Thursday, 31 May 2012

Was the Anglo-Saxon girl found buried with this cross Christian or Pagan?

by Lee Rimmer

The girl's body was buried in her wooden bed

The remarkably rare discovery of the grave of an of an Anglo-Saxon teenage girl buried on a wooden bed, with this gold and garnet cross on her chest, was widely reported this year(2012) and raises questions about whether her beliefs were Christian or Pagan.
Archaeologists at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit believe the mid-7th Century grave, uncovered at Trumpington Meadows near Cambridge, represents the threshold between Paganism and Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.  They also suggest that the type of burial and the quality of the cross itself could indicate that the girl was from a noble family recently converted to Christianity.

The girl’s body was buried in a bed – a wooden frame held together by metal brackets – and it may well have been the one she slept in in life, rather than one made specially for her funeral ceremony.  The evidence suggests that the bed was lowered first into the ground, and then her body laid on it.  A small group of bed burials have previously been discovered, all believed to be of women, all from the same region and the same 7th century period.  Bed burials are not found after the 7th century.
The gold cross was found on the girl’s chest and had probably been stitched into place on her gown.  She was also buried with an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were originally in a purse that has long since rotted away.  The idea of burying a body with possessions for the afterlife was an ancient Pagan tradition and counter to the Christian belief of soul and not body continuing after death.
The grave of the girl, thought to be about 16 years-old, was one of a group of four.  The three others, of two women aged around 20 and a slightly older person whose gender has not yet been identified, were more typical Anglo-Saxon burials with no indications of Christian artefacts or ritual.
The field where they lay, now being developed for housing at the edge of the village of Trumpington, hid a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement.  The fields have yielded a wealth of Bronze and Iron Age artefacts, but the Anglo-Saxon finds were a complete surprise.  The settlement comprised a 12 metre long timber hall and at least half a dozen other buildings and archaeologists believe it may have been a monastic settlement, although there are no records of any church earlier than the 12th century village church which overlooks the site.
The girl’s ornate cross, made of gold and studded with cut garnets, has been dated to between 650 and 680AD.  But is it an item of Christian devotion, as the Cambridge team believes, or is it a Pagan charm?
The red garnet in the centre of the piece could be interpreted as signifying the sun; sun crosses were a common symbol of worship among both Celtic and Germanic tribes in Europe from the early Bronze Age and probably long before.  The circular design, representing the Sun God or the Cycle of Life, also appear in various forms in ancient Egypt, China, pre-Columbian America, and the Near East.
Only a handful of Christian crosses from this period have ever been discovered.  One such piece was discovered in the coffin of St Cuthbert (c. 634 – 687 AD).  It is also made of gold and adorned with garnets; it was also found buried amongst the body’s robes on the breast.  In 2008, an 18-carat gold Anglo-Saxon cross dating from the 7th century was discovered by a metal detectorist in a field in Nottinghamshire, along with a Saxon penny.  The Canterbury Cross, a 9th century Byzantine bronze cross, discovered in Canterbury in 1867 is probably most similar in design to the girl’s cross.

St Cuthbert's Cross, Anglo-Saxon gold cross, and the Canterbury Cross
images - Durham Cathedral,, and Canterbury City Museums
Christians and Pagans co-existed in Anglo-Saxon England for many decades, and it probably took centuries for vestiges of the old beliefs to die away – if they ever did.  In fact most Christian holy days and practices were blended in with old Pagan festivals and beliefs to make them more acceptable to the new converts.  The cross belonging to the Anglo-Saxon girl and the Canterbury Cross most likely represent this mixing of the new Christian cruciform and the old Pagan solar design.
As far as the human remains are concerned, scientists now hope to analyse their DNA (if enough collagen still survives) to determine whether the girl and her companions in death were related as a family group.  Isotopic tests may aso reveal their diet and where they spent their early childhood.  Forensic examination of the girl’s bones show no obvious explanation for her early death.  It is possible that they all died at the same time – the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 664 AD “there was a great plague in the island of Britain”, which would have been around the same date that this group of young women were buried.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Orthodox Anglosaxons part II


