness to relieve suffering, even at the cost of what must naturally have been most revolting to her delicate nature.

In 974 Editha lost her grandmother, Elfgiva, who died at the monastery of Shaftesbury, which she had herself built. After the death of her husband, Edmund, who was murdered in 946 by Seof the outlaw, she entrusted her two sons, Edwy and Edgar, to the care of their aunt, and retired to Shaftesbury, where she spent the remainder of her life in continual mourning. William of Shaftesbury says of her that’s she was a woman always given to good works, and full of piety and mildness, insomuch that she would often redeem from death condemned malefactors. Costly garments, which to some women are an enticement to vanity, furnished her charities, for she would oft bestow them on the poor. Envy itself could not discommend the lovely features of her body, nor the curious works of her hands. God likewise bestowed on her the grace of prophecy. Both in her life and after her death she wrought many miracles. Having for several years suffered painful infirmities, at last she yielded up her soul, purified in the furnace of afflictions.”

In the same year, 974, King Edgar, having most faithfully performed his penance, was permitted to assume his crown for it was the custom in those days for kings to wear their crowns on the three great solemnities of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, on which occasions all the great nobles of the realm met at the Court to treat of affairs of State and feast with the king. The coronation was attended with all possible display, destined to impress the king’s vassals. He styled him self now King of all England, and not long afterwards he caused eight petty kings to row him down the river Dee, he himself directing at the stern. He earned for himself the title of “The Peaceful,” for during the sixteen years of his reign he never had occasion to unsheath the sword against a foreign or domestic foe. This constant peace enabled him the more effectually to carry out the reforms so sadly needed among the clergy, and which had been imposed upon him by Saint Dunstan as part of his penance. He was ably seconded in his endeavours, not only by Saint Dunstan, but also by Saint Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, and Saint Oswald, bishop of Worcester. A quaint old story regarding the former will illustrate the state of the clergy at that time. The holy bishop, on arriving at Winchester, was pained and troubled to see the extremely worldly, not to say evil, lives led by the canons of his cathedral. Again and again he exhorted them to mend their ways and to live up to their obligations, but in vain. They seem to have been easy-going sort of men, and took his entreaties in good part, but the burden of their answer was always the same: “Eras, eras, tomorrow, tomorrow! we can’t oblige you to-day.” At last, one Sunday, after the Introit of the Mass, which happened to be’s Servite Domino in timore,” he harangued the offenders and asked them if they understood the meaning of the words which they had just sung, and as they answered “Yes,” he replied, “Well then, I will no longer give credit to your ravens voices crying * Cras, eras! submit yourselves now once for all to regular discipline, or leave your benefices and quit your dwellings.” The result was that the best of them reformed their manners and stayed, while the incorrigible resigned, and their places were taken by monks from Abingdon.

Unfortunately, with a few glorious exceptions, the monasteries were not less in need of reform than the canonries. Thus we read that at Saint Albans the Abbot, who was of royal stock, so far forgot the sanctity and gravity of his office as to use garments of silk with gorgeous embroidery, changing not only the colour but the shape of the monastic habit, and using his time in hunting, unmindful of his duties towards his spiritual children. To remedy this state of things Saint Dunstan drew up a collection of rules called “A Religious Concord.” These regulations had been most carefully collected from those monasteries, whether in England or abroad, in which the Rule of Saint Benedict was most carefully observed, especially from Fleury. This “Concord” was sent by King Edgar to every Abbot and Abbess in his kingdom, commanding them, by a decree which accompanied it, to follow most exactly the rules therein contained, that thereby religious discipline and fraternal union might again revive and flourish.

Besides these most necessary reforms, Edgar, with the advice of the bishops, published several most excellent laws relating to ecclesiastical matters, one of which seems to have inaugurated our English half-holiday on Saturday; for he decreed that the Lord’s day was to be observed from three o clock on the afternoon of Satur day till daybreak on Monday.

