St. Mervenna and St. Æthelfleda, Orthodox English Abbesses

Two heroic holy women who each served as abbess of the famous convent in the town of Romsey in Hampshire in the south of England, which remains a holy place to this day...

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Originally appeared at: Pravoslavie.ru

Days of remembrance: February 10/23 (St. Merevenna) and October 23/November 5 (St. Æthelfleda).

St. Æthelflæd. Image on the festive banner of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Scattered throughout Britain are dozens of cathedrals, former monastic and parish churches, perpetuating the exploits of the early saints, wise, brave and unusually active women of this land, who made a huge contribution to the formation of the English Church in its Orthodox (pre-Russian) period (a huge contrast compared to how low a position women would occupy in the Late Middle Ages). These were holy nuns and abbesses, queens and princesses, hermits and martyrs, as well as female missionaries. This article is dedicated to two heroic holy women who served as abbess of the famous convent in the town of Romsey in Hampshire in the south of England, which remains a holy place to this day.

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The monastery of Romsey in the early English kingdom of Wessex dates back to 907, when King Edward the Elder, son of the Holy Blessed King Alfred the Great, founded a small community of nuns there under the leadership of his daughter Ælfleda. Little is known of its history before its revival in the early 960s by the Holy Blessed King Edgar the Peaceable. This monastery, which was later dedicated to the Mother of God and Saint Æthelflaed, flourished until the barbarian Reformation under King Henry VIII. What has survived from the former monastery is a large, magnificent, functioning church in honor of the Virgin Mary and St. Æthelfleda, in which the holy memory of its first and third abbesses are still honored to this day. Many facts about the lives of these abbesses and the history of the monastery can be found in Henry George Downing Living's (1861–1947) book, Records of Romsey Abbey: an Account of the Benedictine House of Nuns, with Notes on the Parish Church and Town) in English. The history of the monastery is also colorfully described in the recently published book Romsey Abbey: the First 1,100 Years in English by historian Elizabeth Hallett of Romsey, to whom we are very grateful for her assistance in preparing this material.

About the life of St. Merevenny

Reverend Merewenna (Merewenna, Merwenna, Merwinna, Merewenne, Maerwynn) most likely belonged to the English nobility. Around 967, King Edgar appointed her abbess of the Romsey monastery he revived. For many years the monastery was under the patronage of the crown, and even Edmund, Edgar's youngest son, was buried in the monastery church in 972. The community received many donations from the royal family. As the first abbess of the revived monastery of Romsey, Merevenna lived a holy life, developing a new community and proving herself to be a capable leader in everything. Thanks to her authority and influence, for a long time many women and girls who occupied a high position in society, including members of the royal family, willingly joined this monastic community. In that era, monasticism was one of the most important parts of the life of English society and influenced the everyday life of almost every resident of the country.

The signature of St. Merevenna can be seen on a number of important surviving documents of that time: among them a charter for the grant of lands for the revival of Crowland Monastery[1] (here she is the only mother abbess; the other signatories are the king, archbishops, bishops, and a number of abbots) and a letter which condemns the blasphemers who caused harm to the Church (among the signatories were archbishops and other abbesses who enjoyed great authority).

It is known that Saint Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, who together with Saints Dunstan and Oswald did much for the revival of the English Church in the 10th century, deeply revered and admired Merevenna. This archpastor often consulted with the holy abbess, kept her informed of events in the country, and from time to time stopped at the monastery of Romsey to rest for a short time in silence from the constant archpastoral labors. According to legend, Saint Ethelwold donated several hairs of the Most Holy Theotokos to the Romsey monastery - it is believed that this shrine was given to the newly established English Church by Saint Gregory the Baptist, the baptist of the English, at the beginning of the 7th century.

We learn other details about the life of the Venerable Merevenna from the ancient biographies of Saint Æthelflaed, the third abbess of Romsey, who was raised in this monastery from childhood.

