St. Etheldreda

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St. Etheldreda, or Audry, Virgin and Abbess

A.D. 679.

ST. ETHELDREDA or EDILTRUDIS, commonly called Audry, was third daughter of Annas or Anna, the holy king of the East Angles, and St. Hereswyda. She was younger sister to St. Sexburga and to St. Ethelburga, who died a virgin and nun in France, and was eldest sister to St. Withburga. She was born at Ermynge, a famous village in Suffolk, and brought up in the fear of God. In compliance with the desire of her friends she married Tonbercht, prince of the southern Girvij; 1 but they lived together in perpetual continency. Three years after her marriage, and one year after the death of her father, Audry lost her husband, who for her dowry settled upon her the isle of Ely. 2 The holy virgin and widow retired into that solitude, and there lived five years rather like an inhabitant of heaven than one in a mortal state. Trampling under her feet whatever attracts the hearts of deluded worldlings, she made poverty and humility her delight and her glory, and to sing the divine praises with the angels night and day was her most noble ambition and holy employ. Notwithstanding her endeavours to hide herself from the world, her virtues pierced the veil which she studied to throw over them, and shone with a brightness which was redoubled from the lustre which her humility reflected on them. Egfrid, the powerful king of Northumberland, hearing the fame of her virtues, by the most earnest suit extorted her consent to marry him, and she was obliged to engage a second time in that state. The tradition of the Church, which by her approbation and canons has authorized this conduct in many saints, is a faithful voucher that a contract of marriage not yet consummated, deprives not either party of the liberty of prefering the state of greater perfection. St. Audry, upon this principle, during twelve years that she reigned with her husband, lived with him as if she had been his sister, not as his wife, and devoted her time to the exercises of devotion and charity. At length, having taken the advice of St. Wilfrid, and received from his hands the religious veil, she withdrew to the monastery of Coldingham beyond Berwick, and there lived in holy obedience under the devout abbess St. Ebba. Afterwards, in the year 672, according to Thomas of Ely, she returned to the isle of Ely, and there founded a double monastery upon her own estate. The nunnery she governed herself, and was by her example a living rule of perfection to her sisters. She ate only once a day except on great festivals, or in time of sickness; never wore any linen but only woollen clothes; never returned to bed after matins, which were sung at midnight, but continued her prayers in the church till morning. She rejoiced in pains and humiliations, and in her last sickness thanked God for being afflicted with a painful red swelling in her neck, which she regarded as a just chastisement for her vanity, when in her youth at court she wore rich necklaces studded with brilliants. After a lingering illness she breathed out her pure soul in profound sentiments of compunction, on the 23rd of June, 679. She was buried, according to her directions, in a wooden coffin. Her sister Sexburga, widow of Erconbercht, king of Kent, succeeded her in the government of her monastery, and caused her body to be taken up, put into a stone coffin, and translated into the church. On which occasion it was found uncorrupt, and the same physician who had made a ghastly incision in her neck a little before her death, was surprised to see the wound then perfectly healed. Bede testifies that many miracles were wrought by the devout application of her relics, and the linen cloths that were taken off her coffin; which is also confirmed by an old Latin hymn by him inserted in his history. 3,1 Continue reading

St. Mary of Oignies

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St. Mary of Oignies

HER parents, who were wealthy inhabitants of Nivelle, in Brabant, gave her a virtuous education, and married her young to a gentleman remarkable for his piety. He imitated her in her long devotions and watchings, and in the extraordinary austerities which she practised. This fervent couple by mutual agreement devoted themselves to serve the lepers in a quarter of Nivelle called Villembroke. By this abject life, they exposed themselves to the railleries and contempt of their worldly friends; but human respects were no temptation to our sincere lovers of the disgrace of the cross, who learned by humiliations to die more perfectly to themselves; assiduous meditation on the sufferings of Christ was their favourite exercise, and was to Mary a source of continual tears; which, as she said to Cardinal Vitry, far from exhausting her were her refreshment. Black dry bread with a few herbs, made up the slender refection which she allowed herself only once a day. When she spun or worked, she had the psalter always open before her, the more easily to prevent distractions, by frequently casting her eyes on it; for she seemed in all her employments never to cease praising God in her heart. She made every year two pilgrimages to our Lady’s church at Oignies, two miles from the place of her abode, and her devotion to the mother of God was most tender and remarkable. The pious cardinal who has written her life testifies that in her prayer she was favoured with frequent raptures and extraordinary heavenly visits; and that her conversation, which was ordinarily on God, inflamed and comforted exceedingly all who spoke to her. I know, says the same learned and pious author, that many will laugh at what I relate, but those who have received of God the like favours, will believe and understand me. A certain person of eminent piety who came from a great distance to see her, received such comfort, and such a flame was kindled in his breast by her words, that he ever after continued to feel the effects in his soul, and found the bitterness which he suffered from his earthly pilgrimage exceedingly alleviated. Another who rallied his companions for turning out of their way to visit the servant of God, and refused to go with them, being weary of waiting for them out of doors, at last went in to hasten them out; but was suddenly so struck at the sight of the saint’s countenance, and on hearing her words full of unction and ardour, that his heart was that moment entirely changed: he melted into tears, and after staying a long time to hear her heavenly discourses, could scarcely be drawn from her company. 1 Continue reading

St. John’s Eve Bonfire

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St. John’s Eve Bonfire

The Birth of St. John the Baptist falls around the summer solstice, and is known as the “summer Christmas.” Picnics and bonfires on the eve of the feast are traditional, as Florence Berger explains. She also introduces some other customs from around the world for this feast day, including the hymn “Ut queant laxis.”

June 24 is one of the oldest of the Church feasts. It is the birthday celebration of St. John the Baptist, and is sometimes called “summer Christmas.” On the eve of the feast, great bonfires were once lighted as a symbol of “the burning and brilliant” light, St. John, who pointed out Christ in this world of darkness. The solstice fires had been pagan, but now they were blessed by the Church in John’s honour. There are actual blessings for the bonfire in the Roman liturgy. Magical and superstitious elements of food and drink were forgotten, and we were encouraged to have great picnic feasts out-of-doors around the blazing logs. The outdoor grill, so popular in our own backyards, was once less selfish and more communal. We feasted as many neighbours and not as exclusive individuals.
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St. John Fisher

St. John Fisher

Cardinal, Bishop of Rochester, and Martyr; born at Beverley, Yorkshire, England, 1459 (?1469); died 22 June, 1535.

John was the eldest son of Robert Fisher, merchant of Beverley, and Agnes his wife. His early education was probably received in the school attached to the collegiate church in his native town, whence in 1484 he removed to Michaelhouse, Cambridge. He took the degree of B.A. in 1487, proceeded M.A. in 1491, in which year he was elected a fellow of his college, and was made Vicar of Northallerton, Yorkshire. In 1494 he resigned his benefice to become proctor of his university, and three years later was appointed Master of Michaelhouse, about which date he became chaplain and confessor to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of King Henry VII. In 1501 he received the degree of D.D., and was elected Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Under Fisher’s guidance, the Lady Margaret founded St. John’s and Christ’s Colleges at Cambridge, and also the two “Lady Margaret” professorships of divinity at Oxford and Cambridge respectively, Fisher himself being the first occupant of the Cambridge chair. Continue reading

The Vigil of St. John the Baptist

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The Vigil of St. John the Baptist

There was in the days of Herod, the King of Judea, a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth. And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord; and all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an Angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him was troubled, and fear fell upon him; but the Angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord: and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.–St. Luke, i. 5 – 17 Continue reading