Very shortly before the death of this great monarch he went to Wilton to assist at the profession of his daughter in the year 975. Editha was then considered old enough to make her final choice as to her future state; and as she continued firm in her holy purpose of dedicating herself to God in a monastic state, she was allowed to make her profession of the Rule she had already so faithfully practised, and to ratify by vow the offering she had made of herself to God when little more than a babe. Her vows were scarcely pronounced when she had occasion to show how deeply they had taken root in her heart. Her father, justly proud of the virtues which she evinced and the evident prudence and maturity of her character, was bent on making her Abbess over the three convents he had founded in expiation of his sins. The customs of the times did not make the proposal such an abnormal one as we should now consider it, and there is no doubt that if Editha had had the slightest ambition for such an honour very few would have disputed her right. As it was, she utterly rejected the offer, pleading her youth and inexperience, and telling her father that her only design was to remain in obedience and humble subjection. However, as he would not be entirely put off, the nuns of Wilton, in order to pacify him, bestowed on Editha the honorary title of Abbess, but the holy virgin, nothing elated by their choice, remained as before, sitting like Mary at our Lord’s feet, yet “withal serving her sisters in the most menial offices like a very Martha.”

A very short time after Editha’s profession she had the grief of losing her excellent father, who went, we may believe, to swell that glorious band of penitents who shall endure for ever in the City of God as monuments of His infinite mercy and the plenitude of Christ s Redemption. Lingard quotes an interesting eulogium from the Saxon Chronicles regarding his death. “Here ended the earthly joys of Edgar, England’s king; he chose the light of another world, beauteous and happy. He was known afar among many nations; kings beyond the baths of the sea-fowl worshipped him far and wide; they bowed to the king as one of their own kin. There was no fleet so proud, there was no host so strong as to seek food in England while the noble king ruled the kingdom. He reared up God’s honour; he loved God s law; he preserved the people’s peace the best of all the kings that were before in the memory of man. And God was his helper, and kings and earls bowed to him and they obeyed his will, and without battle he ruled as he willed.”

Edgar left two sons, Edward, who was thirteen and succeeded to his throne, and Ethelred, his half-brother, who was but seven. Editha and her brother were very much of an age and both were animated by the same sentiments of piety and virtue which naturally drew them much together. In the Breviary we find the following description of Edward:’s When Edward was raised to the throne he was directed by the Lord, the King of kings, in the way of all justice and truth. Relying on His help, he excelled in great power of intellect coupled with the deepest humility, so that by the daily increase of his virtues he elevated his newly acquired dignity to the very acme of its original integrity. He always deferred his youth and inexperience to the advice of Archbishop Dunstan, seeking in all things to follow his counsel and to exercise justice according to his judgement and that of other holy and wise men.”

One night the nuns of Wilton were disturbed in their slumbers by the sound of Editha sighing and weeping. The next morning they asked her what had caused her such unwonted grief; to which she answered,’s Alas, woe is me! I dreamt that I had lost my right eye, and I understood this to signify that my brother Edward had met with a fatal accident and been deprived by his enemies of his kingdom and his life.” The event proved only too well the truth of her forebodings. Edward’s stepmother had conceived a violent dislike to him, despite all his endeavours to win her favour and the deference and respect he always showed her. His very virtues were a continual reproach to her, while his growing popularity was daily minimizing any prospect of putting her own son on the throne in his stead. But let us transcribe the remainder of the story from the old chronicle.’s There was at that time among the English great tranquillity and abundance of all things. They were replenished with joy to see their king addicted to virtue and piety, affable to all, beautiful in his features, and, considering his tender years, sage and provident in his counsels. In the meantime, that old serpent, swell ing with rage and tormented with envy, endeavoured with all his power to disturb the general contentment. Therefore he darted into the heart of Queen Elfrida a great portion of his rage and envy to see this young prince preferred before her son Ethelred; whereupon she spent nights and days in contriving ways how to destroy him, and with her joined several of the discontented nobility. King Edward had now passed three years and a half of his reign, when he was desirous to recreate himself with hunting in a forest to which the town of Wareham is adjoined. Where, having wearied himself with that exercise and being separated from his company, he diverted to his stepmother’s house named Corfe. She, hearing of it, went out to meet him attended with her servants, and seemed to take great joy at his arrival. But he, refusing to enter the house, said that he only desired to see his younger brother. Where upon she, thinking this a favourable opportunity to execute her abominable designs, commanded drink to be brought out for him. And he, suspecting no harm, accepted it; but as he lifted the cup to his mouth, one of the Queen’s servants, having first saluted him humbly, suddenly with his sword rushed upon him and pierced him through, of which wound he presently fell dead. When his stepmother knew that he was dead, she commanded his body to be carried into a lodging near, in which there lived a woman who had been blind from her birth. She, lodging there alone that night, by the holy martyr’s merits had her sight restored and saw a heavenly light shining through the whole house. This execrable fact was committed on 18 March 978. As soon as day appeared the woman told the Queen what had happened, at which she was grievously affrighted lest the murder should be discovered. To prevent this she commanded the body to be taken away and plunged deep into a marshy ground where none might find it. But such being the pleasure of Almighty God that His martyr should be known to the world, by a pillar of light descending on the place He discovered the sacred body to some of His servants who searched after it; whereupon certain pious men of the adjoining town took it up and carried it to a church dedicated to our Blessed Lady. And in the place where the sacred body had been hidden there broke forth a spring of most pure water, called the fountain of Saint Edward, where miraculous cures are daily worked on sick people.”

