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Short hymns for our Holy Mother Eanswythe, Abbess of Folkestone

Commemorated on 31 August

(after the manner of Saint Romanus the Melodist)

Truly heirs of Thy mercy and saving grace are we, O Lord,
Through apostolic labours, with noble pity and by selfless sacrifice,
Thou hast revealed to us the True and Living Faith.
Now with hymns of praise we cry out:
Truly Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Holy and Almighty is our God, who seest and knowest all things.
In the panorama of eternity all of creation has its part to play.
Even the godless and the god-haters have their place.
Evangelists and messengers of Christ took full advantage of the Roman Writ,
Preaching to every nation in the known and charted world.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Our land was numbered with the first to see the worship of the One True God.
Socrates, Stephen, Alban and Aule, by defying Diocletian, blessed our soil with martyr's blood.
Freely releasing their souls unto Christ,
Setting His seal upon our nation,
And causing idolatry to crumble and the demons of darkness to flee.
Truly Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Unknowingly the Roman Legions were the instruments of God.
And when imperial stability had run its course, Divine Wisdom brought the Ark to troubled times,
To a Dark Age of disorder, danger and ungodly fear.
In Kent, the flame of faith that had burnt brightly, flickered uncertainly and almost died.
Yet, through God's mercy in the half-forgotten West, Christ's Name was praised still,
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

A king was next in line to serve the Heavenly plan.
When Ethelbert ruled in Kent, Christ's Name was heard once more, putting to flight the demons of idolatry,
Whom God, in His wisdom, suffered to remain hiding in shadows and in darkness, biding their time.
For as soon as this good king was gathered to his fathers, their patience was rewarded,
Bringing evil to the land and fear to the faithful, till a champion was found in the person of an apostle of impulse and action.
In all things,
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God,

Reminiscent of the wolf in Christ's own words, the new king, Eadbald harassed the Kentish Church.
If the demons of idolatry rejoiced to see God's sanctuary defiled; Imagine how they gloated when God's Holy Law was broken.
Eadbald ravaged his own father's second wife, confirming his own impiety.
But, polluted though he was by his vile sin, God sent his daughter Eanswythe as guide for his salvation.
Thou art wondrous in thy saints, O God.

Timorous bishops fled when pagan Eadbald assumed the throne.
Laurence of Canterbury was left alone, though he resolved to flee to Gaul.
In agony of mind at leaving unguarded Christ's poor helpless sheep,
The bishop prayed throughout that night in the Apostles church and, falling into fitful sleep,
He was upbraided and rebuked by the Apostle Peter himself who reinforced his words with pugilistic zeal.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Wounds red and sore were evidence of Peter's wrath as morning light clearly showed the violence of the vision.
Then the bishop Laurence, with apostolic boldness,
Sought out the tyrant to confront him with this awful sign of Heavenly retribution.
The king would know what lawless act this was and trembled when he learnt that his own sin had angered God.
Grace stirred in his soul and, moved to bitter tears, in repentance he cried out:
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

O the wonder of this miracle that stemmed the rising tide of pagan power,
And brought King Eadbald to faith in Christ our God.
When he was baptised, the angels sang and all in Heaven rejoiced.
The Church in Kent unceasingly praised and offered thanks for this conversion,
And even the infant Eanswythe's childish voice joined with this refrain:
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

No idols did King Eadbald suffer to remain in Kent,
As temple, grove and ring were swept away and demons banished to the realms of darkness.
Just as when righteous Ethelbert did reign, the churches in glory shone once more.
The light of faith enlightened every soul,
And virgin piety was manifest within the king's own house,
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Doubts then besieged poor Eadbald's wandering thoughts.
His sister's suitor was the Northumbrians' pagan king.
At length he gave his blessing to the match and was rewarded for this act of faith.
When, after two years, Edwin was baptised and later, at the hands of Mercian hordes,
He exchanged his diadem for Christ's unfading crown of martyrdom.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Rapidly Eanswythe's fame spread throughout those isles as she grew in virtue and in grace.
No love of treasures, no craving for earthly power, no vanity or pride were found in her,
For she preferred to spend her time in holy works, in prayer and in study of the faith.
And from her earliest years, the child resolved to serve her Lord and God, in the virgin purity of the cloistered life.
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Overruling these desires as childish games,
Her father urged her to consider well the advantages of marriage.
But Eanswythe wavered not in her resolve,
And chided Eadbald for his worldliness and lack of spiritual sight.
Yet he maintained that temporal concerns cannot be lightly brushed aside by those with earthly power.
In faith we cry:
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Unmoved by this, Eanswythe enquired, "Hast thou not heard of Mary,
Who chose the better part, which was not taken from her?
In human affairs the universal law of death prevails, but my thirst is for a Heavenly Spouse.
For Him I do preserve the flower of my virginity,
And for His service, I beg thee father, build a church".
Truly Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Seeing then that she could not be shaken, the King gave orders,
For builders to construct on Folkestone's cliff, a house beside the church of Peter and of Paul,
Reminding Eadbald of his conversion to the Faith of Christ,
And blessing thus the kingdom with its first monastic house of prayer,
As pious Eanswythe was soon joined by other virgins seeking nought but to give themselves utterly to the Lord.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Intently was the progress of the work observed by every rank,
As the streets of Folkestone echoed to the sound,
Of masons and carpenters giving glory to our God,
Toiling to build the saint a fitting house of prayer,
As a sanctuary and a haven of virgin piety, witnessing that
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Northumbria's prince arrived in royal splendour and bold confidence,
But his eyes observed activity in conflict with his mission,
For he had come, a suitor seeking Eanswythe for his bride,
And being not only of undoubted nobility, but valiant in honour and fair of face,
The king once more began to doubt the wisdom of bowing to his virgin daughter's will.
Yet truly Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

