Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
5. OWINE:
 
Owine was born into an aristocratic family in East Anglia, entered the royal service, and in time became the chief thegn and head of the household to Queen Aethelthryth, better known as Etheldreda. In those days this was a very good and responsible job. When she married King Edgfrith of Northumbria he came north with her. But for a long time she had been longing to become a nun, and eventually the King released her from her marriage and she got her desire. Owine then took the opportunity to become a monk. But not to sit over a book all day! In spite of his 'good' family background he was determined to do manual work, and so he turned up at the door of the monastery of Lastingham (now in North Yorkshire) wearing the rough clothes of a peasant and carrying only a spade. The Abbot at the time was Chad, who had been one of St.Aidan's boys in the school on Lindisfarne. He accepted this strange recruit, and so, when the rest of the brothers were inside, reading, Owine was outside, digging.
 
When Chad became bishop of the Mercians (West Midlands) Owine went with him to his new centre at Lichfield, and continued to make his contribution by manual work. The bishop had a small oratory, and one day in late February, while the rest of the brothers were in the main church, Bishop Chad was alone in this oratory praying, and Owine was working outside. He was suddenly surprised to hear 'sweet and joyful singing' coming from the sky, from the winter sun, towards him, settling on the oratory for about half-an-hour, and then returning to the heavens. While he stood amazed Bishop Chad opened the oratory window and asked Owine to fetch the brothers. He then told them that his death was near, and urged them to continue to live as faithful monks. When they had gone away sadly Owine lingered behind to tell Chad that he had heard the heavenly music. 'They were angel spirits coming to call me' said Chad, 'and they will come back to fetch me in seven days' time.' It happened as he said. Chad became ill and grew worse for a week and died on the seventh day.
 
The date was March 2nd 672, and the tradition was that Owine died on the same day.
 
6. EBBE
 
St. Ebbe is in fact our second woman saint of seventh-century Northumbria, but she is little-known partly by being in the shadow of our first woman saint, St.Hild. However, she was very well-respected in her own day.
 
She was sister of the Northumbrian kings Oswald and Oswiu. She was still a child when her father Aethelfrith was killed in battle, and with her brothers she went into exile in south-west Scotland, and with them she learned the Christian faith from the monks of Iona. Later she was married, though we are not sure to whom; probably to a member of the royal house of Wessex. But it seems that she was widowed quite young, and then decided to become a nun. She returned to Northumbria, and had her 'practice' monastery at Ebchester, just south of Newcastle, where the ruins of an old Roman fort sheltered the community. Then her brother King Oswiu gave her land near Coldingham, which was then in Northumbria. Here her monastery was on the cliffs above the village of St. Abb's (named after her.) In this bleak and beautiful place she spent the rest of her life.
 
Coldingham in those days was a double monastery, for monks and nuns. There were many such double monasteries at the time, and sadly, Coldingham was the only one of which scandal was talked. By our standards it was not serious scandal, but an angel visiting at night found the monks and nuns talking about frivolities, rather than praying, and he warned one of the monks, who warned the Abbess Ebbe. She tightened up standards for a while, but after she died the monastery was burned down and people said it was a judgment on them for their behaviour. But it is a pity if this story gives the impression that Ebbe was not a competent Abbess. Contemporary sources call her 'a holy and discreet Abbess' and a 'woman honoured among all'.
 
It is clear that Ebbe had her devotees.
 
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