When at last the murder was discovered the majority of the nobles, justly indignant, declared they would have nothing to do with the son of the murderess. As the only way to avoid acknowledging so odious a ruler they resolved to make the Princess Editha their queen, and a representative body set out for Wilton to offer her their allegiance, with the crown. The arrival of so important a deputation created quite a sensation at Wilton, and perhaps the calmest person in the monastery was the one whom the mission most concerned, though she was but eighteen at the time. Editha listened unmoved to their proposal, and told them that if her brother Edward was dead to the world, so also was she; that to God she had vowed herself, and that to God, while she lived, she would keep her pledge, and that no power on earth should induce her to exchange her cowl for a crown. Her words were so decided, and her resolution so firmly fixed, that the astonished assembly did not attempt to press the matter further, but left the Abbey marvelling at so great wisdom and contempt of honour in one so young. Moreover, Editha prevailed on them to accept the inevitable, and to acknowledge as king one who had had no share in his brother’s murder. For three years Edward’s body lay at Wareham, after which, as God continued to show by miracles how pleasing the innocent life had been to Him, and how, though deprived of an earthly crown, he had received an imperishable one in heaven, it was determined to translate his relics to the monastery of Shaftesbury, founded by his ancestors, and where many of them lay. Saint Editha came with her mother to assist at the ceremony, which was to be performed with all possible splendour as an act of reparation to the murdered king. When the body of the martyr was exhumed it was as fresh and supple as though the blood still coursed in his veins; no signs of his violent death marred the peaceful beauty of his countenance, so that he seemed to be gently sleeping. At the sight Editha sprang forward and clasped him in her arms, her love and tenderness for her brother finding vent in the repeated kisses she gave him, while tears of joy showed her rapture. What was it she asked him in that close embrace? Was it that he would obtain for her the grace to join him speedily in his heavenly kingdom? May be, for in three short years the brother and sister were reunited in that home where death shall be no more, and the just shall reign for ever and ever.

By far the greatest miracle worked by the saint was the conversion of his murderess. She had tried to present herself at the solemn ceremony, but had been prevented by an invisible power, like that which held back the penitent Saint Mary of Egypt on the threshold of the church. This terrible warning made her sensible of how she was repudiated by God, as well as shunned by men. For many years she sought to win her pardon by the practice of the severest penances. She became as hard and relentless to herself as she had formerly been to others, never sleeping except on the hard pavement, chastising her body with every austerity she could invent, and giving every sign of a real conversion and heartfelt compunction. Not so the man who had aided and abetted her in her evil purpose, for he hardened himself to every inspiration of grace and repentance, was struck with a horrible disease and died miserably eaten up by worms.

