following is a brief resume of the main Anglo Saxon Saints and those non
Anglo Saxons who had a particularly important impact on the development on
Anglo Saxon English Christianity. It is
not exhaustive, either in the list of Saints nor in
the description of their lives.
Nevertheless, it is intended to form the basis of a liturgical year in
which our native saints can be honoured and called upon to intercede on our
behalf. It is a work in progress and
so will develop and expand over time.
Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx,
Aelred, whose parents were
guardians of St Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham, revived a spirit of genuine
friendship in his and in other monastic communities at a time following the
Norman conquest when strict codes of conduct had led to a cold atmosphere and
impersonal relationships between monks.
His monastery at Rievaulx in Yorkshire became
the largest in England. He drew
inspiration from the biblical writings of John and from the Celtic
Saints. His own writings include A Life of St Ninian
and a Treatise on Friendship.
Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth, d. 689
service with King Oswy of Northumbria, the then Bishop Beducing travelled to Rome and on his second trip became a
monk. Following a third visit, he
returned to England with
Theodore the new Archbishop of Canterbury,
briefly becoming an Abbot at Canterbury. With the help of King Ecfrith,
he founded the monastery at Wearmouth in 674. Here he instituted his own version of the
rule of St Benedict, after which he named himself. He continued to travel to Rome and brought back many books and
artefacts which greatly enriched English Christian life. He also brought back a Chanter, who taught
the Northumbrian monks the Roman Uncial script, liturgy and chanting. He then founded Wearmouth’s
twin monastery at Jarrow. The library
created by Benedict Biscop made possible the
achievements of Bede. Indeed, we owe
to Benedict the foundations of the Northumbrian Anglo Saxon Christian culture
we are seeking to revive today.
Ceowulf, King and Monk of Northumbria, d. c.764
Ceowulf became King of Northumbria in 729, but was deposed in 731 and
forced to become a monk at Lindisfarne. He was subsequently released and regained
his throne before giving it up voluntarily in 737 to become a monk
again. Though his ability as a ruler
was questionable, his humility and generosity as a monk was not. He gave money to Lindisfarne and as a result the monks drank
beer instead of water for the first time – something that was important as
the water in those days was often not fit to drink and a weak beer was drunk
instead because it was safer. After he
died, Ceowulf was buried near to Cuthbert on Lindisfarne and miracles were
said to have occurred to prove his holiness.
Elfleda, Sister of King Egfrith,
King Oswy of Northumberland and her mother, Enfleda, promised to God that they would dedicate the
young Elfleda to the religious life if they were
victorious in battle against Penda, King of Mercia. The battle was won and Elfleda
was entrusted to Hilda, then Abbess of Hartlepool. After a few years, they both went to Whitby. After Hilda’s death, Enfleda
and then Elfleda herself became Abbess in
was a friend of both Wilfred and Cuthbert, the latter curing her of
paralysis. Her skill as a mediator was
demonstrated when she secured the reconciliation of Wilfred with both the Northumbrian Church
and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Wilfred’s biographer praised her as the
‘comforter and best counsellor in the whole province’.
Trumwine, Missionary, Bishop of Abercorn and Monk
of Whitby, d.
Archbishop Theodore divided the Kingdom
of Northumbria into
five kingdoms, he appointed Trumwine as the first
bishop of the recently conquered Pictish lands to
the north in 681. He established his
see at Abercorn and a monastery at Lothian.
He accompanied Archbishop Theodore and King Ecfrith
to the Farne
Islands to help
persuade Cuthbert to take another Northumbrian bishopric. However, when the Northumbrians were routed
by the Picts at the battle of Nechtansmeer
in 685, Trumwine fled with his monks to Whitby and lived the
rest of his life as a monk there under Abbess Elfleda.
Cædmon, First English Songwriter, d. 680
Cædmon was a shy, illiterate
cowherd who worked on the estates of Whitby Abbey, probably an Anglicised
Briton. He was encouraged to sing
God’s praises in a vision and as a result of his beautiful voice and prose
was taken to St Hilda’s monastery in Whitby. Here, he put many bible stories into
popular English song for the first time.
He is attributed to having played a major role in spreading the
Christian faith to English people high and low, through his verse and music. He was a warm, holy and generous person
much loved by all who knew him. His
best known work is ‘Cædmon’s hymn’.
Ethilwald, Monk and Bishop of Lindisfarne, d. 740
Ethilwald was a
disciple of Cuthbert and became Abbot of Melrose.
He succeeded Bishop Eadfrith, scribe of the Lindisfarne Gospels, and sponsored the hermit Billfrith to make the precious covers for these Gospels,
which are now unfortunately lost. His
holy life was recognised by his relics being placed with those of
Cuthbert. He is at least a part author
of the Book of Cerne.
Oswy, King of Northumbria, d. 670
Oswy succeeded his brother
Oswald to the throne of Northumbria,
but treated his subjects less well and was not especially religious. However, when the kingdom was invaded by
Penda, King of Mercia,
Oswy turned to God and vowed to dedicate his young
daughter, Elfleda, to religious service if he was
victorious in battle. Following
victory, he did just this. He also
gave land for the founding of the twin monastery at Wearmouth
and Jarrow that Benedict Biscop established. It was here that Bede lived and wrote many
of his famous works.
Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne,
was an Irish monk from Iona, who became Lindisfarne’s
third Abbot bishop. He was spokesman for
the Celtic tradition at the Synod of Whitby
and following the Latin victory at this synod; he took all his monks together
with some of St Aidan’s bones and returned to Ireland. His English monks established a new
monastery at Mayo in Ireland,
which had an elected rather than hereditary Abbot. Alcuin praised this monastery for its
Ethelbert, King of Kent, d. 616
was the first Anglo Saxon King to become a Christian. He had married a Frankish Christian called
Bertha and had allowed her to re-establish the ancient British
Church at Canterbury.
