Celtic and Old English Saints          12 October

* St. Fiech of Sletty
* St. Wilfrith of York
* St. Edwin of Northumbria
* St. Ethelburga of Barking

St. Wilfrid, Bishop and Confessor of York
(Wilfrith, Walfridus, Willferder)
Born in Ripon, Northumbria, 634; died at Oundle, in 709. Son of a
thane, Saint Wilfrid joined the court of King Oswy of Northumbria when
he was 13, and became a favourite of Queen Saint Eanfleda (f.d. November
24), who sent him to Lindisfarne for his education. There he become a
monk during the Celtic regime. He studied in Canterbury under Saint
Honorius (f.d. September 30) and became an adherent of Roman liturgical

Then he left England for Rome in 653-654 in the company of Saint Benet
Biscop (f,d, January 12). After a year at Lyons, where he refused an
offer to marry Bishop Saint Annemund's niece, he arrived in Rome, where
he studied under Boniface, Pope Saint Martin's secretary. Wilfrid's
studies here convinced him that his own Christian formation, rich in
traditional learning and spirituality, was in some respects bereft of
some important religious wealth.

He then spent three years at Lyons, where he received the tonsure, Roman
instead of Celtic style, but escaped with his life when Annemund was
murdered by Ebroin at Chalon-sur-Saone, because he was a foreigner.

He returned to England in about 660, he was appointed abbot of Ripon
monastery where he introduced the Roman observance, and was asked by
King Alcfrid of Deira to instruct his people in the Roman rite. When
the monks at Ripon decided to return to their native Melrose rather than
abandon their Celtic customs, Wilfrid was appointed abbot. He
introduced the Roman usage and the rule of Saint Benedict (f.d. July 11)
to the monastery, was ordained, and was a leader in replacing Celtic
practices with Roman in northern England.

The Synod of Whitby was convened at Saint Hilda's (f.d. November 17)
monastery at Saint Streaneschalch (Whitby) to determine the practices of
the Church in England. A primary question was the dating of Easter,
which had troubled many humble Christians in Britain because the Celtic
and Roman churches differed in how the date was determined. King Oswy
opened the synod by saying that all who serve the one God ought to
observe one rule of life.

Bishop Saint Colman of Lindisfarne (f.d. February 18) argued in favour
of the Celtic way. He pointed out that they derived their method of
calculating the date of Easter from Saint John the Beloved Apostle.
Saint Wilfrid countered: "Far be it from me to charge Saint John with
foolishness." Then he added that the Roman method derived from Saint

When he concluded, King Oswy said, "I tell you, Peter is the guardian of
the gates of heaven. Our Lord gave him the keys of the kingdom. I
shall not contradict him. In everything I shall do my best to obey his
commands. Otherwise, when I reach the gates of the kingdom of heaven,
he who holds the keys may not agree to open up for me."

When the Roman party triumphed at the council held in 664, largely
through his efforts, Alcfrid named him bishop of York, but since Wilfrid
regarded the northern bishops who had refused to accept the decrees of
Whitby as schismatic, he went to Compiegne, France, to be ordained.

Delayed until 666 in his return, he found that Saint Chad (f.d. March 2)
had been appointed bishop of York by King Oswy of
Northumbria; rather than contest the election of Chad, Wilfrid returned
to Ripon. But in 669 the new archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Theodore
(f.d. September 19), ruled Chad's election irregular, removed him, and
restored Wilfrid as bishop of York. He made a visitation of his entire
diocese, restored his cathedral, and instituted Roman liturgical chant
in all his churches.

Oswy was succeeded by King Egfrid, whom Wilfrid had alienated by
encouraging Egfrid's wife, Saint Etheldreda (f.d. June 23), in refusing
the king's marital rights and becoming a nun at Coldingham. At Egfrid's
insistence, the metropolitan Theodore in 678 divided the see of York
into four dioceses despite the objections of Wilfrid, who was deposed.

Wilfrid went to Rome to appeal the decision in 677--the first known
appeal of an English bishop to Rome. He spent the winter in Friesland
making converts, and when he arrived in Rome in 679 he was restored to
his see by Pope Saint Agatho (f.d. January 10)..

When Wilfrid returned to England in 680, Egfrid refused to accept the
pope's order and imprisoned Wilfrid for nine months. When freed he went
to Sussex. From Selsey he energetically evangelized the heathen South
Saxons, converted practically all the inhabitants, and built a monastery
at Selsey on land donated by King Ethelwalh.

On the death of Egfrid in battle in 685, Wilfrid met with Theodore, who
asked his forgiveness for his actions in deposing him and ordaining the
bishops of the newly formed dioceses in Wilfrid's cathedral at York.

