The Saints of Minster
We are uniquely privileged at Minster because our Abbey has three extraordinary Anglo Saxon Saints as our Foundresses. We continue to pray and work in the very location where Domneva, Mildred and Edburga lived their monastic lives.
History indicates that the early foundation of Minster was simple, hospitable, creative and above all prayerful. It was not however, always a peaceful environment. During those early years, the Sisters experienced sorrow, hardships and turmoil including attacks by various invaders. In spite of this they remained faithful to the call of Jesus to put His love before all else.
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1
The lives of these holy Anglo Saxon women of Minster continue to inspire us today.
St. Domneva, the first Abbess of Minster suffered the tragedy of bereavement and separation in her early married life and yet with God’s grace from that very sorrow our monastery was born. Her Feast is celebrated on the 19th of November.
Another extraordinary woman and the second great saint of Minster Abbey is
St. Mildred, who was consecrated as second Abbess by St. Theodore of Canterbury. Her name means ‘peaceful counsel’. Following the death of her mother Domneva, Mildred led the monastic community with wisdom and love for more than 30 years. She was renowned during her lifetime as a peacemaker and it is said that she was especially close to the poor.
After the death of St. Mildred in 725 AD many people started coming on pilgrimage to her tomb. People began to pray for her intercession and many miracles of healing were recorded. Veneration of the relics of St. Mildred spread throughout Southern England and across Europe. Today,the relics of St. Mildred are enshrined in a place of honour in the Abbey Chapel and her life continues to challenge us even today. Her Feast is kept on 13th July.
St. Edburga is also recognized by the Church as a woman of great holiness. She was a friend of St. Boniface, and her community supported his missionary work in Germany. They shared in the great mission of evangelization whilst living their monastic life at Minster. There is evidence of correspondence between the missionaries and St. Edburga, including gifts of manuscripts. St. Edburga and the community at Minster moved to the site of the present Abbey in 741. They had a stone church built on the new site, and the relics of St. Mildred were re-interred behind the altar of the new Church. St. Edburga died in 751 AD. Her Feast is celebrated on December 12th.
We are encouraged by the words of Pope Francis:
“The saints remind us that even in our lives, however weak and marked by sin, holiness can unfold.”
He added, “It is no coincidence that in the ancient church people were buried in gardens surrounding a sacred building, as if to say that, in some way, the hosts of those who have preceded us participate in every Eucharist. Our parents and grandparents are there, our godfathers and godmothers are there, our catechists and other teachers are there… the faith that is passed on, transmitted, that we have received. Along with faith, the way of praying and prayer has been transmitted.” Pope Francis April 07, 2021
The community at Minster today is grateful for the rich heritage we have received from these courageous women of the 7th and 8th centuries. We cannot fail here to also mention the fidelity and love of the countless number of unknown holy nuns and monks of Minster throughout the centuries. We think in particular of those whose lives were torn apart by the dissolution of the monasteries. We are also deeply inspired by the faith of our sisters who refounded Minster Abbey in 1937, and their simple joyful trust in God’s providence. We pray that they may continue to transmit to us the amazing gift of faith and prayer so that we may share it with all those who today come to this holy place.
Each year on the Feast of St. Mildred we listen to the words of the Gospel, “Do not be afraid little flock for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 12:32.) May these words which encouraged these holy women continue to inspire and challenge us today.
St Mildreds Relics
‘It is so peaceful here.’ I think I can say, that all of us who have been involved with showing visitors around the Abbey grounds, will agree, that many of our visitors speak these words as they stand near to the site of the pre Reformation apse of the Church, which was dedicated to Ss Peter and Paul. It was here that the Relics of St Mildred were venerated for centuries until they we translated to St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury In 1038.
The veneration of relics is an ancient, unbroken practise in the Orthodox/ Catholic tradition, which is frequently misunderstood in the reformed Christian traditions. It was during the seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 that the following was recorded:
Bishop Basil of Ancyra declared: “I ask for the intercession of our spotless Lady the holy mother of God and those of the holy and heavenly powers, and those of the Saints. And receiving their holy and honourable relics with all honour I salute and venerate these with honour hoping to have a share in their holiness.”
The council makes it clear that ‘…this was merely a veneration of honour and affection such as can be given to a creature and that under no circumstances could adoration of the divine worship be given to them but to God alone.’
Although the veneration of relics is not given a great deal of attention in our modern Church practise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church in section 1674 notes:
‘Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Churches sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics…’
During the reign of Elizabeth 1, some of St. Mildred’s were taken for safety to Deventer in Holland. There they remain, along with the relics another Anglo Saxon saint, Lebuinus in a beautiful Church where they continue to be venerated. It is from this church that several small relics of our Saint have been returned to Thanet since 1882. We are blessed to have some relics of St Mildred here, in her Priory, at Minster.
When Pilgrims come to venerate our relic it is clear that they too are hoping to have ‘a share in her holiness.’ It is a beautiful experience for us to witness this act of pure devotion in those who come to pay honour to St Mildred.
May our Saint Mildred ‘pearl of the woodland Kingdom, Crown of Kent’s Royal race’ continue to bless us and all who come to this Holy Place in search of God.