In 591, he agreed to a missionary party from Rome
headed by St Augustine
and although he did not convert himself at this point, many of his subjects
did. Eventually, he did become a
Christian and built a monastery in Canterbury
which in time became Canterbury
Cathedral. He was the first Anglo
Saxon King to lay down a code of laws based on Christianity. An ancient document states that ‘from his
stock there has arisen a numerous and holy race, which shines with virtue
through the whole world’.
Chad, Bishop of Lichfield,
as a monk priest at Lindisfarne monastery under St
Aidan and also in Ireland. He became abbot of Lastingham
following the death of his brother, Cedd, and from
there was made a bishop of the Northumbrians.
Like Aidan before him, he refused special privileges and travelled by
foot rather than on horse. Later, he
became Bishop of Mercia,
establishing cells in Lichfield and a monastery at Barton in Lincolnshire. Chad had a habit of going into
Church and praying in times of strong winds or thunder. He used to say to people that God sends the
wind, thunder and lightening so that his people
will fear him, humble their pride and understand that they will be
judged. He died of plague, but just
before death he had a vision of his dead brother Cedd
coming with angels to greet him.
Baldred, Northumbrian Hermit, d. 8th
Baldred came from Tyningham and made his home on Bass Rock, which stands
off the east coast near to North Berwick. His prayers were reputed to move heaven and
Billfrith, Hermit and Goldsmith, d. 8th
Billfrith was a
hermit and goldsmith who adorned the cover of the Lindisfarne
Gospels with gold, silver and gems.
Though the Gospels themselves have survived, the cover has been
lost. It is believed that his relics
were taken to Durham
in the 11th century where he is celebrated with Baldred the hermit.
Eosterwine, Abbot of Wearmouth,
Eosterwine was a
royal soldier under Northumbria’s
He became a monk at Wearmouth, the monastery
founded by his cousin Benedict Biscop. He wholeheartedly entered into the life of
the monastery, taking on menial tasks such as baking, milking, gardening and
harvesting. He was ordained and
Benedict made him Abbot during his long absences abroad. The monks found him kind and
approachable. However, he died young
at the age of 36 whilst the community was at prayer.
Herbert, Hermit of Derwentwater, d.
was a Saxon priest who became a hermit on a little island on Derwentwater in the Lake District, the island now being
named after him. A close friend of
Cuthbert, he used to visit him at Lindisfarne
every year. In 686, Cuthbert was in Carlisle and they met there that year instead. Cuthbert urged his friend to everything he
needed to and said his goodbyes as he would die before they met again. Herbert wept at this and begged Cuthbert to
pray that they would share the same day of resurrection, which Cuthbert
did. And following a long illness, Herbert
did indeed die on the same day as Cuthbert and so his feast is celebrated on
the same day too.
Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne,
considered as he Patron Saint of Northern England, Cuthbert became a monk at Melrose and Rippon following a vision of the death of St Aidan. He had many fine qualities, including those
of natural leader, preacher, scholar, healer, prophet and pastor. Following the Synod of Whitby
in 664, he was appointed Abbot of the much depleted monastery at Lindisfarne. However, he was at heart a hermit monk and
mystic and he soon gave up this position to become a hermit on the small island of Inner Farne. Nine years later he reluctantly agreed to
become bishop of Lindisfarne,
but returned to Farne island to die. Eleven years after his death, his body was
found not to have decomposed and many miracles have been attributed to
him. Following the Danish invasions,
the monks of Lindisfarne carried his remains over
large parts of northern England
to prevent them falling into Viking hands.
Cuthbert’s remains are one of the few that survived the Norman
occupation and are now interred in Durham
Guthlac, Hermit of Crowland,
Guthlac was of royal blood
and after nine years as a soldier became a monk at Repton
where he kept to a strict discipline. In
about 701, he became a solitary in Crowland and
tried to emulate the discipline of the Desert Fathers. A year after his death, his coffin was
opened and his body found to be incorrupt.
His shrine became a popular place for pilgrims and Ceornoth,
Archbishop of Canterbury
was healed there in 851. His relics
were placed in the Abbey
Church at Crowland in 1196.
The Guthlac Roll from this period depicts
his life in seventeen and a half drawings and can be seen at the British Museum.
Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr, d.
Alphege was a monk at Deerhurst, near Gloucester
and later became a hermit in Somerset. Dunstan, then Archbishop of Canterbury,
recognised his qualities and made him bishop respectively of Bath
and then Winchester. In 1005, he became Archbishop of Canterbury
himself. Despite high office, he
remained a humble man and continued to live a simple monk’s life. In 1011, he was captured by the Danes, who
placed a ransom on his head. Alphege refused to allow anyone to pay this ransom
because he cared for the poor. As a
result, he was brutally killed by the Danes at Greenwich in 1012.
George, Martyr, d.304 and Saints and Martyrs of England
a semi mythical character though his cult is based on a real soldier who
probably lived in Palestine. He was martyred in around 304 during the
persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian. His cult was brought to England as a
result of the Crusades and the stories of his fighting a dragon, which were
not part of the original story, caught the public imagination. He became the patron Saint of England in
the 14th century. Although
not a native Anglo Saxon and despite not becoming England’s patron until
relatively lately, his cult does nevertheless echo earlier myths of the
warrior hero fighting against evil represented as dragons. In particularly, we see in George the Anglo
Saxon hero Beowulf and it is to this earlier epic we turn to fully appreciate
the importance of George to our national religious life.
23 is recognised as the patronal festival for England,
this is also a day to remember all the saints and martyrs of England. In particular, we remember those Anglo Saxon
saints who were removed from the Church’s calendar following the Norman
occupation and we give special thanks for their holy lives and continued
prayers for Anglo Saxon England.