Ebbsfleet, supposed site of the landing place of St Augustine
In 595 Pope Gregory chose St Augustine to head a mission from Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons of Kent. Ethelbert,the King of Kent, had already married a Christian princess called Bertha from Gaul. She brought with her to England Bishop Luidhard. Ethelbert at this time was the dominant power in the south east.
St Augustine had 40 men with him and landed, or so it is supposed, at Ebbsfleet, on the island of Thanet. Tthe king allowed him to settle and preach. The King was converted and many were baptised. The Pope granted St Augustine the pallium thus making his status that of an Archbishop.
St Mellitus was consecrated Bishop of London, the then capital of the East Saxons, and St Justus as Bishop of Rochester. Both came from Rome. St Lawrence was consecrated to succeed St Augustine. He died in 604. As London closed its doors, St Mellitus became the 3rd Archbishop of Canterbury. He died in 624. St Justus was the fourth Archbishop. All were buried in St Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury

Baptism of King Ethelbert by St Augustine in the river
Medway along with 2000 of his people
St Augustine and Ethelburt summoned the British bishops to a meeting. At their meeting St Augustine did not rise to greet them, and for lack of humility, as they saw it, they would not submit to him. The British also gave no heed to appeals from Mellitus and Justus.
In 624 St Justus consecrated St Paulinus as Bishop of York so that he could accompany St Ethelburga of Kent on her marriage to Edwin King of Northumbria. When Edwin was killed in 633 St Paulinus had to return and became Bishop of Rochester.
St Eanswyth founded the monastery at Folkestone in 630. It may have been the first all women only monastery in England. Her relics are still there beside the high altar.
St Ethelburga (637) founded the double monastery of Lyminge in Kent. There is a holy well in her honour.
Her sister St Edburga joined her here.

Monastic Church at Reculver
St Honorius, the fifth archbishop of Canterbury, may have consecrated St Felix to work in East Anglia. He died in
St Deusdedit was the first native (West Saxon) Archbishop of Canterbury. He founded a nunnery on Thanet and helped with the foundation of Peterborough. He died of the plague in 664.
At this time the Archbishop probably had little power outside of Kent.

St Theodore of Tarsus
Aidan Hart
St Theodore of Tarsus (690) was a Byzantine Greek living in a community of Eastern monks in Rome. He was consecrated the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury in 668. He introduced various forms in church life and also set up a school in Canterbury which led to a great increase in Anglo-Saxon scholarship in the monasteries. He died in 690.
St Bertwald was the first Anglo-Saxon abbot of the monastery at Glastonbury. The monastery had been founded probably in 7C and fell into Wessex hands when they advanced into Somerset. He was also abbot of the monastery at Reculver in Kent, and eighth Archbishop of Canterbury. He died in 731.

King Alfred the Great


By 870 all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had fallen to the Danes. Wessex alone was left and on its knees. The restoration of English fortunes began from there.
King Alfred (889) drove the Danes out of Wessex and out of West Mercia. One of the terms of surrender was that they became Christian.
Edward the Elder (924), Alfred's son, drove out the Danes out of the East Midlands and Essex and took control of Mercia. The Northumbrian Danes were defeated and gave no further trouble. By 918 all the Danes south of the Humber had submitted. The Norse, the Scots and Welsh all acknowledged Alfred as 'lord'.
Athelstan (939) Edward's son, ruled over all England south of the Humber. Within 10 years his power may have stretched to the Firth of Forth.
Wessex became England and, under Edgar (957-975), the King of Wessex, and King of England.

The Isle of Athelney
Somerset Marshes
King Alfred was impressed by the holiness and learning of Grimbald then prior of St Bertin in St Omer in Flanders. He invited him to England in 887 and, to begin with, he lived in a small monastery in Winchester in Hampshire
helping Alfred with his translations of important works.
Grimbald declined the offer of the see of Canterbury but was appointed first professor of divinity at Oxford. Under Edward he helped with the foundation of the New Minster at Winchester and became its abbot.
Alfred founded Athelney on the Isle of Athelney in the marshes of Somerset in 888 in thanksgiving for defeating the Danes. Its dedication to St Egelwine suggests it may have been built on an existing monastery or hermitage. But he could not find any monks from England to live there, so he had to get them from France.
He also founded Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset for women in 888 under his daughter St Ethelgiva.
However there is no evidence that these lasted til the revival under Edgar and Dunstan.
King Edward Elder founded Romsey Abbey in 907. Cerne Abbey founded same year on site of hermit St Edwold.

