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The Catholic Defender: Saint Egwin of Worcester

Born in the seventh century of royal blood, Egwin entered a monastery, and was enthusiastically received by royalty, clergy, and the people as the bishop of Worcester, England. As a bishop he was known as a protector of orphans and the widowed and a fair judge. An English noble who became the bishop of Worcester, England, in 692.

in 714, recent research points to some year previous to 709. It was most probably in 709 that Egwin made his second pilgrimage to Rome,

Saint Egwin of Evesham, OSB (died 30 December 717) was a Benedictine monk and, later, the third Bishop of Worcester in England.

Egwin went to Rome. Upon his return to England, he founded Eversham Monastery with the aid of the kingdom of Mercia. A vision of Mary prompted this founding. In 709, Egwin returned to Rome, accompanied by King Cenred of Mercia and King Offa of the East Saxons.

Following his burial many miracles were attributed to him: The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the sick were healed.

The future saint was born in the 7th century and was probably related to the royal family of the Kingdom of Mercia. His parents were pious Christians and raised their son in the faith.

Egwin devoted himself to the service to God from his childhood and with time was ordained priest. After several years of illustrious ministry as a priest, in 692 or 693 Egwin was against his will elected the third Bishop of Worcester in western central England.

The hierarch fully devoted himself to the service to people. He preached the Word of God with zeal. The people at once came to love him for his prudence, fairness and honesty. Egwin was by nature affable and meek, but he also could be strict and unshakeable—in cases when the Truth of God was to be defended.

According to one legend, once some people who had fallen away from Christian teaching slandered the future saint. The latter took this with great humility but at the same time, caring for his flock, he decided to prove his innocence. So he decided to make his way to Rome, having first put himself into irons and thrown the key into the River Avon.

With time, he more and more often began to retreat for quiet prayer. He was particularly attracted to a wild, wooded place on the bank of the River Avon, called Hethom (later known as Evesham).

Enduring all the difficulties of the journey with humility, he at last arrived at Rome. There he hastened to the shrines of Holy Apostles to pray.

On the way he stopped at a bridge and asked his assistants to catch some fish in the Tiber for dinner. When he left the church, one of his companions made him glad with good news:

they had caught a large fish and when they were preparing it they had found in its stomach the key of the irons that the saint had thrown into the Avon in England. The innocence of Egwin was confirmed by this miracle. Now acquitted, he returned to Worcester.

he prepared for his journey by locking shackles on his feet, and throwing the key into the River Avon. While he prayed before the tomb of the Apostles, at Rome, one of his servants brought him this very key — found in the maw of a fish that had just been caught in the Tiber. (Editors Note: that is 1250 miles away)

They did as he said, and to their delight caught a medium-sized salmon which they brought to the holy father. When he saw it he gave thanks and ordered them to slit it open.

Great was their astonishment when they found inside the fish the key which the saint had cast into the river Avon! News of the miracle spread throughout Rome, and from all sides the faithful came to seek the holy man’s blessing.

The holy bishop, to whom the people referred as their "father", confirmed his preaching with the example of his life and worked many miracles.

Pope Constantine, who became pope in March 708, less than two months later. He was one of the many Greek popes of the Byzantine Papac had heard of Egwin’s arrival, the great labours of his journey and the miracle of the key, did not allow the saint to prostrate before him, but himself asked his blessing. And for the rest of his stay in Rome he treated him with great respect, celebrating the Divine Liturgy with him and having many private talks with him.

At that time Worcester a province of Mercia.

One of the saint’s first requests was to be granted the pastureland beside the Avon where he had thrown the key into the river. One of the king’s shepherds had once had a vision at this same spot, in which a Virgin of extraordinary splendour appeared holding a book in her hands and chanting psalms in the company of two other virgins.

When the shepherd told this to the saint, he turned it over in his mind for a long time, praying to God with vigils and fasting. Then, early one morning, after the saint and three companions had spent the whole night in prayer, they set out barefoot to the spot, chanting psalms and hymns.

Parting company with the others, St. Egwin fell to the earth with tears and groans. On arising from his prayer, he saw three virgins, of whom the middle one was most wondrous to behold, shining in light and surrounded by an ineffable fragrance.

In her hands she held a book, and a cross which shone with a golden radiance. When Egwin realized that this was the Most Holy Mother of God, she, as if approving his thought, blessed him with the cross and disappeared.