Earconwald, Bishop of London, d. 693
Earconwald was of
royal blood and founded monastic churches at Chertsey and Barking. He gained a reputation for great
holiness. He was made bishop of London
by Theodore, then Archbishop of Canterbury and helped Theodore to become
reconciled with Bishop Wilfred. Bede
reports that many miracles came from Earconwald’s
couch in which he was carried during his declining years. His remains were placed in St Paul’s
Walpurga, missionary to the Franks, d. 779
Walpurga was born in Wessex, in around
710 and was a niece to St Boniface.
She travelled to Wurttemberg
to assist her uncle and founded a convent with her brother Willibald at Heidenheim. Her
feast day of May 1 commemorates the translation of her relics, but it has
merged with older spring festivities throughout much of northern Europe. Although
not celebrated widely in England,
it has strong associations with the traditional May festivities and the
tradition of the May Queen. The eve of
St Walpurga’s Day (April 30th) is known
as Walpurgis Night and is a Christianised version of old folk traditions that
seek to ward off stray ghosts by lighting bonfires and celebrating the coming
light of spring. Some traditions use
candles to celebrate the Easter fires.
Eadbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, d. 698
Eadbert was bishop of Lindisfarne from 688 and
showed particular devotion to Cuthbert.
He spent every Lent as either a solitary on Thrush
Island at Lindisfarne or on Inner Farne. Bede tells us that he was well known for
his knowledge of the scriptures, his obedience to God’s commandments and for
his generosity in alms giving. Each
year, he gave a tenth of his beasts, his grain, fruit and clothing to the
poor. His body was carried with
Cuthbert’s around Northumbria
to save the holy relics from Viking raids on Lindisfarne.
John of Beverley, d. 721
one of five monks trained by Hilda of Whitby. In 687, he was consecrated bishop of
Hexham, where he was particularly concerned for the poor and disabled. One young man, who was mute, began to speak
after John taught and prayed for him.
He became bishop of York
in 705 and founded a monastery in a forest, which is now Beverley. Signs and wonders accompanied his ministry
which were recorded by both Bede and Alcuin.
King Athelstan invoked his prayers and Julian of Norwich drew inspiration from his life.
Julian of Norwich, Anchoress and mystic, d. 1417
Julian’s real name is not known, but she became an anchoress in a cell close
to the Church of St Julian in Norwich, which is how she came to be called
Mother Julian. She had a servant and a
cat and people used to seek her advice and guidance from her cell
window. At the age of 30, apparently
dying, she experienced a series of 16 visions, which revealed aspects of the
love of God. Following her recovery,
she spent the next twenty years reflecting on the meaning of her
visions. These reflections are
recorded in her book The Revelations of
Divine Love, which is the first book written by a woman in English. She is attributed with having helped to
recover contact with the feminine aspect of God, something that was stronger
in the Celtic tradition but which had almost disappeared.
Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury,
lived near Glastonbury monastery and the urging of a saintly uncle, he
entered into the monastery. He devoted
his work time to music, illuminating and metalwork. In 943, he was made abbot and brought about
a revival of monastic life in England. He became Archbishop of Canterbury
under the reign of King Edgar and helped to bring about balance, discipline
and education within the English
Collect: Almighty God, who raised up Dunstan to be
a true shepherd of the flock, a restorer of monastic life and a faithful
counsellor to those in authority: give to all pastors the same gifts of your
Holy Spirit that they may be true servants of Christ and of all his people;
through Jesus Christ your son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Alcuin of York,
was raised in Northumbria and later joined the cathedral school at York,
where he became its leader. In 781, he
went to Aachen
as advisor on religious and educational matters to Charlemagne. As head of the Palace
School, he established a major
library and in 786 he became abbot of Tours. He wrote poetry, revised the Church’s
lectionary and wrote numerous letters and prayers which form a significant
part of the corpus of the Anglo
Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury, Bishop of
Sherborne, d. 709
Aldhelm was a member of the Wessex
royal family and became a monk at Malmesbury and then its Abbot. He had great skills both as an administrator
and as a writer and his verses set to music drew great crowds to church and
were praised by King Alfred. He
established communities at both Frome and Bradford-upon-Avon and became the
first Bishop of western Wessex
when the kingdom was invaded and divided in 705.
Bede, Monk and first English historian, d. 735
age of seven, Bede was educated at the Northumbrian monasteries of Wearmouth and then Jarrow, where he spent the rest of his
life as a monk. He said that his
special delight was ‘to learn, to teach and to write’. He wrote many works, the most famous of
which is his ‘Ecclesiastical History of
the English People’ without which we would know so little of the early English Church. His other main text is his ‘Lives’ of saints, especially St
Cuthbert. One of the most touching
stories about him is actually from his death bed. He had been translating a work of Isidore and St
John’s Gospel and as he dictated the last sentence
to his young scribe, he said ‘and now it is finished’. He then recited the phrase ‘Glory be to the
father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit and whilst still kneeling in prayer
he died. It was Ascension Day.
Augustine, Apostle to Kent and first Archbishop of Canterbury,
a lovely story about how Pope Gregory I encountered a young Anglo Saxon slave
in Rome. Asking his assistant what tribe the boy
came from, he was told that he came from the Angels; a pun on Angles. Discovering that these people were still
heathen, Pope Gregory decided to go personally to England to evangelise them. However, due to events of state he was not
able to and so sent Augustine in his place.
Initially reluctant, Augustine and his party landed in Kent in 597
and were received by King Ethelbert and his already Christian wife, Queen
Bertha. Ethelbert was suspicious and
chose not to convert himself, but allowed his people to if they chose
so. Eventually, Ethelbert himself
converted and Canterbury became the main see
which it remains to this day.
Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and is accredited with many good
works and miracles. However, he failed
to persuade the British bishops to form a unified Church and separate Roman
and Celtic structures remained until their union following the Synod of Whitby.
