Saint Withburga
Virgin; Abbess
Born Unknown
Died March 17, 743, Dereham, England
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Eastern Orthodoxy
Feast July 8

Saint Withburga (died 743) was the youngest of the daughters of Anna of East Anglia. Her elder sisters were Seaxburh of Ely, Etheldreda of Ely and Æthelburg of Faremoutiers, and Saethryth was her older half-sister. After her father's death she built a convent in East Dereham. While she was building the convent she had nothing but dry bread to give to the workmen. She prayed to the Virgin Mary and was told to send her maids to a local well each morning. There they found two does which provided milk for the workers. This allowed the workers to be fed.

The local overseer did not like Withburga or her miracles and decided to hunt these does down with dogs, and prevent them from coming to be milked. He was punished for his cruelty when he was thrown from his horse and broke his neck. This story is remembered in the large town sign in Dereham marketplace.

When Withburga died, in AD 743, she was buried in the abbey cemetery. Her body was dug up 55 years later, was found not to have decayed, and was moved into the church that she had built. Dereham became a place of pilgrimage, with people coming to visit Withburga's tomb.

In AD 974 the Abbot of Ely, Brithnoth, elected to steal her body so that he could have financial gain from the pilgrims. Brithnoth and some armed men came to Dereham and organised a feast. When the Dereham men were properly drunk the Ely mob stole Withburga's body and set off for home. Dereham soon found out that this crime had taken place and set off after the Ely criminals.

There was a large fight between the two sides, with spears as well as fists being thrown. As the men approached Ely, however, the thieves had the advantage of knowing their way through the swamps and marshes - and Withburga was deposited in Ely.

When the Dereham men returned home, however, they found that a spring had appeared in Withburga's violated tomb. The water in this spring was considered to be compensation for the loss of their saint, and pilgrims continued to come and drink from the water.

The spring has never run dry, and the water, in Withburga's violated tomb, can be visited to this day.eo:Withburga

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