August 25 – Titus of the Seventy; Ebbe the Elder

Titus of the Seventy (I–II cent.) was a Cretan (although not a cretin) who dedicated himself to living a virtuous life (heck, he remained a virgin, and you know how hard that was on Crete in those days). He was rewarded with a dream telling him to seek salvation, which he promptly ignored for over a year. When his uncle, the governor, heard about a prophet in Palestine, he sent Titus thither to check things out. Titus heard Jesus preach, heard the Apostles speaking Cretan in Acts 2, and was baptized by the Apostle Paul. He traveled with the great apostle up hither and down yon, and was eventually made bishop back on Crete.

While there he got a letter from Paul, which has been preserved in the collection of writings sometimes (okay, always) called the “New Testament.” Paul told Titus, member of an old and illustrious Cretan family, “all Cretans are liars.” We assume Titus took it with good grace. He bopped over to Rome long enough to watch Paul die, then came back to Crete and led his flock, preached to pagans, and worked wonders, including destroying temples and idols by his prayers. When he died at age 97, his face “shone like the sun.” He is the patron saint of (wait for it) Crete.

Æbbe the Elder (ca. 615–683) was one of the daughters of Æthelfrith, first king of Northumbria, and Acha, last princess of Deira. She is the sister of (St.) Oswald (Aug 5), and with her many siblings endured exile in Ireland while their uncle Edwin usurped. When Ozzie (as nobody called him) reestablished the family on the throne, she moved back to England. He wanted to marry her off to the Scottish prince Aidan (not to be confused with the Irish saint Aidan (Aug 31), who (a) wasn’t a prince, and (b) wasn’t looking to get married, and (c) hadn’t crossed the Irish Sea yet—it was just a popular name), but she refused, wishing instead to be nunnified. Aidan, not one to be put off easily, determined to carry her off by force (those were different times). She fled to a rock by the shore, and an unusually high tide cut her off from the mainland for three whole days, after which Aidan gave up and went home.

On a piece of land granted by Oswiu, her other brother, she built Ebchester (“Æbbe’s fort/walled city/army camp/whatever”) Monastery, becoming its abbess. She was heavily involved in the region’s politics, attempting to make peace between various factions. In one incident, Bishop Wilfred helped Ætheldreda, first wife of Æbbe’s nephew, Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria, escape to Æbbe’s monastery before her nuptials were finalized (if you know what I mean). Ecgfrith’s second wife Iurmenburh stirred up his hatred for Wilfred even further (out of jealousy), and Wilfred was imprisoned. Æbbe, through her diplomacy, won his release.

Another time Æbbe was captured (by somebody), but escaped in a boat down the Humber and out to sea, where a “supernatural being” guided it to a spit (St. Abb’s Head) in Berwickshire, where she founded a double monastery before heading back to Ebchester (the timing here is very unclear and I suspect my sources would scratch each other’s eyes out if they were ever in the same room). Life at the monastery was not necessarily in strict accordance with Christian values of temperance, decorum, and chastity, and Æbbe fought to rein in the worst offenses, pretty much in vain. Things were so bad that when (St.) Cuthbert (Mar 20) visited, he was forced to spend his evenings down by the sea swimming and praying to avoid succumbing to the “temptations of the flesh” (whatever exactly that might mean). A monk spied him one night and followed him, and saw two otters cavorting with him. This is my favorite part of this hagiography.

No doubt due to its lax morals, the monastery burned to the ground shortly after Æbbe’s death, although her work in establishing Christianity in southeast Scotland has never been forgotten (obviously).