Thursday, 30 August 2012

Lindisfarne Days - The Fourth Day

Ebba -Warrior Princess

Genesis 1:16,17
  God also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,

Moon through the Rainbow Arch, Lindisfarne Priory

Having just celebrated Ebba's feast day my post on her is here

Another saint with a few legends and fewer facts considering her position as prioress of the double monastery at Coldingham.  The reports tell that she was a devout and holy woman so suggests that perhaps she wasn't particularly interested in promoting her own achievements to the world. Some people make better stars than suns and moons.

As the sister of Oswald and Oswy she certainly had great value as a marriage partner. But although some tales tell that she entered religious life to escape the attentions of a prince; as a new found Christian this may not have been a decision forced upon her. 

it may well have been that, like her brothers, Ebba saw herself as not as a handmaid but as a soldier of Christ (a name the Irish monks had used for themselves) and took on the vocation of teacher and missionary with all the academic and diplomatic skills that the royal household will have taught her. The Angles of the North-East would not have been pushovers. And Wilfrid has her to thank for settling more than one dispute between him and her nephew Ecgfrith the then King of Northumbria; including getting him out of Dunbar prison for acting like a lord rather than a monk.

That she was not so canny at running the monastery is a great criticism of her; however religious life appealed to many members of society as a refuge; avoidance opportunity and retirement home. Not all inhabitants regarded chastity or temperance as particularly important until holy orders were confirmed - and maybe not even then. There wasn't the discernment of vocation that has developed now and, of course,  the communities of religious life were still finding their way and writing their Rules. 

Perhaps  her real skills were in bringing Jesus to those who sought him rather than managing those looking for somewhere to hide. If so, no wonder she would retire and leave them to their own devices. 

Ebba probably never visited Lindisfarne; it seems to have been a male only community - intended, perhaps, to support the choice of celibate living. 

And the cultural, rather than religious practices, would have made it difficult for women to walk the roads as their brothers did. I wonder how much of that decision was made by the women themselves? People seem to always have trouble with St Paul's assertion that there are no 'this or thats' anymore. 

With many men away from home - fishermen, herders, kings - it was the woman who customarily ran the household. Often with great authority, efficiency and hospitality. A monastery was simply a family on a very large scale. 

This pattern of monasteries and missionaries echo the ebb and flow of Celtic life -  wanderers of Christ need somewhere to leave and somwhere to come back to. The hearth was considered to be the woman's spiritual domain. And women's ministry, acknowledged and important as it was, was usually centred around a settled community. 

Being the one with a different calling; a different vision of life has never been easy. I have a great empathy for this woman who - a very unreliable legend has it - cut off her nose to spite her face (there was a prince involved).

 Only to have God restore her. 

This poem is one of a series of Woman's Prayers written on the island - it is inspired by Mary Magdalen - a woman I'm sure Ebba would have welcomed. The other poems are here and here . And the photos are of some of the women who have made it onto the island - in one way or another.

Woman's Prayer - Redeemed

Lord, God of my life
I walk in your footprints
A follower, head bowed
Freed from my demons
I am nothing but yours
I am not worthy

You come to stillness
And say my name
I lift my eyes to yours
A look of invitation
Love’s companion
You take me in your arms
Mercy wrapped in Mercy
And I rest
Clothed in You

Blessed be


The Northumbria Community's Compline for Thursday is here

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