Eadfrith, Illuminator of the Lindisfarne Gospels, d. 721
Eadfrith was a monk of Lindisfarne, who became its
abbot and then its bishop. He
transcribed and illuminated the Lindisfarne
Gospels to the glory of God and St Cuthbert in 698. Drawing together Anglo Saxon, Irish and
continental influences, this masterly work has been described as the first
manifesto of the English
Church. Eadfrith himself
has been described as the first personality of English art history. His relics are buried in Durham cathedral.
Boniface, Martyr and Apostle to the Germans, d. 754
was a monk from Exeter,
but became a missionary to the Germans and Franks. This was at a time that the Anglo Saxon
English considered the continental Saxons to be their unconverted kith and
kin and so they felt a special responsibility to bring them the good news of
the Gospel. He became Bishop of Hesse and then Archbishop of Mainz, where he was martyred by hostile
pagans. He was renowned for his
courage, zeal, administrative skills and, of course, his handsome features
which gave him his name!
Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely, d. 679
Etheldreda was the
daughter of King Anna of the East Angles.
She felt called to God and to remain a virgin, though she was forced
to marry. On the early death of her
husband, she retired to the isle of Ely which had been given to her as her
dowry. In 660, she was again forced to
marry for political reasons, this time the 15 year old Ecfrith,
King of Northumberland. At first, he
agreed to her remaining a virgin but after 12 years changed his mind. However, Etheldreda
refused all advances and bribes. Aided
by Bishop Wilfred, she left Ecfrith to become a nun
under her aunt at Collingham before going on to
found a double monastery on the site of the present cathedral at Ely in
673. Although from a rich and
privileged background, Etheldreda lived a simple
life, wore woollen clothes, ate just one meal a day and devoted her time to
prayer. Seventeen years after her
death, her body was found to be incorrupt.
Bartholomew of Farne, d. 1193
Born in Whitby of Scandinavian parents, Bartholomew became a
monk in Durham after being a parish priest and
spending time in Norway. Following a vision of Christ on the cross
stretching his arms out to him, Bartholomew became a hermit on the island of Inner Farne
where he remained for 45 years. Like
Cuthbert, he was known for his constant cheerfulness and sang loudly as he
tended his crops and manuscripts. He
was apparently difficult to live with, but was generous to all and inspired
awe amongst visitors for his godliness.
Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, d. 862
Swithun was chaplain to King
Egbert of Wessex
and mentor to his son Ethelwulf who succeeded him
as King. Ethelwulf
made him Bishop of Winchester, the capital of Wessex. Swithun became
famous for his charity and for building new churches. He established a small monastic community
on the site of the present day cathedral, where his remains were placed after
his death. His relics are associated
with all manner of cures. Swithun is also associated with prolonged periods of
rainfall, giving rise to the well known saying that
if it rains on St Swithun’s day, it will rain for
Helier & Marcoul, first hermits
of Jersey, 6th century
was a Saxon who became a monk at the monastery of Nanteuil
after being expelled by his pagan father.
Here, he placed himself under the direction of Marcoul,
a fellow Saxon from whom he gained a great love of the solitary life. Marcoul sent
Helier to live as a hermit in a high cave on a rocky part of the island of Jersey. Marcoul then led
a mission to convert the people of Jersey
and founded a monastery there. Marcoul successfully led the islanders to defend Jersey against pagan invaders, although some later
returned to the island and killed Helier as he preached the Gospel to
them. St Helier is the capital of Jersey.
Joseph of Arimathea and the Saints of Glastonbury
was Jesus’ uncle and a rich tin merchant.
It was his burial place that Jesus was placed in after the
crucifixion, an act that would not have been without its dangers at that
time. As Jerusalem’s Christians
scattered following the crucifixion, tradition has it that Joseph came to
south western Britain which he would have known well because of his extensive
dealings with the Cornish tin trade.
According to tradition, Joseph brought with him the cup of the last
supper, the mysterious Holy Grail symbolising the Eucharist and founded a
church at Glastonbury. This story is backed up by the British monk
Gildas, who wrote that the Light of Christ came to these islands within a
decade of Christ’s death. Some
traditions hold that Joseph brought the young Jesus to these islands as a
young boy – the period of his life not covered by the Gospels. Glastonbury
was an island when Joseph went there and became the Avalon of legend that
symbolises the spiritual heart of England. And at this spiritual heart of England lies the Holy Grail symbolising the
establishment of a new covenant through the body and blood of Our Lord right
here in the heart of Holy England.
Neot, Monk and Hermit, d. 877
Neot became a hermit on Bodmin
Moor at the place named after him, where he founded a small monastery. He was an advisor to King Alfred and is
said to have advised that the English
School in Rome be revived. He also appeared to Alfred in a vision
before the important battle of Ethandun. He was so small that he had to stand on a
stool to celebrate the liturgy, yet h stood daily in a well reciting
psalms. It is said that he ate one
fish a day from his well and yet three always swam in it. His relics were taken to a monastery in
which is also named after him.
Oswald, King and Martyr, d. 642
was a Northumbrian prince who was forced to live as an exile whilst his pagan
uncle ruled his lands. He was baptised
in Iona and made a vow that if he ever gained the Northumbrian throne, he
would invite the monks of Iona to send a
mission to convert his largely pagan kinsfolk. These things did in time come to pass and,
following one unsuccessful attempt, he received and supported a mission by
Bishop Aidan of Iona. Oswald was himself a humble and prayerful
man, who cared for the poor and died in battle praying for his soldiers. Many Churches throughout Europe
have been dedicated to him.
Lide, hermit of the Isles of Scilly, d. 10th
or 11th century
Lide, or Elidius, was a hermit and is patron of the Isles of
Scilly, giving his name to the capital of St Helens. Remains of his hermitage and tomb have been
found here. There is a tradition that Lide was the seer who was visited by a Viking raider,
Olaf Tryggvason, and who told him that he would
become a great King and bring many men to faith and baptism. He foretold that before this came to pass,
Olaf would be almost killed in a great battle, but would be carried on a
shield to his ship, overcome his wounds after seven days and immediately be
baptised. When all this did come true,
Olaf was baptised and stopped attacking England. He eventually returned to his native Norway, where
he built the first churches and converted many of his pagan kinsfolk. However, many of these people were
forcefully converted or tortured and executed if they refused.