About the life and miracles of St. Æthelflæd

One of the miracles of St. Æthelflæd. Diptych image by artist Chris Gollon (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Saint Aethelfleda (Ethelfleda, Aethelflaeda, Elfleda), whose name means "noble beauty", was one of the many children of Athelwold, a pious nobleman and close friend of King Edgar, who married him to Brihgiva, a beautiful and pious lady who was a close relative of his (Edgar's) wife, Queen Elfthryth. Brihgiva gave birth to Saint Æthelflæd shortly before her own death. When she was pregnant, she had a wonderful dream in which a beam of bright sunlight flashed directly above her head. This meant that her child would achieve sainthood. Athelwold later remarried, but died soon after, and his widow did not care at all for her little stepdaughter Æthelflæd. Seeing this, King Edgar decided to place young Aethelflaed in the Romsey monastery and entrust her to the care of Abbess Merevenna, who became her second mother. Perhaps the main purpose of the revival of the Romsi monastery was that when Æthelflaed became old enough, she would serve as its abbess. This is what G. Living writes in the previously mentioned book about the life of Saint Æthelflaed, referring to a 14th-century manuscript from the monastery library, which has survived to this day:

“King Edgar gave Æthelflaed to be raised by the blessed mother Merevenne, the abbess of the Romsi monastery, which he rebuilt. Over time, Blessed Merevenna, seeing her great desire for a godly life and holy obedience, became convinced that she (Æthelflæd) would bring considerable benefit to the Church, if it was God’s favor. The abbess took care of her with such great love that, going out on business and returning, day and night she wanted her to be with her constantly. Truly, Abbess Merevenna showed herself to be the most tender mother towards Æthelflaed, and she showed herself to be the most loving daughter towards Merevenna. One taught the ways of the Lord, instructing in the truth, like the most humble teacher; the other, showing complete obedience, like the most diligent student, zealously performed everything she learned. One, like a blessed lamp, unmistakably pointed the way along the path of righteousness; the other, rejoicing at such a leader, followed her without stumbling. One of them exhausted her body with hunger during the days of fasting; the other secretly distributed to the poor all the food which she had denied herself.”

Venerable Merevenna reposed in the Lord around 990 - she had ruled the monastery for more than 20 years. Soon after Merevenna's death, she began to be revered as a saint; her memorial day was celebrated on February 10, the day of her repose. Later, after the death of the Venerable Æthelfleda, the relics of both holy abbesses rested side by side in two chapels connected to each other, and throughout the Middle Ages they also had a common celebration - October 29 / November 11. The remains of a monastery ruled by Merevenna were discovered under the bell tower and part of the nave of the present church of the former Romsey Priory. However, over time, the veneration of Æthelflaed, who performed many miracles, somewhat eclipsed the veneration of her mentor Merevenna, although today interest in both holy women is steadily growing.

But let's return to Saint Aethelflaed. All medieval authors testify to the deep mutual affection between Mereven and her young student Æthelflæd. Æthelflæd was tonsured as a monk by Saint Æthelwold of Winchester shortly before the death of King Edgar in 975, when she was still a teenager.

Exterior of Romsey Abbey Church in honor of the Virgin Mary and St. Æthelflæd, c. Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

When Reverend Abbess Merevenna died in 990, Æthelflæd was not yet experienced enough to take up the post, so Elvina became the second abbess. She managed the monastery for several years. During her time as abbess, the Romsey monastery fell victim to the furious pagans - the Vikings. Danish pirates landed in Southampton and sailed inland along the River Test in search of easy money. Most likely this happened in 994. One night, while praying at the altar, Elvina had a vision of the Danes attacking and burning their monastery. Wasting no time, the abbess gathered the sisters, took all the monastery relics and other valuables and fled with the community to Winchester (15 km from Romsey; at that time it was essentially the capital of England), where they found refuge in the monastery of Nunnaminster (the monastery of St. Mary). The sisters remained there for several years until the danger passed. It turned out that in their absence the Scandinavians burned the monastery to the ground, although the church partially survived and construction work continued. The nuns returned to Romsey no later than 1012, when Queen Emma (wife of King Æthelred the Foolish) gave lands to the monastery - in all likelihood they returned to Romsey much earlier.

Inside Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, looking east (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Saint Æthelflæd became the third abbess of Romsey around 996. It is possible that their community was still in Winchester when she was elected abbess, but she took an active part in the restoration work. Unfortunately, little information has been preserved about this holy abbess, although stories about her miracles have survived to this day, which create the image of a holy and very virtuous woman who led a strict monastic life. She was always generous to the poor, kind and modest, and was very loved by all the nuns and Christians in the area.

St. Æthelflæd. Image on the red staff of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Biographers testify that Aethelflaed “shone with many virtues, generously gave alms, had constancy in wakefulness and vigils, was prudent in speech, had a humble way of thinking, always had a joyful face and was good-natured to everyone.” Trying to hide her holiness and be able to help the disadvantaged, she, sitting at the table among her comrades, pretended to drink when in fact she did not drink, and eat when she actually did not eat, hiding food in her sleeves, which she then distributed to the poor.

