Today is the feast day of Saint Mildred. Ora Pro Nobis.
Saint Mildred or Mildthryth (694–716 or 733), also Mildrith, Mildryth was an Anglo-Saxon abbess.
She was the daughter of King Merewalh of Magonsaete, a sub-kingdom of Mercia, and Eormenburh (Saint Eormenburga), herself the daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent, and as such appearing in the so-called Kentish royal legend.
Her sisters Milburh (Saint Milburga of Much Wenlock) and Mildgytha (Saint Mildgyth) were also considered saints. Goscelin, probably relying on a now-lost history of the rulers of the Kingdom of Kent, wrote a hagiography of Mildthryth.
At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life. A young nobleman, related to the Abbess of Chelles, entreated her to arrange that he might marry this English princess. The abbess tried to persuade her, but Mildred said her mother had sent her there to be taught, not to be married. All the abbess’s advice, threats and blows failed to persuade her to accept the alliance offered to her.
At last the abbess shut her up in an oven in which she had made a great fire. After three hours, when the abbess expected to find not only Mildred’s flesh but her very bones burnt to ashes, the young saint came out unhurt and radiant with joy and beauty. The faithful, hearing of the miracle, venerated Mildred as a saint. The abbess, more infuriated than ever, threw her on the ground. The abbess beat, kicked and scratched her and tore out a handful of her hair.
Mildred found means to send her mother a letter, enclosing some of her hair, torn from her head by the violence of the abbess. Queen Ermenburga soon sent ships to fetch her daughter. The abbess, fearing that her evil deeds should be made known, would, on no account, give permission for Mildred’s departure. Mildred, however, fled by night; but, having in her haste forgotten some ecclesiastical vestments and a nail of the cross of Christ which she valued extremely, she managed to return for them and brought them safely away. Upon her arrival back in England, she landed at Ebbsfleet. Here she found a great square stone, miraculously prepared for her to step on from the ship. The stone received, and retained, the mark of her foot. Afterwards the stone was removed to the Abbey of Minster-in-Thanet and kept there in memory of her. Many diseases are said to have been cured for centuries after, by water containing a little dust from this stone.
Mildred eventually entered the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet, which her mother had earlier established. She became abbess by 694. Suggesting that ties to Gaul were maintained, a number of dedications to Mildred exist in the Pas-de-Calais, including at Millam. Mildred died at Minster-in-Thanet and was buried there.
She continued to be an extremely popular saint, eclipsing the fame of St. Augustine, in the immediate neighbourhood of her monastery, where the place that used to be proudly pointed out as that of his landing came to be better known as “St Mildred’s Rock.”
St. Mildred died of a lingering painful illness, towards the close of the seventh century. This great monastery was often plundered by the Danes, and the nuns and clerks murdered, chiefly in the years 980 and 1011. After the last of these burnings, there were no more nuns but only a few secular priests. In 1033, the remains of St. Mildred were translated to the monastery of Austin’s at Canterbury, and venerated above all the relics of that holy place, says Malmesbury who testifies frequent miracles to have been wrought by them: Thorn and others confirm the same. Two churches in London bear her name. (4)
Mildred is sometimes represented in art holding a church and accompanied by three geese, as she was protector against damage by such wild birds.
Image: Crop of Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet (3)
Research by REGINA Staff