Banner featuring the saint in St Werburgh’s Church (possibly 1890s) Werburgh (d. c.700) was the daughter of the Mercian king Wulfhere (reigned 658–75) and his wife Eormenhild. Upon her father’s death, Werburgh became a nun at the abbey of Ely, where she subsequently rose to the rank of abbess. Later however she was brought back to Mercia by King Ethelred (who was also her uncle) and given the task of reforming several nunneries within the kingdom. Upon her death, her body was initially buried at Hanbury in Staffordshire (within whose nunnery she had been heavily involved), but was then subsequently moved to Chester in order to avoid the invading Danish army. Her shrine at Chester was a magnet for pilgrims until the Reformation, whilst thirteen churches and two chapels were also dedicated to the saint. The very fact that our church is one of those named after the saint attests to the site’s longevity as a holy place. This is because Saxon saints came to be sidelined following the Norman conquest- which suggests that a living dedicated to St Werburgh dates back at least that far, if not much further. The artistic motif most commonly associated with Werbrugh is the goose, owing to traditional accounts which credit her with expelling a goose at a mere word. Indeed, this comes across particularly clearly in the banner pictured at the top of this page, which was possibly made to commemorate the alterations undertaken at St Werburgh’s Church in the 1890s.
Bibliography: Drackley, J., St Werburgh’s Church, Derby (The Churches Conservation Trust). Thacker, A., ‘Werburh’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004). ‘Werburg, St‘, in Livingstone, E.A. (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Third Edition (Oxford University Press). ‘Werburg (Werbyrgh)’, in Farmer, D.H., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints Fifth Revised Edition (Oxford University Press).