Venerable Hibald, Abbot of Lindsey
Commemorated December 14/27
An icon of St. Hibald of Lindsey (the image kindly provided by Revd. David Eames) St. Hibald (Hygbald), who reposed in around 690, was a disciple of St. Chad of Lichfield, the Apostle of Mercia, whose example he tried to follow. He may have studied in the Irish tradition at Lindisfarne or Lastingham Monasteries, but this is impossible to prove. He was mentioned in St. Bede’s “History” in connection with St. Chad’s death: “Hygbald, a most holy and continent man, who was an abbot in the province of Lindsey, came out of Britain to visit him [St. Egbert in Ireland.—Auth.], and whilst these holy men were discoursing of the life of the former fathers, mention was made of the most reverend prelate, Chad, whereupon Egbert said, ‘I know a man in this island, who, when that prelate passed out of this world, saw the soul of his brother Cedd, with a company of angels, descending from heaven, who, having taken his soul with them, returned thither again’” (b. IV, ch. III).
The name of St. Hibald can be found in the Exeter Martyrology and in the medieval Liber Vitae—the confraternity “Book of Life” created at Durham Monastery. An early English prayer of confession attributed to him in an eighth or ninth century Worcester prayer book still exists. Hibald was probably the Abbot of the famous Bardney Monastery in Lincolnshire, organizing a missionary base and also living as a hermit. He is venerated in several places of Lincolnshire, notably in the large village of Hibaldstow (“St. Hibald’s holy place” or “burial site”) near the town of Brigg—its name indicates that his grave (or even monastery) may have been there. Pilgrims came to this church to pray to St. Hibald until the Reformation.
In 1866 it was decided to renovate St. Hibald’s Anglican parish church of Hibaldstow: it was then that an early stone coffin with the remains of a tall man—believed to be his relics—was discovered under its chancel floor. There are no records of a pre-Norman church or monastery on this site; however, the first church on this site was mentioned in 1086. The oldest part of the present building goes back to the thirteenth century—the small church retains the spirit of holiness. A further examination of the remains could give evidence regarding the authenticity of St. Hibald’s relics. After they were discovered, the remains were reburied under the floor of the south wall of the chancel. Though the exact spot is unmarked, near it are a shrine-like structure, a candle stand, a (now unused) censer, a small information board, and an icon of St. Hibald (painted by the late Archimandrite David [Meyrick]).
This Anglican church reads a collect prayer to St. Hibald close to his feast-day. The Hibaldstow church is again visited by pilgrims, notably from the Russian Orthodox community of Sts. Aidan and Chad in Nottingham. There were reports of a lasting fragrance on a cloth that had been put on the ground above what are thought to be hisk relics.
Other parish churches that bear St. Hibald’s name in Lincolnshire are situated in the villages of Ashby-de-la-Launde (its earliest elements are of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) and Scawby (medieval, in the Early English style, largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century). St. Hibald is depicted on the east window of the church of Scawby and probably on a stained glass on its north wall, though the figure in question might instead represent the Apostle Peter or Christ. There was also St. Hibald’s Church in the village of Manton in North Lincolnshire, rebuilt in the 1860s, which was converted into a private house not long ago.
Here is a prayer attributed to St. Hibald of Lindsey:
I beseech God, the omnipotent Father, Who created heaven and earth, the sea and all that therein is, Who is blessed God in all and over all forever, that He discharge me of all my sins and misdeeds which I have done from the cradle of my youth until this hour of my life in deeds, in words, in thoughts, in sight, in laughter, in going, in hearing, in touch and smell, willing, unwilling, knowing and unknowing, in spirit and in body, I have committed in folly.