Oswin, King, d. 651
Oswin was King of northern
Northumbria and, like his uncle Oswald, worked closely with Bishop Aidan to
evangelise his largely pagan people.
Bede describes him as “a man of handsome appearance and great stature,
pleasant in speech and courteous in manner.
He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of
all by his kingly qualities of mind and body”. It was Oswin who
gave Aidan the expensive horse that he then gave to a beggar. However, Aidan prophesised that such a
humble king would not rule for long and indeed it was not long after that he
was killed at Tynemouth by his uncle Oswy who
wanted to rule the whole of Northumbria. To assuage his guilt, Oswy
built a monastery there.
Ebbe, d. 683
Ebbe was King Oswald’s
sister and like him was nurtured in the faith at Iona. She became the first Abbess of the
monastery for men and women of noble blood at Coldingham
– an Anglo Saxon town now in modern day Scotland. Ebbe was aunt to
King Egfrith’s first wife, Etheldreda,
who lived for a time at the monastery before founding her own at Ely. Ebbe became known
as a holy and discerning person. In
her old age, she spent much of her time in her oratory and the monastery
became somewhat lax. So in an attempt
to tighten up discipline, she permitted a monk’s prophecy to circulate that
the monastery would be burnt down, which it was in 686. August 25 is also held as the day that the
remains of Ebbe’s friend, Abbess Hilda, were
enshrined at Whitby.
Sebbi, King and Monk, d. 694
Sebbi was King of the East Saxons and restored the Christian faith to his
lands and people following the return to heathenry of his predecessor. He was noted for his prayers, his penance
and generous alms giving. He is
reputed to have built the first monastery at Westminster
and to have been buried in the original Cathedral of St
Paul in London. He gave up his throne to become a monk
shortly before his death.
Aidan, Apostle to the English, d. 651
was an Irish monk who joined the community founded by Columba at Iona. In 631, he
was chosen to lead a mission to the English
Kingdom of Northumbria
by King Oswald. Aidan was known as a
devout and ascetic man who spent much of his time in prayer and
meditation. He established a small
monastery on the Island
and the first school for English boys.
He gave alms to help the poor and to slaves to buy their freedom. His mission became so popular that clergy
flocked into this part of England
and established many more churches.
Drithelm is said to have been
the head of an upright, godly family in Northumberland who came back to life
after being declared dead. He told of
a journey to those in misery and those in bliss in the next world. He radically altered his own life, giving
his money to his family and the poor and becoming a hermit in the grounds of Melrose monastery. Each day he would stand in the River Tweed reciting psalms, even when it was icy. His story is recounted by Bede and this is
the first account of life beyond the grave in Anglo Saxon England.
Pope Gregory the Great, d. 604
was an administrator of the City of Rome
in 583 and became Pope in 590. He was
a kindly man, known as a peacemaker and inspired music and chant into
liturgical life. The legend, recounted
by Bede, tells that one day he saw a couple of young boys with golden
hair. Turning to his aide, he asked
what tribe they were from. ‘Angli’ came the reply.
To this, Gregory responded, “Non Angli, sed Angeli” (‘they’re not Angels, they’re Angels’). Asking if their folk were Christian, the
aide replied that they were still heathen and Gregory then determined to
bring the gospel to ‘evangelise’ these Angels. It was this encounter that prompted Gregory
to send Augustine on a mission to England and which formed the
basis of the Roman strain of Christianity in the English tradition. It was this same Gregory, who when asked
what to do with the heathen temples, instructed the idols to be removed but
the buildings and the customs to be preserved as an offering to the true God. This had the effect of preserving and
integrating several folk customs into the English Church
and helping to form the basis of Saxon or Germanic Christianity. Gregory was, and still is, remembered
fondly throughout England.
Bega, Abbess, d. 7th Century
Bega (or Begu) became a friend and disciple of Hilda, who
appointed her the Abbess of her daughter monastery at Hackness. Here, she had a vision of Hilda being
escorted to heaven before news had been received of her death. Legend says that Bega
was the beautiful daughter of an Irish king who fled to Northumbria rather
than enter into a forced marriage.
Here, she founded a hermitage on the coast which is now named after
her at St Bees. A monk there wrote
about her relics being transferred to Whitby
and of miracles then taking place.
Eanswyth, founder of England’s first convent, d.
Eanswyth was the daughter of a
king of Kent, who refused o marry in order to
become a ‘bride of Christ’. She
founded a convent in Folkestone, which as far as is known, was the first in England. It was destroyed by Vikings, but the Church
was restored by King Athelstan. Her
remains were found in the present Church
of Saints Mary and Eanswyth in Folkestone.
Edith of Wilton,
was a daughter of King Edgar of Kent
and was brought up at the royal abbey of Wilton.
Refusing opportunities to become Queen or Abbess, she chose to live a
simple life with her mother at Wilton. Here she helped the poor, tended wild
animals and meditated on Christ’s passion in her prayer cell. She died young at the age of just 23.
Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury,
was sent to England as
Archbishop of Canterbury
from the near east to try to unify the Celtic and Roman divisions and to help
after a terrible plague. He spent much
time travelling up and down the country and instituted a unified system
through the synod of Hertford and established a school for clergy at Canterbury. He created a missionary diocese to the
northern Picts but is best remembered as a holy and
scholarly man who, despite his own foreign origins, was he first Archbishop
to command the allegiance of all the English.