The saint never missed the rule of prayer, divine services, or reading the hours in church: no urgent matters or severe bodily ailments interfered with her prayer and service to God. Æthelflaed was so diligent in singing and reading that the Lord once deigned to show how great the saint was in His eyes. One evening, when the ascetic was reading the Gospel of the day, she approached the analogue, but the candle she was holding in her hand suddenly (and providentially) went out. The saint raised her right hand, and instantly a bright light began to emanate from her fingers, as if specially for reading to those around her! This supernatural light did not disappear until the reading ended[2].

Chapel (chapel) of St. Æthelflaed at Romsey Abbey, Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

The next miracle happened when Æthelflæd was a young novice in Romsey. One day it happened that her cruel teacher entered the garden with young trees next to the house where Æthelflæd studied with other girls at the monastery. While the teacher was cutting off the young branches, Aethelflaed miraculously in the spirit saw through the wall of the stone house, as if through glass, rods in the hands of the teacher, with which she was going to flog her charges, including Aethelflaed. The teacher hid the rods under her clothes and headed towards the house. But as soon as she crossed the threshold of the house, her student Aethelflaed exclaimed in a loud voice, falling prostrate at her feet with tears: “Do not beat us with rods: we will sing as much as you wish, as always! If we happily carry out your commands, why are you going to punish us?” The startled teacher exclaimed: “Tell me, how do you know that I brought rods?” And Aethelflaed answered: “I saw you under the tree when you plucked them, and you still have them under your clothes.” Ashamed, the teacher decided not to hit the girls. What the teacher did could not be revealed to her student except by the Holy Spirit.

Banner of St. Æthelflaed at Romsey Abbey, Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

And here is, perhaps, the most famous miracle associated with Saint Aethelflaed. The nun had the custom of leaving the monastery bedroom every night and secretly immersing herself in the cold water of a running stream (part of the Test River), remaining in it as long as time and strength allowed, chanting psalms and some prayers. And, by the grace of God, the saint succeeded, despite the cold and the light clothes in which she went out. This type of spiritual feat (praying in cold water at night) is characteristic of many Celtic (Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton) and some early English saints, and Æthelflæd was one of them!

One day, the above-mentioned Queen Elfthryth invited Saint Aethelflaed to visit her and placed her in her chambers with honor. The ascetic reluctantly agreed to stay with the queen for a short time, fearing that the deceptive shine of earthly vanity could distract her mind from the main, spiritual goal. Upon arrival at the queen's house, sitting on the terrace and looking around, Æthelflæd saw a spring of clean water nearby. She began to come there every night (as in the monastery), while others were sleeping, going out through the door or out the window, singing and praying in the water. Then she returned to the house, and in the morning she was found in bed.

One night, when the queen could not sleep for a long time, she saw the holy virgin leaving the room alone, and she thought that the girl was going to leave at such a late hour with vicious intentions. Æthelflæd went out into the street, and the queen secretly followed her. The saint, having made the sign of the cross, jumped into the water. Suddenly the queen, apparently having seen a sign from heaven, returned to the threshold of the house, screamed loudly in hysterics and fell, as if she was out of her mind. Everyone who was in the house that night came running to the screams and raised the queen, but she continued to rush about. What had happened was revealed to Saint Æthelflæd, who immediately went ashore and fell to the ground, praying incessantly and shedding tears until the queen came to herself completely healthy.

There was a case when one of the managers collected money for rent and put it in a cash chest. Æthelflaed, who always cared for those in need, little by little took money out of the chest and distributed it to the poor. When the time came for the manager to give the rent to the treasurer[3]it turned out that only one farthing (formerly the smallest coin) remained of the entire amount. The manager did not know what to do, and Saint Æthelflæd also found herself in a difficult position. With faith and hope, she offered a sincere prayer to God:

“O Lord, who created all things out of nothing and made everything miraculously obey Your commands, show us Your mercy. Lord, who multiplies what we have and miraculously restores what we have lost, return the money spent on the needy, so that Your name may be glorified again.”

As soon as she finished the prayer, the chest was full of money, to the great joy of the manager. The holy abbess ran to the church, knelt down and thanked God for a long time.