This vision gave the saint to understand that it was God’s will that this place, later called Evesham, should be dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary.

And he determined to build a church there in accordance with a vow he had made during a period of especially fierce temptation. So he bought the land and carried out the task to completion, endowing the foundation with many gifts from the English kings.

At his request, the Pope granted his foundation stavropegial status, which was confirmed by a council of the English Church held at Alcester in 709.

In 711 the saint retired from his see and devoted himself exclusively to the government of his monastery at Evesham.

With fastings and vigils, with tears and groans, he poured out his prayers to the Lord, and was accounted worthy of many visitations of the angels and the saints. He was particularly devoted to the Mother of God, whose praises were always on his lips.

Once a certain herdsman named Ioves was searching for a pig that had gone astray. He walked deep into the forest and saw the Mother of God with two angels on the site of present-day Evesham.

The Holy Virgin was holding an open book and a cross in her hands, and wonderful singing could be heard around her. Amazed by this vision, the herdsman told Bishop Egwin about the miracle. The saint prayed very hard for several days and then decided to go to that place himself.

The holy hierarch had exactly the same vision, which had already appeared to Ioves. The Mother of God ordered Bishop Egwin to found a monastery on the site and blessed him with a cross.

This event is considered to be the first recorded miraculous appearance of the Mother of God in England. Egwin hastened with great joy to fulfil the order of the Most Pure Virgin and, with the support of the local king, founded Evesham Monastery soon after that (the town's name "Evesham",

In the year 709 Bishop Aldhelm of Sherborne, with whom Bishop Egwin had for many years been bound by spiritual friendship, reposed. On the same day in a miraculous dream it was revealed to Egwin that his close friend had died.

He hurried to Doulting in Somerset, where Bishop Aldhelm had reposed. Then he accompanied the procession with the bishop's body on the journey from Daulting to Malmesbury (Wiltshire), and at his command crosses were erected at each stop in memory of the deceased.

His popularity didn’t hold up among members of the clergy, however. They saw him as overly strict, while he felt he was simply trying to correct abuses and impose appropriate disciplines. Bitter resentments arose, and Egwin made his way to Rome to present his case to Pope Constantine. The case against Egwin was examined and annulled.

Upon his return to England, Egwin founded Evesham Abbey, which became one of the great Benedictine houses of medieval England. It was dedicated to Mary, who had reportedly made it known to Egwin just where a church should be built in her honor.

Egwin died at the abbey on December 30, 717. Following his burial many miracles were attributed to him: The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the sick were healed.

In 710 St. Egwin became the first Abbot of Evesham, which had been founded and was loved by him. At the same time, he most likely continued his service as Bishop of Worcester. Monastic life in Evesham soon began to flourish. Though Egwin was already venerated as a saint, his sainthood was particularly revealed during these final years of his life: miracles happened through his prayers, visions of the heavenly world appeared to him and holy men and angels came to him and communicated with him.

The Bishop especially loved the Mother of God—her name was on his lips and prayer to her was in his heart all the time. The most Holy Virgin helped him more than once. At the same time, he did not stop looking after his brethren and his flock. The monks of Evesham dedicated most of their time to prayer, study of the Scriptures and other spiritual books, as well as different crafts.

Before his death the venerable abbot was stricken by a long and serious illness, which he endured with great patience, and his prayer did not weaken until the last minute of his life. Bishop Egwin reposed on 30 December 717. The day of his repose later became his feast-day.

There was a woman by the name of Algitha who during the reign of King Edward used to frequent the church of St. Egwin and who, for love of the saint, wished to acquire a part of his relics. So she bribed some boys to steal it secretly. Coming by night, they opened the reliquary and stole a part of the arm of the saint and one of his teeth. Then they brought the relics to the woman, who joyfully stored it away among her own things.

That night St. Egwin appeared to her in a vision and told her to return the relics, saying that they had been unjustly taken away. She ignored his command, whereupon he appeared to her a second time. But when she in her greed persuaded herself that these visions were demonic phantoms, St. Egwin appeared to her a third time and sternly ordered her to return the relics.

When she refused he replied: “Before the sun rises, you will regret your obstinacy in disobeying my commands.”

The woman rose from her bed blind, and so she remained for the rest of her life.

However, she went to Abbot Manny and asked him to let her have the relics, promising that she would make a reliquary of gold and silver in their honour.