Venerable Pandwina, Nun of Eltisley
Commemorated August 26/September 8
Depiction of St. Pandonia on the Eltisley village sign, Cambs (provided by Nichola Donald) St. Pandwina (Pandonia) lived in the ninth century and was venerated in the village of Eltisley in Cambridgeshire (close to the town of St. Neots), where the Anglican parish church is dedicated to her and St. John the Baptist. Her early Life, by Priest Richard of Eltisley, was lost, but she was mentioned by the traveler and antiquarian John Leland and other late authors. Her name can be found in an early Flemish litany. According to tradition, Pandwina, of noble Irish descent, fled her native land to avoid an undesirable marriage and settled in England to devote her life to Christ. Since her relative was prioress of a convent at or near Eltisley (the now deserted village of Papley is also suggested), she obtained permission to live there as a nun. After living the holy life of an anchoress at Eltisley, St. Pandwina reposed in about 904. Some historians, however, call her a virgin and martyr.
There were numerous reports of cures through her relics. St. Pandwina’s holy well at the Eltisley convent was famous for healing properties. Her first grave was beside the well, which was used for centuries. The convent was closed right after the Norman Conquest (or was transferred to Hinchingbrooke). There is a record of the translation of her relics to the Eltisley church in 1344. Her relics and the original well are long gone, and there are currently no memorials to this saint inside the Eltisley church. But the holy maiden is featured on the village sign of Eltisley by her church as a nun with a cross.
The present church is over 800 years old. It has been dedicated to St. Pandwina at least since the thirteenth century, and the name of St. John the Baptist was added later. There are several water features adjacent to the churchyard, which are fed by the source of St. Pandwina’s well. Eltisley is in southwest Cambridgeshire, some ten miles from Cambridge.
In 1623, Oliver Cromwell’s sister, Jane, was married in this church. This event is symbolic for the history of this holy place, which suffered from “reformers” and Puritans. The most notorious post-Reformation example is the rector Robert Palmer, who was responsible for the destruction of St. Pandwina’s well and the effacing of statues inside the church.
Venerable Pega, Anchoress of Peakirk
Commemorated January 8/21
St. Pega was one of the heroic holy women who made history in England before the Norman Conquest. Born in the early 670s in the Mercian royal family, the holy virgin Pega was St. Guthlac of Crowland’s sister, and like him she decided to devote herself to the service of Christ in chastity, prayer and holiness. Most of what we know about her comes from the Life of St. Guthlac written by Monk Felix in the eighth century, one of the two Old English poems dedicated to Guthlac (from the ninth century), and an eleventh-century Old English version of his Life.
St. Pega depicted on stained glass at St. John the Baptist's Church in Peterborough, Cambs (kindly provided by Dr. Avril Lumley-Prior) At first St. Pega lived close to her holy brother on the isle of Crowland (then spelled Croyland) in the fenland, and took care of him. But after one incident, when she advised him to eat more so as not to emaciate himself, he thought that she was being guided by a demon and he asked her to leave him. According to tradition, St. Pega made herself a humble hermitage a few miles away from Guthlac and lived there as an anchoress. When Guthlac realized that his death was near, he invited her through a messenger to arrange his funeral. St. Pega sailed down the Welland River to him, curing a blind man on her way. From her brother Pega she inherited a Psalter and a scourge for banishing demons, which she later presented to Crowland. A year after St. Guthlac’s repose, in 715, St. Pega organized the exhumation of his relics in the presence of clergy, and they were found to be intact. According to tradition, testified to by the monk and chronicler Orderic Vitalis (c. 1075–1142), St. Pega later made a pilgrimage to Rome, where she reposed in about 719, and her relics were enshrined in a Roman church, becoming famous for their miraculous power. St. Pega is mentioned in one early litany. The chronicler John of Worcester in the twelfth century praised St. Pega, and considered St. Guthlac as something close to her subordinate.
