St Ebba the Younger and Companions

Martyrs (entered heaven this day in 870)

Dear Evelyn,

Believe me. I know how hard it is to uphold the Christian virtue of chastity in the midst of a culture like the one you describe.  The devil is very interested in your efforts – in making them fail, that is.  Chastity is so closely linked to interior peace, wisdom, joy, fruitfulness, courage and all the other virtues, that the devil knows a successful attack on it will have big repercussions.  Of course, a vibrant prayer life and a sincere sacramental life are your best supports in the battle.  Strong Christian friendships and spiritual direction are crucial as well.  But sometimes it also helps to see how much our older brothers and sisters in the faith valued this beautiful virtue.  Today’s saints are an especially eloquent and memorable example.

Ebba was the abbess of the largest double monastery in Scotland in her time.  It was called Coldingham.  In the flush of the convent’s prosperity, two notorious Scandinavian pirates, Hinguar and Hubba, invaded the province.  Ebba knew that these pagan barbarians included the rape of nuns on their pillaging to-do lists.  As soon as she received word that they were on their way, she gathered all the nuns together and gave them a rousing spiritual discourse.  She exhorted them to save themselves from the coming unchristian violence by following a shocking strategy: self-mutilation.  If they made themselves revoltingly ugly, the pirates would be discouraged from violating their chastity.  She led the way herself.  She took a razor and cut off her nose and her upper lip.  The sisters followed suit.

It worked.  When Hinguar, Hubba and company lustily burst into the convent they were utterly repulsed.  But they didn’t take the frustration of their beastly pleasures lightly.  To take revenge on the courageous nuns, they locked them in the chapter house and set it on fire.  Thus St Ebba and companions suffered twice, but won the victor’s crown.

Don’t get any wild ideas.  I am not asking you mutilate yourself.  Those were different times and different circumstances.  But if these saints were willing to suffer so much in order to protect their chastity from involuntary violation, it should give you and me some food for thought as we try to live ours voluntarily.

Your loving uncle,


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