King Edgar
King Edgar (975) King of England reorganised the church and re-established monastic life. In this he had the support of three extremely capable bishops.
Monastic discipline had largely broken down, lay persons had acquired rights over monastic lands and properties and used them for secular purposes.
This state of affairs had arisen because of the the royal support for monasteries in which kings and queens had bestowed land and properties on the monasteries very generously. This had aroused considerable antagonism in the rest of society. It had made the monasteries targets for the unscrupulous.
This had been going on for a long time but the situation had deteriorated enormously with the Viking disruptions By the 10C a thorough reform was needed everywhere
Two things drove the reform: first the ever current need to re-emphasise the basic fundamentals of monastic life. The second was the awareness that the church and the world need effective intercessors.

St Plegmund's Holy Well, Plemstall near Chester
St Plegmund was a Mercian who lived as a hermit on the Isle of Chester amid the marshes at Plemstall near Chester. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 890 until 914. He was a scholar and probably supported in his life by a local community. He came to the notice of King Alfred, a scholar himself, who made great efforts to restore scholarship among his countrymen.
One of the works St Plegmund worked on for King St Alfred was the translation of St Gregory the Great's 'Pastoral Care'. When finished King Alfred sent a copy to every bishop in the Kingdom.
He made every shire in Wessex have its own bishop. He crowned King Edward, Alfred's son in 899. He reigned till 924.

St Dunstan - possibly a drawing done of himself
St Dunstan, as a boy, is said to have studied under Irish monks who then occupied Glastonbury, and as a young man lived there for a while in a small cell as a hermit. Kind Edmund the Elder made him abbot. Dunstan rebuilt the church and cloister and re-established the enclosure.
St Dunstan was appointed by King Edgar to be bishop of Worcester. He was also made bishop of London and then, in 960, made Archbishop of Canterbury. He became virtual prime minister of the Kingdom.
With the help of St Ethelwold of Winchester and St Oswald of Worcester, a concerted attempt to bring about reform in the monastic life was possible. They inculcated the spirit of self-sacrifice and enforced celibacy. Selling church offices was forbidden and appointing relatives to positions in the church. Secular canons were often replaced by monks.

Abingdon Abbey
St Ethelwold had been with St Dunstan at Glastonbury. But in 954 he was only deterred from going to a French monastery by being given the ruined monastery at Abingdon, a 7C Saxon foundation. His only help was three clerks from Glastonbury. He had to get help from Fleury and Corbie to get the skills of worship flowing again.
He reformed the cathedral at Winchester by removing the canons, depriving them of their income and replacing them with monks from Abingdon. These actions however aroused strong and sometime violent opposition.
St Ethelwold wrote, 'Fearing lest I should incur eternal misery if I failed to do the will of him who moves all things in Heaven and Earth, I have -- acting as the Vicar of Christ -- driven out the crowds of vicious canons from various monasteries under my control, because their intercessions could avail me nothing...and I have substituted communities of monks, pleasing to God, who shall intercede for us without ceasing'.

Glastonbury Abbey was in the forefront of the English reform
St Oswald spent eight years as a monk of the reformed monastery of Fleury, bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York.
The reform spread from three areas: Glastonbury, Abingdon and Worcester. Each one was under one of the three reforming bishops. There resulted 30 monasteries for men and 6 for women before the Normans came.
The significance of the reform is often overlooked: the bishops of the dioceses had to be monks and the monks elected their bishop as head of their community. This was a unique feature of the English reform as distinct from the continental ones. The result was that the monasteries had a dominant place in the life of the English church and they were not at odds either with the bishop or the king.
King Edgar died in 975 to be followed by a reaction to those who had lost out financially and politically. St Ethelwold in 984 St Dunstan in 988 and St Oswald in992. Unfortunately the progress made soon unravelled due to lack of oversight.

St Edith
St Edith (Eadgyth) was the daughter of King Edgar of England who had forcibly carried off her mother from Wilton Abbey. The King was not allowed to wear his crown for 7 years as a penance. Eventually her mother returned to the Abbey along with Edith and even became abbess.
St Edith refused the offer of the English crown. She died in 984. When her body was exhumed it was found to be incorrupt.
King Canute attributed his rescue from a storm at sea to Edith's prayers.
The small convent built of wood was destroyed by the Danes in 1033 then rebuilt in stone by the wife of Edward Confessor.

St Alphege
The Danes attacked in East Anglia in 991 and 994 but on both occasions the Anglo-Saxons bought them off.
St Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a monk who, when Bishop of Winchester, converted the Viking King Olaf. But he refused to allow the Danes to be bought off and was martyred by the Danes at Greenwich in 1012.
The English monarchy went into Danish hands with the invasion of King Canute in 1013. He ruled over a unified English Kingdom from 1016-1035. But in 1042 it reverted into English hands under Edward the Confessor.
Edward died in 1066 when Harold took the throne.

