It Saint for me to say who is right
PUBLISHED: 13:42 06 October 2006 | UPDATED: 22:16 28 May 2010
I SPENT much of last week being interviewed by BBC local radio stations. It all began with BBC Radio Suffolk which has decided it s time we got rid of St George as our patron saint and chose someone English. Because I wrote a book pompously titled The Lio
I SPENT much of last week being interviewed by BBC local radio stations. It all began with BBC Radio Suffolk which has decided it's time we got rid of St George as our patron saint and chose someone English.
Because I wrote a book pompously titled The Lion Treasury of Saints a couple of years back, I'm fair game for (unpaid) interviews on the subject.
Radio Suffolk wanted me to support their local saint, St Edmund, who lost his life fighting the invading Danes. The other stations wanted support for their own local holy heroes.
Two questions sprang to mind as I did the interviews. Didn't our former MP Clement Freud name a racehorse Dig Up St Edmund because he thought Bury St Edmunds was a stupid name for a town? And is there a patron saint of Fenland?
Everyone else has one. Motorists have St Christopher; accountants have Matthew (the tax collector); and lovers have St Valentine. Comedians have St Vitus.
There are two obvious candidates for Fenland's saint.
First, there's Wendreda of March whose father was called Anna - which makes her home life sound quite interesting in a Fen sort of way.
In fact he was a bloke - and king of East Anglia. With a name like Anna, he wasn't going to give his daughters any old names.
Wendreda's sisters were called Etheldreda, Sexburgha and Withburga. Wendreda was a gifted healer, using herbs and holy water - and came to March to found a community dedicated to healing.
Our other possible patron is a guy called Guthlac. He was chucked out of a monastery in
Derbyshire for trying to stop his fellow monks drinking alcohol - and decided he wanted to live a hermit's life, surrounded by disagreeable people who would test his good nature. So he came to the Fens.
He turned up at Thorney Abbey, got hold of a boat and rowed himself across the undrained flatlands until he reached a place populated mainly by crows.
He wore only animal skins, lived on bread and water and was plagued by the occasional passerby who flung him into the swamp.
After he died, they built a church there in his memory: Crowland Abbey.
So who's the more suitable saint for Fenland? The hermit or the healer?