Celtic and Old English Saints          5 August

* St. Oswald of Northumbria
* St. Abel of Rheims
* St. Gormgal of Ardoilen

St. Oswald, Missionary and Martyred King of Northumbria
Born, probably, 605; died 5 Aug., 642.
The second of seven brothers, sons of Ethelfrid, who was grandson of
Ida, founder of the Kingdom of Northumbria in 547. Oswald's mother was
Acha, daughter of Ella or Alla, who, after Ida's death, had seized Deira
and thus separated it from the Northern Bernicia. The years of Oswald's
youth were spent at home, as long as his father reigned, but when, in
617, Ethelfrid was slain in battle by Redwald, King of the East Angles,
Oswald with his brothers fled for protection from Edwin, their uncle,
Acha's brother, to the land of the Scots and were cared for at Columba's
Monastery at Hii, or Iona. There they remained until Edwin's death in
the battle of Heathfield (633). Eanfrid, his elder brother, then
returned to accept the Kingdom of Deira, whilst Osric, cousin of Edwin,
received Bernicia. The kingdom was thus again divided and both parts
relapsed into paganism. In the following year Osric was slain in battle,
and Eanfrid treacherously murdered by the British king, Cadwalla.

Oswald thereupon came down from the North, and in 635 a small but
resolute band gathered round him near the Roman Wall at a spot seven
miles north of Hexham, afterwards known as Hevenfelt, or Heaven's Field.
Here, encouraged by a vision and promise of victory from St. Columba,
who shrouded with his mantle all his camp, Oswald set up a cross of wood
as his standard -- the first Christian symbol ever raised in Bernicia --
and gave battle to the Britons, who were led, probably, by Cadwalla. The
Britons were completely routed, and thenceforth could only act on the

Oswald's victory reunited the Northumbrian Kingdom not only because he
delivered it from the humiliating yoke of the Mercians and Britons, but
also because on his father's side he was a descendant of Ida of Bernicia
and on his mother's of the royal house of Ella of Deira. Thus united,
Northumbria could not fail to become the chief power in a confederation
against Penda of Mercia and the Britons of Wales.

Oswald was thoroughly grounded in the principles of the Christian
religion, and, though but twelve nobles with whom he returned from exile
were Christians, far from abandoning his faith, his first care was to
spread it among the Bernicians, thus confirming the political union
effected by Edwin with a religious union unknown before. Edwin, it is
true, had himself received the Faith in 627, through the influence of
his wife Ethelburga, sister of the Kentish King, who had brought St.
Paulinus to the North, but his example was followed only by the people
of Deira.

Oswald, brought up in Columba's monastery at Iona, naturally looked to
the North for missionaries. The first preacher who set forth soon
returned, having found the Northumbrian people too barbarous and
stubborn. Then Aidan was sent, "a man of singular meekness, piety and
moderation", who established his episcopal see at Lindisfarne, in 635.
Oswald's zealous co-operation with the monk-bishop soon filled the land
with churches and monasteries, and the church at York, begun by Edwin,
was completed. Moreover, his wonderful humility in the midst of success,
his charity, and his piety soon had their effect in turning his subjects
from Woden to Christ. We are told that the king in his Court acted as
the interpreter of the Irish missionaries who knew not the language of
his thanes.

It was Oswald's work to add to the warlike glory of his father Ethelfrid
and the wise administration of his uncle Edwin the moral power of
Christianity, and to build up a great kingdom. Edwin had gathered the
whole English race into one political body and was overlord of every
English kingdom save that of Kent.

The Venerable Bede (III, 6) says that Oswald had a greater dominion than
any of his ancestors, and that "he brought under his sway all the
nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages,
namely the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the English". He had great
power in the North-West, as far south as Chester and Lancashire, and was
probably owned as overlord by the Welsh Kingdom of Strath Clyde, as well
as by the Picts and Scots of Dalriada. In the East he was supreme in
Lindsey, and the words of Bede seem to imply that he was overlord of
Mercia, which was still ruled by Penda; but this could have been
scarcely more than nominal. The West Saxons in the South, influenced by
the fear of Penda, readily acknowledged Oswald, their allegiance being
strengthened, in 635, by the conversion of King Cynegils, of Wessex, at
whose baptism Oswald stood sponsor, and whose daughter he married. Both
sovereigns then established Bishop Birinus at Dorchester.

