Saint of the week
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Saint Edith of Wilton
Edith was the daughter of the 10th century King Edgar of England, born at Kemsing, Kent, in 961. Following her death in 984, she became the patron saint of her community at Wilton Abbey and churches were dedicated to her in Wiltshire and in other parts of England.
Edith was the illegitimate daughter of King Edgar the Peaceful, by Wilfrida, a woman of noble birth whom Edgar carried off forcibly from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey. He took her to his manor house at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks, where Edith was born. Under Saint Dunstan’s direction, Edgar did penance for this by not wearing his crown for seven years. As soon as Wulfthryth could escape from Edgar, she returned to Wilton, taking Edith with her.
Edith was educated by the nuns of Wilton Abbey, where her mother had become abbess. Edith became a nun, with her father’s consent. He offered to make her, while still a child, abbess of three different communities, but she chose to remain with her mother at Wilton. Her father died in 975.
In the year 979, Edith dreamt that she lost her right eye and believed the dream was sent to warn her of the death of her half-brother King Edward the Martyr, who in fact was murdered at that very time while visiting his stepmother, Queen Ælfthryth, at Corfe Castle, in Dorset.
In some reports, Edith was offered the crown of England by noblemen who had supported her murdered brother Edward against her young half-brother, Ethelred, but she refused it. Despite her refusal of honours and power, she always dressed magnificently, and was reported by William of Malmesbury to wear luxurious golden garments.
When rebuked by Æthelwold of Winchester, she answered that the judgment of God, which alone penetrated through the outward appearance, was alone true and infallible.
Edith built a church at Wilton and dedicated it to Saint Denis. Saint Dunstan was invited to the dedication and wept much during Mass. Being asked the reason, he said it was because Edith would die in three weeks. This proved to be correct when she died on 15th September 984 aged 23. She was buried at Wilton in the new church of Saint Denis.
Edith was greatly celebrated for her learning, her beauty, and her sanctity, and minor miracles were reported shortly after her death.
Edith was elevated to sainthood on the initiative of her brother Ethelred, and her cause was also supported by her nephew Edmund. Edmund’s successor King Canute was renowned for his veneration of her. Edith’s biographer in 1080 reports that on one occasion, while crossing the North Sea from England to Denmark with his fleet, Canute suffered a terrible storm, and fearing for his life he appealed to Edith. The storm calmed, and on his return to England Canute visited Wilton to give thanks for his rescue, “with solemn gifts, and published this great miracle with prolific testimony”, subsequently ordering a shrine to Edith to be erected at Wilton.
The image above is from the east window of the Saint Alphege Chapel, Solihull by the Arts and Crafts artist Bertram Lamplugh. (1908.)