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  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: May 2010

4 - The cult of St Edburga at Winchester and Pershore

Summary

THE HISTORICAL EDBURGA

Ita generosa uirgo et sponsa summi regis Eadburga uite subtracta presentis ergastulo, in confessione uere fidei et unius Dei cognitione migrauit ad celum, cum sacris coronanda uirginibus sanctorum subuecta presidiis angelorum … Et quia uestibus auro textis que regio generi congruunt nullatenus gloriabatur, nee suorum splendore natalium insolescere uoluit, circumdata uarietate uirtutum, agnum sponsum meruit uirgineo uellere candidatum.

The Edburga created by Osbert of Clare was a royal lady whose sanctity was a product exclusively of her role within the church. As such, it was founded upon the renunciation of royal status and duty, upon commitment to the ideal of chastity and upon the fulfilment of a role antithetical to that commonly expected of a young lady of royal birth. But how real was this theoretical – and highly conventional – antithesis between the uirgo regia and the sponsa summi regis? Did the hagiographer, in selecting this as his principal theme, perhaps obscure the real role of the historical Edburga?

For an understanding of Edburga's historical role the scene is set by Osbert's introductory genealogical passages. It has been suggested above that these passages serve a two-fold purpose within the Vita. First, they enhance the prestige of the saint by her association with a highly praised tradition of Christian rulership; second, and by no means incongruously, they provide a starting–point for the working out of the theme that sanctity might be attained only by renunciation of that same royal association.