Etheldreda and Egfrith at Colbert’s Head


Born c. 636
Exning, Suffolk
Died June 23, 679
Ely, Cambridgeshire
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Eastern Orthodoxy
Major shrine St Etheldreda’s Church, Ely Place, Holborn, London; Originally Ely Cathedral (now destroyed)
Feast June 23
Attributes Abbess holding a model of Ely Cathedral
Patronage Throat complaints

Æthelthryth, or Æðelþryð, (c. 636-June 23, 679) is the proper name for the popular Anglo-Saxon saint often known, particularly in a religious context, as Etheldreda or by the pet form of Audrey (or variations). She was an East Anglian princess, a Fenland queen and Abbess of Ely in the English county of Cambridgeshire.

Although, for twelve years, Egfrith had been a mere humble adorer of his beautiful wife, he had, by now become a man – with manly desires. His affection had grown to a love which could no longer be satisfied with worship at a distance.

He had hitherto consented to let Etheldreda live in his house like a nun in her convent, but now he wanted, and even demanded, more. He entreated Wilfred to use his influence to induce his wife to become, in fact, what, as yet, she had been only in name.

He promised Wilfred great things for himself and for his churches, should he be able to persuade the Queen that her duty to God was her duty to her husband.

Wilfred feigned to enter into the King’s view of the matter, but, in fact, he steadfastly encouraged the Queen to persist in her celibate life and even advised her to ask permission to leave the court and become a nun. Egfrith never forgave him.

After many painful scenes, an unwilling consent was wrung from the King, no sooner given than repented. However, before he could give orders to the contrary, Etheldreda had fled to Coldingham beyond the Tweed, where Egfrith’s aunt, St. Aebbe the Elder, was abbess.

Egfrith found life intolerable without Etheldreda, and determined to bring her back with or without her consent.

St. Aebbe heartily sympathised with Etheldreda but, seeing that, should Egfrith insist on reclaiming his wife, resistance would be impossible, advised her to escape from Coldingham in the disguise of a beggar. Etheldreda did this, attended by two nuns of Coldingham, SS. Sewara and Sewenna.

She did not go to her own aunt’s sister, St. Hilda, at Whitby, as she would have opposed anything advised by Wilfred, but decided to go back to her own lands at Ely. Many stories are told of her adventures on the journey, and they have often been the subject of sculpture and painted glass in the English monastic churches.

On the first day of her flight, Etheldreda was all but overtaken by her husband.

She arrived at a headland, Colbert’s Head, jutting into the sea, and her pious intention was protected by the tide, which at once rose to an unusual height around the rock, making the place inaccessible to her pursuers.

Egfrith resolved to wait till the ebbing waters should leave the path open to him, but instead of going down in a few hours, the waters remained at high tide for seven days.

The baffled pursuer then realised that a power greater than his had taken Etheldreda, and her vow, under his protection.

So he gave up the idea of compelling her to come back to him and returned home.

Renaissance Singers St Etheldreda’s church.

Part of the Hidden London tour


6 Responses to “Etheldreda and Egfrith at Colbert’s Head”

  1. rosettasister Says:

    Manila Bulletin

    Word Alive

    A communist’s conversion

    August 14, 2010


    On the feast of the Assumption on Sunday, let me relate the story of Douglas Hyde, a statesman, who was a dedicated communist and former editor of Britain’s communist paper.

    Douglas Hyde was converted to Catholicism through the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    * * *

    As the editor of their communist paper, he began to read all about the Catholic Church with the avowed intention of tearing it down in his writings.

    But something happened as he tried to gather more weapons to destroy the church. The more he read, the more intellectually convinced he became of its truthfulness and origin as a divine institution.

    * * *

    But he could not yet bring himself to believe. Something was holding him back.

    One day, he was going to work in London on the daily commuter train. When the train arrived at the Ely Place station, he saw a sign he had seen a hundred times. It read, “St. Etheldreda’s Catholic Church.” He decided to get off the train and go to it.

    * * *

    When he arrived, he sat in the last pew, wondering what strange power had brought him here. Suddenly a teenage girl came in. She walked down the center aisle and went straight to a statue of Mary. As she passed, Hyde noticed the troubled look on her face.

    * * *

    The girl knelt at Mary’s feet for a long time. Then she got up and left the church. As she did, Hyde noticed that her troubled look was gone. She was totally at peace.

    When she had gone, he decided to do what she had done. He decided to take his problem to Mary.

    * * *

    As he knelt down and looked up into the face of the Virgin, he wondered how one prayed to Mary. These are his exact words, written in his book titled I Believed:

    “How did one pray to Our Lady? I did not know… At last I heard myself mumbling something which seem appropriate enough, when I began it, but petered out, becoming miserably inappropriate.

    * * *

    “But it did not matter. I knew my search was at an end… Outside the church I tried to remember the words I had said and almost laughed as I recalled them. They were those of a secular dance tune:

    * * *

    “O sweet and lovely lady, be good, O lady be good to me.”

    Mary is indeed a sweet and lovely lady. And she will indeed be good to you – as she was to an atheist and communist Douglas Hyde.

  2. rosettasister Says:

  3. rosettasister Says:

    To: rosettasister

    Douglas Hyde’s book Dedication and Leadership is a small masterpiece every serious Christian — Catholic or non-Catholic — should read.

    (Disclaimer: I’m of the Reformed flavor. This book is devoid of things that push my hot buttons. In fact, he mentions how many people who go over to Protestant denominations — or communism — were Catholics, first! Fidel Castro was active in Catholic youth organizations, for example … )

    3 posted on Saturday, August 21, 2010 7:47:59 AM by RJR_fan (Christians need to reclaim and excel in the genre of science fiction.)

  4. rosettasister Says:

    New Thread:

    Las Vegas Report

  5. RJR Fan Says:

    And for defrauding her husband, who truly loved her, of his legitimate marital due — she is sainted? A fraud, a cheat, a covenant-breaker, and heart-breaker …

    How can she claim to love the invisible God, when she would not even do right by her visible husband? How can we celebrate her covenant with God, when she treated her covenant with man like dirt?

    I smell something foul in the woodpile, here. Satan chortles with glee when Christian people use God as an excuse to do ill, to do wrong to, those who are counting on them. “That which was due you I consecrated to God … ” was a line of bovine excrement that Jesus rightfully derided as a stench in the nostrils of God and man.

  6. rosettasister Says:

    Etheldreda’s story is complicated and interesting.

    As are all the saints.

    I, for one, am fascinated.

    But thanks for commenting here, RJR Fan!

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