The sisters of Llan Meilien,
Round the Abbess Milburga stood:
"Oh Lady, stay, go not away
Through that dark lonesome wood.
The road of wolves is sore beset,
And also of pagan foe;
Then tarry here, Oh lady dear.
To Godstoke do not go."
And sadly shook her head:
"Ere break of day I must away
To Godstoke", she said.
"For sword I'll take the Holy Cross,
My maiden truth for shield;
So armed my ass and I would pass
Safe through a battle field."
starts a fascinating story of the lady who is known in history as Saint
Milburga was the daughter of Merewald, a member of the royal house of the Kingdom of Mercia, who founded a monastery at Wenlock around AD 690. It was a double house; primarily a nunnery but also served by priests who lived a formal life under vow. Most probably these two communities lived separate lives, each with their own church.
Milburga, together with her sisters, Milgitha and Mildred, were canonised by Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, at a time when the various tribes in Britain were at war with each other in a vicious power struggle.
Archbishop's task was to preach brotherly love and Christian faith,
and, to a certain extent, the sanctifying of royalty was simply good
politics, as it united the church and monarchy, and many of those thus
honoured did not continue to live up to their new position of saint.
Milburga, Milgitha and Mildred were the exceptions with probably more
recordings of their lives than many holy men of that period.
stayed at home, and under her role the convent at Wenlock flourished.
Her aura, which some people believed in, was seen by many. It is
recorded that she was found with a sick child in her arms, both
engulfed by flames, though neither were burnt. As well as healing the
sick, she had the power of being able to communicate with birds, and
she was said to help farmers by putting a charm on their scarecrows. It
is also recorded that she was able to prevent a flock of wild geese
from doing damage to crops. In fact, in later years, pilgrims to her
tomb purchased little leaden geese as mementos.
The perils of the road;
Though dark the wood and deep the flood,
And wolves prowl abroad,
He in whose cause I journey
gainst foes will take my part;
But Milgitha, dear, I need to fear
My weak and sinful heart."
I cast my love aside;
Wolfgang, I said, a Christian maid
Can never be a pagan's bride.
I vowed my life, my love to God,
My plighted faith I broke;
And, Milgitha, I have never rued,
The word which then I spoke.
And foes around me wait,
I fear least I should meet with one
Whose love has turned to hate.
I daily pray for Wolfgang,
For his soul will I pray;
But, sister dear, alas, I fear
To meet him on my way."
it's not the first time a member of a Royal family has had the 'hots'
for someone. But, thankfully, in those days, they knew to put duty
before the heart.
Sped on her milk white ass,
And ere the sun had reached the noon,
Through Corve's fair vale they passed.
There in a deep red furrow
The sowers dropped their grain,
An armed pagan by their side
Looked out across the plain.
His black eye flashed fire:
"False Maid," he cried, once trothed my bride
By thy fainthearted sire:
Thou who has trampled on the love
Of a Saxon nobly born,
Shall rue the day thou told me nay
And pay for all your scorn.
She meekly raised her eye:
"Wolfgang, your arm can never harm
One that has a friend on high:
He who can make that grain to spring
And ripen into fruit,
Powers rain and sunshine on your heart,
And bids your faith take root."
Loo, even as she spoke,
From the dry seed up sprang green blade,
And stalk and full ear broke!
In sore amazement the serfs gazed,
The warrior smote his breast,
And humble on his bended knee
The Christian God confessed.
As in a glorious dream,
Behold the maiden and her ass
Against Corve's glittering stream;
And where they go fresh flowers grow,
And to this day is seen.
Upon the sod which they have trod,
A belt of freshest green.
No danger now was nigh.
"Think not," she cries, "my perils past;
From my own heart I fly!
My prayer is heard, we too shall meet
In the bright realms above,
But not again on Earth's wide plain;
In Heaven is all my love."
Till well near Godstoke,
Her strength was spent, she tottered bent,
And sank upon a rock.
Great blood-gouts from her nostrils fell,
And stained the stone with red.
The saintly maid knelt by her side,
And stayed her fainting head.
I will not thee so smite,
For God doth stay my onward way,
Till I shall walk a'right.
Trust not on chariot nor on steed
'Tis writ, but trust in me.
But I sought safety in great speed,
Though none pursue, I flee."
A sparkling fountain burst
From the dry ground and bubbled round,
And the ass slaked her thirst;
And strengthened, gained the journey's end;
And holy pilgrims tell,
There doth remain a dark red stain
At the bottom of the well.
the pagan Danes invaded our shores, Milburga's tomb at Wenlock suffered
the fate of many churches and shrines and was destroyed. It was later
restored by Lady Godiva,
but was destroyed yet again in the
early days of the Norman Conquest. Later still, Roger de Montgomery
founded a prior of monks at Much Wenlock on the site of St. Milburga's
convent. Her memory was rekindled by the accidental rediscovery of her
resting place around the time of the rebuilding of the church. It is
said that her remains wrought so many miracles that
floods of people poured in thither.
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