This vast supremacy, extending from north to south, and broken only by
Penda's kingdom in Mid-Britain and that of the East Angles, led Adamnan
of Hii to call Oswald "The Emperor of the whole of Britain".
Christianity seemed to be forming a network round the pagan Penda of
Mercia. The kingdom of the East Angles, which was still Christian, but
acknowledged Penda as overlord, was necessary to Oswald to maintain the
connection between his dominions in the north and the south. War was
therefore inevitable.

At the battle of Maserfeld, said to be seven miles from Shrewsbury, "on
the border of Wales, near Offa's dyke", Oswald was slain on 5 Aug., 642,
and thus perished "the most powerful and most Christian King" in the
eighth year of his reign and in the flower of his age.

His last words were for the spiritual welfare of his soldiers, whence
the proverb: "God have mercy on their souls, as said Oswald when he
fell." His body was mutilated by Penda, and his limbs set up on stakes,
where they remained a full year, until they were taken away by Oswy and
given to the monks at Bardney in Lindsey. In the tenth century some of
the bones were carried off by Ethelred and Ethelfleda of Mercia to St.
Peter's, Gloucester. His head was taken from the battlefield to the
church of St. Peter in the royal fortress at Bamborough, and was
afterwards translated to Lindisfarne, where, for fear of the Danes, it
was placed in 875 in the coffin of St. Cuthbert, which found its resting
place at Durham in 998. It was in the
coffin at the translation of St. Cuthbert in 1104, and was thought to be
there when the tomb was opened in 1828. His arm and hand (or hands) were
taken to Bamborough and perhaps afterwards removed to Peterborough, and
were still incorrupt in the time of Symeon of Durham, early in the
twelfth century.

Reginald gives an account of his personal appearance: arms of great
length and power, eyes bright blue, hair yellow, face long
and beard thin, and his small lips wearing a kindly smile.
< http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11348c.htm >

Oswald laboured to bring order and law to his kingdom. He won great
reverence for his kingly virtues as well as his virtually monastic life
of prayer and devotion. He was famous for his care for the poor. A
beautiful story preserved by Saint Bede tells that Oswald was sitting at
dinner one Easter day, Saint Aidan at his side, when he was told a great
crowd of poor people were seeking alms at the gate. Taking a massive
silver dish, he loaded it with meat from his own table and ordered it
distributed amongst the poor, and ordered the silver dish to be broken
in fragments, and those too distributed to them. Aidan, Bede says, took
hold of the king's right hand, saying "Let this hand never decay!" His
blessing was fulfilled. After Oswald's death his incorrupt right arm was
preserved as a sacred relic.

See < http://www.orthodox.co.uk/oswald.htm >
for the full article

Service to the Holy Martyr Oswald, King of Northumbria

The Venerable Bede's account of St. Oswald

Wall painting of St. Oswald

Shrines of St. Oswald (with photos)

Troparion of St Oswald tone 5
Example to kings, champion of the Faith/ and missionary of God's Holy
Word,/ thou didst excel in spiritual virtues O Father Oswald./ With
Aidan's help thou didst lift from Northumbria the heavy yoke of
heathenism/ and fearing nothing, thou didst confront the forces of
darkness,/ thereby exchanging thy earthly crown for the crown of
martyrdom./ We who are blessed to have/ thy precious relics with us to
this day/ entreat thee for thy prayers/ that Christ our God will grant
us His great mercy.

St. Abel of Rheims, Bishop
Died c. 751. The English or Irish Saint Abel accompanied Saint Boniface
of Crediton in his evangelizing activities on the Continent. The Apostle
of Germany had Saint Abel appointed archbishop of the most important
sees of the Church--Rheims, in whose cathedral the French kings were
crowned. His election was ratified by the council of Soissons in 744 and
by Pope Saint Zachary. But Abel was never able to take possession of his
cathedra because another, Milo, was intruded. As Abel was forced out of
his diocese by warring factions, he retired to Lobbes in Belgium, where
he later became abbot. When he died, his tomb was embellished with an
episcopal cross and the fleur-de-lys of France (Benedictines, Montague).

St. Gormgal (Gormcal), Abbot of Ardoilen
Died 1016. An Irish abbot of the monastery of Ardoilen in Galway

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