History of March Saint Wendreda

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A RECENT TV series about the Vikings, feared pagan invaders and renowned traders, explained the remarkable journeys on land and sea as far away as Turkey and the American continent of those intrepid adventurers more than a thousand years ago.

It also told of persuasions encouraging them to abandon multi-gods and adopt a life of peace throughout the northern countries known as Scandinavia.

Little is known of the manner in which the Vikings adapted to the Christian belief but March can claim a crucial historical role in their social change to a peaceful existence.

March’s Saint Wendreda lived and worked in the ancient Fen settlement in the last half of the century and she was canonized in the local custom.

With permission of King Ethelred her relic was taken to Ely from March and there enshrined.

In 1016 Edmund Ironside an English Prince took her relic with his army to confront a Danish force of 10,000 men led by Canute, a redoubtable pagan, at Ashington, Essex.

The Saxon army was slaughtered and the resplendent coffin containing Wendreda’s remains interested Canute. On learning of the virtuous life of the March saint he instantly renounced his sanguinary ways and on the field of blood became a Christian. Canute was a remarkably good King of England.

Out of gratitude he presented Saint Wendreda’s relic to Canterbury where it rested for more than 300 years.

More importantly, Canute sent emissaries to his Pagan kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden.

Eventually the Scandinavians belief in multi-gods was swept aside, a new order of peace ensued.

All this through the posthumous miracle of Saint Wendreda.

I received a reply from a Vatican source indicating most English saints are, it is considered, “obscure”.

Having researched Anglo-Saxon documents in which Wendreda is mentioned it becomes clear to me that more is credited to her than is realised.

She received appropriate recognition. Her relic returned to March in about 1346 and was enshrined in Saint Wendreda’s “pilgrimage chapel” which had been practically rebuilt and enlarged for the occasion.

In the famous angel roof (1526) inspired by March’s Sir Anthony Hansart and his second wife Lady Alice, St Wendreda’s effigy is accompanied by two doves of peace.

Henceforth she was known as Wendreda The peacemaker.

TREVOR BEVIS

March