Saturday, 25 August 2012

Feast of St Ebba

c615 - 683

Ebba was a princess, the daughter of King Æthelfrith of Bernicia and Acha of Deira. Her brothers were the Kings, Oswald and Oswy  and with their support she established a monastery at Ebchester and later at urbs Coludi, now known as Kirk Hill at St Abb's Head, latterly evolving into Coldingham Priory. This religious house lasted for about 40 years and was a double separate monastery of both monks and nuns governed by Ebba.

Legend says she became a nun to avoid the attentions of a certain Prince. Seems that women who want to be valued for who they are quickly turn to God. However, he refused to give up and it is said that due to her prayers the tide stayed high around Kirk Hill for three days and protected her.

Ebba was a great teacher and politician, bringing Christianity to the pagan Angles who had been settling along the east coast of Britain since the 5th century. 

The reality of life in the early Christian establishment was not always strict on sexual piety. Due to the noble background of members of the religious community, the monastery would also have been a place for eating, drinking and entertainment. While Ebba, herself was noted for her own piety, it seems that she would withdraw from the community rather than providing the necessary discipline at the monastery. As often happened when people are not naturally drawn to the rigours of religious life the monks and nuns found their own amusements. Perhaps she should have taken some instruction from Hilda who was seemingly ruling Whitby with a rod of virtuous iron.

It is told that St. Cuthbert would visit Ebba's monastery to instruct the community. At night Cuthbert would disappear to bathe and pray in the sea, to stop himself succumbing to temptations of the flesh. Very early one morning, a monk from the monastery spied him praying and singing psalms in the sea and as Cuthbert came ashore, he saw or imagined he saw two otters bound out of the sea and join Cuthbert in prayer.

Shortly after the death of Ebba, and as foretold in prophesy by the monk Adamnan, the monastery burned down. The  site was abandoned, and by the first half of the 8th century, as Bede confirms, the site was deserted. However the gifts of Ebba in bringing the Christian religion to this part of  Scotland was not forgotten, and in a book written about c.1200 by the monks of Coldingham, they tell of many pilgrims visiting the Kirk Hill and the spring at Well Mouth, located at the top of the beach now called Horse Castle Bay. St. Ebba's feast day is celebrated on 25 August.

Blessing of Ebba

May you know your own self
In the image of God's eye
May your own self be wise 
In the hearing of God's voice
May your own self be kind
In the speaking of God's word
May your own self be courageous
In the knowing of God's love
May your own self know itself 
In the image of God's eye

Blessed Be


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