Though there are no records to confirm this, tradition connects St. Pega with the village of Peakirk (“Pega’s church”—the name was obviously given by Danes who pronounced it “kirk”, not “church”) in what is now Cambridgeshire, six miles southwest of Crowland and six miles northwest of the city of Peterborough. Its proximity to Crowland and its name indicate that St. Pega’s hermitage must have been in Peakirk. To preserve her holy memory, her cell might have been occupied by a succession of hermits. This site may have developed into a small monastery in the tenth century and united with Crowland in 1048, becoming its possession, as some chroniclers claimed. But it is more likely that it was used as a minster before the Norman Conquest. The supposed site of St. Pega’s hermitage is now occupied by a cottage 150 meters from the church, and a community of Anglican nuns once lived there. Pilgrims feel the presence of Divine grace on this spot.
The area where Guthlac and Pega struggled for Christ was the endless and dangerous fenland, with a complex river system and occasional isles inhabited by bandits and demons, and accessible by boat at certain times of the year. It is thanks to Sts. Guthlac, Pega and less known ascetics (Sts. Boda of Bodsey; Eadwin of Higney; Godric and Throcken of Throckenholt; Huna of Honey Farm, just outside Chatteris; Tancred, Torthred and Tova of Thorney; and unnamed hermits on the isle of Eye near Peterborough) that all the evil spirits were driven away and this land became Christian and blessed by their prayers. St. Pega was commemorated at Crowland Abbey on her feast until the Reformation. A chapel dedicated to her at Crowland Abbey precincts was mentioned in 1434.
The small, pretty village of Peakirk is famous for its medieval Anglican parish church—the only church dedicated to St. Pega. This parish commemorates her, arranging St. Pega’s patronal festival (since 2017) and singing a hymn to her on the first Sunday of the calendar New Year close to her feast. In this church St. Pega is represented on the early twentieth-century east window (next to the Mother of God), depicted as surrounded by swamps with swans flying by, and alone on another window in the north aisle.
This church has some fourteenth-century wall paintings of national importance in its nave and aisles, discovered under plaster in about 1950. Some of them depict: three hunting kings in magnificent garments meeting three skeletons who say: “As we are, so you shall be”; a pair of women gossiping as satan sits on their shoulders, pushing their heads together; St. Christopher; St. Longinus piercing Jesus’ side and being healed from blindness; and scenes related to the Passion and Burial of Christ. A curious treasure of the church is the “heart stone”, previously thought to be a fragment of a reliquary that once contained St. Pega’s heart, which had allegedly been sent from Rome back to her homeland. This thirteenth-century carved stone is displayed in the south aisle. After the Reformation, radicals broke half of this sculpture and its upper portion was lost. It is more likely that it was part of a stone coffin lid, carved with a body, the hands clasped together in prayer on its chest. Thus, it is a grave marker, like at the church in Hambleton, Rutland, or in Yaxley, Cambridgeshire, where a genuine human heart was found once the stone had been removed from the wall.
The earliest parts of St. Pega’s Church are late Saxon. It was first mentioned by the chronicler Hugh Candidus of Peterborough in about 1146. In the middle ages, St. Pega’s was considered important, though it was dedicated to “All Hallows”, while the present dedication is post-Reformation. The church is little yet has a holy atmosphere, and pilgrims are now visiting it once more. It consists of an aisled nave, a chancel and a north chapel having a stained-glass window of St. Guthlac.
One of the parish churches of Peterborough is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. This church has a large collection of stained-glass windows, some of which are 150 years old. Among the saints depicted on them are Sts. Aidan, Alban, Augustine, Bede, Bega, Boniface, Etheldreda, George the Victorious, Guthlac and Pega (in the south aisle).
There is a twelfth-century gem called the Guthlac Roll, depicting the Life of St. Guthlac in eighteen roundels on parchment, two of which depict St. Pega (as sailing to Guthlac before his repose and arranging for the opening of his relics). The original is kept in the British Library, but there are copies at Crowland Abbey and St. Pega’s Church.
