Werburga, St.

views updated


Abbess; daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia and of St. Erminilda; d. Trentham (Threckingham, Lincolnshire), England, 699. On her mother's side Werburga (Werburh, Werbyrgh) was the granddaughter of St. Sexburga and grandniece of St. ethelreda, abbess of ely. When she came to marriageable age, Werburga, who according to legend was beautiful and much sought after, dismissed her suitors and after having gained the consent of her reluctant father was received at Ely by Ethelreda. After Wulfhere's death in 675, Werburga's mother entered the same monastery.

Wulfhere's brother, Ethelred, who succeeded him as king, placed Werburga in charge of discipline in the houses of religious women in Mercia. He apparently made over to her the royal house at Weedon, which she made her headquarters. She supervised houses in Hanbury, Staffordshire, and Trentham. She died in Trentham and at her own request was buried in Hanbury. Her reputation for sanctity was such that during the Danish invasions (c. 875) her still incorrupt body was transferred to chester. Legend has it that on the journey her body disintegrated into ashes. Her remains were enshrined at Chester where according to Cambden, Leofric (d. 1057) built a church in her honor. It is undoubtedly because her shrine early became a place of pilgrimage that the many legends recorded by Goscelin (fl. c. 1100), her first biographer, grew up about her. What remained of her shrine, desecrated under henry viii, was converted into the throne of the bishops of Chester, which still displays the carved images of Werburga's royal ancestors.

Feast: Feb. 3; June 21 (translation, Chester).

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum (Paris 1863) 1:388394, life and legends by Goscelin. s. baring-gould, Lives of the Saints,v.2 (Edinburgh 1914) 5256. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 1:241242. a. zimmermann, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger (Freiburg 193038) 10:825. j. tait, ed., The Chartulary or Register of the Abbey of Saint Werburgh, Chester, 2 v. (Manchester 192023) v.1. h. bradshaw, The Life of Saint Werburge of Chester, Ed. c. horstmann (Millwood, NY 1988).

[m. e. collins]