divert her. At last, after two years of fruitless negotiations, the wronged husband's consent was extorted that Etheldreda should betake herself to a monastic life. The monastery she chose was that of Coldingham, Berwickshire, recently founded by her aunt, St. Ebba [q. v.], near the headland which, with a change of the initial vowel, perpetuates her name. Here she received the veil from Wilfrid (Bæda, u. s.; Flor. Wig. anno 672; Thomas of Ely, apud Wharton, i. 599). After the lapse of a year a fresh attempt on the part of Egfrid to enforce his conjugal rights prompted Etheldreda's sudden flight southwards. Barely escaping her husband's hands, with two female companions she crossed the Humber, and continued her journey across Lincolnshire till she reached the marshy fastness of Ely. According to a later story, Etheldreda's flight was aided by miraculous events, some of which are represented in the carvings of the lantern of the minster of which she was the foundress. The then almost inaccessible island having been attained, Etheldreda felt herself free to accomplish her long-cherished desire in the foundation of a monastic house, A.D. 673. This, according to Thomas of Ely, though Bæda is silent on the point, was formed after the model of Coldingham and Whitby for religious persons of both sexes. The place chosen, the same authority informs us, was the site of a church—the only one on the whole isle—which an untrustworthy Ely legend ascribed to St. Augustine, and which had been recently destroyed by Penda of Mercia. This church and monastery Etheldreda supported by the material aid of her cousin, King Aldulf [q. v.], and the spiritual counsel of her chaplain, Huna, rebuilt from the foundations, and endowed with the isle. Her old religious director, Wilfrid, established her as abbess of the new monastery, for which, on his next visit to Rome, he secured privileges and immunities from Pope Benedict II. Before his return, however, with these marks of papal favour, Etheldreda had departed this life, 23 June A.D. 679, being succeeded as abbess by her elder sister, Sexburga, ex-queen of Kent, who had previously taken the veil in the monastery of Ely. Bæda relates some particulars of Etheldreda's asceticism, which was of the strictest kind, together with details of her last illness, which he had learnt from her physician, Cynifrid. During the six years that she was abbess she never wore linen, but only wool. She seldom indulged in a warm bath, except on the eves of the three great festivals, and on those occasions she was the last to take the bath, the whole body of nuns having been previously washed either by her own hands or those of her attendants. She seldom ate more than once in the day, except on the greater solemnities, or under some grave necessity; and it was her constant rule, unless sickness hindered, to remain in church at prayer from the matin service, said soon after midnight, until sunrise. Her death was caused by one of the recurring pestilences, which Bæda tells us Etheldreda predicted, and indicated the exact number of those who were to die of it in her society. One of the symptoms of her last illness was a large bubo, or swelling below the jaw. When Cynifrid came to lance it, recalling her early life as an East-Anglian princess, she expressed her satisfaction at the nature of her malady, which she regarded as a penance sent by divine mercy to atone for her youthful vanity in dress. ‘Once,’ she said, ‘I used to wear vain necklaces round my neck, and now, instead of gold and pearls, God in his goodness has weighed it down with this red burning swelling.’ She was buried at Ely by her own desire in a coffin of wood. In 695 her sister and successor, Sexburga, determined to translate Etheldreda's corpse and enshrine it in a coffin of stone as a more worthy receptacle. After a long and vain search a suitable coffin was found, fitting her remains as accurately as if it had been made for them, at Grantchester, near Cambridge. To this coffin Etheldreda's remains—which Bæda relates, on Cynifrid's authority, were found undecayed, even retaining the mark of the incision he had made on her neck—were transferred with great pomp, and became the means of many miraculous cures. The present cathedral of Ely was subsequently erected over her tomb. What Dr. Bright justly terms ‘her unhealthy aversion for wedded life as such,’ secured for Etheldreda a very high place in the annals of hagiology. Bæda himself composed a long hymn in elegiac metre in laudation of her eminent virtues:
Nostra quoque egregia jam tempora virgo beavit:
Ædilthryda nitet nostra quoque egregia.
(Hist. Eccl. iv. 20.) ‘Etheldreda Virgo’ is recorded in the Roman calendar on 23 June. The translation of her body is observed on 17 Oct., which is popularly kept as St. Etheldreda's, or by vulgar contraction, St. Awdry's day. It deserves notice that the familiar word ‘tawdry,’ to characterise cheap finery, has its origin in the showy goods, especially lace, sold at St. Awdry's fair.
Etheldreda's steward, Wine, Owin, or Ovinus, who accompanied Etheldreda in 660 from East Anglia to Yorkshire, on her marriage to Egfrid, sharing his mistress's religious devotion, became a monk under St.