Anglo Saxon Saints
The 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, d.1167
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
Following 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, d. 714
Elfleda’s father, 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 turn. Elfleda 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. 704
When 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, d. 676
Colman 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 learning.
Ethelbert, King of Kent, d. 616
Ethelbert 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, d. 672
Chad trained 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 Century
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 earth.
Billfrith, Hermit and Goldsmith, d. 8th Century
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, d. 686
Eosterwine was a royal soldier under Northumbria’s King Egfrith. 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. 687
Herbert 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, d. 687
Often 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 Cathedral.
Æthelburh of Kent, d. 647
Æthelburh was the second wife of King Edwin of Northumbria. She was a Christian from Kent, the daughter of King Æthelberht and his wife Queen Bertha who had received the mission of Augustine. A condition of Æthelburh’s marriage to Edwin was that he would convert to Christianity and support Bishop Paulinus’ mission in the north east. On one occasion, when Edwin was wounded in battle, the then pregnant Æthelburh gave birth prematurely and both mother and child were in danger. Paulinus prayed for both queen and child and they both recovered. After this, 2 of the royal households, as well as the baby, were baptized by Edwin’s permission and request.
Kentish tradition holds that following Edwin’s death at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633, Æthelburh returned to Kent. She then established one of the first Benedictine nunneries in England, at Lyminge, near Folkestone, which she led until her death in 647, and where her remains were later venerated. Modern research has shown that the buildings at Lyminge were designed to contain a convent of monks as well as of nuns. The church is built from Roman masonry, and was possibly built out of the fragments of a villa, which was customary practice by Anglo-Saxons, or it may have been a Roman basilica.
Guthlac, Hermit of Crowland, d. 714
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. 1012
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
George is 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.
As April 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 cathedral, London.
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
John was 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
St 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, d. 988
Dunstan 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 Church.
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, d. 804
Alcuin 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 Saxon Church.
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
From the 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, d. 604/5
There is 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 of England 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
Boniface 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 in Winchester 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 40 days.
Helier & Marcoul, first hermits of Jersey, 6th century
Helier was a Saxon who became a monk at the monastery of Nanteuil in France 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
Joseph 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
A monk at Glastonbury, 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 eastern England which is also named after him.
Oswald, King and Martyr, d. 642
Oswald 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
Aidan 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 of Lindisfarne 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 from Ireland 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
Gregory 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. 640
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, d. 984
Edith 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, d. 690
Theodore 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
Ceolfrith became 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
Iwi was 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 English Christianity.
Edwin, King and Martyr, d. 633
Edwin 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 Hilda’s grandfather.
Wilfred, Bishop, d. 709
Wilfred 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
Ethelburga’s 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, d. 899
Alfred 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.
Warfare 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.
Alfred 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 simplicity.
It is 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.
From its 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
Our 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
Hilda is 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, d. 766
Egbert was the brother of Northumbria’s King Eadbhert and was Bishop and then Archbishop of York between 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 Paulinus. Bede describes him as truly faithful and imbued with divine wisdom.
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 die."
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 to Bede.
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 Christ.
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 lands.
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 century
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
Winnibald became 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.