An Excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London
The legend of St. Lewinna, a young Saxon virgin, began in the 7th century. She was just a girl, bordering on womanhood when pagan Saxons took her body and life. Her broken body was taken to a nearby church where her remains were kept for centuries. It was rumored that those who made pilgrimage to the site of her remains were miraculously cured of their afflictions and their prayers answered. Testimonials of the miracles performed adorned the walls of the little wooden church. A Flemish monk called Balgerus who visited the church by accident on Easter Monday stole the bones of St. Lewinna and took them back to Flanders because she appeared before him and said, “Rise, take me to yourself. Have me, I say, for the companion of your journey.”
Drogo, a 12th century monk, told the story from Flanders, who documented the events of the young girl’s life, death and how she became a saint. In 1058, Balgerus left his monastery in Dunkirk, France and traveled across the sea to England to help convert the pagans to Christianity. He arrived on the mainland at an unknown location on Easter Monday. Aware he needed to observe the day with a special service, he traveled inland looking for a church. He came upon the small wooden church of St. Lewinna and spoke with the custodian who gave a full account of the virgin Lewinna, the miracles and the answered prayers. The priest was intrigued by the stories of hundreds of pilgrims who traveled for days to obtain a cure. He was ashamed to admit that he secretly desired to possess them.
The custodian left the church briefly, believing he could safely leave the priest alone with the remains of St. Lewinna. Balgerus prayed for guidance; should he leave the relics that had remained in the church for over 400 years or transport them to his home in Flanders? It was a difficult decision and the priest struggled with the sense of right and wrong but then, according to Balgerus, the saint appeared to him and suggested he take the bones to his town across the sea. He hurriedly collected the bones together in a sack but as he did so, the bones from St. Lewinna’s fingers fell to the ground. Three times he tried to collect the bones together and each time he dropped them to the church floor. Taking this as an omen that the saint wanted some remains left at the church, he left the finger bones behind.
Balgerus clutched the bones of St. Lewinna to his chest and hurried back to his boat, afraid the villagers would discover the theft and pursue him. The captain and crew were waiting to depart but a storm had begun and the group was not anxious to take to sea. Once again it is said St. Lewinna appeared and indicated the journey would be safe and without incident and the sailing party departed the shores of England. During the following weeks, Balgerus paraded the relics around the towns of Flanders holding them aloft for all to see. It is believed that pilgrimages began immediately and those who traveled to visit the remains had the same miraculous cures bestowed upon them as those in the little town in England.