September 16 – Ninian; Edith of Wilton

Ninian (360–432) was born on Albion’s fair isle (Britain), but there being a distinct lack of seminaries there at that time, he made his way to Rome, who can blame him. There the Pope (probably Damasus I) provided for his education. Once he had mastered the Scriptures and divine theology and everything, he was bishopified by the Pope himself, and sent back to Britain. Having heard of Martin (Nov 11), however, Ninian rerouted his trip to pass through Tours. Within days the two became fast friends, which is pretty fast.

After visiting Martin, Ninian repaired to a small peninsula about as far south and west as you can get in Scotland without getting wet, and there built the first stone church in Britain. He named it after Martin, who had just died, but everybody else called it “Candida Casa,” Latin for Hwit Ærne. From that base, Ninian traveled all over the south of Pictland, converting people and working miracles. None of my usual sources included any miracles (calling them “not historical” or some such rubbish), but your intrepid hagiographer chased one down (which we’ll get to in a mo). Ninian either died in Scotland or moved to Ireland and died there. Either choice seems equally respectable. He is called the Apostle of the Southern Picts.

Once, a convincible miss had a dalliance with a cad lad. She was not inconceivable, and in time this became apparent. When pressed to confess who got her in this mess, she falsely fingered the faithful Father, a Ninian appointee. The citizenry were suitably shocked, and would not hear the denials of the innocent man. Ninian was sent for to adjudicate the matter, and arrove just in time for the child’s dunking. Holding the babe in his arms, he said, “Yo, whatsyername. Who’s your daddy?” In a grown man’s voice, the infant said, “That guy over there,” pointing to his biological parent. Junior then went on to develop a normal voice at the normal time, and everything else righted itself as well.

Edith of Wilton (961–984) was the daughter of Edgar, King of England, and St. Wilfrida, a nun from Wilton Abbey whom Edgar carried off by force (but he paid for it, by golly—(St.) Dunstan (May 19) took away his crown for seven whole years). As soon as Wilfrida could, she escaped back to her abbey with Edith in tow. Edith grew up in the abbey (and its adjoining school for girls), and “took the veil early,” as they say in nun land. She was (of course) beautiful, erudite, and holy, and (less obviously) had the gift of talking to wild animals.

When Edgar died, there was some doubt as to which of his sons, Edmund or Æthelred the Unready (they didn’t call him that to his face), should replace him on the throne. One night Edith awoke from a horrible dream in which she had lost one of her eyes (she found them both right where they were supposed to be upon awakening, thankfully). “Edmund’s dead,” she said. And sure enough, he was. Edmund’s associates, who were opposed to Æthelred’s becoming king (“He’s just not ready,” they said), offered the crown to Edith, but she refused. It didn’t go with her sumptuous gowns, which she wore all the time. “You’re so vain,” said Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester. “Pride can hide under cruddy clothes,” she retorted, “and a good heart can be found under these clothes just as well as under that fur thing of yours.” He shut up.

She built a church at Wilton, and everybody who was anybody came to the dedication. She caught Dunstan crying during the Mass and asked him why, and he, not one to thrash the shrubbery, said, “Because you’re going to die in three weeks.” And sure enough, she did. She appeared to her mother a week after she died, assuring her that although the Devil had tried to accuse her, she broke his head. Her relics have long been cherished, especially her thumb, which set off on its own shortly after her exhumation some 13 years after her death.