Larkspur and wellwater

St Odile (Odilia) of Alscace (c660-720), generation 43 aunt

Hermit, abbess, miracle-healer. Patron of eye and ear patients, patron of Alsace.

Details of the well-documented historical lives of St Odile and her father Duke St Adalrich (-c683) generally support much of the popular pious legends about the two which became far more well known. Odile was born blind to Lady Berswinda, a sister (or neice) of St Léodegar, and the evil Duke Adalrich of Alsace. She was cured of her blindness, apparently by a miracle, while still a child, and went on to perform many miracles of her own.

Her father Duke Adalrich was an incredibly violent and duplicitous political player, who committed more than one murder out of unchecked anger and/or dirty power strategies. He caused his saintly daughter years of tremendous constant trouble, but in the end her influence transformed him. After Odile healed him of leprosy, Adalrich established several monasteries, retired from politics to one of these communities, and lived out the rest of his years absorbed in contemplative prayer, contrition, penance, and communal good works for the people of his former duchy. Before his death he had become so transformed as to be popularly admired throughout the region as a living saint in his own right. After his death, local veneration resulted in his burial site becoming a pilgrimage center popular throughout Europe.

St Odile attempted, from her youth, to pursue a life of monastic reclusion, but became a living legend for her miraculous healing abilities, especially with regard to diseases of the eyes and ears. She also became a very capable monastic administrator, a role forced upon her by circumstances. More than once she sought to retire from the duties as the abbess of more that one community that had grown up around her solitary life in remote cave hermitages. But each time she fled the district to a new hidden cave, she was eventually discovered and gradually yet another group of devoted monastic disciples would grow up around her and she would have to share her reclusion with a new community of renunciate sisters and brothers.

St. Odile’s cultus as the patron saint of Alsace and of patients of eye and ear diseases was officially confirmed in 1807 by Pope Pius VII. At least two healing springs associated with her miracles became locations for hospital-convents she founded at sites of her former hermitages. One of St Odile’s symbols is the larkspur flower, a highly toxic medicinal herb also associated with treating eye diseases. It seems she & her hospital nuns and monks became expert in traditional medicinal uses of the flowering healing herb.

This wikipedia article on one of St Odile’s abbeys is fascinating, especially the final section.


Another Aunt Edburga!
Saint Edburga of Lyminge (-c. 650) generation 44 aunt.
Princess Edburga (Eadburh) was a daughter of King Saint Ethelbert (Æthelberht) of Kent and Queen Saint Bertha, the first Anglo-Saxon Christian rulers. Our knowledge of St Edburga has been overshadowed by that of her much more famous older sister Saint Ethelburga (-647) and her brother King Eanbald (-640).

The older sister Ethelburga had married Edwin, the Pagan king of Northumbria, who converted to Christianity following the marriage. When Edwin was martyred in 633 by the invading enemy army of neighbouring rival, the Pagan King Penda, Ethelburgh fled to the court of Eanbald who had succeeded their father St Ethelbert as king of Kent. Apparently their younger sister Princess Edburga was already living at Eanbald’s court. Eanbald gave his refugee sister a former Roman villa at Lyminge, between Canterbury and the sea. There, having given her children to live under the care and protection of their uncle the king, she took the veil and built one of the first convents in Anglo-Saxon England. Recent excavations reveal that this abbey at Lyminge was a “double” monastic house—with separate adjoining sections for nuns and monks, a tradition eventually practiced throughout England for centuries.

With the widowed Ethelburga now established as founding abbess at Lyminge, the young princess St Edburga, our saint of the day, joined her there as a nun. St Ethelburga was the first Anglo-Saxon queen and widow to take the monastic veil and St Edburga was the first Anglo-Saxon virgin princess to do so. Both the royal sisters, regarded by their contemporaries as living saints, spent their remaining years at the Abbey and were buried there. Ethleburga’s remains were enshrined in a niche in the wall of the abbey chapel, which became a pilgrimage shrine famous throughout Saxon England and beyond. A holy well near the church, associated with the younger sister St Edburga, came to be regarded as having miraculous healing properties and is still visited for this reason today.

Two hundred years after its founding, the abbey community was ravaged by marauding Danish Vikings in 840. Those nuns and monks who survived fled to Canterbury. The nuns stayed in their new home, but a community of monks soon resumed their residence at Lyminge, until 965, when a later generation of residents also withdrew to Canterbury. In 1085 Archbishop Lanfranc relocated the relics of St Ethelburga from the abbey chapel to Canterbury Cathedral.

The Abbey chapel, built by Etheburga in 633 with stones from the original Roman villa, survives to this day, having continuously functioned as an ordinary parish church, the Lyminge Parish Church of St Mary and St Ethelburga, since the departure of the last monks in 965. With the Reformation of the 16th century, the parish and its nine hundred year old chapel became Anglican. The wall niche at Lyminge that once housed St Ethelburga’s relics remains empty, but St Edburga’s well continues to feed a stream with healing water.


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