Ceolfrith, Abbot of Jarrow, d. 716
a monk at Gilling in North
Yorkshire before joining the monastery founded by Wilfred at Rippon. He is
particularly known for his cooking skills, which were in much demand, but he
was also a very learned man and an expert on church affaires. He was invited by Benedict Biscop to join the monastery at Wearmouth
where he was soon appointed prior and then acting Superior.
In 682, he was made first Abbot of the twin monastery of Jarrow, where
he became mentor to the young Bede. A
terrible plague killed most of the monks there and Ceolfrith
and Bede were left to celebrate mass on their own. In 689, he was made Abbot of both
monasteries following the death of Benedict Biscop. During his time here, the number of monks
expanded greatly to over 600 and the library that made Bede’s work possible
was established. His greatest project
was the compilation of three single-volume editions of the bible, of which
the only surviving copy is the Codex Amiatinus. Although very old, he undertook to carry
one copy to the Pope personally.
However, the onset of war on the continent prevented him from getting
to Rome and he died in Germany.
Iwi, hermit and miracle worker, d. 7th C
a monk on Lindisfarne
at he time of Cuthbert and who asked permission to
become a pilgrim for the love of God.
He got into a boat and trusted that wherever it landed he should make
his hermitage. The boat landed in Brittany where his
healing powers and holiness where known for many years. His relics can be found in Wilton Abbey.
Paulinus, Bishop, d. 644
Paulinus was one of the
Bishops sent by Pope Gregory the Great to help Augustine convert the
English. He moved to Northumberland
with Princess Ethelburga when she agreed to marry
King Edwin. He preached and built
churches throughout the region but was forced to return to Kent after
Edwin’s death in battle in 633. Paulinus is one of the great architects of north east
Edwin, King and Martyr, d. 633
was the first pagan King of Northumberland to embrace Christianity. He spent most of his youth in exile,
probably in Wales,
whilst his relative Æthelfrith ruled in
Northumberland. By 616, Edwin was
reportedly in East Anglia,
under the protection of King Rædwald. Bede tells us that Æthelfrith
urged Rædwald to murder the young Edwin, which was
minded to do until persuaded otherwise by his wife acting under divine
guidance. In 616, Æthelfrith
was killed in battle against Rædwald and Edwin was
placed on the Northumbrian throne. He
proposed marriage to Ethelburga of Kent, who agreed
provided she could bring her Christian chaplain with her ad that he could preach
and baptise. She also asked that Edwin
himself would consider becoming a Christian.
According to Bede, the decision to convert was made following the
counsel of his chief pagan advisor, Coifi, who said
that the new religion should be adopted if it could explain the mysteries of
before and after life. His efforts at
unifying and christianising north eastern England did
not last long after his death and his successor, Osric,
reverted to paganism. He was Abbess
Wilfred, Bishop, d. 709
was trained at Aiden’s monastery on Lindisfarne,
but following visits to Canterbury and Rome, he turned against what he saw as
the insularity of the Celtic tradition.
An intelligent and active man, he established churches whose
buildings, clergy and liturgy reflected Roman splendour and order. His dominant role at the Synod of Whitby was largely
responsible for the victory of the Roman party. He became Bishop of York, then of Hexham and spent his later
years in Rippon.
His gift to the English
Church was to make it
more clearly part of the universal and catholic Church, but his abrasive
manner and methods did not endear him to the people. Wilfred is honoured by anglo
saxon anglicans for his
significant contribution to enriching English church life and liturgy. But, whilst we accept that our tradition
should not shut itself off completely from the outside world, we look
strongly to that cosy, family and community orientated Celtic Christianity
and its somewhat insular outlook.
Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking, d. 675
brother, Erconwald, who was Bishop of London,
founded a monastery for women and men at barking and appointed her
Abbess. She was noted for the care she
gave to her sisters in Christ and is associated with many miracles. On one occasion, whilst singing praises at
the tombs of brothers who had died of the plague, a sudden sheet of light
illuminated her and her companions and then slowly moved to the south side of
the monastery. This was taken as a
sign from God for the siting of a cemetery for women, which Ethelburga established.
Frideswide, Abbess of Oxford, d. 727
Frideswide was the
daughter of the local ruler of West Oxfordshire. He endowed Minster churches at Bampton and Oxford and Frideswide became the first abbess in charge of a double
monastery for both women and men at Oxford. According to legend, she avoided seduction
by the King of Mercia (her
father’s overlord) by escaping to a forest retreat at Binsey
and then to Oxford. She is said to have performed a miracle for
her father by successfully praying for him to regain his sight after he had
become blind. The Oxford
monastery became the largest landowner and the most influential centre in the
region, paving the way for the establishment of Oxford University. Frideswide was
made patron of Oxford University in the early 15th century and her
reconstructed shrine at Christ church, Oxford
still attracts pilgrims.
Acca, Monk and Bishop of Hexham, d. 732
Acca was a companion and
disciple of Bishop Wilfred, who on his death bed named Acca
as his successor at Hexham. He was a
fine singer, finely adorned many church buildings following Wilfred’s example
and supplied Bede with a great deal of source material.
Alfred the Great, King, Founder of Monasteries and Translator,
became King of Wessex
in 871 and in this year the English suffered two defeats at the hands of the
Danes. Alfred managed to hold on to
his reduced Kingdom and a period of peace ensued for the following five years
as the Danes sought to consolidate their hold on the rest of England. However in 876, under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes managed to slip past the English army
and attack Dorset. The following year, they advanced steadily
westwards under the pretext of peace talks into Devon. The fledgling English navy blockaded the
Danes at this point and after a relief fleet was scattered by storms, the
Danes were forced to retreat back into Mercia. However, they launched a surprise attack on
the royal party at Chippenham over Christmas in 878, killing many
people. Alfred managed to escape into
the woods and swamp land, eventually establishing a fort at Athelney.
