Bede’s record

Ethelburga’s life is lovingly recorded in St Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which introduces her as the sister of Earconwald, “bishop of the East Saxons, in the city of London”.

In around 660 Bishop Earconwald built two monasteries, one under his own leadership and the other for women, ruled by Ethelburga.

The abbey was at Bercingum, whose name has only changed slightly (to Barking) in the last 1,350 years.

Ethelburga’s stint as abbess was blessed with many miracles and divine communications. During a particularly lethal plague, the community were trying to decide where to bury the dead. While they were singing the praises of God one day, Bede tells us, a heavenly light, “like a great sheet, came down upon them all, and struck them with so much terror, that they, in consternation, left off singing”.

But the light then moved to the south side of the monastery, which they took as a sign of where to place the cemetery.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection