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

July 8

St. Withburge, Virgin

SHE was the youngest of the four sisters, all saints, daughters of Annas the holy king of the East-Angles. In her tender years she devoted herself to the divine service, and led an austere life in close solitude for several years at Holkham, an estate of the king her father, near the sea-coast in Norfolk, where a church, afterwards called Withburgstow, was built. After the death of her father she changed her dwelling to another estate of the crown called Dereham. This is at present a considerable market town in Norfolk, but was then an obscure retired place. Withburge assembled there many devout virgins, and laid the foundation of a great church and nunnery, but did not live to finish the buildings. Her holy death happened on the 17th of March, 743. Her body was interred in the church-yard at Dereham, and fifty-five years after, found uncorrupt, and translated into the church. One hundred and seventy-six years after this, in 974, Brithnoth, (the first abbot of Ely, after that house, which had been destroyed by the Danes, was rebuilt,) with the consent of King Edgar, removed it to Ely, and deposited it near the bodies of her two sisters. In 1106 the remains of the four saints were translated into the new church and laid near the high altar. The bodies of SS. Sexburga and Ermenilda were reduced to dust, except the bones. That of St. Audry was entire, and that of St. Withburge was not only sound but also fresh, and the limbs perfectly flexible. Warner, a monk of Westminster, showed this to all the people, by lifting up and moving several ways the hands, arms, and feet. Herbert, bishop of Thetford, who in 1094 translated his see to Norwich, and many other persons of distinction were eyewitnesses hereof. This is related by Thomas, a monk of Ely, 1 which he wrote the year following, 1107. This author tells us, that in the place where St. Withburge was first buried, in the church-yard of Dereham, a large fine spring of most clear water gushes forth. 2 It is to this day called St. Withburge’s well, was formerly very famous, and is paved, covered and inclosed; a stream from it forms another small well without the church-yard. See her life, and Leland, Collect, vol. iii. p. 167.  1
Note 1. Anglia Sacra, t. 1, p. 613, published by Wharton. [back]
Note 2. Ib. p. 606. [back]