On 17th September, members of the Sisterhood joined the Pilgrimage, expertly organised and lead by Father David and the Community of the Holy Apostle Luke in Tunbridge Wells, to holy sites connected with two Anglo-Saxon Women-Saints, Ethelburga and Eanswythe.
Our journey started at the small village of Lyminge in southern Kent where we were able to see inside the beautiful and ancient church as well as the site of Saint Ethelburga’s first shrine (later her relics were translated to Canterbury Cathedral where they eventually disappeared in the Reformation period). She was the widow of King Edwin of Northumbria who founded a Convent at Lyminge, becoming its Abbess. She died in AD 647. Before leaving this place we visited her holy well and sang the Troparion in her honour.
Before reaching our next holy place, Folkestone, we stopped to see the church of Saint Oswald at Paddlesworth. This is a wonderful Norman church, with traces of Anglo-Saxon work, and probably owes its foundation to Saint Ethelburga of Lyminge.
We then travelled to the main focus of our pilgrimage, the church of Saints Mary and Eanswythe in Folkestone. Saint Eanswythe (who died about 640) founded a Convent here which was the first women’s monastic house in Anglo-Saxon England. She is therefore a saint whom Orthodox in this country should regard as of the greatest importance. Her shrine became a place of pilgrimage after her death but her relics vanished at the Reformation, until in 1885 they were rediscovered during a restoration of the church, in their original Saxon coffer. They are now behind a locked metal door in the north wall of the church, near the main altar. Her feast is 31st August so that we arrived just a few days later (allowing for calendar differences: 17th = 4th September on the old style.) We celebrated a moleben in her honour in front of her shrine. A fine Orthodox icon has now been placed here and we all brought our own small copies with us to place near the saint’s relics.
This was a most memorable day which the Orthodox of Sussex and Kent hope to repeat.
Note: A full and very beautiful Service to our Holy Mother Eanswythe can be found on Father Andrew Phillips’ website.