Celtic and Old English Saints          8 July

* Ss. Kilian, Colman, and Totnan
* St. Morwenna of Cornwall
* St. Sunniva of Bergen
* St. Urith of Chittlehampton
* St. Withburga of Dereham
* St. Grimbald of Winchester
* St. Edgar the Peaceful

Ss. Kilian, Colman, and Totnan, Martyrs
(also known as Chillien or Chilianus, Colman, and Tadhg)
Died c. 689.

Kilian, an Irish monk from Mullagh, County Cavan, was consecrated bishop
and set out to evangelize Germany with eleven companions. They arrived
at Aschaffenburg on the Rhein and then sailed up to the River Main and
Wurzburg. With the able, zealous assistance of Colman, a priest, and
Totnan, a deacon, he was successful in his missionary endeavours,
especially after he converted the local lord, Duke Gosbert (Gospert) of

Somewhat anachronistically, about 686, he went to Rome and received
permission from Pope Conon to evangelize Franconia (Baden and Bavaria)
and East Thuringia. Upon his return his mission ran into a roadblock,
Duke Gosbert had married Geilana, his brother's widow. Like most Irish
missionaries, the trio spoke out fearlessly against any breach of faith
or morals. In this case Kilian openly rebuked the duke for his irregular
marriage to his brother's widow. According to legend, while Gosbert was
away on a military expedition, Geilana had the three missionaries
beheaded when she found that Gosbert was going to leave her because
their marriage was forbidden by the Church.

A strong cultus was immediately established in Germany and spread as far
as Vienna, Austria, and Ireland. Even today, the Kilianfest is one of
the better known festivals of the German peoples, including

Kilian's Bible is exposed on the high altar of Wurzburg cathedral on his
feast and an annual mystery play of his life is produced. Kilian's
relics were translated in 752 by Saint Burchard. The strength of the
veneration of the three martyrs drew the attention of Pope Saint
Zachary, who permitted public veneration of the martyrs in 752. From the
time of the Emperor Charlemagne, it was common for emperors to make a
pilgrimage to their shrine at Wurzburg, which Saint Boniface established
as a bishopric in honour of Saint Kilian. Kilian's name is also found
with that of Saint Boniface in the calendar of Godescale (c. 782).

Kilian, Colman, and Totnan are also unusual in that the Irish themselves
have shown veneration for the expatriates, rather than showing their
usual disinterest. Many illustrious Irishmen have visited Wurzburg over
the centuries to honour the saints. In 1134, one of the 12 Irish
monasteries governed by that in Regensburg was established in Wurzburg
(Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Montague).

In art, Saint Kilian is a bishop holding a sword (often large) and
standing between two priests. Sometimes all three are shown assassinated
at the command of the duchess or the Kilian is shown between Colman and
Totnan buried in a stable as a blind priest is cured at their grave
(Roeder). Kilian's image appears on seals and coins of the region. Some
old hymns in Latin and German survive that honour him (Farmer). They are
venerated at Aschaffenburg, Wurzburg, Munnerstadt, and as the patrons of
whitewashers. They are invoked against gout and rheumatism (Roeder).

St. Morwenna of Cornwall, Virgin
5th century. This is another of the confusing list of saints with the
names of Modwenna and Moninne. She has given her name to several places
in Cornwall (Benedictines).

St. Sunniva of Bergen and Her Companions
(also known as Sunnifa or Synnove of Norway)
10th century; some show this feast on July 3.

Several authorities refer to Saint Sunniva as an Irish nun who was
shipwrecked in Norway and set up a convent with her companions. There is
no information about her in Ireland, but according to tradition (which
is similar to that of Saint Ursula), she was a princess, nun, or both,
who fled from Ireland with her brother Alban and several other maidens.
Some say they were seeking a haven where they could live consecrated
lives in exile for Christ. She was shipwrecked off the west coast of
Norway and finally reached Selje Island. There they engaged in a devout,
communal life, dwelling in caves and subsisting on fish.

The story has two endings. One says that they were killed by people from
the mainland. The other relates that the neighbouring Jarl Haakon heard
about their landing and went to investigate. The community members fled
to the caves. Masses of rock crashed down and blocked all the entrances,
eventually killing the saints. When the caves were excavated much later,
Sunniva's incorrupt body was discovered.

In 995, Olaf Tryggyason built a chapel in her honour. In 1170, their
relics were enshrined in Bergen; Selje's church was given to the
Benedictines who dedicated it to Saint Alban (her brother?). Five
churches or ruins of churches still survive on the island (Benedictines,
Farmer, Montague).

The Service to Saint Sunniva

St. Urith of Chittlehampton, Virgin
(also known as Erth, Heiritha)
Born at East Stowford, Devonshire, England; date unknown. Few sources
mention Saint Urith, foundress of the church at Chittlehampton. She was
a consecrated virgin who was killed by haymakers at the instigation of a
jealous, possibly pagan, stepmother. A stream sprang out of the ground
where she fell, much as in the legends of Saints Sidwell and Cyniburg.
She may have been persecuted by the Saxons. The vita found at her shrine
records the miracles wrought by her and is the basis for the rhyming
Latin poem about her in Trinity College, Cambridge (Manuscript 0.9.38).