Alfred’s escape through the woods has given rise to one of the best
known of English legends. This tells
of Alfred being given shelter by an old peasant woman, who being unaware of
his identity, left him to watch over some cakes she was cooking on the
fire. Alfred was so busy working out a
strategy to defeat the Danes that he forgot all about the cakes and they
burned to a cinder. On her return, the
old woman told Alfred off in no uncertain terms, but apologised profusely
when she realised who he was. Alfred,
however, insisted that it was he who should apologise. Cakes or no cakes, Alfred organised n effective resistance to the Danes from his fort at Athelney and slowly drove them back, not just out of
Wessex but out of Mercia too.
between the English and Danes continued off and on for another 10 years or
so, but under Alfred, the English were to prove a much stronger adversary and
won most of the battles. By 896 or
897, the Danes gave up the struggle in southern England and either retired into
Northumberland or returned to the continent.
was therefore a great military leader who reversed the precarious position
regarding the Danes and is credited with establishing the Royal Navy as well
as a type of rapid response force on land and sea that was able to repel the
deadly Danish lightening attacks.
However, Alfred was not just a great military leader. He was also a man of great learning and culture. The story of the burnt cakes is intended to
show this. The Danes destroyed
monasteries and ruined learning and education in the country. Alfred tried to revive all of these. He was clearly a man of great learning
himself and urged the clergy to improve their own education and to restore
something of the golden age of English Christianity. He gave half his income to founding
Christian communities which, during or after his lifetime, developed
education and care for the poor, the sick and travellers. He gathered around him a team of Christian
scholars who made or provided translations into English of great spiritual
and classical works. He personally
translated works of philosophy and religion into English and commissioned
others to do the same, including several books of the bible. He drew on the 10 Commandments for his
laws, which form the basis of the common law is still (though only just in England
itself) in use today. He made an
effort to re-establish monastic life, which had become almost extinct, and in
this he was partially successful. As
part of a peace treaty with the Danes, he insisted on the baptism of the
Danish King Guthrum.
Eata, Abbot of Lindisfarne and Bishop of Hexham, d. 686
Eata was one of the first
twelve English boys educated by Aidan at Lindisfarne.
He became a monk and eventually abbot of Melrose, where he trained Cuthbert. In the 650’s, the King gave land at Rippon for a monastery and Eata,
Cuthbert and others set it up.
However, Eata returned to Melrose in 661 when Bishop Wilfred decided
to Roman rule there. Following the
synod of Whitby ad the death of Tuda after a few months as Lindisfarne’s
Abbot, Eata became Abbot himself with Cuthbert as
his Prior. Here they worked within the
new roman framework. Eata was Bishop of Hexham between 668 and 671 and bishop
of Lindisfarne from 681 to 685, but returned to
Hexham in 685 to enable Cuthbert to become Bishop of Lindisfarne.
he is buried at Hexham and was described as a man of peace and
the custom on the eve of all Hallows (Hallowe’en)
to honour the lives local people who, although may not have been made
official Saints, nevertheless left a mark of holiness in their local
area. Some Churches keep a book of
their local saints down through the ages and they are remembered on this
day. anglo saxon
anglicans also encourages the honouring of local angels and wardens who
guide and protect us at this time.
earliest days, the Church has recognised and honoured those who have by their
faith and lives become Godlike in the kingdom of heaven and who intercede for
us today and inspire our own lives.
The festival dates back to the fourth century and was moved to 1
November in the ninth century.
All Souls and Ancestors
pre-Christian ancestors regularly honoured their ancestors and, as a tribal
society, placed great weight on the continuum of ancestors, people living
today and those still to come. His
tradition simply refused to die out following conversion to Christianity and
so was absorbed into the feast of All Souls and Ancestors. The Ancestors element to the festival tends
to get played down, but anglo saxon
anglicans promotes this as the basis of a folk
faith within the Christian tradition.
On this day, therefore, we remember not just our own ancestors, known
and unknown, but those of our folk who have gone before us.
Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, Mother
of the English Church, d. 680
known as the mother of the English
Church and as a jewel
in the darkness. A niece of King
Edwin, she was baptised with him and many others in York at Easter 627. Her spirituality was shaped by Aidan and
she represents that part of the English
Church with strong
Celtic origins. At the age of 36, she
decided to become a nun and Aidan persuaded her to establish a community in Northumbria,
which she did. She first became an
Abbess of a small community by the river Wear, then of a larger one in
Hartlepool and then finally of the large double monastery for men and women
at Whitby. Bede describes her as a woman of great
energy and a fine teacher. It was
Hilda who encouraged the young cowherd Caedmon to become a poet and the first
known popular poet and singer in the English language. King Oswiu chose
her Abbey at Whitby to hold the famous synod
that was to determine the future path of the English Church
– Celtic or Roman. Like Cuthbert, she
accepted the King’s decision to favour the Roman practices. She suffered from fever for the last six
years of her life, but carried on working until her death on 17th
November 680 at what was then an advanced age of 66. Legend tells that at the precise moment of
her death the monastery bells tolled.
A nun called Begu also claimed to have
witnessed her soul being carried to heaven by Angels.
