St Etheldreda and All Holy English Nuns

Were today not Sunday, we’d be celebrating the feast of St Etheldreda (Audrey) and All Holy English Nuns. You can read about Etheldreda and several others in Bede if you don’t know anything of them. This morning, however, I am thinking not so much of those for whom we have vitae, letters and other memorials but the anonymous ones we commemorate under that catch-all title, ‘All Holy English Nuns’. There is something immensely attractive to a Benedictine in knowing that she stands in an unbroken tradition stretching back long before the Conquest to a time when Anglo-Saxon nuns were not quite so ‘mere’ as their counterparts today. They are an inspiration to us here at Howton Grove Priory. Their zeal for holiness, their learning, their generosity in service are qualities we seek to emulate. The fact that their names are lost to us is unimportant. We can still ask their prayers and follow their example. One area where that example is very telling is that of friendship. You have only to read the letters to and from St Boniface to realise how very good Anglo-Saxon nuns were at friendship.

Striving to be friends of God should surely help us to be friends with one another — and if you have any doubts on that score, just re-read John 15.


3 thoughts on “St Etheldreda and All Holy English Nuns”

  1. Our family gives thanks today for all Nuns and Religious Sisters, many of whom have made a positive difference in our lives and accompanied us on our faith journey, leading by example in very practical ways.

  2. I didn’t know that there was such a feast in England, and I am glad to learn of it.

    When I was doing research on the English nuns of the late Middle Ages, I became – after initial reluctance – very fond of them, if that makes sense when speaking of people one doesn’t really know at all. By the time of my viva exam for my doctorate, I had a very strong sense of their spirits crowding over my shoulder, willing me to be their voice and to do my best for them. This from a (then) Protestant with a very prosaic job in the City!

    Some of the nuns who appeared in the course of my research were very far from holy. Perhaps these are the ones who made medieval monastic life ‘real’ to me: perhaps these are the women I shold pray for, and whose intercession I should seek?

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