The offerings at her shrine were sufficient to build the tower of
Chittlehampton, reputed to have been the finest in Devon. So great was
her reputation for miracles that the offerings provided to the vicar
were three times the income from tithes and glebe. The removal of her
statue from the church in 1539-1540 led to a diminution of her cultus.
The pulpit built about 1500
survives with a figure of Saint Urith holding the palm of martyrdom and
the foundation of the stone church. There is a 16th-century
stained-glass window of her at Nettlecombe in Somerset (Farmer).

Troparion of St Urith tone 5
O holy Virgin Martyr Urith/ who didst suffer martyrdom in a Devon
village/ and didst patiently endure the jealousy of thy pagan
stepmother;/ pray for the faithful/ who are today suffering
persecution,/ that evil may be destroyed and that God may be glorified,/
that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, O Virgin Urith.

Icon of St. Urith

St. Withburga of Dereham, Virgin
(also known as Withburge, Witburh)
Died March 17, c. 743; other feasts are celebrated on April 18 at
Cambridge and on March 17; today's feast commemorates her translation.

She was the youngest daughter of King Anna of the East Angles. Like her
holy sisters, she devoted herself to the divine service, and led an
austere life in solitude for several years at Holkham, near the
sea-coast in Norfolk, where a church dedicated to her was afterwards
built. After the death of her father she changed her abode to East
Dereham, now a market-town in Norfolk, but then an obscure place of

Withburga assembled there some devout maidens, and laid the foundation
of a church and convent, but did not live to finish the buildings. Her
body was interred in the churchyard at East Dereham and 50 years later
was found incorrupt and translated into the church. In 974, with
soldiers and under the cover of night but with the blessing of King
Edgar and Saint Ethelwold, Abbot Brithnoth of Ely removed it to Ely.
They moved the body to wagons, drove 20 miles to Brandun River, and
continued their journey by boat--much to the dismay of the men of
Dereham who had pursued them by land and could only watch helplessly as
their treasure drifted away. At Ely Brithnoth deposited Withburga's
relics near the bodies of her two sisters.

In 1102, Withburga's relics were moved into a new part of the church. In
1106, the remains of four saints were translated into the new church and
laid near the high altar. The bodies of Saints Sexburga and Ermenilda
were reduced to dust, except the bones. That of Saint Etheldreda was
entire, and that of Saint Withburga was not only sound but also fresh,
and the limbs
flexible. This is related by Thomas, monk of Ely, in his history of Ely,
which he wrote the following year. He also tells us that in the place
where Saint Withburga was first buried, in the churchyard at Dereham, a
spring of clear water gushed forth when her body was first exhumed: it
is to this day called Saint Withburga's well. The church at Holkham is
dedicated to her honour
(Benedictines, Farmer, Walsh).

In art, Saint Withburga is portrayed as an abbess with two hinds at her
feet because William of Malmesbury described her as being provided milk
in her solitude by a doe. She may be holding a church inscribed Ecclisia
de Estderham. She is venerated at Barham, Burlingham, and Dereham in
Norfolk (Roeder).

St. Grimbald of Winchester, Abbot
Born at Therouanne (Pas-de-Calais), France, c. 825; died 903.

Grimbald became a monk about 840, was ordained priest in 870, and was
abbot of Saint-Bertin. He entertained King Alfred on his way to Rome in
885. As a well-known scholar, he went to Rheims in 886.

Upon the advice of Archbishop Eldred of Canterbury and through Fulk of
Rheims, Alfred invited Grimbald to England in 887. Grimbald accepted the
offer. He lived in Winchester in a small "monastery" and served as a
court-scholar, assisting Alfred with his translations of Latin works
into Old English, including Saint Gregory's Pastoral Care (Liber regulae
pastoralis). Eventually, Grimbald was appointed the first professor of
divinity at Oxford (some say that he actually founded the university).

Upon the death of Eldred in 889, Alfred tried to persuade Grimbald to
become archbishop of Canterbury, but he refused and became instead dean
of the secular canons of New Minster at Winchester, the town-church
where prominent citizens had burial rights. Alfred's son, King Edward,
reburied his father and mother (Queen Alswithe) in this new church,
which probably absorbed the small community that Grimbald had previously
governed. (Later, King Henry I removed New Minster to Hyde, now called
Saint Grimbald's monastery.)

Grimbald restored learning in England. He may have brought to England
the 9th-century manuscript of Prudentius, now at Corpus Christi College
in Cambridge, as well as the famous Utrecht Psalter.

During his last illness, the extremely feeble Saint Grimbald rose out of
bed and prostrated himself on the ground to receive the holy viaticum.
Thereafter, he asked to be left alone with God for three days. On the
fourth day the community was called into his chamber, and amidst their
prayers the saint calmly breathed forth his happy soul in his 83rd year.

His body was reposed in New Minster and honoured amongst its most
precious relics together with those of Saint Judocus. It was taken up by
Saint Alphege, and exposed in a silver shrine. Other translations
occurred in 938, c. 1050, and 1110, when the whole establishment was
moved to Hyde Grimbald's vita was written by Goscelin, monk of
Saint-Bertin's. While his cultus centred on Winchester, it was extended
by Malmesbury to other Benedictine abbeys and to York and Hereford
(Benedictines, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Husenbeth)

St. Edgar the Peaceful, King
Died 975. Saint Edgar was wise in his choice of friends and advisors:
Saint Dunstan. His reign was distinguished by a strong religious revival
in England. He enjoyed a local cultus at Glastonbury (Benedictines).

Lives kindly supplied by:
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