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September 1, 2014

St. Etheldreda

Saint-Ethledreda

Around 640, there was an English princess named Etheldreda, but she was known as Audrey. She married once, but was widowed after three years, and it was said that the marriage was never consummated. She had taken a perpetual vow of virginity, but married again, this time for reasons of state. Her young husband soon grew tired of living as brother and sister and began to make advances on her. She continually refused. He eventually attempted to bribe the local bishop, Saint Wilfrid of York, to release Audrey from her vows.

Saint Wilfrid refused, and helped Audrey escape. She fled south, with her husband following. They reached a promontory known as Colbert’s Head, where a heaven sent seven day high tide separated the two. Eventually, Audrey’s husband left and married someone more willing, while Audrey took the veil, and founded the great abbey of Ely, where she lived an austere life. She eventually died of an enormous and unsightly tumor on her neck, which she gratefully accepted as Divine retribution for all the necklaces she had worn in her early years. Throughout the Middle Ages, a festival, “St. Audrey’s Fair”, was held at Ely on her feast day. The exceptional shodiness of the merchandise, especially the neckerchiefs, contributed to the English language the word “tawdry”, a corruption of “Saint Audrey.”

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