An old saying has it that we’re known by the company we keep. The first company we keep is our family. The family of St. Milburga put her in good stead.
Her mother, Ermenburga, and her two younger sisters, Mildrith and Mildgytha, are also saints.
Milburga was born in the 7th century in England, the daughter of King Merewalh of the sub-kingdom of Magonsaete. A neighboring prince was so eager to marry Milburga that he was even willing to kidnap her. However, while he was chasing her, she crossed a river that miraculously rose to such a great depth that he was unable to cross.
Milburga was educated in France and entered the Benedictine abbey of Wenlock, Shropshire. Her father and uncle, King Wulfhere of Mercia, had provided money to found the abbey, and Liobinde of Chelles, a French abbess, led it. After her death, St. Theodore installed Milburga as abbess. The abbey became famed for its flower gardens and orchards.
Mildburga was well known for several virtues, including humility. She and her sisters were even likened to the theological virtues: faith (Milburga), hope (Mildgytha) and charity (Mildrith). Milburga evangelized among the people, teaching the faith and arranging for pastoral care in the area.
Milburga has been credited with healing lepers and the blind. Reportedly, she could convince birds not to damage crops. While she was dying, she told the nuns: “I have watched over you like a mother, with pious care. And in mercy, I go the way of all flesh. A higher call invites me.”
After they said farewell, Milburga received the sacraments and died. Her body was buried near the altar of the abbey church.
Gradually, her fame faded and raiding Danes destroyed the church. By the time Cluniac monks reestablished Wenlock in 1079, she was almost unknown. St. Anselm approved excavations that uncovered the old church. Two boys playing on ruins fell through the flooring, disclosing the location of her tomb, which held a silver casket containing her relics and papers telling about her.
Early in the 12th century, Cardinal-Bishop Otto of Ostia wrote of cures at the site.
Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”; catholic.org; saints.sqpn.com; saintpatrickdc.org; and wikipedia.org.
Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.