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St. Ermengilda
(c.AD 635-700)

Queen of Mercia
Abbess of Minster-in-Sheppey
Abbess of Ely
Born: circa AD 635 probably in Kent
Died: 13th February c.AD 700 at Ely Cathedral


Ermengilda was the daughter of King Erconbert Kent and his wife, St. Sexburga. On her father's side, she was niece of St. Enswith, Abbess of Folkestone, and, on her mother's side, of St. Etheldreda and the other saintly daughters of King Anna of East Anglia. Born probably around AD 635, she was married to King Wulfhere of Mercia, one of the ten children of the heathen King Penda, whom she converted to Christianity.

Oswiu, King of Northumbria, had defeated Penda, overrun Mercia and annexed it. He granted half of it to his son-in-law, Peada, who, however, only lived to reign a year, being poisoned by his wife. WuIfhere, Peada's brother, was then placed on the throne of Mercia, with the help of three of the chief ealdormen, and his position was strengthened by his marriage with this Princess of Kent, to whom he promised to extirpate idolatry in his dominions and root out paganism and superstition. WuIfhere inherited much of the ferocious nature of his father, Penda, and was subject to fits of ungovernable fury. Ermengilda partially succeeded in softening his temper and making him more just and forbearing. For love of his dead brother Peada, Wulfhere - encouraged by his wife - greatly favoured the Abbey of Medshamstead (now Peterborough), which Peada and Oswiu had begun to build. He finished the work and gave an immense grant of land to Abbot Saxulf, free of all tribute. Later, about AD 666, WuIfhere and Ermengilda received St. Wilfrid, when he was out of favour with Oswiu, and gave him an estate in Leicester on which to build a cathedral for himself.

Wulfhere and Ermengilda were often in the habit of visiting St. Chad, in his cell at Lichfield, and receiving instruction from him in Christian doctrine and practice. After the senseless murder of the Royal couple's two promising young sons, this teaching bore fruit. WuIfhere converted idol temples into Christian churches and founded a priory near his own residence at Stone, where his sons were buried.

WuIfhere died in AD 675, and was succeeded by his brother, Ethelred. After her husband's death, Ermengilda took the veil in her mother's monastery at Minster-in-Sheppey, of which she became abbess when Sexburga went to Ely as second abbess. Ermengilda became third abbess of Ely, after her mother's death, and was one of the great patrons of that monastery, where she was buried.

Once, a master was going to whip some boys and they fled to the tomb of Ermengilda, calling to her to help them. The master caught them and beat them, insulting them by asking if they thought Ermengilda would always be the patron of their faults. The next night, the saint appeared to the master and bound his hands and feet, so that he could not move them until he had called the children and asked their forgiveness. He was then carried to her tomb and recovered the use of his limbs.

Edited from Agnes Dunbar's "A Dictionary of Saintly Women" (1904).

 

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