Shrine of St Edward the Confessor (1066).
He was the first Anglo-Saxon to be canonised
The reformers were never bold enough to touch his
shrine in Westminster Abbey

The crypt of Worcester Cathedral
built during the time of St Wulfstan.
St Wulfstan (1095) was of sufficient holiness that as the last Saxon bishop the Normans did not remove him.He worked with King William I and entered into the spirit of the reforms carried out under Archbishop Lanfranc.St Wulfstan encouraged St Aldwyn a hermit to build a monastery at Great Malvern in Worcestershire

St John of Beverley was canonised in 1037
Two differences between the old and the new monastic life stand out: the role of the 'Father' which had been so central under the old order, was much diminished. Rather the aim was a perfection of the priestly/liturgical life under a common discipline under a common Rule.
The freedom that pertained in the 'old' order was severly curtailed. Freedom had contributed to the decay of monasticism - as it always has done once faith, hope and love decrease. But freedom is also needed for the renewal of the tradition.
As Dom David Knowles said, in his great study of the Monastic Order in England, that from this reform 'until the final suppression of the monasteries in England in 1539 an unbroken series of generations lived the regular life and formed a sequence of tradition which remained in its essentials one and the same'.

The Cistercian Abbey at Rievaulx founded 1132
The monastic life experienced great renewal among the Cistercians, which began in 1098 and which flourished greatly under St Bernard.
The Cistercians emphasised solitude, poverty, simplicity and manual labour. They were extraordinarily successful. By the end of the 13C they numbered 500 houses, sometimes with 2 or 300 in a single monastery, and eventually it had nearly 750 houses.

The Carthusian Mount Grace Priory Yorkshire.
Each hermit had his own cell
But even when the monastic life wanes the hermit life increases. There is a clear continuity here with previous tradition.
The Carthusians are essentially communities of hermits.
The Carthusians were founded by St Bruno in 1084.
Each hermit left his cell 3 times a day to worship in the common chapel; they met together on Sundays and Feasts; individuals had no contact with the outside world.
The Carthusians have maintained their fervour and have needed reform.
It is quite unreasonable to deny the authenticity of the monastic life of both the Cistercians and Carthusians

A bishop blessing an enclosed anchorite
Anchorites were a very common feature of medieval England to be found in many towns - and some towns had a great number.
Medieval England produced real saints:
St Stephen Harding (1134) Cistercian
St William of York (1154)
Archbishop of York St Ailred of Rievaulx (1167)
Cistercian St Thomas Becket (1170)
Archbishop of Canterbury St Gilbert Sempringham (1190)
Canon regular St Hugh of Lincoln (1200)
Carthusian, canonised in 1220
St Richard of Knaresborough (1218) hermit
St Edmund of Abingdon (1240)
Archbishop of Canterbury St Richard Wych (1253)
Bishop of Chichester, canonised 1262
St Thomas Cantelupe (1282)
Bishop of Hereford, canonised 1330 St Simon Stock (13C) Carmelite
St John of Bridlington (1379) Canon Regular)
St John Fisher (1535) Bishop of Rochester
St Thomas More (1535)
St John Houghton 1535-7 and the Carthusian Martyrs

The St Alban's Psalter
This Psalter was probably owned by the hermit Christina of Markyate (1155) in Hertfordshire. Disciples gathered round her and the community was supported by the Abbot of St Albans

An Anchorhold at King's Lynn.
Several anchorites were attached to religious communities.
Mother Julian of Norwich (15C) was an anchoress in Norwich.
Her 'causes' for canonisation was lost through the upheaval of the Reformation, as were those of Richard Rolle (1349) and Walter Hilton (1396).

Old Anglo-Saxon Culture

This is Escomb Church in County Durham. Built circa 670-675 it is the oldest, still complete, Anglo-Saxon church in England. It is a physical link to the Celtic missionaries and the churches they established in the north of England before the British Church was completely hijacked by Italians. Notice the word "before" in that sentence. St. Augustine did not bring Christianity to England or establish the first church here. In the north of England, Anglo-Saxons were first converted to Christianity by Irish missionaries and their Scottish converts. The Irish were evangelised by a Christian, Patrick, who was from the British mainland somewhere. He was from a Christian community which was, most probably, founded after contact with Christians attached to the Roman army, the Roman civil service or merchants. The form of Christianity espoused by Patrick shows a very strong influence, not from Rome, but from the ,,Jerusalem,Syrian and  Egypt(North African)Orthodox Catholic Churches. And, of course, as regular readers will already know full well and accept as undeniable fact, Jesus and his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea were over here planting holy thorn bushes years before there was any such thing as a church in Palestine. Plus, Saint Peter popped over to establish a church in the Welsh borders on his way to Rome. I hope that is all clear now.

