Been troubled by these three this week. They are part of a commemorative window in the church at Beetham, Cumbria, (the village near the mill where I am resident artist). The church is now named St Michael’s and All Angels, but the church might have taken any one of these women’s names had history telling been different following the conqueror’s 11th century invasion when naming Norman became important. Namings have been troubling and intriguing me this week; namings – ancient ones that sound male yet are female and vice versa. For example the centre stage woman here is called Ethelburga. I cannot see St. or Queen next to her name so she could be either. She has a crown and a halo on her head so she could be both. Not looking more closely until I decided to use this pic and write this entry did I realise what else was written beneath her name…but bear with me because this obvious oversight generates some other meandering thoughts along the . I will ignore the closer look at her for the time being. Let’s look right and left of her.
Her “attendants” on either side definitely have St. next to their names: St Lioba (Leoba) on the right or stage left if she is performing and St Osyth stage right or “daily life” left if she isn’t performing.
I looked up Ethelburga and found several references to her being an older sister of St Audry (of Ely, East Anglia), whom I know about because I had researched this saint for The House. Audry gives her name to one of the hospitals where my Nana was a patient/inmate (depending on how the ledger documentation describes them). By late 20th century inscription Nana was a patient. In early 20th century inscription, she was an inmate. Nowadays she would be a client or even a customer! However, neither Nana, nor Audry, despite the intrigue of her arranged/forced marriage is not the focus of our rummaging here.
The Ethelburga I rummaged for had a father called Anna – sounds female, and a mother called Hereswyda which at first glance might be male (Hereward comes to mind) but on second thoughts the “a” ending makes it feminine if my Latin is remembered correctly and I am guessing there is some kind of interplay here between Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Ethelburga is listed all over the place as both Queen and Saint and this confused me – there being a school named after the Queen and a Peace and Reconciilation Centre named after the Saint – the former in Yorkshire and the latter down south connected to Barking and located in London. Anyway the Ely reference places her firmly in East Anglia, Suffolk to be precise. Important link for other ladies I am looking at – more of which later in the project.
Bear with me.
Britannia BIographies locates the Saint as a queen of Wessex who died in Barking. married to a King called Ine. So is the Ethelburga a southern queen or a northern queen, or both?
Bear with me.
Now, looking more closely, our centre stage saintly queen or queenly saint who could be performing or not because she is neither right nor left, but stands betwixt and between (both daily life and performed life). This is the positional insight she brings; a bridge, a liminal space, a place between two other women.
And so to the oversight referred to earlier. In the stained glass representation here she is accompanied by a “tag line” which seems to read: “wife of St Edwin” Of course not all saints were celibate, unmarried or unproductive of offspring, but she obviously needs the qualification, ie. to be named in connection with her husband and not of her own self . If she’s not qualified she could really be any old Ethel (burga), couldn’t – a lowly pauper or a nobody. It’s the guy who makes the naming sort of comprehensible for us. The guy qualifies her. So the male linked to the female bit is important. So let’s find out who the guy is and if indeed he is Ine of Wessex or EdwINE of…..
Wikipedia has Ethelburga (I prefer Ethel – it’s more familiar) linked to Edwin (I prefer Ed) of Northumbria with her birth located in Kent – so not from Wessex then – unlike her saintly attendant Lioba (Leoba). Her mother was Bertha of Kent, of Frankish origin, Bertha aka Aldbergh – is that Aldburgh? – must be – Suffolk coast – also a queen who was a saint. But she could be Bert, like her husband – wait for it – ETHELbert, King of Kent.
Ed(WIN) was born somewhere vague in Northumberland but by the time he is 30 he is in East Anglia. After lots of fighting and fixing power relationships he was almost in charge of half of the country and an alliance with Ethel(BURG) – but it might as well be her father (BURT) – would bring Kent into the equation. So on the understanding he convert to Christianity Ethel agreed. Phew! – not phew! the conversion but phew! the complicated route.
Their union marked the christianising of the pagan north. Hence Edwin becomes a king and a saint and born somewhere vague in the north… on my birth day – or maybe that’s his saints day, not in 1956 but in 586 making him 1370 years older than me – nice round number.
Ahh….since Beetham is most definitely in the pagan/Celtic north/west – that would explain Ethelburga’s centre stage position with a diagonal line from the South East to North West – a kind of cross roads.
I have also been reading Roger Bingham’s The Chronicles of Milnthorpe this week and he places Heversham (just north of Beetham and Milnthorpe) at an absolute half way point between John O’ Groats and Land’s End. Lines – diagonals, horizontals and verticals are important to me as a theatre maker in carving out space, as are points of the compass. Lines and tributaries are fundamental to this project here at Heron Corn Mill (The link goes to the antithesis of these ancient musings.)
But we still haven’t answered the one about Wessex because Leoba was from Wessex and that would make sense. This calls for a consideration of some dates and final resting places.
Edwin 586 – 622/623 – temporary resting place in Sherwood Forest, then his head in York and his body in Whitby. He died in battle. In death he straddles the Midlands and the North. His saintliness is disputed by Bede – too much detail now.
Ethelburga 605 (Now if she was the Wessex one who ended up in Barking she died in 740 and was born in 673). But it makes her nineteen years younger than Edwin – not unusual maybe when you are marrying territory. If it’s the one from Kent she died about 647 in Lyminge, Kent where she was Abbess. The River Bela runs into the Kent Estuary – not the South East Kent, the North West Kent.
Oh! the Wessex one was a warrior….aha – this writing in online presence is so exciting….that may explain the Peace and Reconciliation theme surrounding her naming of the London/Barking connection.
The Wessex one:
Whoopee! and how fascinating to discover “in the moment” Judy Chicago in pursuit of a similar theme. If you have managed to survive this meandering flow you are strong enough to look up Judy Chicago (an art queen in her own right) yourself and see how it brings us full circle to the naming game we began with.
Thank you to Wikipedia! Wonder of the Web, Roger Bingham,Britannia BIographies, Beetham Church and the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels by NH Webster (1988) and many other references I spent two days winding through – too numerous to mention.
But what about Osyth?…..and you didn’t write much about Lioba……….next time – and like a Midsomer Mystery we will guess at the links unless someone out there already knows. Surely you have not got this far. If you have I deserve a message and you deserve a medal.