The Feast Day of St Wite

Detail from embroidered hassock honouring the patron saint of Dorset, St Wite

TODAY’S the feast day of St Candida, patron saint of Dorset, also known as Gwen, Blanche, and St Wite.
Who was she? No-one really knows. All we have to go on is the thigh bone of a 40 year old woman interred in her shrine at the Church of St Candida and Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum. 

Legend has it that St Wite was a healer of the sick, martyred in the ninth century after she came to a sticky end at the hands of the Vikings, marauders of Charmouth. 

Other myths suggest that she may have been a Welsh mother, a male soldier or a kidnapped French princess. 

But the most enduring story is that of a stout-hearted wise woman from Dorset, whose name was later Latinicised to Candida. Close by in Morcambelake is a well said to be the source from which St Wite’s healing waters sprung. 

I paid her a visit today, like countless pilgrims before me who still come to pray for healing at her shrine. 

Buttercup fields surround the church. Blackbirds and sheep call on the sweet-smelling air. The church walls are furred with lichen. A carving of St Wite watches over gravestones flanked by graceful, swaying daisies. 

Inside the church, tucked away in a trancept, her shrine is pale and ghostly, a crack clearly rending the stone.

It’s cold to the touch. Feeling slightly blasphemous, I ask her to tell me her secrets. 

Who are you?

Candle wax pools on the hassocks. I press myself against cool stone. The chill spreads from my hands to my neck. Outside, ravens croak. An aeroplane growls in the heavens.

Before asking her to heal me, I breathe a meditation into the masonry.

May you be loved.

May you be healed.

May you be at peace. 

It’s been a very long time since I last prayed, but I added my handwritten plea for healing to those tucked inside the shrine’s ‘limb-holes’.

The church bell tolls, three times. The heavy oak door closes behind me. I take my leave of her, wondering still. 

TotallyDorset blogger Emily Pykett is writing a historical novel about the life of St Wite. You can follow her research and the adventures of St Wite on Twitter @St_Wite


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