birth_date=early 7th century
caption=Saint Werburgh, Chester Cathedral
She was born at Stone (now in
Staffordshire), and was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia(himself the Christianson of the pagan King Penda of Mercia) and his wife St Ermenilda, herself daughter of the King of Kent. She was a nunfor most of her life, and was tutored under her great aunt Etheldreda(or Audrey), the first Abbess of Elyand former queen of Northumbria.
Werburgh was instrumental in
conventreform across England. She eventually succeeded her mother Ermenilda, her grandmother Seaxburh, and great-aunt Etheldreda as fourth Abbess of Ely.
She was buried at Hanbury in Staffordshire and her remains were later transferred to Chester, of which church and monastery she became the great patroness (see
Chester Cathedral). She is the last abbess whose name is recorded.
The cult of St Werburgh
By the year 708 her brother Cenred had succeeded as king of
Mercia; he now decided to move his sister's body to a more conspicuous place within the church at Hanbury. Her body was found to be miraculously intact. This was considered to be a sign of divine favour, and her tomb therefore became an object of veneration and a centre for pilgrimage. Her brother is said to have been so affected by this miracle that he decided to abdicate and enter holy orders himself; however, he came from a notably religious family (his mother, grandmother and great-aunt all being abbesses). It is possible that the anecdote about the saint reviving a goosedates from this time.
The shrine of St Werbergh remained at Hanbury for the next 160 years or so but due to the threat from
Vikingraiders in the 9th century, the shrine was relocated in 875 to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul which lay within the protection of the city walls of Chester.
The city of Chester therefore became the focus for the cult of Werburga. Sometime later, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and
St Oswaldaround the year 975, when a monastery was also built in the names of these two saints.
In 1057 the church was rebuilt and further endowed by Leofric, Earl of Mercia. By this time, St. Werburgh was regarded as the protector and patron saint of the city, after the supposed miraculous withdrawal of the Welsh king
Gruffudd ap Llywelynfrom a siege of the city.
St. Werburgh remained popular after the Norman conquest. In 1093, the Norman
Earl of Chester, Hugh d'Avranches, better known as "Hugh the Fat" to the Welsh, further endowed the abbey and its church. He also established a Benedictinemonastery, with monks from Bec Abbeyin Normandy, which had provided the first two post-Conquest Archbishops of Canterbury: Lanfrancand Anselm). Like many other Anglo-Norman barons, Hugh d'Avranches entered the monastery himself shortly before he died. He was buried therein. The abbey became Chester Cathedralin 1540 and was rededicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An elaborate shrine had been constructed in the fourteenth century but did not survive the reign of Henry VIII. When the abbey was dissolved, the shrine was broken up and the remains of the saint scattered. The various remains of the shrine that survived were collected together in 1876, reassembled, and now remain on display to this day at the Lady Chapel of the cathedral.
The saint today
St Werburgh remains the
patron saintof Chester. Her feast dayis February 3.
At least 10 churches in England, and some overseas, are dedicated to her.
A suburb of
Bristol, in the South West of England, just north of the city centre, is named St Werburghs.
St Werburgh's Church
* Gordon Emery, "Curious Chester" (1999) ISBN 1-872265-94-4
* Gordon Emery, "Chester Inside Out" (1998) ISBN 1-872265-92-8
* Gordon Emery, "The Chester Guide" (2003) ISBN 1-872265-89-8
* Roy Wilding "Death in Chester" (2003) ISBN 1-872265-44-8
* [http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1448240 Life of St Werbergh]
* [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Great_Britain/England/_Topics/churches/_Texts/KINCAT*/Ely/2.html St Werberga and her royal and saintly relatives at Ely]
* [http://www.btinternet.com/~p.g.h/travel_england_cheshire.htm Reference to Earl Hugh building the abbey church]
* [http://www.bwpics.co.uk/cathedral.html Steve Howe's 'Chester: a Virtual stroll Around the Walls']
* [http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/adversaries/bios/werburga.html Early British Kingdoms: St. Werburga of Chester, Abbess of Ely]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15588b.htm "Catholic Encyclopedia", 1912: St. Werburgh]
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