Translating Saint Etheldreda, A Tawdry Tale Of Medieval England

Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour

Print
    
Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord. The Annunciation on the stained glass in church St Etheldreda by Charles Blakeman (1953) (Renáta Sedmáková/ Adobe Stock)

Translating Saint Etheldreda, A Tawdry Tale Of Medieval England

Etheldreda – St Audrey - is a familiar figure, especially so in Ely, a cathedral city in Cambridgeshire district, England. 2023 commemorates the 1,350th anniversary of her founding her monastery after running away from her second husband, Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria. Etheldreda was a princess of a royal house, related to the king who was buried at Sutton Hoo, revered as a saint for centuries after her remains were translated from her original grave by her sister (another queen) to a new shrine - but who was she as a person? What sort of world did she inhabit? 

The ancient Liber Eliensis manuscript tells the dramatic tale of Aethelthryth’s tearful, passionate pleas to her husband for the freedom to pursue her yearning desire to serve her one true love: the “celestial Bridegroom,” Jesus Christ. ( Public Domain )

The ancient Liber Eliensis manuscript tells the dramatic tale of Aethelthryth’s tearful, passionate pleas to her husband for the freedom to pursue her yearning desire to serve her one true love: the “celestial Bridegroom,” Jesus Christ. ( Public Domain )

As it happens, in Old English Aethelthryth - Etheldreda - means ‘Noble Strength’, which is appropriate for a woman who must have been pretty tough, with the confidence and authority to get her way. But the word ‘translation’ has more than one meaning: it refers to the technical term for moving the relics of a saint to a new place, but it also means to translate the legends that provide a glimpse of the sheer otherness of her life; the mindset and times of this remarkable woman, literally and figuratively to a modern audience, who can hardly comprehend her very different world.


Become a member to read more OR login here

Ancient Origins Quotations