My version of the legend of St Werburgh: One of my geese is missing
This is a story that is told about a real woman, who really lived, in the North of England and is now the Patron saint of the city of Chester. Whether or not it really happened, I see Werburgh as a real sign that kindness and hospitality and friendship with creation, really matter….
Werburgh was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburgh said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the children who played in her cornfield. So Werburgh noticed when a toy horse was lost. And she helped in the search until the horse was found and the tears dried up and the smiles returned. Because Werburgh thought children were important and ought to be noticed
Werburgh was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But Werburgh said she just looked and listened and noticed the important things in life. Like the sparrows who nested in her cornfield. So Werburgh noticed when a wing was injured. And she cared for the bird until the wing was healed and the sparrow flew off once more. Because Werburgh thought sparrows were important and ought to be noticed.
Werburgh was a saint, everybody said so, and they told stories about her kindness. But even saints have their limits. And when Werburgh noticed a flock of geese hissing and honking, and waving their long, snake-like necks AND trampling down her corn with their great, webbed feet she called to her neighbour. And she told him the geese could NOT sleep in her cornfield. However, as she was a saint, after all, they could borrow her barn instead.
Now, geese are not known for doing as they are told but, Werburgh was a saint, everybody said so, so the neighbour did as she asked. And, to his amazement, the geese followed him to the barn, hissing and honking and waving their great long snake-like necks as they went.
The next morning, Werburgh went to the barn and opened the door. She looked and listened as the geese waddled out of the barn hissing and honking and waving their great, long, snake-like necks. And then Werburgh noticed something. She noticed that the geese were hissing more sadly than usual. She noticed that their honks were not as loud or as fierce as they usually were. She noticed that they were shaking their great, long, snake like-necks from side to side – as if they were trying to tell her something. And then she noticed that one of the geese was missing.
She called her neighbour and asked him where the missing goose had gone. The neighbour hung his head in shame. He had thought no one would notice if he took one of the geese. He had thought no one would notice if he killed that goose and ate it for his supper. But the geese had noticed, and so had Werburgh.
Werburgh told her neighbour to fetch the bones of the goose he had eaten. And then she prayed, hard, because Werburgh thought geese were important and ought to be noticed and God must have thought so too because, after she had prayed, so our story says, the dry bones were gone and in their place was a hissing, honking goose.
And the goose lowered its great, long, snake-like neck and bowed to Werburgh, to thank her for her kindness in noticing that it was missing. And all the other geese did the same. And then they spread their wings and with a last loud honk they launched themselves into the air and flew away.
So when you see geese flying overhead, and hear their honks filling the air, remember the kindness of Werburgh and the glimpse that she gives us of the kindness and the hospitality of the Divine.
I commissioned this icon of St Werburgh for my 60th birthday.
It is by Yvonne Bell https://christian-art.vpweb.co.uk/
Wergurgh has associations with Macclesfield, where I live. She is thought to have founded a convent near by. Shuttlingslow, a local landmark, can be seen in the background. St Michael’s and All Angels Church has a window dedicated to her and is the church you can see over her shoulder. The colours she wears are those of Riddings Infants, whose children taught me the power of a simple story, simply told.
And I KNOW that canada geese had not arrived on these shores during her lifetime but they have made Macclesfield their home today and it is today that I think we need the help of the saints to remind us to stop, and look and listen.
You can hear me talk about character strengths and virtues in stories and tell this story here