Death and posthumous veneration

The Venerable Æthelflaed reposed in the first half of the 11th century - around 1016, although some say 1030. According to her will, the abbess was first modestly buried in a cemetery outside the church, but later, when more miracles began to occur, her relics were transferred to the church. Numerous pilgrims flocked to the relics of St. Æthelflaed for healing throughout the Middle Ages, and the prayers of many were answered. Æthelflæd of Romsey's name was included in a number of early English calendars, and she was also commemorated at Hyde Abbey in Winchester and other places. Over time, an annual four-day fair was established in Romsey in honor of St. Æthelflæd.

Unfortunately, the relics of both St. Merevenna and St. Æthelflæd were lost during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Veneration of St. Æthelflæd is now being revived among UK-based Orthodox believers, and her first Orthodox icons have recently been painted.

History of Romsey Monastery

According to surviving documents, the monastery church of St. Merevenna was built of stone. It was cruciform in shape, the length of its nave was almost equal to the length of the current church, but the porticoes (galleries with columns) made it even longer. The stone used for the walls was brought from the Isle of Wight, and the roof was made from valuable limestone from the Purbeck peninsula in Dorset. The monastery buildings were grouped south of the temple around a covered gallery. Interestingly, townspeople were also allowed to use part of this church for worship: at least from the 10th to the beginning of the 12th centuries.

As author Derry Brabbs writes in his book Abbeys and Monasteries in Britain:

“In the days before the Norman Conquest, Romsey Abbey acquired a reputation as a center of learning, a safe haven where Anglo-Saxon nobles could send their daughters to receive religious and secular education in a supportive atmosphere. However, as in many other schools, the students were not completely cut off from outside influence; Thus, one of them, the daughter of Margaret of Wessex, was successfully courted by King Henry I.”

Indeed, girls who were educated at the Romsey monastery were not forced to become nuns after finishing school, and they could leave the monastery at any time if they did not feel a calling to monasticism. One of the daughters of King Malcolm III of Scotland, Matilda (baptized Edith; 1080–1118), studied at the monastery of Romsey at the time when her aunt Christina labored there as a monk. One day, King William II the Red, son of William I the Conqueror, came to Romsey to woo Matilda and even convince her to marry him. However, Christina disliked Wilhelm: she hastily dressed the girl in a monastic robe, made her kneel in front of the altar and ordered her to pray intensely. Christina had to explain to him that the princess had supposedly already taken monastic vows and was betrothed to her Heavenly Bridegroom. After the wicked King William II died while hunting in 1100, his younger brother, the future King Henry I, came to Romsey to propose to Matilda, and Aunt Christina gave her blessing. So Matilda became the famous “Good Queen Maude” and became famous for her deeds of mercy.

The last three arches of the current building of the monastery church were completed by 1240 - by which time the monastic community numbered more than 100 nuns. In 1348, the Black Death plague greatly reduced the population of the country, including the town of Romsey, so that only 19 nuns remained. Despite its prosperity, after the epidemic the monastery never fully recovered. Prominent figures such as Kings Henry II, Edward I and Archbishop Thomas Becket visited Romsia Monastery. Princess Joan, daughter of King John the Landless, studied at this monastery, and Mary of Boulogne, daughter of King Stephen of Blois, served as its abbess for five years.

Like a parish church

The former priory church in Romsey has been used as an Anglican parish church since the 1540s. Believing townspeople saved it from demolition after the closure of the monastery, buying it “with the whole world” for £100. They had to demolish the additional south aisle (which was specially built for them as an extension to the monastery church) because the entire church would have been too large for them. In 1643, during the English Civil War, Parliamentary troops stormed the church, damaging the seats and destroying the organ. After a long period of neglect, the church began a period of restoration in the 19th century, especially under the rector Edward Lyon Burton (1813–1899), a prominent clergyman and inventor who invented the collapsible canvas "Burton boat".

This huge ancient church overlooks the small medieval market town of Romsey. Most of the building is made in the Norman style[4]. The Norman and Early English Gothic [5] arches in the nave reach the height of three storeys and date from between 1120 and 1250. The initial stage of construction of this temple was led by Henry de Blois, the famous and active Bishop of Winchester (1129–1171). The church (formerly a monastery) in Romsey throughout its history belonged and belongs to the diocese of Winchester. Now known as Romsey Abbey, it remains the largest working parish church in Hampshire and the best-preserved Romanesque church in all of England, and is often mistaken for a cathedral by first-time visitors!

