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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 2

St. Ebba, Abbess, and Her Companions, Martyrs

IN the ninth century St. Ebba governed the great monastery of Coldingham, situated in Merch, or the Marshes, a province in the shire of Berwick, which was for some time subject to the English, at other times to the Scots. This was at that time the largest monastery in all Scotland, and had been founded by another St. Ebba, who was sister to St. Oswald and Oswi, kings of Northumberland. 1 In the year 870, according to Matthew of Westminster, or rather in 874, according to the Scottish historians, in an incursion of the cruel Danish pirates, Hinguar and Hubba, this abbess was anxious, not for her life, but for her chastity, to preserve which she had recourse to the following stratagem: Having assembled her nuns in the Chapterhouse, after making a moving discourse to her sisters, she, with a razor, cut off her nose and upper-lip, and was courageously imitated by all the holy community. The frightful spectacle which they exhibited in this condition protected their virginity. But the infidels, enraged at their disappointment, set fire to the monastery, and these holy virgins died in the flames spotless victims to their heavenly spouse, the lover and rewarder of chaste souls. See Matthew of Westminster, Baronius ad an. 870, Cressy, &c.  1
Note 1. The monastery of Coldingham was burnt by John, king of England, and after it was rebuilt retained only the rank of a priory till the change of religion. A nephew of bishop Lesley, a Scottish Jesuit, tells us, in the lives of Scottish Saints, which he compiled in Latin, that he found the ruins very stately when he took a survey of them in 1610. See this MS. History of Scottish Saints, p. 98. [back]