On Tuesday 23 February we commemorate our venerable mother, Milburga, princess and abbess of #MuchWenlock. We celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the feast.
Saint Milburga is one of the patrons of our community along with the Holy Fathers of Nicaea and the Holy Forerunner John the Baptist.
Saint Milburga’s father, Merewald, son of Penda who ruled a subkingdom called Hecani (south Shropshire and Herefordshire) had been converted in 660 and had married a Christian princess. Their eldest child, Milburga was resolved to found a monastery in her father’s kingdom. Saint Botulf, Abbot of Icheanog set up a monastery at Wimnicas (later Wenlock – white monastery) under a Frankish abbess called Liobsynde. St Milburga later became the Abbess.
According to tradition, St. Milburga was attracted to Wimnicas by the saintly life of St. Owen. St Owen was living in a hermitage there. Two holy wells exist to this day at Much Wenlock. One well is dedicated to St. Milburga, the other, quite near to the parish church, is dedicated to St. Owen.
The importance of Wimnicas and Saint Milburga can be seen from the extent of the territory donated to the monastery during her lifetime. This included Sutton (where the medieval church building was built on a prehistoric sacred site dating back to 2,300 BC). Her consecration as abbess had been among the first undertakings of the aged St. Theodore, a monk of the Eastern Church, following his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 667 AD.
In 901 Aethelred, Earl of Mercia and Aethelflaedia, ‘Lady of the Mercians’ (daughter of King Alfred) donated “a gold chalice weighing thirty mancuses….for the love of God and for the honour of the venerable virgin Mildburg the abbess”.
The discovery of her relics, by children, in 1101 was attended by several miracles. The monastery church of Wenlock was rebuilt on a magnificent scale to accommodate the growing numbers of monks and pilgrims. The church at Sutton was probably rebuilt at this time giving the monastery a presence on the edge of the county town. In 1501 a magnificent shrine built at the order of Henry VII.
The end came with the Reformation in January 1540 when Wenlock Priory was dissolved and nearly all the relics of Saint Milburga were burnt in the marketplace.
In recent times the derelict ruin of the ancient church on Saint Milberga’s estate at Sutton has been carefully restored by our community and now Saint Milburga, is honoured among the saints. The community is now looking to commission a hymnographer to prepare a full akolouthia for the saint.