There are many tales of pious people who have made their mark on Herefordshire, many of those have been Kings, bishops, priests and monks. But our tale this week focuses on a woman whose vision took her on a journey to Herefordshire where she is still remembered today.
Katherine de Audley was said to have lived during the reign of King Edward II, she was considered a holy woman and along with her then maid Mable she travelled the country caring for the sick and giving alms to the poor. As you can imagine two women travelling alone during this time would create quite a bit of interest, so they found themselves moving on often and not staying in one place for too long. This was not the only reason, for Katherine had had a vision. In the vision she had been told not to rest or make her home until she arrived at a place where the church bells rang out of their own accord to greet her.
Now the Devil was never really keen on people like Katherine, her holiness and piousness rankled him, so to slow up her good work he stole the horse and pony that the women relied upon to get them from village to village and he hid them. Not one to be daunted by the Devil and inspired by the power of her faith, Katherine fell to her knees and prayed that she would be able to follow the animals and retrieve them, asking the Lord to reveal the animal’s hooves so that she could track them. It’s told her prayers were answered and she found her horse and pony and she and Mabel continued on their way.
Katherine’s travels and work finally brought her to Ledbury and as she and Mabel came into the town she sat on a stone to rest and as she did so the bells rang out reminding her of her vision. Katherine knew that she had to make her way to the church but when she did so was disappointed to find the doors were firmly locked. Not one to be deterred she had the church doors opened and was surprised to find it empty and saw it as a sign to make the church their home. From here they continued their good works for society and built a hermitage. It is said that both Katherine and Mabel lived a very simple hermit life, drinking only milk and eating plants which they gathered from the fields and woods nearby.
Their work was however legendary, being talked about in court circles where the King was made aware of their piety. So impressed was he that he granted Katherine and Mabel an annuity of £30 enabling them to expand their charitable works.
Today you will see reference to Katherine contained in a sonnet by Wordsworth, writings by John Masefield and buildings which carry her name. It is even thought that the Chapter House of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Ledbury was built as a shrine to her. The lane or path which the women used to and from the Church was called Mabel’s Furlong, which you can still see on maps of Ledbury today. A field directly to the south of it is called Katherine’s Acre which is said to have housed the stone upon which Katherine was said to have been sitting when she heard the church bells ring. This was long known by locals as Katherine’s Stone before it was finally removed.
Whether a folklore fantasy, a noble woman of history or an anchoress (a woman who was walled into a cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation). It would seem that Katherine certainly left her mark on our wonderful market town of Ledbury.
These stories are curated from many sources and retold in our fun ESL style, in the true spirit of Folklore.
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