Two crucifixes

Crucifix from the outside of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

The real gem of Romsey Abbey Church are the two stone Saxon (i.e. pre-Norman Conquest) crucifixes. Very few pre-Roman crucifixes survive throughout Britain, but there are a few in Hampshire. Both crucifixes were moved from the Saxon church to the present location after the Normans began building the monastery in 1120. The crucifix kept inside the church dates back to the late 900s, which means St. Aethelflæd most likely saw it with her own eyes! The crucifix kept outside the church was created in the early 1000s - perhaps the holy abbess prayed in front of it too! This almost life-size crucifix can be seen on the outer west wall of the south transept. Both crucifixes originally stood inside the Saxon church, and after the completion of the stone Norman church they were installed inside the new monastery church, despite the fact that the Normans did not particularly value Anglo-Saxon art.

Hand of God. Part of a crucifix from the outside of Romsey Abbey in Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

The crucifix, located outside the church, originally had the figures of the Mother of God and the Apostle John the Theologian on either side of the Crucified Christ, but they were lost. However, the Hand of God the Father, emerging from the cloud above the head of Christ and indicating that the Savior is His only beloved Son, is still intact! It is typical of the Anglo-Saxon Orthodox period that Jesus was portrayed as the King, the Conqueror of Death and the triumphant Savior, rather than merely the crucified Sufferer in agony, which would become typical among Catholics. It is curious that in the British Museum there is a manuscript from the 990s containing a sermon by the Anglo-Saxon abbot, spiritual writer and hagiographer Aelfric of Eynsham (+ c. 1020) with an image of almost exactly the same life-size crucifix! Some consider this crucifix to be the oldest surviving crucifix in all of Britain.

Another crucifix is ​​located in the chapel of St. Anne - behind the altar in the southernmost corner of the church. In it, Christ is pierced with a spear and is being offered a sponge soaked in vinegar. Although this crucifix is ​​much smaller, it is better preserved. It resembles a typical Orthodox crucifix. Here is Saint Longinus the Centurion and another soldier who stood on Calvary at the foot of the Cross. Above them are the Mother of God and the Apostle John, and angels hover at the crossbar of the cross. Some suggest that the crucifix was created in the 960s and was given as a gift by King Edgar.

Procession with the banner of St. Æthelflaed, Romsey Abbey, Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Other holy items in the church

Romsey Abbey Church contains many monuments dedicated to Saint Aethelflaed. Of these, we mention the following:

  1. There is a banner used by Romsey Abbey Church during processions, kept in the chapel of St. Æthelflæd.
  2. The abbey church has an image of Æthelflæd among other saints on a curtain. It was embroidered by 16-17 year old students in 1961.
  3. St. Æthelflæd is depicted on two staffs, red and blue, which are carried by the wardens of the abbey church on special occasions, such as a visit from the bishop. Their current function is rather symbolic. But all the abbess of the Romsi monastery had a staff as a sign of spiritual power.
  4. Every year, the “Festival of St. Aethelflaed” is held at Romsey Abbey Church, dedicated to her feast day (October 23 according to the Church of England calendar). It lasts 4-5 days and includes concerts, lectures, events for children, art exhibitions — everything is somehow related to the saint or to the ministry of women in the Church. There is a special banner for the festival, which is put on public display during the celebrations.
  5. Not long ago, the abbey church acquired a painting depicting one of St. Æthelflæd's miracles when the candle went out and the fingertips of her right hand glowed so that she could read to her nuns. This diptych painting by the British religious and secular artist, lithographer and painter Chris Gollon (1953–2017) is kept in the south aisle.
  6. In the abbey church there is a whole chapel dedicated to the Venerable Æthelflaed. The elaborate coffin lid of the abbess, which can be seen in this chapel, unfortunately, does not belong to the Venerable Æthelfleda (as some historians previously believed), but to some other abbess who lived 200–300 years later. There are a couple of other "candidates" in the temple, but in recent years it has been proven that these burials belonged to later abbess or assistant abbess and certainly not Saints Æthelflæd or Merevenne. At the back of the nave there is a Saxon tombstone depicting a hand clutching a staff, as if some dedicated abbess could not stop performing her duties even after death!

Head of hair, Orthodox icons, and other relics

Over the past decades, Romsey Abbey Church (like other historically significant churches in Britain) has managed to acquire icons that are being used in the Church of England for the first time in almost 500 years. What especially stands out in the church is a silver Orthodox icon of three saints - Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian - donated in the 1960s.

