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July 6 Saints of the Day – Sexburga of Ely, and Godelieve

On this date in 1785, the dollar was unanimously chosen as the monetary unit for the United States. Other units considered were the galleon, the Green Stamp, and the Coke can pop-top.

Sexburga of ElySexburga of Ely (d. 699) came from one of those families that makes yours seem like a den of iniquity. She had three and a half sainted sisters and two sainted daughters (one of whom was a queen consort). Okay, the distaff side of your family. All three of her sons became kings (in good time) (if the seventh and eighth centuries can be considered a good time). She was the daughter of King Anna of East Anglia and married Eorcenberht, king of Kent, bearing him five children (as noted). According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, Eorcenberht overthrew “devil-worship” (paganism?) in his kingdom, and was the first English kinglet to establish the celebration of Easter. He died in a plague outbreak, and Sexburga (“half a dozen White Castles”) ruled as regent for her son Egbert (or Ecgberht) and founded Kent’s first women’s monastery in Milton. When Eggy (if you’ll indulge me) came into his majority, she went off and founded the abbey of Minster-in-Sheppey, glad to wash her hands of the whole royalty thing.

Not long after that she removed to the double-monastery of Ely, where her sister St. Audrey was abbess, and whom she succeeded. After Audrey’s death, Sexburga was instrumental in her canonization, and procured a beautiful marble sarcophagus which miraculously fit Audrey perfectly. One historian wonders out loud why there are so many miraculous coincidences in hagiographies. Another historian questions whether Sexburga might be the same person as Sexburga of Wessex, then notes that virtually all they have in common is their name, and retracts the suggestion. One can be forgiven for thinking that, unlike writers of satire blogs, some historians need to do more research and less padding.

Sexburga died at Ely at “a good, late age,” and although the location of her relics isn’t mentioned in my sources, the location and provenance of nearly a dozen manuscripts mentioning her are, which is perhaps the next best thing.

GodlieveGodelieve (1049 – 1070) was a pious girl (and patron of the poor) who desired nunhood, but due to her being a Flemish nobleman’s daughter, not to mention her exceeding comeliness, she was forcibly married to Bertolf of Ghistelles, also a Flemish nobleman, who at the urging of his less-than-savory mother abandoned his new wife in the middle of their wedding reception. (Which (I’m sure you’ll agree) is a wicked (meaning good) run-on sentence describing a wicked (meaning bad) deed.) At this point her wicked (meaning fairy-tale witch) mother-in-law took over and had her locked in a cell, starved, and both mentally and physically abused.

When word of this reached Godelieve’s father, he enlisted the bishop and Bertolf’s father, and the three threatened to turn Bertolf over to both civil and ecclesial authorities unless he took her back and treated her right. He did, appearing to all appearances to repent, but shortly thereafter he began to abuse her, and when he was (conveniently) away on business, two of his henchman seized Godelieve, strangled her, and threw her in a pond. (Having lured her through the back, not front or side, door of the castle. The import of some hagiographic details can be elusive.) Everyone knew Bertolf was guilty, but no one could produce evidence sufficient for the grand jury (or eleventh century equivalent), so he got away with it.

Bertolf married a second time, and had a daughter who was born blind (the implication being that this was due to his sin). She was healed by the intercessions of Godelieve, and founded a monastery at Gistel dedicated to her. These events finally softened Bertolf’s heart, and in sorrow and repentance he went to Rome to seek absolution, pilgrimaged to the Holy Land, and returned to become a monk in St. Winnoc’s in Bergues.

Godelieve is celebrated annually in Gistel by a procession on the first Sunday after July 5. Her first hagiographer (Tolkien fans hold onto your hats) was Drogo of Bergues. She is the patroness of people with in-law problems.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
July 6 (Wikipedia)
Seaxburh of Ely (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint Saxburgh of Ely (SQPN)
Image from Wikimedia.
Saint Godelieve (SQPN) – Main source
Godeleva of Ghistelles (St. Patrick DC)
Godelina (Wikipedia)
The Life and Miracles of Saint Godlieve — Master of the Saint Godelieve Legend (Netherlandish, active fourth quarter 15th century). (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) –Source of image

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

2 comments on “July 6 Saints of the Day – Sexburga of Ely, and Godelieve

  1. I once asked a friend what the-word-that-means-the-two-Sexburgas’-or-two-anybodys’-stories-get-smushed-together-into-one means, like what happened in some circles with St Brigid and the goddess she was named for. (Clearly I’ve forgotten the word in question.) He said it’d be like if 500 or 1000 years from now someone decided Martin Luther and Martin Luther King were probably the same person, since they were reverends with the same name who led revolutions of some kind. I laughed.

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