Posts Tagged ‘English saints’

Weird coincidence: The other day my aunt wrote her nephews and nieces that she’d read about St. Bertha of Blangy-sur-Ternoise, Artois, France, a 7th-8th-century Anglo-Saxon (Kentish) and Frankish princess, wife, mother, widow, and abbess, because her mother’s, my paternal grandmother’s, name was Bertha Rider Filon (God be good to her).*  Today happens to be St. Bertha’s feast day (she’s the third personage covered by this old Catholic Encyclopedia roundup article).  And Atlantic Tropical Storm Bertha was born just yesterday.  Not knowing either fact a few hours ago, I started looking for some information about Blangy for my aunt at her request.  This appears to be the website of the village’s historical society, all in French, but I note dramatic improvements in Google’s machine translations, with only minor improvements and interjections from myself (additional ones exceed my capabilities) in this piece about Bertha and the town:

Blangy-sur-Ternoise is a small village in the valley of the Ternoise in the department of Pas de Calais (62).

Blangy-sur-Ternoise, nestled at the bottom of its valley, a little pass unnoticed from an historical perspective, it was the seat of the imposing abbey Saint-Berthe. However, we know that the Romans were probably occupied the site to 50 BC-AD, and that, according to historian Malbrancq, the village was the scene of bitter fighting between the Huns and the Franks. It is in the plain of Blangy, indeed, that Wilbert, Count of Boulogne and {of the town of} Saint-Pol, surrounded by most of the lords of the country, would have cut into pieces. Rigobert, Count of Ponthieu, who had pointed out during the battle, was then appointed Count of Blangy, a village which was at that time an important post, Clovis II having built a fortress on the banks of the Ternoise, to resist the invasion of northern tribes.

From the union of Rigobert and Ursane, daughter of the King of Kent, was born, circa 644, Bertha (first name meaning clear and bright). After her childhood spent at the castle of Blangy, at age 18, Berthe married Siegfried, Baron of Auxi-le-Chateau. After the death of her husband, in 680, and after the death of two of his daughters, Bertha decided to build a monastery on the banks of the Ternoise. Of this abbey founded under the {monastic} “Rule of St. Benedict,” Berthe became the first abbess in 682, while the king Thierry III gave it the status of royal abbey. The monastery was so vast that sixty nuns there were installed there. Died in 723, July 4, at age 79 years (which was exceptional for its time), Berthe was buried within the abbey, in a sandstone tomb.

Soon, if we are to believe the sacred writers and historians, miracles occurred around the tomb: “The blind were returned to sight, paralyzed hands became active, the lame walked aright, the violence of fevers was dissipated and every class of infirmity healed.” So many miracles that they resulted in the canonization of Saint Berthe.

Over the centuries, the abbey has, however, experienced many problems. While the holy relics were transported to Alsace for protection, Normans looted and destroyed the monastery in 892. It was not until 1032 that the relics were returned, and a new monastery was built, then occupied by the Benedictines of Fécamps. During the XIV, XV and XVI centuries, Blangy and its monastery suffered from wars, new buildings being damaged and the relics again had to be removed for safekeeping, in Saint-Omer this time. Sold as a national asset in 1791 {ie, as a result of the French Revolution}, the abbey was destroyed in the nineteenth century, except the farm (1771) and the mill (1777) that served as a secular school, then hospice, before being donated in 1956 to the institute Notre-Dame de Vie {“Our Lady of Life”?}, which has restored it into a spiritual center and retreat.

The website also says that relics are still venerated at a shrine there each year during her novena, July 4-12.

(*–Grandmom, too, was of English background, and spent most of her life as an Episcopalian – things I never knew – converting to her late husband’s and her children’s Catholicism before she died.)