She also promised that after her death St. Egwin and his servants would receive some of her land. So much for the woman. As for the boys, God punished them severely. One drowned in water, while another was afflicted with a painful illness for the rest of his life.

Near Canterbury there lived a man who had been dumb from his mother’s womb.

While still young, he decided to go to Rome to venerate the tombs of the holy apostles. On arriving, he prayed for three years for the healing of his infirmity.

But having received no cure, he was sorrowfully contemplating the possibility of never being healed when a man in shining white vestments appeared to him in the night and said: “Why have you been lying here for so long to no avail? Go back to your native land of England, look for the monastery of St. Egwin, go there with an offering, and when you have prayed to God and that saint you will be immediately healed.”

The man obeyed this command and with God’s help arrived at St. Egwin’s monastery. It was a Saturday, and all the brethren were standing in the choir during Vespers when the man came up to the altar with a candle in his hand. After praying for a long time he offered the candle, and then again stood in prayer.

Suddenly blood began to flown from his mouth and onto the pavement. When the Vespers prayers were over, Prior Avicius and some of the senior brethren came up and asked him what the matter was and why he was lying there coughing up blood.

So the man stood up in the midst of the brethren, and, stretching out his hands and lifting up his eyes to God, he said: “Thus have I been helped by Almighty God and my lord St. Egwin, though whose prayers Christ has worked a miracle in me the wretched one, as I shall not tell you truly.”

Then he told them the whole story from the beginning. When he had finished, the brethren rejoiced, and, bringing together the people, they all sang the Te Deum.

There was a man who had been ill for a long time with a horrifically swollen and tumerous foot and leg, so that he had to be supported by crutches on both sides.

One day he came to the relics of St. Egwin and prayed fervently to God and the saint. The brethren were at that time in the choir, and one could see the fearful hope on their faces as they prayed for the poor man’s recovery.

Suddenly the intent silence was broken by the sound of the sick man throwing away his crutches, falling to the ground and then joyfully jumping up again, completely healed. Amidst general rejoicing he left his crutches by the holy altar and returned home praising God.

A leper whose whole body was disfigured by the disease sought St. Egwin’s intercession. His prayer was answered, and you could see the scab come clean off his body like a shield.

Many others were healed through St. Egwin: the blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the paralytics; and many who were bound with fetters saw them struck off and bounding a long distance away, filling the whole church with clatter.

Over the centuries there have been constant miracles from St. Egwin’s relics and through his intercessions.

Once a monk of Coventry name Sperckulf, a man of very ascetic life (he sometimes fasted for four or six days continuously), came as was his custom to the feast of St. Egwin, and was spending the night in hymns and prayers in the crypt dedicated to the saint. While he was chanting the psalms of David, he saw the doors of the crypt open and an unearthly light descend into it, chasing away all shadows.

Then an extraordinarily beautiful procession of saints met his fearful gaze. First came some boys carrying candles, then deacons, then some older men with shining white hair. These were all dressed in white vestments. At the rear came a person dressed in indescribably beautiful pontifical vestments whom two of the older men were escorting, one on either side. Going up to the altar of St. Egwin, they chanted Mattins with great reverence, followed by the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated in the normal manner with wonderful grace. Then came the canonical Hours.

Another night, the same monk was keeping vigil in the church of the Mother of God. Suddenly all the doors of the church opened of their own accord and he saw with extraordinary clarity a procession entering in the same manner as before, but with St. Egwin this time escorting the Holy Virgin.

Coming up to the altar dedicated to her, St. Egwin proceeded to celebrate Mattins and the Divine Liturgy most beautifully. Sperckulf, who was watching with great trepidation, was also amazed to see some monks of Evesham whom he had known and who had reposed some time before.

Going up to one of them, he asked him who it was for whom the Liturgy was being celebrated. “Be quiet,” he replied: “Don’t you know that our lord St. Egwin is celebrating the sacred mystery to the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary?” Terrified by this reply, Sperckulf returned to his place and waited to see what would happen. At the end of the Liturgy and the service to the Mother of God, two bishops escorted her, one on either side, while the procession went out as it had come in, in great glory.

Since then St. Egwin has become the patron saint of Evesham and its monastery. Soon after Bishop Egwin's repose his incorrupt relics were discovered and laid in a richly decorated shrine. St. Egwin was much loved and venerated in Evesham by its monks, citizens and pilgrims until the Reformation; he was also venerated in many other large monasteries in England.


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