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St Osyth of Chich

Strange things happen in October.  Scary stories of headless horsemen and walking dead abound.  But have you heard of the life of St. Osyth?  If you can’t even pronounce her name, you probably have not.  Hers is a perfect Halloween saint’s life story.

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The modern day Church dedicated to St. Osyth of Chich in Essex Photo Credit: www.stoosyth.gov.uk

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Stained glass of St. Osyth and her husband King of Essex

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The church stands much like it did in the 11th century

The setting is the Middle Ages, 7th century England.  An Anglian princess is set to wed King Sibere of Essex.  For some reason, the King is unable to consummate the marriage.  Legend has it that the King had a fondness for hunting, so much so that he left her on their wedding day to chase other deer.  Perhaps she never wanted to be married in the first place and forced him to leave. To keep from any hard feelings, he gifts her with a large plot of land near Essex creek at Chich, a town close to modern day Colchester.  St. Osyth turns this into a convent and the entire plot is known as Nun’s Wood; she becomes Abbess of Chich (or “chick”).

But this is 7th century England mind you. The scourge of the land is those dreaded Vikings.  the Vikings, under their leaders Inguar and Hubba, made lightning attacks on the English coast and it is likely to be true that a band of Viking pirates sailed into the muddy Essex creek at Chich and destroyed the countryside. They also murdered the virgin nun. In fact, they slit her throat outside in the clearing.   The remarkable thing was that she walked, headless, to the church before collapsing.  In other versions of the saint’s tale, she picks up her head and walks with it into the church.

But that is not why she was made a saint.  The honor was donned after her burial. The present church of St Peter and St Paul stands on the site of the original church that St Osyth of Chich founded. Local tradition says that, on October the 7th every year, St Osyth of Chich revisits the scene of her martyrdom, walking with her head in her hand.