Feast day: August 25
First Abbess of Coldingham, Northumbria. Sister of King Oswy. Died in 683. Also known as Aebbe, Ebbe, Tabbs.
Saint Ebba, the daughter of King Ethelfrith of Northumbria, fled to Scotland with her brothers Saint Oswald and Oswy, when their father died in battle in 616 against King Saint Edwin (f.d. October 12).
She received the veil from Saint Finan (f.d. February 17) at Lindisfarne. With the generous help of her brother, Ebba founded a convent on the Derwent, named Ebchester after her. She also established the double monastery at Coldingham in the marshes of Scotland’s Berwickshire. This holy abbess governed Coldingham’s nuns until her death, basing their organisation on that of Whitby.
When Saint Etheldreda (f.d. June 23) separated from King Egfrith in 672, she went first to her Aunt Ebba, where she lived until she founded Ely Abbey. In 681, Egfrith visited Coldingham with his second wife Ermenburga, who suddenly fell ill. Ebba interpreted the illness as God’s punishment for Egfrith’s imprisonment of Saint Wilfrid (f.d. October 12) and Ermenburga’s theft of Wilfrid’s relics and reliquaries. Ermenburga recovered after her husband released Wilfrid and she restored his relics.
Shortly thereafter a priest named Adomnan admonished Ebba for the relaxed state of her community. The sisters were spending their time weaving fine cloth to adorn themselves to attract attention. Both the men and women neglected their prayers and vigils. After the warning, the community reformed its ways for a short time, but later reverted to type-Ebba was not suitable as an administrator.
Although her monastery burned down in 686, her name lived on at Ebchester Abbey, Saint Abb’s Head (where the ruins of a fort may indicate the site of her monastery), and a street and church in Oxford. Her relics were discovered late in the 11th century and shared between Durham and Coldingham, which is more than a mile away from Ebba’s Coldingham.