Celtic and Old English Saints          23 June

* St. Mochaoi of Nendrum
* St. Etheldreda of Ely

St. Mochaoi, Abbot of Nendruim, Baptised by Saint Patrick
(Moeliai, Moelray, Melray)
Born in Ireland; died c. 493. Saint Moeliai was baptized by Saint
Patrick, who appointed him abbot over Nendrum, where he had Saints
Finian and Colman among his disciples (Benedictines).

St Mochaoi has been anglicised as St Mahee pronounced Mah hee with the
stress on the ee.

His monastic site is at Nendrum on Mahee Island. Mahee island is now
linked to another island and to the mainland by
causeways that can take a single car. It is a lovely drive there, the
hedgerows are in bloom with wild flowers and fuscias and the clear water
of Strangford lough was smooth and windless.

The Nendrum monastic site has a small carpark for about 8 cars. The
first thing you realise is how high it is up the island which is itself
a submerged drumlin - the advancing iceflows rounded the landscape to
make this part of Ireland look like a basket of eggs - and this egg
along with others got flooded.

The monastery is on the highest peak and is surrounded by an outer wall
or cashel and an inner cashel. There is a causeway bridge up to the
first level between the two cashels and it is believed that this would
have been a hive of activity. Although the monastery is quiet today, in
the 5th century the waterways of Ireland were the main roads so the
monastery was likely to
have been a thriving community.

To enter the inner cashel one has to walk in single file through a small
passageway, probably this was some form of defence as was the round
tower of which only the stump remains. The remains of the church are
clearly seen and face due east. At the South west corner the old sundial
has been reconstructed. There is a graveyard just beyond the west door
and if you go beyond the inner cashel wall again on the west side there
are the foundations of many round monastic cells.

Various photographs of the island and of the church, round tower, etc


St. Etheldreda (Audrey), Queen of Northumbria,
Abbess of Ely's Double Monastery
(also known as Audrey, Athelthryth, Ethelreda, Edilthride, Ediltrudis,

Born in Exning, Suffolk, England; died at Ely, 679.

"Now Etheldreda shines upon our days,
Shedding the light of grace on all our ways.
Born of a noble and a royal line,
She brings to Christ her King a life more fine."
--The Venerable Bede

To her friends and family, this once most famous female Anglo-Saxon
saint was Etheldreda. To poor people she was Audrey, and the word
"tawdry" originally came from the cheap necklaces that were sold on the
feast of Saint Audrey and which were believed to cure illness of the
throat and neck. This was because Etheldreda had suffered from neck
cancer, which she attributed to divine punishment because she was once
vain enough to wear a costly necklace. She had a huge tumour on her neck
when she died, but, according the Saint Bede, when her tomb was opened
by her sister Saint Sexburga, her successor as abbess at Ely Abbey, ten
(or 16) years after her death, her body was found incorrupt and the
tumour had healed. Etheldreda was a woman of noble birth, the daughter
of King Anna of East Anglia, and sister to Saints Sexburga, Ethelburga,
Erconwald, and Withburga. She was born in a time when the religious were
uncompromising in their desire for complete conversion of their lives to
God. To Etheldreda prayer, Holy Communion, and works of mercy were
essential features of her faith in Jesus Christ. From her youth she
devoted herself to piety, purity, and humility. Though she seemed
destined for the cloistered life, twice Saint Etheldreda was married and
released from these unwelcome ties.

At the age of 14, Etheldreda was married to Tonbert. Now some saints
have run away from marriage when they felt called to the vowed religious
life, but Etheldreda trusted in God. She accepted the wedding calmly and
found that Tonbert was equally devout and was happy that they should
live in continence. After three (or five) years together, Tonbert died.

For a time she enjoyed the solitude of the island of Ely, which had been
part of her dowry, but for reasons of state she married again. Her
second husband, Egfrid, son of King Oswy of Northumbria, was just a boy
at the time. Etheldreda, though still young herself, treated him as her
son or brother, rather than as a husband. She taught him the catechism
and directed his spiritual growth, clearly trying to prepare him to
accept a marriage of continence.

But after 12 years of this relationship, Egfrid, grown to manhood, tried
to make her his wife in fact as well as in name. This alarmed
Etheldreda, who then sought the counsel of Archbishop Saint Wilfrid of
York. He released her from her marriage and advised her to withdraw to
the Benedictine abbey of Coldingham. At last she was able to fulfil her
heart's desire. She took the veil at Coldingham under Saint Ebba.

At first Egfrid tried to persuade Wilfrid to order his wife to return to
him, but without success. In 672, she founded a double monastery, where
the present Ely Cathedral now stands, and ruled it as abbess. Egfrid
dispatched armed men to Ely in an attempt to force her to return, but
the expedition was unsuccessful.

After the time she founded Ely, Etheldreda ceased to wear clothing of
fine linen and dressed only in woollen garments. Except at Easter,
Pentecost, and Epiphany, she washed only in cold water. Only when she
was ill or on great church festivals did she eat more than one meal a
day. She prayed for those who did not pray and often kept vigil in the
church from midnight until dawn. Seven years after the foundation of Ely
Abbey, she died of the plague.

Saint Bede wrote a long hymn in praise of Etheldreda who, judging from
the number of churches dedicated to her and calendars containing her
name, must have been the most revered of all Anglo- Saxon women saints.
This is partly due to the number of miracles that resulted from her
intercession, which made Ely an important pilgrimage site (Attwater,
Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopaedia).

In art, St. Etheldreda is crowned, holding a crosier, book, and a
budding staff. Sometimes she may be pictured (1) asleep under a
blossoming tree; (2) with a book and lily; (3) as a fountain springs at
her feet; and (4) as the devil flees from her (Roeder). Etheldreda is
the patroness of Cambridge University (Roeder), and those suffering from
throat and neck ailments

Service to our Holy Mother Audrey, Abbess of Ely

A 20th-century banner with her image on a University of
Pennsylvania page:


Attwater, D. (1958). A Dictionary of Saints. New York:
P. J. Kenedy & Sons. [Attwater 2]

Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of Saints. NY: Macmillan.

Bentley, J. (1986). A Calendar of Saints: The Lives of the
Principal Saints of the Christian Year, NY: Facts on File.

Encyclopaedia of Catholic Saints, June. (1966).
Philadelphia: Chilton Books.

Roeder, H. (1956). Saints and Their Attributes, Chicago: Henry

For All the Saints:

An Alphabetical Index of the Saints of the West

These Lives are archived at:

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