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

December 9

St. Wulfhilde, Virgin and Abbess

THIS noble lady learned from her infancy to despise all earthly things, and to love and esteem only those which are heavenly; and was placed young by her parents in the monastery of Winchester. King Edward became enamoured of her; but she rejected his great offers, entreaties, ensnaring presents, and messages, knowing that virtue is not to be secured but by watching against the most distant sight, and the most subtle and disguised approaches of an enemy. An aunt of the virgin suffered herself to be gained by the king, and feigning herself sick, sent for Wulfhilde out of her monastery to come to her. The virgin was scarcely arrived at her house but the king came upon her, hoping to overcome her resolution; but alarmed beyond measure at the danger, she violently broke out of the house, leaving part of her sleeve in the hands of the king, who attempted to hold her, and running to the church held the altar, imploring the divine protection with many tears. It had long been her desire to consecrate herself to her heavenly spouse in a religious state. The horror and dread of the danger to which her soul had been exposed in this temptation, was a spur to her in the pursuit of virtue, and she completed the entire sacrifice of herself to God, with the fervour of a saint. The king was overcome by her constancy, and afterwards nominated her abbess of Barking, on which house he bestowed many fair possessions. Wulfhilde settled upon it twenty villages of her own patrimony; and founded another monastery at Horton, in Dorsetshire. Both these houses she governed with great sanctity and prudence, lived in great austerity, and was a model of charity, devotion, meekness, and humility. Her inflexible virtue excited the jealousy of Queen Elflede, by whom she was ejected out of her monasteries. But she was restored with honour, and died about the year 990, in the reign of Etheldred II. Many miracles were wrought at her tomb, as William of Malmesbury and others assure us. St. Edilburge, St. Wulfhilde, and St. Hildelide were much honoured by our English ancestors, and their relics esteemed the greatest treasure of the abbey of Barking; in which St. Erkonwald, the founder, made his sister, St. Edilburge, the first abbess, but gave her St. Hildelide for her assistant, whom he called over from France, where she had made her religious profession, though an English lady by birth. 1 As she was the directress of Edilburge, during her life, so she succeeded her in the government of this monastery after her death, and is named in the English Calendars on the 24th of March. 2 On St. Wulfhilde, see William of Malmesbury, l. 2. Pontif. and her life in Capgrave, and in John of Tinmouth. 3  1
Note 1. Du Plessis imagines Trithemius and others who mentioned St. Hildelide, abbess, among the saints who flourished at Faremoutier, mistook this name for St. Hilda, though she never was there. It is true that St. Hildelide was never abbess at Faremoutier, but at Barking in England. But she had unquestionably lived at Faremoutier or at Chelles, before she came to Barking. See Bede, (l. 4, c. 10.) Du Plessis, (Hist. de l’Egl. de Meaux, l. 1, n. 84.) [back]
Note 2. Bede. Hist. l. 4, c. 10. [back]
Note 3. John of Tinmouth, monk of St. Alban’s flourished in 1370, and compiled the lives of one hundred and fifty-seven British, English, Scottish, and Irish saints. His Sanctilogium is extant in MS. in the Lambeth Library, quoted by Wharton, (Anglia Sacra, t. 2, p. 75, &c.) also in the Cottonian Library; but this copy is so much damaged by the conflagration of an adjoining house, next the wall of the library, when it was kept at Westminster, that the leaves are glued together. By the methods which are used at the Vatican library and at Herculaneum, to unfold MSS. which are worn with age, and in which the leaves adhere together, several of these endamaged MS. books might probably be again made useful. John Capgrave in his Legenda Sanctorum Angliæ, printed at London in 1516, collected one hundred and sixty-eight lives of saints, all which, except fourteen, he copied verbatim from John of Tinmouth, says Leland in Joan. Tinmouthensi: yet in Tinmouth several things occur which are not in Capgrave. [back]