Egbert, Archbishop of York,
was the brother of Northumbria’s
King Eadbhert and was Bishop and then Archbishop of
732 and 766. It was during his time
that York became and archbishopric for the
first time since the early days of Christianity in northern England under
Bede describes him as truly faithful and imbued with divine
Edmund, King and Martyr, d. 869
Edmund became King of East Anglia whilst still a
boy. He was a popular King because of
he took care of the poor, heeded wise counsel and upheld justice. He took seriously the biblical injunction
that a king should not raise himself above the people, but she be one amongst
them (Ecclesiasticus 32:1). In 866,
the invading Viking armies caused severe damage to his kingdom, slaughtered
many people, including women and children, and raided many monasteries. The Danish King, Ingvar, sent a message to
Edmund that he should submit to him and share his kingdom and wealth if he
valued his life. Edmund sought advice
from a bishop who, fearing for the King’s life, advised that he submit to
Ingvar’s demands. After careful
thought, Edmund replied to the bishop, “Alas, dear bishop, the miserable people of this land
have been miserably treated, and I would now love to fall in battle, provided
that my folk might the land keep." And the bishop responded, "Alas,
my loved king, your folk lie slain and you have not the power that you may
fight, and these vile pirates come and kidnap those that are alive. Save
yourself by fleeing, or by so submitting to Ingvar." Then Edmund, full of bravery, said,
"This I want and wish with all my heart, that I do not live after my
beloved thanes in their beds, with their wives and children, have all been
slain by these murderous Vikings. Nor
was it ever that I might flee, but I would rather die if my country needs
such. Almighty God knows that I will
not turn from his worship, nor from his true love, whether I live or
Edmund then turned to the messenger and told him to
relay to Ingvar that he, Edmund, would never submit in this life to the
heathen warlord unless he submits to Christ first. There is some uncertainty whether Edmund
was captured in the ensuing battle itself or whether he was captured
afterwards. However, it seems that
Ingvar had given orders that Edmund should be captured and brought to him.
Brought to Ingvar’s hall, Edmund followed the example
of Christ in refusing to allow Peter to use his weapons. He was then tied up and gravely insulted,
then beaten with twitches and then bound to a tree and whipped
mercilessly. But with each stroke he
called out to Christ his faith and this enraged the Danes. They then thrust spears at him until he was
so covered by them that bede describes him as like
a hedgehog’s bristles just as St Sebastian was. But still Edmund would not submit and continued
to call out his faith in Christ.
Ingvar then ordered that Edmund be beheaded which he was. Bede tells that there was an eyewitness who
heard all of this and later told it to his own Abbott who related it directly
The Vikings hid Edmund’s severed head in the forest and
went back to their ships. The ordinary
people then came back and, seeing that his body had no head, set out to find
it. Bede tells the story of how God
sent a wolf to protect the head and as the people set out to search for it,
the head called out to them “here I am, here I am”. The wolf’s guardianship astonished the
people and, as they carried the head back, he followed them into the village
and then set back to the woods. Many
years later, when peace had returned to the land, the people built a Church
for St Edmund. They carried his body
to rest in the Church and found that it was whole as if he was still
alive. Indeed, his head was re-attached
to his body as though it had never been severed, with just a thin scar like a
red silk around his neck. It is said
that a widow called Oswyn, who lived by his shrine,
would cut his hair each year and trim his nails – keeping them as relics in a
chest by the alter.
Worship of St Edmund became very popular and Bishop
Theodore gave gifts of gold, silver and a monastery for his veneration. It then happened at one time that a band of
eight thieves set out to steal these treasures. They tried in vain to enter the monastery
but could not. Then the Saint
miraculously bound them where they remained until dawn. They were brought to the Bishop who ordered
that they be hanged on the high gallows, although he regretted this for the
rest of his life being mindful that he had not shown the mercy of
Another story tells
of a certain man, called Leofstan, who was rich and
ignorant of God. He rode out to the
saint with excessive arrogance, and very insolently ordered the saint to be
shown to him, so that he could see whether he was uncorrupted. As soon as he saw the saint's body, he
immediately went mad and roared horribly and miserably ended his life. The moral of this story is that the saint’s
body should only be viewed by those with honourable
and pure intentions.
Edmund is increasingly
been seen as the ‘true’ patron Saint of England and, whilst anglosaxonanglicans continues to recognise St George as a
mythical archetype of our native warrior hero, we also recognise the special
place of St Edmund as a real life English martyr and protector of our folk
Enfleda, Abbess of Whitby, d. 704
Enfleda was the daughter of
King Edwin, the first Christian King of Northumberland and Princess Ethelburga of Kent. She was baptised by Paulinus
at Pentecost in 621. At the age of
seven, she fled to Kent
with her mother after Edwin had been killed and paganism briefly returned to
the realm. In 642 Oswin,
then King of Northumberland as part of a plan to re-unite the kingdom. In 651, her husband murdered his brother
and Enfleda persuaded him to establish a monastery
at Gilling in penance. She became a patron of Bishop Wilfred and
followed the Roman calendar for Easter whilst her husband followed the
Celtic. This situation helped to bring
about the Synod of Whitby. After Oswin’s
death in 670, she became a nun at Whitby
under Hilda and, with her daughter, succeeded her as Abbess.
Alnoth of Stowe, Hermit and Martyr, d. 700
Alnoth was a cowherd
attached to the monastic community of Werburga at Weedon in Northamptonshire. He became a hermit in the nearby woods of
Stowe where he was murdered by thieves.
His holy presence lingered for a long time in the area.
Edburga, Abbess of Minster, d. 751
Edburga was a princess who,
in 716, built a church and monastery at Minster-in-Thurness
where Mildred had established a group of nuns. After she was buried there, healing
miracles took place.
Hybald, Abbot in Lincolnshire, d. 7th
Hybald, or Higebald, was the spiritual father of a community in
Lincolnshire, perhaps at Bardney. Bede describes him as a ‘very holy and
abstemious man’. When on a visit to
his friend Egbert in Ireland,
Egbert told him how someone in Ireland had had a vision of St Cedd being taken to heaven at the time of his death. Hibaldstowe in
northern Lincolnshire takes its name from his
grave there and four Lincolnshire
churches have been dedicated to him.
Winnibald, Missionary and Abbot of Heidenham, d. 761
a monk amongst the West Saxons and spent much of his life in Germany with
St Boniface. Together with his
brother, Willibald, he founded a monastery in Heidenham
which was the only Christian community in Germany at the time. Including both men and women, it became a
centre of prayer, work and evangelism.
Winnibald narrowly escaped assignation by
pagans and thereafter suffered from ill health. After his death at Heidenham,
miracles are said to have occurred at his tomb.