The village of St. Osyth has a really fascinating past. Did you know it was once partly burnt by a dragon? They even hosted a witchcraft trial in 1582! However, it was way back in the 7th century, a time full of saints and miraculous events, that this tale of the final walk of St. Osyth is set.
Osyth was of royal blood. Her father, Redwald, was the first Christian King of East Anglia, while, Wilburge, her mother, was herself daughter to the King of the Mercians. As a small child, Osyth was sent to be educated by her Aunt, Saint Edith, an abbess in charge of a nunnery at Aylesbury.
One day her aunt sent her on an errand to deliver a book to St. Modwenna. To reach Modwenna's house, she had to cross a stream by a bridge. It was a windy day and the stream was swollen with recent floodwater. Just as she was about to cross a great gust of wind blew Osyth into the cold water. When she did not return Edith was very distressed and went to find Modwenna.
The two women searched the countryside. Three days later they found the child lying in the stream, tragically drowned.
Undeterred, St. Modwenna prayed for Osyth and commanded her to arise from the water and come to them, Osyth obeyed. A truly miraculous event!
This miraculous experience changed Osyth's life forever, for she decided she wanted to dedicate her life to prayer and become a nun. Her parents did not agree with this choice, and betrothed her to Sibere, the East Saxon Christian King, in order to form an alliance.
However, while her husband was away hunting, Osyth made her mind up to keep her vow and become a nun, no matter what. She knew she would rather be an abbess than a queen.
At first her disappointed husband protested that, without her, life held no happiness or interest for him but seeing her determination, he soon recovered. He generously gave her land ten miles southeast from Colchester, upon which to build a nunnery and a church.
Here, Osyth reigned in peace as Abbess for a number of years. Then one sunny autumn day when she was walking in the woods enjoying the beauty of nature, her peace was forever shattered.
A gang of Viking pirates had landed on the Essex coast. In these early times - well before they came to settle in England - Vikings would make hit and row raids, up and down the English coastline, attacking and terrifying the local people, burning villages and pillaging monasteries for their treasure.
St. Osyth came face to face with the Viking leader in a clearing in the woods, but bravely stood her ground. The pagan pirates had little respect for Christian beliefs or for the pleas of an abbess. Their leader beheaded Osyth on the spot, with one single mighty swing of his sharp, glinting weapon and then the pirates moved on to destroy the nunnery.
This time there was no St. Modwenna close by to save the day and bring Osyth back to life. However, this courageous and Godly woman was not yet defeated. Legend tells how she bent down and picked up her own head and guided by angels she carried it in her hands to the nunnery church. She loudly struck the door once with her bloodstained hand to warn the nuns within of the approaching peril, then fell on the ground and died.
At the place of her martyrdom, in the woods, a spring gushed forth. The spring became a stream and a well was built in her honour. This became known as St. Osyth's sacred well. It became very famous, since the spring waters had very special, miraculous properties. The waters were used to bless ill people who often, then, found themselves cured.
Considering her horrible and untimely death, it is not surprising that Osyth's restless spirit should wander. At certain times of the year, it is said that the murdered abbess can be seen, head in hands, once again visiting the well, the wood and the church where the brutal events took place. It must be a scary sight for travellers who are unfortunate enough to be in Nun's Wood after dark!