I found out today that 12 December, as well as being the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and my birthday, is also the dies natalis of St Edburga, a princess of the House of Wessex and third Abbess of Minster. It was a happy coincidence that I spent the last few days supplying the sacramental needs of the Benedictine nuns of Minster in Kent
, who live on the site of the seventh century monastery - as you can see in the picture above, part of the buildings are Saxon. It must be one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Catholic hands.
We celebrated the saint's feast at Mass early this morning, possibly yards from her resting place (no one seems to know exactly where she was buried though the Saxon church, the most likely spot, lies beneath the sisters' lawn). I was tempted to use St Edburga's other name in the collect - St Bugga. She was maintained a correspondence with St Boniface and sent him books and vestments. St Edburga thus provides a connection with the German mission and another great saint - St Walburga. It was nuns from the monastery of St Walburga at Eichstatt who 'colonised' Minster just before WWII. They were fleeing from Nazi harassment, although they were viewed with great suspicion by the British authorities and had to briefly move from the strategic location of Minster (near the English Channel and an air field) to the West Country. By the ways, the nuns of Minster still maintain links with their mother house amnd distribute the miraculous oil of St Walburga
. I brought a few bottles back with me to give to the sick of the parish.
The patroness of Minster - and of Thanet (the local area, formally an island) - is St Mildred, the original monastery's second Abbess. Her symbol - and that of the other early Abbesses - is a deer. This goes back to a story concerning her mother, St Ermenburga/Domneva. A tame deer was let loose and the path the animal took determined the boundaries of the monastic land. The deer symbol can be found everywhere in the area.
It was great to spend a few peaceful days with the nuns, writing a few sermons for the coming weeks and catching up with prayer and reading. They invite priests wishing to make retreats to act as their chaplain, so they have a quick turn-over - and are prevented from getting bored by one priest's sermons! A family connection also made me feel very much at home - my mother's cousin, a monk of Ramsgate Abbey, was parish priest of Minster for many years and my great-aunt (who died in 1980 aged 95) lived in a bungalow owned by the Priory - all the sisters called her 'auntie.'