Friday, 14 January 2011

St Etheldreda

To many in the modern West, the obsession with female virginity is somewhat incomprehensible. However, its merits also seem to have been lost on the seventh century king Ecgfrith. He was disappointed to learn that his new wife, Æthelthryth, wanted to remain a virgin after their marriage and pursue her calling to Christ. This prompted Ecgfrith to try and take his wife (and, probably more accurately, her virginity) by force from the cloister in which she was hiding. He failed, she carried on being a virgin and was later canonized. She is now known as St Etheldreda (Wiki here, Catholic Encyclopaedia here).

There is a13th Century Norman church in my home town dedicated to St Etheldreda. I am very fond of this building as I sung in the choir there as a child. Coming from a non-religious household and having decided I was agnostic from a young age, the pomp and ceremony of the proceedings was rather lost on me. However, the archaic nature of the building and the knowledge that it embodied an ancient faith seemingly full of mysteries inspired me. When I took up photography it was one of the places I often brought my camera and I have photographed the building a great deal over the years. Some of my photos are below.

I have just picked up a copy of Doris Jones-Baker's excellent book The Folklore of Hertfordshire (part of the The Folklore of the British Isles series). I was excited to read that there is a carving of a wyvern in the church, which I do not remember seeing. Along with there more common cousins dragons, these beasts are a breed of serpent. Snakes were, of course, responsible for the fall of man and are therefore cursed by God and were shunned by all right-minded folk. The presence of the beast in St Etheldreda's warrants a trip back to the parish to hunt it I think.

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