Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
25. AETHELTHRYTH, or ETHELDREDA:
 
Aethelthryth, better known by the Latin form of her name, Etheldreda, was born in about 630, the daughter of the King of the East Angles. She was married first to a nobleman called Tondberht, who died three years later. Then for 12 years she was Queen of Northumbria, having married our king Edgfrith. But through both these marriages Etheldreda longed to be set free and allowed to be nun , which was what she had always wanted. We must remember that at this period girls were often married even as young as 12 years to the man chosen by their family, and that royal ladies in particular were often used as pawns in the game of politics, so that their marriages cemented alliances between kingdoms. It is quite likely that Etheldreda never agreed to either marriage.
 
Here in the north St. Wilfrid persuaded Etheldreda to persist in her monastic vocation, and eventually King Edgfrith released her. She then entered the double monastery at Coldingham, where the king's aunt Ebbe was the Abbess. After a novitiate there of one year Etheldreda moved back to her native East Anglia. Here, at Ely, she founded a double monastery (i.e. with both monks and nuns) and lived a very austere life as Abbess. She ate only one meal a day, wore only woollen clothes, and kept the early hours of each morning as a vigil of prayer.
 
After seven years as Abbess she died of plague, as did many people at this time, including our saints Cedd and Boisil. We don't know what kind of plague it was, but some very infectious illness, worse in some years than others. Like the body of St. Cuthbert her body was said not to have decayed after death. At the time people understood that as a sign of great holiness, and so many churches were dedicated to her that she must be said to have become the most popular woman saint of the Anglo-Saxon period.
 
26. BISHOP COLMAN:
 
Colman was the 3rd bishop of Lindisfarne, following Aidan and Finan. Like his predecessors he was Irish and had been a monk of Iona. He succeeded Finan in 661.
 
But he was here for only three years. Then King Oswy called the meeting known as the Synod of Whitby, to decide whether Northumbria should continue to accept Irish Christian leadership in the future, or whether it should turn to the continent. Problems on the agenda included the method of calculating the date of Easter, which was a difficult mathematical question at the time. Bishop Colman was the chief speaker on the Irish side, and St. Wilfrid spoke for the continental. The King declared for the continental side.
 
Bishop Colman and the Irish monks of Lindisfarne then decided to leave and return to Iona. They took with them 30 English monks who preferred not to conform to the Synod's decision, and also some of the bones of St. Aidan.
 
Colman then attempted to found a monastery at Inishboffin, off the west coast of Ireland. But his English and Irish monks quarrelled. Bede tells us that this was because the Irish monks expected to go on pilgrimage all the summer and still return to eat the harvest which the stay-at-home English monks had grown. So Colman moved the English monks to a new site at Mayo. This monastery continued to attract English recruits, became famous for learning, and, under the name of "Mayo of the Saxons" flourished right up to Tudor times.
 
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