Saint Wendreda of March
Though an obscure, early saint, her church in the pretty market town of March in Cambridgeshire receives many tourists from around the world every year. According to tradition, Wendreda (Wynthryth) may have been a relative of St. Etheldreda of Ely and her other holy royal sisters, and was the foundress and first abbess in the seventh century of a convent in what is now March. Like Ely, at that time March was an isle surrounded by marshland—an isolated and dangerous place. According to folk tradition, Wendreda studied the medicinal properties of herbs and springs and used to treat sick people, performing miracles.
Nothing remains of the early church on the site of the supposed convent in March, but the place is dominated by a magnificent fourteenth-century Anglican parish church dedicated to St. Wendreda. Her remains were moved from March in the tenth century and brought by Abbot Elsin of Ely to the monastery church of Ely (now Ely Cathedral). Her relics were enshrined in gold alongside St. Etheldreda’s. Interestingly, in the early eleventh century her relics were taken by King Edmund Ironside to a battle against Canute (the future Danish king of England who would convert to Christianity and support the Church) who captured them and later gave them to Canterbury Cathedral. Though the allegation that Canute converted to the faith thanks to St. Wendreda’s intercession is an exaggeration, the king did erect a church in Ashingdon in Essex where he had won that fateful battle, and the church is still standing to this day.
In the fourteenth century, St. Wendreda’s relics were returned from Canterbury to March, where veneration continued until the Reformation. Though under Henry VIII her shrine was smashed, there are no records of the destruction of her relics. Some years ago, a local historian, bell-ringer and author of over 120 books, Trevor Bevis (1930–2021), supposed that St. Wendreda’s relics were hidden by the faithful of March during the Reformation. He noticed a stone slab in the wall of the south aisle beside St. Wendreda’s stained glass image, on which the faded “S” inscription is still legible. “S” may indicate “Saint” or “Sanctus” and serve as a marker at her secret burial site, since the parishioners valued the wonderworking abbess. But only further research can shed light on this.
Today, the reason for the great popularity of St. Wendreda’s Church is not the saint and her spiritual feats, but the splendid 120 timber carvings of angels on the ceiling, created in about 1500—one of the last devotional masterpieces to be produced in pre-Reformation England. Such an extraordinary assembly of angels (and nineteen canopied saints and martyrs) became possible due to the church’s fine double hammer-beam roof. Some angels hold musical instruments, and some carry figures of saints. The font is of the twelfth century and even predates the church, as is often the case. In the west end of the nave is a memorial to a true hero: the twenty-one-year-old Jim Hocking, an Australian Royal Air Force trainee pilot who at the cost of his own life saved the town of March from destruction by the Nazis during the Second World War. Though the other treasures were destroyed by the “reformers”, the angels miraculously survived and continue to adorn this holy place, attracting multitudes of guests.
The saintly foundress is not forgotten in this church: her small wooden effigy can be seen on the far-left corner of the ceiling by the chancel arch, though barely noticeable because of the fluttering angels. She is featured as an abbess with doves by her feet, and a similar figure of St. Etheldreda in front of her. The church has a very tall steeple, and visitors are allowed to climb the bell-tower on certain days of the year to admire the surroundings (Ely Cathedral is visible on a clear day). The church is built of a mixture of stone, flint and brick.
Perhaps there is another link with this saint: at the village of Exning in Suffolk, which is believed to be the birthplace of St. Etheldreda. The village has the very ancient holy well of St. Mindred, the waters of which used to heal both men and animals (it was good for wens and boils). Some believe that St. Mindred is a corruption of “Wendred”, making our saint its patroness. According to tradition, its foundress used this well for healing, though we will never know if it was St. Wendreda or a local ascetic St. Mindred of whom nothing is known. The well is now in a private area and inaccessible to the public; until recently its waters were used by horses of the Newmarket racecourse.
Lastly, a fine bas-relief depicting the translation of St. Wendreda’s relics from March to Ely was created in the 1960s for a public house, and it now hangs in the March Museum. One of numerous beautiful stained-glass windows at St. Edmund’s Church in Fritton, Norfolk, reportedly depicts St. Wendreda. This saint is commemorated in Ely Cathedral.