Towards the beginning of August, in the year 984, there was a great concourse of people and great rejoicings at Wilton, on the occasion of the consecration of the new church adjoining the Abbey, dedicated by Saint Editha’s desire to Saint Denis, the patron of France, to whom she had a special devotion. The Archbishop, Saint Dunstan, who had ever been her faithful friend, came to perform the ceremony. In the course of his sojourn at the Abbey he had noticed how often Editha would sign her heart with the sign of the Cross, and taking her hand one day he exclaimed in a spirit of prophecy, “My daughter, this thumb deserves never to perish.” And even as he had foretold, so did it fall out. On the morning of the dedication the deacon who was assisting the holy prelate noticed that during the Mass, after the Consecration, the bishop began to weep bitterly. The deacon was much disturbed at the sight of such un wonted grief on so joyful a solemnity, and when the Archbishop was unvesting he ventured to question him, saying,’s My father, why do you weep so sorely on this festal day?” To which Dunstan replied, “Alas, my son! Editha, the flower of our virgins, the jewel of our land, shall quickly wither. Within six weeks shall this happen, for this wicked world is not worthy of the presence of so heavenly a light.” While the church was in course of erection Editha had often told her sisters that she would be buried in it, saying, “Here is my rest, here will I lie, for I have chosen it.” But none of them thought for a moment that she was merely awaiting its completion to obtain her desire; she showed no signs of disease, and they looked to her companionship for many a long year. Only the angels had watched the growth of her wings, the wings of simplicity and purity which, as the Imitation says, infallibly carry us to God. Soon after Saint Dunstan’s vision Editha fell ill with a fever which exhausted her delicate frame, so that on the 16th day of September she succumbed to it, in the twenty-third year of her age, after being comforted by the Sacraments of Holy Church, and assisted in her last moments by her spiritual father, Saint Dunstan. The nuns were inconsolable at her loss, and mourned much and long over her premature death. One who was away when she died, on re-entering the cloister heard the sound as of a large choir of voices singing in the church. She knew that the other nuns were not there, for they were busy preparing for the funeral, so, filled with surprise, she hastened to see what it could be, but was stopped on the threshold of the church by an angel, who said to her, “Go no further; the voices which you hear are those of the angels who have come to conduct the soul of Editha to the realms of bliss.”

Not long after her death Editha appeared to her mother, who more than all felt and wept for her loss. Her countenance was radiant with joy, and she was clothed in a robe of glory; while she bade her mother weep no more for her, seeing that she had been received by the Heavenly King into eternal joys. She added that she had been accused before God by Satan, but by the assistance of the saints she had triumphed over him, treading him under her feet by the virtue of the Cross of her Saviour Jesus Christ.

The following year the holy virgin came one night to Saint Dunstan as he was asleep, and called him by his name. “Hitherto,” she said, “I, who am numbered with the saints above and united for ever to my eternal Spouse, rest on earth in an unworthy grave; now I have come to make known to you that it is God’s will that I should be re-entombed for the comfort of many in this land who will come to pay reverence to my bones. And lest you should imagine that you have been a prey to a passing dream, know that when you exhume me you will find my thumb incorrupt, even as you foretold, neither let it trouble you that my eyes, feet and hands have fallen into decay. They have putrified by divine judgement because I sometimes abused them in childish levity.” So saying, she vanished. The Archbishop was much impressed by the vision, but he would not at once act upon it, fearing some delusion. However, a few days later a pilgrim arrived from Wilton, who asked to have speech with him. This pilgrim told him that he had been irresistibly drawn to the church of Saint Denis, where, being tired after his journey, he had fallen asleep. As he slept he thought he saw Saint Denis with Saint Editha at his side. They were standing on the altar step, shining with a radiant light. Saint Editha then spoke to him, telling him that it was God’s will that her relics should be more honourably buried, and that she wished him to go to Saint Dunstan to confirm him regarding a similar revelation which she had made to him. Saint Denis then repeated the injunction, and the church was once more wrapped in darkness.