In 686 Egfrid's successor, King Aldfrid, at Theodore's request, recalled
Wilfrid and restored him to Ripon, but the peace lasted only five years.
Aldfrid quarrelled with Wilfrid and exiled him in 691. Wilfrid went to
Mercia, where at the request of King Ethelred he administered the vacant
see of Litchfield.

In 703 Theodore's successor, Saint Berhtwald (f.d. January 9), at
Aldfrid's instigation, called a synod that ordered Wilfrid to
resign his bishopric and retire to Ripon. When he still refused to
accept the division of his see, he again went to Rome, where Pope John
VI upheld him and ordered Berhtwald to call a synod clearing Wilfrid.
Only when Aldfrid died in 705, repenting of his actions against Wilfrid,
was a compromise worked out by which Wilfrid was appointed bishop of
Hexham while Saint John of Beverly (f.d. May 7) remained as bishop of

Wilfrid died at Saint Andrew's Monastery in Oundle, Northamptonshire,
while on a visitation of monasteries he had founded in Mercia.

Saint Wilfrid was an outstanding figure of his time, a very able and
courageous man, holding tenaciously to his convictions in spite of
consequent embroilments with civil and ecclesiastical authorities. He
was the first Englishman to carry a lawsuit to the
Roman courts and was successful in helping to bring the discipline of
the English church more into line with that of Rome and the continent.
His vicissitudes and misfortunes have somewhat obscured his abilities as
a missionary, not only among the South Saxons but also for a brief
period in Friesland in 678-79; his preaching there may be taken as the
starting point of the great English mission to the Germanic peoples on
the European mainland (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Colgrave,
Delaney, Duckett, Encyclopaedia, Webb).

In art, Wilfrid is presented as a bishop either (1) baptizing; (2)
preaching; (3) landing from a ship and received by the king; or (4)
engaged in theological disputation with his crozier near him and a
lectern before him. Venerated at Ripon, Sompting (Sussex), and Frisia

St. Edwin, King and Martyr
Born c. 585; died October 12, 633. Son of King Aella of Deira (southern
Northumbria, Yorkshire area), Saint Edwin was only three when his father
died. The saint was deprived of the throne by King Ethelfrith of
Bernicia (North Northumbria), who seized Aella's kingdom. Edwin spent
the next 30 years in Wales and East Anglia. As a young man he married
Cwenburg of Mercia by whom he had two sons. Finally in 616, with the
help of King Baedwald (Redwald) of East Anglia who had hosted him during
his exile, Edwin was restored to the throne by defeating and killing
Ethelfrith at the Battle of Idle River.

Edwin ruled ably and, in 625, after the death of his first wife, married
Ethelburga, sister of King Eadbald of Kent, and a Christian. At first
his embassy seeking her hand was rebuffed because he was not a
Christian. But eventually a contract was reached wherein Ethelburga
would be permitted the freedom to practice her religion and Edwin would
seriously consider joining her in faith. With the agreement made,
Ethelburga brought with her to Northumbria her confessor, Saint
Paulinus, a Roman monk who had been sent by Pope Saint Gregory the Great
to help Saint Augustine in the conversion of England and who had just
been consecrated bishop of York. The bishop also saw this as an
opportunity to spread the faith in the northern parts of the island.

The thoughtful and melancholy king was not naturally inclined to
impetuous acts and, thus, it took some time before his conversion. The
examples of Christian virtue displayed by his wife and her chaplain
played an important role in his decision, but three specific events were
determinative. First, an unsuccessful assassination attempt by the West
Saxons. Second, the abandonment of paganism by Coifi the high priest.
And, finally, a reminder by Paulinus of a mysterious experience Edwin
had undergone while in exile some years earlier.

Following these incidents, Edwin was converted to Christianity in 627,
and baptized by Paulinus at Easter (attested by Bede) after the birth of
a daughter. Many in Edwin's court and subjects in Yorkshire and
Lincolnshire also came to faith. Thus, began Christianity in
Northumbria. The idols and false gods had already been destroyed by the
high priest himself.

King Edwin established law and order in the kingdom and soon became the
most powerful king in England. He expanded his territory north into the
land of the Picts, west into that of the Cumbrians and Welsh, and into
Elmet near Leeds. The Venerable Bede relates that during the last year's
of King Edwin's reign there was such peace and order in his dominions
that a proverb said 'a woman could carry her newborn baby across the
island from sea to sea and suffer no harm.'

His intention to build a stone church at York (an unprecedented event in
those days) never materialised when his kingdom was invaded by pagan
King Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon of North Wales. Edwin was defeated
and killed at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633. This church was
constructed, enshrined his head, and became the centre of his cultus.