St. Wendreda is regarded by some as the patron-saint of March.
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Of the numerous local saints of eastern England let us also mention:
Sts. Aldwyn and Ethelwin (or Elwin; eighth century; both are feasted on May 3). St. Bede mentioned them in his “History”: “The holy men, Ethelwin and Aldwin, the first of whom was bishop in the province of Lindsey, the other abbot of the monastery of Peartaneu” (b. III, ch. XI). They were brothers. Tradition connects St. Aldwyn with Partney Monastery in Lincolnshire; the village of Coln St. Aldwyn in Gloucestershire is named after him. St. Ethelwin was the second bishop of Lindsey, but later moved with St. Egbert to Ireland where he reposed;
St. Ivo (Ives; feast: April 24), was reputedly a Persian (or possibly Syrian) bishop who moved to England to live as a hermit near Huntingdon. In 1001, after a peasant had a vision, four bodies were dug out at the village of Slepe (later St. Ives), one of which had a bishop’s insignia. The relics were translated to Ramsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, and numerous healing miracles followed. A century later a supernatural light that extended from Ramsey to Slepe indicated that the bodies of St. Ivo’s companions should be transferred back to Slepe and have a separate shrine. St. Ivo is the patron of the market town of St. Ives (named after him) in Cambridgeshire.
St. Jurmin († c. 654; feast: February 23) was the son or a nephew of Anna, the pious King of East Anglia. Nothing is known of him except that while still very young, he was slain together with his father at the Battle of Bulcamp by King Penda of Mercia, and is venerated as a martyr. At first both were buried at the church of Blythburgh, and in 1095 St. Jurmin’s relics were translated to Bury St. Edmunds Monastery, where his veneration gradually died out. Today the village of Blythburgh in Suffolk has the fifteenth-century Holy Trinity Church—one of the most beautiful and richly decorated churches in eastern England, nicknamed “the cathedral of the marshes”, which was admired by the composer Benjamin Britten. The site of St. Jurmin’s grave was forgotten. The church was damaged many times in its history: by a lightning, a storm, and, according to legend, by the devil and the mysterious “Black Shuck” dog (marks of “the devil’s fingers” are visible on its door), but restored each time. There was the Augustinian Blythburgh Priory in the village, the ruins of which remain.
St. Wolfeius (eleventh century; feast: December 9) was, according to the historian William of Worcester, the first hermit at St. Benet Holme. A monastery in honor of St. Benedict, St. Benet’s at Holme (or Hulme), was founded on the River Bure in Norfolk (the nearest village is Ludham) in the ninth century. It was among the richest in England. Apart from St. Wolfeius, this site produced some martyrs killed by the Danes. The abbey was closed under Henry VIII, and only its picturesque ruins still remain in a meadow, in a secluded site by the river.
All the local saints of Eastern England, pray to God for us!
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Acknowledgments for this two-part series on the local saints of eastern England
I express sincere gratitude to the historian and author Dr. Avril Lumley-Prior from Peakirk for providing me with ample information on the churches of Peakirk and Castor, and also to Mrs. Trish Roberts and Mrs. Sheila Lever, Churchwardens of Peakirk, for additional details; and to Revd. David Eames for providing information on the churches of Hibaldstow and Scawby.
Some facts on St. Pega were taken from the article, “Fact and/or Folklore? The Case for St. Pega of Peakirk”, by Dr. Avril Lumley-Prior, with the author’s permission.
Some facts on Sts. Cyneburgh and Cyneswith were taken from the article, “Queen Kyneburgha’s Castor”, by Dr. Avril Lumley-Prior, with the author’s permission, and the booklet, St. Kyneburgha's Church, Castor. A Souvenir Guide to the Historic Church at Castor, originally published by the CAMUS Project in 2006, with a revised and expanded edition published in 2018 by the St. Kyneburgha Building Preservation Trust. Authors: William Burke and Avril Lumley-Prior.