Silver icon of the Three Saints at Romsey Abbey, Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

An interesting and mysterious medieval relic is kept under glass in the western part of Romsey Abbey Church. This is a beautiful head of hair with a long braid (over 18 inches long), originally lying on a wooden block, which apparently served as a pillow. The hair was discovered in 1839 in a lead coffin when they were digging a grave in the eastern part of the southern side aisle of the temple. The hair was in perfect condition and looked very fresh. No bones were found in the perfectly preserved coffin, except for one finger, which turned to dust upon first contact with oxygen. It was initially assumed that this was a braid of hair from one of the Saxon princesses who lived at the Romsia monastery, but until now this version remains only a hypothesis. Until 1853, the Church of England allowed some people to be buried in churches, so Romsey Abbey Church (like many other churches) contains the remains of a large number of important figures buried under the floor. Last decade, radiocarbon dating showed that the hair found most likely dates from 895 to 1123, and the "pillow" from 895 to 1016. Examination of the hair showed that its owner ate fish, which may indirectly indicate that it was one of the nuns or abbess of Romsey. Pine resin was also found in the hair, but it is unclear whether it was used for ritual, medicinal, or other purposes. It has not yet been possible to establish whether this hair belonged to a man or a woman. Some continue to believe that this is the hair of St. Æthelflæd, in which case it could be considered a holy relic.

Mysterious-hair-discovered-at-Romsey-Abbey-in-Hampshire (courtesy-Elizabeth-Hallett,-Romsey-Abbey)

Image of the Virgin and Child inside Romsey Abbey, Hampshire. Artwork by artist Martin Travers (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

Visitors to the Abbey Church can also admire the chapel of St. Nicholas, which contains the tomb of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl of Burma (uncle of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), who lived nearby, as well as a modern statue of St. Nicholas by sculptor Peter Eugene Ball (b. 1943); 12th-century wall paintings depicting scenes from the life of St. Nicholas in the chapel of Our Lady (restored in the 1970s); a chapel (altar) of the Great Martyr George, in which there is a modern sculpture of Christ the King in glory by P.Yu. Bolla and a statue of St. George slaying the dragon, with floor tiles that are 700 years old; The “Romsi chasuble” of the late 15th century is a ceremonial robe made of green Italian velvet with embroidery in gold and silver threads and patterns in the form of silver stars; a depiction of the Virgin and Child by stained glass artist Martin Travers (1886–1948) above the high altar; an exhibition of finds from the Saxon period discovered on the church grounds; a quiet chapel of the martyr Lawrence with a unique large Italian decorated altar screen — you can light candles in this chapel. The abbey church has many stained glass windows (both Victorian and Gothic) and fine Norman capitals. The church is known for its rich musical traditions.

Altar and Saxon cross in the chapel of St. Anne of Romsey Abbey, Hampshire (courtesy of Elizabeth Hallett, Romsey Abbey)

The town of Romsey (the name probably means "Rumbalda Island"), located 114 km south-west of London and standing on the outskirts of the famous New Forest National Park, was described in a very sentimental manner by the remarkable writer and traveler Henry Wollam Morton (1892–1979) in his collection of travel notes entitled “England and Wales. Walks in Britain"[6] in the mid-1920s.

Prayer to St. Æthelflæd, read by the parish church in Romsey:

“Almighty God, by Thy grace Abbess Æthelflæd was kindled with the fire of Thy love, and became a brightly burning, shining light in the Church. Kindle our hearts with the same spirit of zeal and love, that we may always walk before Thee as children of light, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen".

Holy mothers Merevenn and Æthelflæd, pray to God for us!

[1] Crowland Abbey is one of the greatest monasteries of the early English kingdom of Mercia, now in the county of Lincolnshire in eastern England. Built on the site of the hermit's cell of the greatest hermit of the English land - St. Guthlac, whose adapted life can be read here: https://pravoslavie.ru/46097.html.

[2] It is noteworthy that approximately 300 years before St. Æthelflaed's hand miraculously shone, similar miracles occurred with the famous Scottish St. Fillan. According to his life, when the ascetic lived in a cave, every evening after dusk one of his hands began to glow, giving him the opportunity to finish reading the Holy Scriptures.

[3] The monastery had land that was leased to peasants who paid an annual rent.

[4] English version of the Romanesque style.

[5] In England there are three types of Gothic architecture: Early English, Perpendicular (transverse), and decorated styles.

[6] Morton, Henry. England and Wales. Walks around Britain. M.: Eksmo, 2009.

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