I have come across some great people in history while doing research for my Dark Ages novels. Often these characters are intertwined with some amazing folklore. One of these is Wurburgh, a princess who became the patron saint of Chester and of geese.
Saint Wurburgh makes a brief appearance in my novel Teon, when she is born to Ermenilda and her father, King Wulfhere, the king of Mercia. Because of some dodgy goings on where her father promised her (as a baby) to his military leader Werbode, Wurburgh, or perhaps her mother, decided that she will never marry a mortal but give herself to God instead.
So she lived a life of piety after being trained by Saint Chad, the Bishop of Lichfield. She then moved to Ely and took over as abbess there after her mother died. But she did have a strange relationship with geese.
There was a flock of geese in Weedon, a village north of Aylesbury. They were being the noisy things that they are and generally causing havoc in the village and the cornfields. Wurburgh took command and banished them from the village, never to return. The story goes that geese have never returned to Weedon.
That in itself is quite a miraculous feat, but the tale goes on. Wurburgh was actually quite fond of the geese and liked to watch them swim in the pond in Weedon. She had a favourite who was quite fat with a black ring around his neck. She named him Greyking.
Unfortunately, the steward of the monastery thought that banishing the geese was not not enough punishment for the damage they caused to the cornfields. So he took the fattest goose, cooked and ate it.
That goose was Greyking.
Wurburgh was distraught. When she heard what had happened she rummaged through the bins to find Greyking's bones. She laid them out and ordered the goose to rise. And that he did, fully formed and alive again.
Because of these miracles Wurburgh became one of the most popular saints in Anglo-Saxon times. She died on 3 February in 699 or 700 and that became her feast day. Today she is the patron saint of Chester and at least ten churches in England are dedicated to her, some overseas too. A village in Kent is named after her as well.
She is often portrayed with a goose by her side and her badge in Chester Cathedral is a basket of geese. Folk used to receive a badge to show that they had been on a pilgrimage to a particular shrine, so in this case they would have received a badge similar to the image in the cathedral.
As I always like to do something to commemorate these ancient feasts, today I think I will go down to the River Trent, where geese are in abundance alongside ducks and swans, and give them all a great lunch on this cold February day.
Happy Saint Wurburgh day.