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20 July

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  • ambrois@xtra.co.nz
    Celtic and Old English Saints 20 July =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= * St. Arilda of Gloucester * St. Etheldwitha of Winchester * St.
    Message 1 of 12 , Jul 20, 2013
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      Celtic and Old English Saints 20 July

      * St. Arilda of Gloucester
      * St. Etheldwitha of Winchester
      * St. Modmund of Gloucester

      St. Arilda, Virgin and Martyr of Gloucester
      Date unknown. Saint Arilda, Gloucestershire virgin, died in defence of
      her chastity. The church at Oldbury-on-the-Hill is dedicated to her

      St Arilda of Oldbury on Severn, Gloucestershire
      by Jane Bradshaw

      If books of saints mention St Arilda at all they say she is the patron saint
      of Oldbury on the Hill, Gloucestershire. This is quite true but she is also
      the patron saint of Oldbury on Severn, shortly to revert to Gloucestershire
      after twenty-one years in Avon. These are the only two churches dedicated to
      this saint but there are three other extant memorials to her.

      The first is on the reredos of the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral, the
      pre-Dissolution Benedictine Abbey of St Peter. This reredos is now, alas,
      only a framework of empty niches which originally held the statues of three
      major and thirty-six minor saints [1]. The central niche of the three minor
      ones on the extreme south edge once held a statue of St Arilda, and the
      mason's aide-memoire can still be seen scratched into the stone (see
      illustration, right). She has also been identified, less certainly in a
      light in the east window of the Lady Chapel. The glass in this window is
      made up of fragments of the pre-Dissolution stained glass windows. Rushforth
      [2] identifies St Arilda as sharing a light with St Lawrence, to whom
      Didmarton church, the neighbouring church to Oldbury on the Hill, is

      The second memorial to her is a hymn and a collect for her feast which are
      written 'in a late thirteenth century hand' [3] on the flyleaf of a book
      which belonged to Thomas Bredon, abbot of Gloucester from 1224 to 1228. This
      book passed to the library of Hereford Cathedral after the Dissolution,
      where it is now in the Chained Library. St Arilda appears in the English
      Benedictine liturgical Kalendars as 'virgin and martyr' with a feastday on
      20 July [4]. The hymn and collect have been transcribed and translated for
      use at Oldbury on Severn. So who was St Arilda, or Arildis, or plain
      Saxon Arild? From the hymn we deduce that she was a virgin consecrated to
      God (verses 2, 3 and 4); that she 'three times...fought the power of sin',
      though what this means we are not told; and that she is buried in
      Gloucester, where she is a guardian of 'this monastery' (verse 6 - the
      translation is rather free here to allow for the hymn to be sung at
      Oldbury). The Kalendars tell us she was a virgin martyr. Her name in the
      form Arild is Anglo-Saxon, connected with the name Hilda which means battle

      John Leland, the sixteenth-century traveller and writer gives us some more
      information, gathered during his visit to Gloucester Abbey. He tells us that
      St Arilda, 'martyred at Kington by Thornbury [and] translated to this
      monastery had done many miracles', and that she was martyred 'by one
      Muncius, a tyrant who cut off her head because she would not consent to lie
      with him' [5]. Kington near Thornbury is now in the parish of Oldbury on
      Severn (which itself was once a chapel of ease to Thornbury church), and
      here we find the third memorial to St Arilda: her well. A local tradition
      that the water runs red with her blood is well-founded, as the stones in the
      well's outflow are stained red, not with the iron associated with chalybeate
      springs [6], but with a freshwater alga rejoicing in the name of
      Hildebrandia rivularis.

      While willing to be corrected, and admitting that much of the following is
      guesswork, I would suggest that St Arilda was a consecrated virgin who, at
      some time before the Norman Conquest and perhaps even before the Anglo-Saxon
      invasions, lived by the well at Kington where she was martyred. Her body was
      then removed to the hilltop at Oldbury on Severn where the church dedicated
      to her now stands. A circular churchyard here indicates an ancient holy
      site, and Roman remains dug up there point to a possible pre-Christian
      origin, particularly as the hill itself has always been a navigation mark
      for shipping in the river. After the founding of St Peter's Abbey in the
      early part of the eleventh century and the later Norman Conquest the
      Benedictine monks there, following the policy of centralisation encouraged
      by the Normans (and probably with an eye to the prestige of the abbey) had
      her body removed to Gloucester and enshrined in the crypt there. We know
      from later records that at the Dissolution all the bones buried in the crypt
      were gathered together and placed in one of the crypt side-chapels, being
      transferred in the early twentieth century to an unmarked grave in the
      Cathedral precincts.

      The late rector of Oldbury on Severn, the Rev. Norman Stocks, instituted the
      custom of singing St Arilda's hymn in the church on the Sunday nearest to
      her feastday. Since 1986 Oldbury Village History Group has walked from the
      church to her well on 20 July where the hymn is sung and the collect said,
      and the proceedings conclude with a picnic. I should add that the well is on
      private land, with no right of access. The landowner is always most
      co-operative with the history group's visitation, but is not altogether
      enthusiastic about the prospect of a large number of visitors.

      The well is now enclosed in a cistern (see illustration), from which the
      water is piped to the small group of farms and cottages nearby. This water
      was passed as fit for dairying some years ago, and the Village History Group
      has drunk it for the last nine years with (so far!) no ill effects. The
      outflow from the cistern forms pools where the 'blood' is found under the
      shade of a group of trees, which probably encourages the alga, since it is
      only found in fresh water of a particular temperature. The stream runs on as
      the 'Pool Brook' to form the boundary between Oldbury and Thornbury

      What of Oldbury on the Hill? This is now a 'redundant church' of great charm
      and interest. Why it is dedicated to St Arilda is uncertain. It is some
      twenty miles from St Arilda's Well and Oldbury on Severn. Could it have been
      a resting-place for the saint's bones on the journey to Gloucester? It seems
      slightly out of the way. Or was the farm - for it is hardly more than one
      farm - established by villagers from Oldbury on Severn, who took the memory
      of their patron saint with them and dedicated their new church, the oldest
      part of which, according to Verey [7], is fourteenth century to her? Both
      theories have been suggested, but neither seems capable of proof.

      There are plenty of questions left unanswered, and I should be grateful for
      any helpful suggestions. Meanwhile it seems, St Arilda has kept her vows to
      God, survived one or even one and a half thousand years, and is still going
      strong at Oldbury on Severn.

      See also St Arild's Hymn, Source 5 (New Series).

      St. Etheldwitha (Ealsitha),Nun of Winchester,
      Widow of King Alfred
      Died 903. Etheldwitha, an Anglo-Saxon princess, was wife to King
      Alfred. After his death she retired to the convent she had founded at
      Winchester (Benedictines).

      St. Modmund, Martyr of Gloucester

      These Lives are archived at:
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