Saint Eanswith (Old English: Ēanswīþ; born c. 614, Kent, England. Died c. 640, Folkestone, England), also spelled Eanswythe or Eanswide, was an Anglo Saxon princess, who founded Folkestone Priory, the first Christian monastic community for women in Britain.

Venerated inRoman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy
Major shrineSt Mary and St Eanswythe Church, Folkestone
Feast12 September (Western Christianity)
31 August (Orthodoxy)[1]
Attributescrown, staff, book and sometimes a fish
Major worksFounded Folkestone Abbey


In 630, Eanswith founded the Benedictine Folkestone Priory, the first nunnery in England. She was supported in this by her father, Eadbald, who ruled as king of Kent from 616 to 640 CE.[2]

While the monastery was under construction, a pagan prince came to Kent seeking to marry Eanswythe. King Eadbald, whose sister St. Ethelburga had married the pagan King Edwin two or three years before, recalled that this wedding resulted in Edwin's conversion. Eanswythe, however, refused.[3]

Around 630, the building of the monastery was completed. This was the first women's monastery to be founded in England. St. Eanswythe lived there with her companions in the monastic life, and they may have been guided by some of the Roman monks who had come to England with St. Augustine in 597.


She remained at the abbey until her death and was later canonized by the Catholic Church.[3]

The first monastic site became abandoned by the 10th century, and began to be eroded by the sea, a problem which also afflicted a new foundation of 1095. A site further inland was provided for a new foundation of Folkestone Priory by William de Abrincis in 1137, with a church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe. Saint Eanswith's day falls on September 12.[4] Traditionally, this is the date on which her remains were translated to the new church in 1138. The priory was closed at the Reformation, and the Church became Folkestone Parish Church. During restoration work at the church in 1885 human remains were discovered in a lead reliquary, embedded within the church wall, which were identified as a 12th-century vessel, and the bones of a young woman.[5] This led to the conclusion that they could be the translated relics of Saint Eanswith, hidden away at the Reformation.[6]


Eanswith is sometimes portrayed with a fish, along with her abbess's staff, crown and a book. This appears to be a recent attribute, from Folkestone's fishing port connection.[7]

Documentary sourcesEdit

  • Goscelin of Saint-Bertin mentions Eanswith in his 11th century Vita Sancta Werburge.[8]
  • She is named in the genealogies of some versions of the Kentish Royal LegendK
  • John of Tynemouth (14th century chronicler) has a substantive account in his Sanctilogium. As with all the Kentish Abbesses, Bede does not name Eanswith, so John must have had another source.[9]

Church DedicationsEdit

St Eanswith's in Brenzett

As well as the former Priory church at Folkestone, Eanswith has the following church dedications:-


  1. ^ "St. Eanswythe the Abbess of Folkestone", Orthodox Church in America
  2. ^ Yorke, Barbara (2003). Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon royal houses. Continuum. p. 23. ISBN 0-8264-6040-2.
  3. ^ a b "St. Eanswythe of Kent". Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  4. ^ Starr, Brian (2006). Calendar of Saints: Whose Lineage Is Known. Brian Starr, 2006. p. 137. ISBN 1-4196-3665-0.
  5. ^ The Friends of the Church of St. Mary and St. Eanswythe accessed 21 November 2014
  6. ^ "The Remains of St. Eanswith". New York Times. August 9, 1885. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  7. ^ A Clerk of Oxford: St Eanswythe of Folkestone accessed 22 November 2014
  8. ^ Love, Rosalind C. (2004). Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford.
  9. ^ Chang, Heesok; DeMaria, Jr., Robert; Zacher, Samantha (2013), A Companion to British Literature, Medieval Literature, 700 - 1450, John Wiley & Sons, p. 74

External linksEdit