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Navigation : Home > Visiting >Map >Chester Cathedral >The Shrine of St. Werburgh
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Traditional Feast Day 3rd February
Translation to Chester 1095


Saint Werburgh

The Lady Chapel (Behind the High Altar), Chester Cathedral
The shrine is now free to enter and view

Chester Landmark Tour
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The life of St. Werburgh

St Werburgh in a Stained Glass Window in the Cathedral Cloisters

St Werburgh (or Waerburh) was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia (657 - 674). Her mother was St. Ermenilda, daughter of King Ercombert of Kent. It is not known when St. Werburgh was born. She became a nun at Ely. And later directed other Mercian monasteries. She did not have any associations with Chester during her lifetime.  

 

The legend of the wild Geese
The legend of the wild Geese

One legend associated with St Werburgh is the legend of the wild geese. One day on her fathers estates in Weedon, Northamptonshire. A flock of wild geese came down and were eating all the crops.

St Werburgh instructed a servant to collect the birds. The flock was collected and instructed to go to St Werburgh, which they all did. They were instructed to leave the land and not to come back. As the geese flew off, they noticed that one was missing. The servant had killed one bird to eat. St Werburgh restored the bird to life from the bones. The bird was released, and flock flew off and they were not seen again.

This legend is celebrated in a stained glass window at Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire. And also in a representation on a mistercord in Chester Cathedral choir (shown below). There is also a St. Werburgh's in Dublin.

 

i Click here to see the Miserichord
Miserichord of the Legend of the Wild Geese

The death of St. Werburgh

St Werburgh died in 699 and was buried in Hanbury in Staffordshire. Nine years she was disinterred at the command of Ceolred king of Mercia (709 - 716). Her body and clothes were found to be intact, a sure sign of a saint. She was placed in a display coffin. But when the Danish invasions started her remains were transferred to Chester in 875, for safekeeping. By this time the coffin was lost and the remains were now just dust and bone. Her remains were placed in a casket.

In days of old, the casket was brought out in times of danger to protect Chester. When the Welsh were besieging Chester. The casket was lifted onto the battlements of the walls. The Welsh king Gruffydd saw the casket and was struck blind.

St Werburgh's feast day is on the 3rd of February.
Her translation is celebrated on the 21st June.

Pilgrimage and the Shrine of St. Werburgh

The 'Chester pilgrim' carved in the choir stalls.

About 1300 a carved shrine was made to house the casket. It had a feretory were the remains were placed. Below this carved stone niches were pilgrims placed offerings and prayed. At the top are 34 carved figures representing the kings and saints of Mercia, Including:

King Crieda (founder of Mercia),
King Penda (632 - 654 Werburgh's grant father),
King Wulfhere,
King Ceolred,
King Offa (757 - 796)

Mercian Kings on St Werburghs shrine.

During the reformation in the 16th century the shrine was smashed up and the heads of the Mercian king cut off. The remaining parts were incorporated in the bishop's seat or 'cathedra'. In 1876 some of the pieces were collected together and the shrine was reconstructed. The result is what you can see today.

Detail from the right hand side of the shrine is a dog scratching his ear.

Carving of a dog on the shrine. Closeup of the dog scratching his ear.

More about St. Werburgh from the Catholic Encyclopedia       Back to Visiting Chester       Chester Tourist - Chester Cathedral

Related Pages

i St Werburgh, the patron saint of Chester from Wikipedia
i The Life of St Werbergh
i The Life of St Werbergh
i St Werberga and her royal and saintly relatives at Ely
i Reference to Earl Hugh building the abbey church
i Early British Kingdoms: St. Werburga of Chester, Abbess of Ely
i Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury 10931109 from Wikipedia
i Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Anselm
The Minerva Shrine

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