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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals


Selections From The Ark Number 212 - Summer 2009


St Mildred and the deer

St Mildred is always depicted with a deer. The deer symbol, found throughout the Isle of Thanet, Kent, originated with Mildred’s mother, Ermenburga. This lady came to Thanet in the middle of the seventh century from the Kingdom of Mercia, where her husband was ruler. Two of her younger brothers had been murdered by their cousin Egbert, King of Kent. Instead of claiming the customary blood money or ‘wergild’ for the murder of her brothers, Ermenburga asked the repentant King for land on which she could build an abbey. The King readily agreed, and the extent of the abbey’s lands were determined, according to ancient legend, by Ermenburga sending her tame deer on a free course, the path it took becoming the boundaries. So Minster Abbey was then built, consecrated in 670. The deer became the symbol for Minster, and the early abbesses are often pictured with a deer. Abbess Domneva (the name Ermenburga took) died around the year AD 690. She was soon venerated as a saint (19th November).

Her daughter Mildred, who had entered her mother’s community shortly after its foundation, was consecrated Abbess by St Theodore of Canterbury. Mildred, whose name means ‘peaceful counsel’, led her community with wisdom and love for more than 30 years. She was renowned during her lifetime as a peacemaker and was especially close to the poor. She died about 725. Soon after her death people started coming in pilgrimage to her tomb. Miracles of healing were reported and the veneration of St Mildred spread throughout Southern England and across Europe. The chronicler of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, writing in 1097, enthusiastically describes St Mildred as ‘the fairest lily of the English, the one jewel of our fathers’. Her feast is kept on 13th July. St Edburga, a princess of the House of Wessex was the third Abbess of Minster.

The abbey was later destroyed by Danes, refounded as a monastery for monks, and then dissolved under Henry VIII. In 1937 the site was refounded again by Bavarian Benedictine nuns, and is a thriving community, offering hospitality in a guest house, holding retreats and conducting tours.

See their website:

‘Deer geomancy’
The nearby parish church in the village of Preston, dedicated to St Mildred, is one of those founded, according to legend, through ‘deer geomancy’ – wherever St Mildred’s pet deer stopped to drink at a spring, a church was built.

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