There are some saintly people who do little to inspire me! I am not saying they were bad people. On the contrary, in their generation they were considered admirable and providing access to spiritual things. One such person is St Etheldreda, who is remembered in the church today (23 June).
She was the daughter of a Medieval King in Suffolk. She married twice, each time never permitting the marriage to be consummated. She later founded a monastery in Ely where the present Ely Cathedral now stands. Her last 7 years were spent in penance, austerity and prayer. A tumour in her neck she claimed was punishment for wearing a necklace when she was younger.
Years after her death her body was exhumed and was claimed to be intact. It was put in a shrine which became a centre of pilgrimage. Many miracles were attributed to her continuing power.
So... what are we celebrating today? We could say that she inspired the people of her day who considered her a model Christian. Her monastery probably did much good serving the local community. We can thank God for that and for the inspiration she gave. Her shrine gave hope to those in search of physical and spiritual healing.
BUT it was arguably a curious narrow version of Christianity which she commended. It is hard for me to find a lesson I can take from her life and apply to my life or the life of the community. I wonder what Cambridge University makes of her. She is their Patron Saint. But maybe we can learn this: That our Christian faith, while resting on solid foundations, needs reinterpreting for each new generation. If miraculous non-scientific events were the expected norms of faith in Medieval times, that is what people believed/trusted a saintly person - when dead - to make happen. But that sort of belief system is unlikely to work today to bring many people to faith. It may actually drive some away!
Statue in Ely Cathedral.