We know few details about the rest of St Eanswythe’s life. Following the monastic Rule, she prayed to God day and night. When she was not in church, she spent her waking hours reading spiritual books and in manual labour. This may have consisted of copying and binding manuscripts. The nuns probably wove cloth for their clothing, and also for church vestments. They cared for the sick and aged nuns of their own community, as well as for the poor and infirm from outside. Then there was the daily routine of cooking and cleaning.
According to Tradition, St Eanswythe fell asleep in the Lord on the last day of August 640 when she was only in her mid-twenties. Her father King Eadbald also died in the same year.
The convent at Folkestone did not last very long after the saint’s death. Some say the sea destroyed it, while others say it was sacked by the Danes in 867. St Eanswythe’s holy relics were moved to the nearby church of Sts Peter and Paul, which was farther away from the sea. In 927 King Athelstan granted the land where the monastery had stood to the monks of Christchurch, Canterbury.
As time passed, the sea continued to encroach on the land. In 1138 a new monastery and church, dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe, were built farther inland. The relics of St Eanswythe were transferred once again, this time from the church of Sts Peter and Paul to the new priory church. During the Middle Ages, this second transfer of her relics was celebrated on September 12, which the church still keeps as its Patronal Festival.On November 15, 1535 the officers of the King, who plundered the church of its valuables, seized the priory. The shrine of St Eanswythe was destroyed, but her relics had been hidden to protect them.
On June 17, 1885 workmen in the church discovered a niche in the walls which had been plastered up. Removing the plaster, they found a reliquary made of lead, about fourteen inches long, nine inches wide, and eight inches high. Judging by the ornamentation on the reliquary, it dated from the twelfth century. A number of bones were found inside, which experts said were those of a young woman. Today the niche is lined with alabaster, and is covered by a brass door and a grille.
At first, the holy relics were brought out for veneration every year on the parish Feast Day. This practice ended when several parishioners accused the Vicar of “worshiping” the relics. Although St Eanswythe’s relics are no longer offered for public veneration, candles and flowers are sometimes placed before the brass door where they are immured.
An Orthodox iconographer has presented the parish of St Mary and St Eanswythe with an icon of the saint.
St Eanswythe the Abbess of Folkestone
From her childhood, St Eanswythe showed little interest in worldly pursuits, for she desired to dedicate her virginity to God and to serve Him as a nun. Her father, on the other hand, wanted her to marry. St Eanswythe told him that she would not have any earthly suitor whose love for her might also be mixed with dislike. There was a high rate of mortality for children in those days, so she knew it was likely that at least some of hers would also die. All of these sorrows awaited her if she obeyed her father. The young princess told her father that she had chosen an immortal bridegroom who would give her unceasing love and joy, and to whom she had dedicated herself. She went on to say that she had chosen the good portion (Luke 10:42), and she asked her father to build her a cell where she might pray.
St Eanswythe , we believe, was not made abbess at this time, for she was only sixteen years old. We do not know of any other abbess before St Eanswythe, but a few experienced nuns may have been sent from Europe to teach the others the monastic way of life. A temporary Superior could have been appointed until the nuns were able to elect their own abbess.
REGISTERED CHARITY NUMBER 1161358