The king, not out of weakness, then began to waver in his pious resolution.
He called to mind how he had opposed his own sister's marriage,
To another princely pagan from the northern kingdom,
But such was the piety of this virtuous wife,
That by the power of her prayer, she brought her husband to belief in Christ.
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Her situation then was desperate and the righteous Eanswythe,
Who through the inspiration of our Lord conceived a plan.
Taking the prince to view the still unfinished building work,
She pointed out a beam upon the ground
Which was too short to fit the space for which it was intended.
In faith, Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

"Your attention good people", Eanswythe began, as she addressed the assembled crowd,
"This noble prince earnestly desires to have me, the handmaiden of Christ, for his companion.
He seeks me for his bride, but O what a foolish exchange, what hateful stupidity, what an unbearable loss,
If I were to exchange the things of Heaven for those of earth!
Yet I will marry him if, by prayer, he can make this beam as long as is required".
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Supposing that his suit was won, "Your challenge I accept", declared the prince,
As loudly he addressed his prayers to pagan gods of wood and stone with their unhearing ears.
All day petitioning each mythical deity in turn and yet for all the volume of his pleas,
By not so much as one small inch in length did the beam increase
So he, defeated, withdrew from that unequal contest.
Still Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Addressing prayer to Christ our God, Saint Eanswythe then approached the beam,
And it straightway grew in length, extending itself to twice the size,
To the glory of God and the wonder of all who witnessed this sign of heavenly blessing.
The king no longer hindered Eanswythe in her desire,
Though he had seen that she would have sacrificed herself to please her earthly lord, if it had been the Will of God
In truth, Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

In the seventh century's thirtieth year, according to tradition, the convent was established.
Using for guidance the observances of the nunneries newly founded on the Continent,
And following the disciplines of our great fathers Columban and Benedict,
The holy women grew in stature in the Faith and in their ascetic labours,
Establishing their house in the ecclesiastical heritage of our land.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Numerous were the blessings bestowed by God upon the Kentish land,
And in their gratitude, the nuns ceased not their intercession before the Throne of Grace.
The virtue of making pilgrimages was made manifest at this time,
And the devotion of the faithful to Peter and Paul, the greatest of the saints,
Is shown forth in the numerous church dedications to this Apostolic pair.
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

There was in those days a custom that girls should be betrothed in early teens,
And at sixteen, Eanswythe was certainly old enough to be given in marriage,
Though ruling a convent was a far more weighty and demanding task,
Especially in a pioneering age, when experience and guidance were desperately scarce.
While her desire was resolute, the saint's humility was her greatest strength.
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Saint Eanswythe was not at first elected Abbess of the new foundation,
Her youth and inexperience were subjected to the advice of those of more mature years,
And the rigours of ascetic discipline, vigils and prayer were to be her lot,
But Eanswythe willingly embraced it all for the love of Christ our God,
And was, in due time, elected Abbess of the house which she had founded.
Truly, Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Of Eanswythe's rule as Abbess, the old chroniclers tell us much,
With motherly solicitude she cared for all committed to her charge.
Water was in short supply in their clifftop monastic home,
And had to be carried by the weary nuns.
Thus by her prayers, the saint obliged the spring to flow uphill.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Greatly endowed was Saint Eanswythe with almost every virtue.
Numerous are the stories of her wonderworking powers.
Once she restored sight to a woman who was sadly blind,
And also released a poor soul possessed and tormented by a demon.
Thus having served the Lord in virginal charity, Saint Eanswythe reposed at August's end.
Truly Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Over the centuries, multitudes of pilgrims have made their way to Eanswythe's shrine,
Her intercessions were sought by all estates of men.
Even in periods of upheaval and destructive change, the shrine inspired the pure in heart,
So that in the Reformation's darkest hour, the saint worked her greatest miracle of all,
By guiding the devoted servants who concealed her sacred bones from the hands of impious and wicked men.
For Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Dust gathered on Saint Eanswythe's relics for three centuries and a half.
Yet her memory lingered on, deep in the consciousness of a faithful few,
Forming thereby, a fine thread of continuity throughout the generations,
Preserving for us the prayerful heritage of our nation.
Thus honouring the holy virgin Eanswythe, our hymn is this refrain,
Thou art wondrous in Thy saints, O God.

Andrew Bond

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