Saint Dunstan, after this second intimation, no longer hesitated to undertake the translation, which, after the necessary preparations, took place on 3 November 985. All fell out just as the holy virgin had foretold; her thumb was intact, hut her other extremities had gone to dust. On the occasion of the translation there was a great concourse of people, and, as often happens, the piety of a crowd is apt to become ill-judged, so much so, that the saints are obliged to defend themselves from the well-meaning violence of those who would pilfer their relics, tear their garments, and even mutilate their bodies to satisfy their pious greed. Among the pilgrims was a monk named Edulph, from Glastonbury. He actually had the audacity to try- to cut off one of the shin bones of the saint for his private devotion. However, as he did so the blood began to flow as copiously as if the corpse had life. Edulph was filled with consternation at the prodigy, and, terrified at the speedy vengeance of the saint, he let the knife fall and began to pray for mercy. The blood then ceased to flow, and Edulph went away a wiser man, and more inclined to be cautious in his dealings with holy relics. One of the nuns had also stolen quietly into the church by night and began cutting away a piece of her garment, when Editha raised her head, as though she were alive, and at the sight of her stern countenance the surreptitious invader remained half dead with fright. For many long years Edith’s tomb continued to be the scene of miracles, which, from their similarity, might weary the reader; but one legend is noteworthy as being unique of its kind. In those days it was not an uncommon practice for clerics who were poor and without any regular special duties to travel about the country collecting alms, and carrying with them in a closed coffer the body of a martyr or confessor. On one occasion some clerics came over from France, bearing the body of Saint Junius, and in the course of their travels tarried at Wilton. Entering the church, they placed the coffer containing the relics on the altar step before the shrine of Saint Editha, and then went to beg alms in the neighbourhood. After a successful collection they came to reclaim their treasure, but no human power could lift the coffer; and, cry and lament as they would, it remained as if nailed to the spot. Who could wonder that Saint Junius preferred to be at the feet of innocence and purity rather than be carried on the shoulders of sinful men who might use him for a means of earthly gain? At last the Abbess, to rid herself of the travellers, gave them a gift of money to compensate for the loss of the rich reliquary, and they went away contented, while Saint Junius remained peacefully at Wilton as Saint Etlitha’s honoured guest.

Many of these stories may seem quite incredible, and no doubt much that is only legendary may have got mingled with truth; yet it is impossible to argue from the fact that similar prodigies do not often happen now, that they could not have happened then. We must remember that the Anglo-Saxon Church was at that time only in its infancy, and God was obliged to appeal more to the senses of His children, and to give them from time to time some sensible token which might reach their understanding. Now that the Church has, so to speak, matured after the lapse of so many centuries, God has ceased to instruct men so frequently in this manner; He now rather addresses himself to the intellect, and convinces souls in a less striking but not less effectual way. However, sceptics are not confined to our own days, and perhaps the best argument in favour of the miracles of our Saint is the scepticism of King Canute when the stories we have just related were told to him. He happened to be at Salisbury, about the year 1020, and was invited by the good Bishop Ethelnoth to a banquet at Wilton. During dinner, as was but natural, the bishop talked a great deal about the subject always uppermost at Wilton, namely, the wonders wrought by Saint Editha. The king, excellent as he was in many respects, was a thorough man of the world, and after listening with an incredulous smile, said at length,’s My good father, do not try to make me believe these fables, I am too old and have seen too much of the world to be easily taken in.” The Archbishop was rather hurt at the slight offered to his patroness, but wisely held his peace, only secretly praying her to vindicate her own honour. After dinner he proposed showing the king the church, to which the latter readily agreed. When they approached the shrine an extraordinary prodigy happened. Editha suddenly rose from her tomb, her face shining with the fire of holy indignation. The king, speechless with terror, fell fainting to the ground; his servants at length restored him to consciousness, and he began with much reverence and much sorrow to beg pardon of the Saint for the irreverent manner in which he had spoken of her. As a token of the devotion which he now for ever promised to her, he ordered a costly shrine, adorned with jewels, to be prepared for her at his expense, and begged of her henceforth to be his patroness. Soon after he had proof of the Saint’s forgiveness and patronage, for, being in imminent danger of shipwreck, he called to her in his anguish to save him from a watery grave, upon which the storm instantly subsided and the king continued his journey without further mishap. He did not fail to spread abroad the account of his miraculous escape, and when Bishop Aeldred was threatened with a similar danger in the Adriatic, he bethought himself of Editha, and invoked her assistance when all human means had failed and the ship was actually sinking. At this supreme moment the Saint suddenly stood beside him saying: “Be of good heart, I will deliver thee from the tempest.” And it fell out even as she had promised.

Like Saint Junius, we too have been resting awhile at Saint Editha’s feet, and we, like him, have recognised in her that innocence which is loved by God and man. Though we cannot, as he did, remain always with her, let us at least carry away with us this lesson which the author of the Imitation thus expresses, “God is the lover of purity, He seeks a pure heart and there is the place of His rest.”

O God, who dost make for Thyself a dwelling in a pure heart, grant that we, who venerate with humble homage the purity of Editha, Thy faithful spouse, may imitate the example of her holy life. Amen.

– text taken from the booklet Saint Editha of Wilton, author unknown, published by the Catholic Truth Society of London