Edith of Wilton bigraphy, stories - English nun

Edith of Wilton : biography

961 - 984

Saint Edith of Wilton (also known as Eadgyth, her name in Old English, or as Editha or Ediva, the Latin forms of her name) was an English nun, a daughter of the 10th century King Edgar of England, born at Kemsing, Kent, in 961. Following her death in 984, she became the patron saint of her community at Wilton Abbey and churches were dedicated to her in Wiltshire and in other parts of England. Her life was written by Goscelin and her feast day is on 16 September.


Edith was the illegitimate daughter of Edgar, by Wilfrida (or Wulfthryth), a woman of noble birth whom Edgar carried off forcibly from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey. He took her to his manor house at Kemsing, near Sevenoaks, where Edith was born. Under Dunstan's direction, Edgar did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years. As soon as Wulfthryth could escape from Edgar, she returned to Wilton, taking Edith with her.Mrs Jameson, Legends of the monastic orders: as represented in the fine arts online at books.google.com

Edith was educated by the nuns of the abbey, where her mother had become abbess. Standing not far from a royal residence at Wilton, the abbey included as part of its devotional work the contemporary equivalent of a boarding school for young ladies.Kate Pratt, at bishopwilton.com Edith took the veil very early, with her father's consent. He offered to make the child the abbess of three different communities, but she chose to remain with her mother at Wilton. Edgar died in 975.

In 979, Edith had a dream that she had lost her right eye. She believed that the dream had been sent to warn her of the death of her half-brother Edward, who was indeed murdered at that time whilst on a visit to his stepmother Ælfthryth, at Corfe Castle, in Dorset.

Edith was offered the crown of England by those noblemen who had supported her murdered brother Edward against her young half-brother, Ethelred, but she refused the offer. at catholic.org She always dressed magnificently and was reported by the mediaeval chronicler William of Malmesbury to have worn luxurious golden garments.Catherine E. Karkov, The ruler portraits of Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2004; p. 114 When rebuked by Æthelwold of Winchester, she answered that the judgment of God, which alone penetrated through the outward appearance, was alone true and infallible, adding, "For pride may exist under the garb of wretchedness; and a mind may be as pure under these vestments as under your tattered furs".Jameson, op. cit., online at books.google.com

Edith built a church at Wilton and dedicated it to Saint Denis. Saint Dunstan was invited to the dedication and is said to have wept during the Mass. When he was asked why he wept, Dunstan said it was because he knew that Edith would die in three weeks. His prediction was proved to be correct when she died on 15 September 984: the story suggests that Edith was suffering from a fatal illness. She was buried at Wilton in the newly dedicated church.Sabine Baring Gould, 'S. Edith of Wilton' in his The Lives of the Saints, vol. X [September] (London: John Hodges, 1875), pp. 269-271


The seal of Edith has survived. Dated to the period 975–984, it contains a portrait of her, showing her standing with one hand raised and the other holding a book. The inscription identifies her as regalis adelpha, or 'royal sister', which is taken to be a reference both to her status as a nun and to her being the sister of Edward and Ethelred. The handle of the matrix has a rich acanthus decoration: the seal is the only one surviving from the Anglo-Saxon period which shows this feature.


Edith was greatly celebrated for her learning, her beauty and her sanctity. Minor miracles were reported shortly after her death. A week after she died, Edith appeared in glory to her mother and told her that the Devil had tried to accuse her, but that she had broken his head.Agnes Dunbar, 'Edith of Wilton', in her A Dictionary of Saintly Women (1904) The early mediaeval writer Goscelin reported that thirteen years later she appeared in visions to Dunstan and others, to inform them that her body was uncorrupted in the grave. He stated that Dunstan opened her tomb in the presence of her mother, and that its "fragrant perfumes gave off the breath of paradise". However, the dating of this event must be doubted, as Dunstan himself died only four years after Edith. It has been suggested that Goscelin may have chosen to enhance Edith's story by associating Dunstan with her translation.

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