Continuing the series on monastic saints, compiled by Jason John Edwards, Obl.S.B.
This Saint Aethelburga is not to be confused with the Saint Aethelburga mentioned yesterday, which is to say the Saxon princess who, when she married King Edwin of Northumbria, took St. Paulinus of York with her to eveangelize the north of England. Saint Aethelburga of Barking is worth special mention for a number of reasons, but one of them is that she was the sister of Saint Erconwald, who is the patron of our own Michael Erconwald Andrews, Obl.S.B. So, a happy patron’s sibling’s feast day to you, Michael!
Barking Abbey was already famous and influential in the era of St. Bede the Venerable, since he discussed it and its holy foundress at some length in his history. Barking Abbey was to continue to be important in English history and culture.
In the current climate of focusing on women’s equality, I find it refreshing to look a bit more deeply into history and discover, once again, that the role of women in Christendom has not been as circumscribed as is generally assumed. As the _A Clerk of Oxford_ article discusses, the influence of the abbesses and nuns of Barking Abbey was considerable throughout the Middle Ages. And it was news to me that the abbess of Barking was a baron in her own right, which even meant she was “required to supply the king with soldiers in wartime like any secular lord.” This mixture of warfare and religion, especially involving monasticism, makes me uneasy, at best. But it is a reminder that some of our modern assumptions about the past can be simplistic.
In any case, it is good to get to know a bit more about these Anglo-Saxon saints with their curious-to-us names.
Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.