After his death, Northumbria reverted to paganism and Paulinus had to
conduct Ethelburga and her children by sea to safety in Kent, where for
the last 10 years of his life, he embellished his diocese of Rochester.
The massacres and chaos that followed Edwin's death ended with the
accession of Saint Oswald in 634.

Saint Edwin is viewed as a tribal hero, model Christian king, and
martyr. Although his feast was not included in any of the surviving
liturgical books of Northumbria, there was at least one ancient church
dedication in his honour. Pope Gregory XIII implicitly approved his
cultus by including Edwin among the English martyrs in the murals of the
English College at Rome.

Edwin's cultus had another locus at Whitby, which had a shrine of his
body, supposedly discovered by revelation and brought there from
Hatfield Chase. Whitby Abbey was governed in turn by Edwin's daughter,
Saint Enfleda, and his granddaughter, Saint Elfleda. It became the
burial site for the royal members of the house of Deira and the home of
Saint Gregory I's first biographer (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney,
Encyclopaedia, Farmer).

Another Life:

St. Edwin, King of Northumbria (AD 584-AD 633)

Edwin was a prince of the Deiran Royal family from Yorkshire, the
eldest son of King Aelle. After his father's death in 588, the
kingdom was annexed by the armies of King Aethelfrith from adjoining
Bernicia, Edwin was forced to flee and he "wandered secretly as a
fugitive through many places and kingdoms". He was still a boy when
tradition has him initially seeking sanctuary at the court of King
Iago of Gwynedd. Here he must have grown up alongside the King's sons
(an impossible legend says grandsons) and became a particular rival
of his foster-nephew, Prince Cadwallon. He may also have spent some
time at the Mercian Court. These people were the natural allies of
the Northern Welsh and it seems to have been around this time that
Edwin married Princess Cwenburga, daughter of King Ceorl of Mercia.
They soon had two children, Osfrith and Edfrith. With Aethelfirth now
secure in the North, in AD 613, he decided to try and root out Edwin
from Wales. The two forces clashed at the Battles of Chester and
Bangor-on-Dee. King Iago of Gwynedd and a number of other British
monarchs were killed in the fighting and Edwin felt it best to move
his family to the court of the Saxon Bretwalda, King Redwald of East
Anglia, in order to protect Cadfan, the new King of Gwynedd, from
further attacks. Aethelfrith sent envoys to Redwald with bribes and
threats and the mighty monarch was sorely tempted to give Edwin up to
his enemies. However, the Queen persuaded Redwald that this would be
shameful in the extreme. So, instead, in AD 616, the two raised an
army and marched North to engage the Bernicians on the banks of the
River Idle. The Northern army was thoroughly defeated and its King

Edwin immediately pressed forward his advantage and overran Bernicia
as well as his own homeland of Deira. Aethelfrith's sons (including
Princes Enfrith, Oswald and Oswiu) fled to exile in Gododdin and
Scottish Dalriada. The following year, the new monarch of a united
Northumbria decided to enlarge his kingdom still further by
conquering the British Kingdom of Elmet, and slaying King Ceretic in
the process. His armies also moved into Strathclyde and Gododdin
looking for Aethlefrith's eldest son, Enfrith, who was obliged to
move northwards into Pictland. It was almost certainly also Edwin's
armies which overran South Rheged and forced King Llywarch Hen and
his family to flee to Powys. It was supposedly during this conquest
period that he came into contact with the Royal House of North Rheged
and was baptized into the Christian faith by Prince Rhun. However, he
must have lapsed back into paganism soon afterward for, in AD 625,
Edwin married - traditionally on the site of St. Gregory's Church,
Kirknewton - the Princess Ethelburga sister of King Edbald of Kent
and, though he welcomed her personal chaplain, St. Paulinus, as
Archbishop of York, Edwin himself was a still pagan.

It seems that Edwin's Mercian wife had been put aside for no other
reason than political expediency. This, no doubt, led to much bad-
feeling in Mercia and the lady's cousin, King Penda, seems to have
allied himself with the kingdom of Wessex around this time. In AD
626, Prince Cwichelm of Wessex sent an assassin north to murder
Edwin. He was, however, saved from being stabbed by the timely
intervention of one of his thanes. By co-incidence, Edwin's daughter,
Enflaed, was born that same night and it is said that the King
promised to give her to St. Paulinus for baptism, if he was
victorious over the assassin's paymaster. Discovering Cwichelm's
treachery, Edwin marched on Wessex. Prince Cwichelm and his father,
King Cynegils of Wessex, marched north to meet the Northumbrians at
the Battle of Win Hill & Lose Hill (Derbys), probably with the aid of
King Penda. Despite their army's superior numbers, the Wessex duo
were defeated and fled south once more. Edwin, of course, kept his
promise to St. Paulinus.

