Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

St Milburga

Yesterday was the feast of St Milburga, whose principal shrine was at the Cluniac priory at Much Wenlock.

John Dillon posted about her on the Medieval Religion discusson group as follows:

Mildburg (d. early 8th cent.). We know about her (also Milburg, Milburga, Milburh) chiefly from the so-called Kentiurgh Royal Legend (Þá hálgan; between 725 and 974) and other Old English texts of the Mildrith Legend and from the perhaps authentic charters preserved in the "Testament of St Mildburg" preserved in her later eleventh-century Vita (BHL 5959) attributed to Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. A daughter of a sub-king of the Magonsæte in today's Shropshire and Herefordshire and of his queen, a member of the royal family of Kent, she was sister to St. Mildrith (Mildreda), abbess of Minster-in-Thanet. In the 670s or 680s she became abbess of the double monastery founded by her father at today's Much Wenlock in central Shropshire. The charters show Mildburg acquiring other estates for the monastery.

St. Boniface's Epistle 10 (dated to 716), which recounts the visions of the Monk of Wenlock, calls the abbey there the monasterium Milburge abbatiss(a)e. This formulation has been taken to indicate that Mildburg was still alive at or close to the time of the letter's composition. When Mildburg's cult began is uncertain. She is already a saint in the Kentish Royal Legend and her resting place at Wenlock is listed in the eleventh-century Old English resting-place list Secgan be pam Godes sanctum pe on Engla lande terost reston.

The abbey at Wenlock was re-founded as a Cluniac priory in the later eleventh century. In 1101 remains believed to be Mildburg's were miraculously discovered in Wenlock's then ruinous church of the Holy Trinity (the predecessor of the present one), whence they were translated to the nearby priory church. Herewith some views of the priory's twelfth- and thirteenth-century architectural remains:
Much Wenlock sits at the northern end of Wenlock Edge, along with the Long Mynd one of the two lengthy elevations that dominate central Shropshire's extraordinarily attractive rural landscape.

Matt Heintzelman on the same list cited the miracle of Mildburg's veil as follows:

“She is said to have had a mysterious power over birds; they would avoid damaging the local crops when she asked them to. She was also associated with miracles, such as the creation of a spring and the miraculous growth of barley. One story relates that one morning she overslept and woke to find the sun shining on her. Her veil slipped but instead of falling to the ground was suspended on a sunbeam until she collected it.” (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mildburh)

John Dillon adds that the Wikipedia account might have noted that the hanging of an article of apparel from a sunbeam is a hagiographic commonplace. A quick traipse -- using as the only search term -- through the archives of this list shows it also reported for St. Alexander of Fiesole, St. Amatus / Ame of Sion, St. Bridget of Ireland, St. Goar, and St. Godehard / Gotthard of Hildesheim. Doubtless there are yet other instances.

Gordon Plumb posted these images of the remains of the priory at Much Wenlock:

Much Wenlock Priory, intersecting arcading in the Chapter House:

Capitals on north wall in the Chapter House:

Two apostles from the cloister lavatorium (the place for ablustions nefore meals):

Christ calling St Peter in the decoration of the cloister lavatorium

I should add that there is still (or once again) a foundation of Benedictine Nuns at Minster-in-Thanet, living in part in the remains of the medieval abbey - which is claimed to be the oldest inhabited house in the country.

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