Saint Wendreda

Photo:St Wendreda's Church

St Wendreda's Church

Photo:The Angel Roof

The Angel Roof

Photo:The Nave

The Nave

Photo:The Norman Font

The Norman Font

The story of a Saxon Princess

Wendreda was a Saxon princess.  She was a daughter of Anna king of the East Angles and lived at Exning near Newmarket.  Her three famous sisters all married kings but Wendreda, a loving and caring person, became a nun.  She was very knowledgeable in the art of healing both people and animals using herbs as a medicine.  A spring at Exning was named after her as she is said to have used this special water in her healing and the jockeys at Newmarket used to take their horses there for a drink before a race.

Dedicated to her cause Wendreda came to the dark, dank, mosquito ridden Fens to help the sick.  She established a Benedictine nunnery at March and stayed there for the rest of her life.  She became just as famous as her sisters because of her gift of healing and the belief that she could perform miracles.

Long after her demise folk came to see her relics for they believed she could still heal even after death. King Ethelred during his reign purchased the relics of St Wendreda and took them from March to Ely and placed them in a shrine adorned with gold and jewels.

In 1016 the Saxon army commanded by Edmund Ironside, the son of King Ethelred, was preparing for battle in a final effort to drive out the Danish invaders.  Edmund sought permission from the Abbot of Ely for the body of St Wendreda to be carried into battle believing she could grant them a miracle and bring them victory.  The battle was fought and lost on St Luke’s Day, near the village of Ashingdon in Essex.

The victorious Danes carried the coffin to King Cnut who, on hearing Wendreda’s story also embraced the Christian faith.  Her body was returned to the Saxons and Wendreda was canonized and her body enshrined at Canterbury Cathedral where it remained for over three hundred years. In 1343 during the reign of Edward III March was given permission from the Pope to rebuild its little church so that the relics of St Wendreda could be returned to the place she called home.

There is archaeological evidence that there was an earlier Norman building and possibly even a Saxon church built at the time of Wendreda and her Benedictine Nunnery on the site.

When the church was finished and her relics brought home the newly built church was named after her, her name Saint Wendreda, being inscribed in the stone edifice of the church itself. Then for almost two hundred years pilgrims, including kings and queens and the rich and poor alike came to visit the little church to see and touch her shrine.  These pilgrims asked not only for the St Wendreda to cure their ills and deformities but they came to feel the reverence that exuded from the little church and made them feel blessed.

The Saint’s shrine was guarded day and night by a man paid to do just that.  Money was donated so that there was always a candle burning to show her place; that is until Henry VIII was crowned the king and ordered all religious icons and relics to be destroyed.

The Men of March broke up the shrine and to this day we do not know what happened to March’s own special lady but being so much part of their lives could it not be possible that somewhere within her church she still lies hidden and watching over us?  

This page was added on 21/03/2010.

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