Following his victory over Wessex, Edwin may have even been
acknowledged as overlord of all the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (save for
Kent). Bede certainly records that Edwin held imperium south of the
Humber. Soon afterward, he decided to extend his overlordship still
further into more British kingdoms. With a substantial fleet at his
disposal, Edwin conquered the Isle of Man, forcing King Anllech to
flee, before moving on to Gwynedd. His old foster-brother, King
Cadfan, had recently died and Edwin's seems to have been determined
to put his old rivalry with Cadwallon to bed once and for all. The
Northumbrian King conquered Anglesey and besieged his foster-nephew
on Puffin Island before finally forcing him to flee to Brittany.

Edwin then began to consolidate his position. At the Royal Court in
Yeavering, he allowed Paulinus to convert him to Christianity once
more. The King then travelled to York for baptism in Paulinus' proto-
Cathedral and persuaded all his nobles, as well as sub-Kings (such as
King Eorpwald of East Anglia) to follow suit: thus ensuring unity
within the country. It was a prestigious move which brought letters
and gifts from the Pope in Rome. Edwin also set about re-fortifying
York and the famous 'Anglian Tower' may date from this time. Though
this city might be considered Edwin's capital, he held a number of
important administrative centres and resided in them on a circuit
basis similar to that used by later Saxon and Norman Kings. The most
important were Yeavering in Bernicia, York and Catterick in Deira and
Campoduno (near Doncaster) in Elmet. Bede describes how Edwin would
travel around, preceded by a standard bearer "as he rode among his
cities, estates and kingdoms with his thegns. Further, when he walked
anywhere along the roads, there used to be carried before him the
type of standard which the Romans call a tufa and the English call a

Such peaceful times were not to last however. Trouble was brewing.
King Cadwallon of Gwynedd soon returned from the Continent looking
for revenge. In AD 633, he marched a great British army into the
North and clashed with the Northumbrians at Hatfield Chase. King
Edwin was killed in the fighting and the victorious Cadwallon went on
to decimate his country. Edwin's supporters managed to take his body
for burial in the Royal Abbey of Whitby. He was later revered as a
saint, and his head was translated to York Minster. The King's
family, however, fled to Kent and the kingdom was nominally divided
between Enfrith of Bernicia and Osric of Deira.

Troparion of St Edwin tone 4
Having accepted the true Faith, O righteous Edwin,/ thou wast found
worthy to exchange thy worldly crown/ for the crown of martyrdom/ at the
hands of the godless Mercians./ Inspired by thy example,/ we beseech
thee to pray that we may have the courage to fight evil in any form/
that we too may receive the reward of eternal blessedness.

St. Ethelburga (Aethelburh) of Barking
Born at Stallington, Lindsey, England; died at Barking, England, 678;
feast day formerly October 11; feasts of her translations on March 7,
May 4, and September 23 at Barking. The histories of the various saints
named Ethelburga are confused almost
beyond my ability to sort them one from another. Two, including today's
saint, are said to have been the daughters of King Anna of the East
Angles and died within 20 years of one another.

Not enough is known about Saint Ethelburga's life to make it remarkable
to commemorate it more than a thousand years after her death except that
she hailed from one of those incredibly holy families. Her eldest sister
Saint Sexburga, married King Erconbert of Kent and greatly influenced
her husband to order the complete abandonment and destruction of idols
throughout his kingdom. He issued an order that everyone should observe
the Lenten fasts.

Her sister Queen Saint Etheldreda was abbess of Ely. Her youngest
sister, Saint Withburga, took the veil after Anna died in battle and
live mostly in the convent she founded at Dereham. Her brother
Erconwald, who later became bishop of London, founded monasteries at
Chertsey, which he governed, and at Barking, over which he placed his
sister Ethelburga. A late tradition notes that Erconwald invited Saint
Hildelith to leave Chelles in France and serve as prioress at Barking in
Essex. She was placed in the difficult position of teaching Saint
Ethelburga the observance of monastic traditions while remaining in a
subordinate role. Eventually Ethelburga learned and governed alone as a
great abbess.

The Venerable Bede wrote that "she showed herself in every way worthy of
her brother, in holiness of life and constant solicitude for those under
her care, attested by miracles from above." He then relates several
unusual events that occurred shortly before the death of Ethelburga,
including the death of a three-year-old boy after calling out the name
Edith three times, and the cure of Saint Tortgith of paralysis after a
vision of Ethelburga (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer).

In art, Saint Ethelburga is depicted as an abbess holding Barking Abbey.
Sometimes she is shown with Saint Erconwald, her brother, or with Saint
Hildelith, who trained her (Roeder).

Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:

Orthodox Ireland Saints

These Lives are archived at:

Reply via email to