The Saxon church at Escomb is built mostly from stones taken from the Roman fort at nearby Binchester.
The churchyard is circular which indicates that the church is built on a pagan site or, maybe, a Roman velodrome.

The sundial above the door is likely to be slightly older than the church...

... as is this fine example of an Anglo-Saxon cross. Crosses such as this one were placed outdoors at locations that were regularly visited by missionaries who would preach beside them. If the faith took a church would often be built on the site of the cross.

This gravestone is made of marble mined locally. It is packed with fossils (just like the Church of England is nowadays).

In a couple of places you can see the remnants of the paintings that would have covered the walls during the Middle Ages. These were largely destroyed at the Reformation when it was discovered that God had made a mistake when he gave humans the ability to create beautiful works of art and that God hated the stuff just as much as God hated people enjoying themselves.

The oldest reference in writing we have for the font makes it at least seven hundred years old, but it could be much more ancient. It was made at a time when it was the practice of the Church in England to baptise babies by dunking them fully underwater. Adults would have either been half drowned in a local river or baptised whilst standing in the font, the basin of which would have been on the floor, not a pedestal, back then. On this font you can see the remains of a medieval hinge. A law had been passed making it compulsory to have a locked lid on all fonts so that nobody could steal the holy water which was worth a fair bit on the open market. Nobody was allowed to undercut the pope's prices.

Here's a photo looking back towards the font from the altar. I live with that woman.

Outside there are some fine examples of Seventeenth Century gravestones. My, they were a fun loving people in those days. I didn't take these two photos as I had forgot to recharge the camera batteries and they ran out half way through our visit. This resulted in language coming from my mouth that could also be dated to the Anglo-Saxon period.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Round Towers

Fri, May 18, 2012
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.

St. Ita, foster-mother to the saints of Ireland

by Bridget Haggerty

After St. Brigid, St. Ita is the most famous woman saint in Ireland. Her birth of noble Christian parents, Kennfoelad, a Déise Chieftain and Necta his princess wife, is said to have taken place around 470 near Faithlegg outside Waterford.

From her baptism on she was filled with the Holy Spirit. All marvelled at her childhood purity and behaviour, and her abstinence on the days she had to fast. She was prudent, very generous, kind toward everyone, and gentle as well as chaste in her language. As she grew up, it quickly became apparent that she wished to devote her life to God.

There is no doubt Ita excelled in the ‘Six Gifts" of Irish womanhood the ancient Celt looked for in the well educated girl - wisdom, purity, beauty, music, sweet speech, embroidery. She refused an offer of marriage as she wanted to consecrate herself completely to Christ. Her father refused her. She went at once to an aged priest she had known from childhood and publicly made her vows which she had already formed in her heart. She left her father’s house and the pleasant places round it and set out with some companions for the Ua Conaill territory in the West of Munster, the present Co. Limerick, to a place called "Cluain Creadhail" which some interpret to mean "Meadow of Faith" and which is now called Kileedy.

Legend has it that Ita was lead to Killeedy by three heavenly lights. The first was at the top of the Galtee mountains, the second on the Mullaghareirk mountains and the third at Cluain Creadhail. Her sister Fiona also went to Killeedy with her and became a member of the community.

Also known as the Brigid of Munster, biographers often compare St. Ita to St. Brigid, but the differences are more striking than the resemblances between these two foremost women saints of the Catholic church. Brigid's life was spent in continual movement. When she had made a success of one convent settlement, she moved off to found another. Ita did just the opposite. Instead of entering one of Brigid's convents, she founded a convent in a district where there was none, at the foot of Sliabh Luachra. The place became known as Killeedy and it was here that she remained until she died.

A strongly individualistic character is glimpsed in the stories that surround her life. When she decided to settle in Killeedy, a chieftain offered her a large grant of land to support the convent. But Ita would accept only four acres, which she cultivated intensively. The convent became known as a training school for little boys, many of whom later became famous churchmen. One of these was St. Brendan, whom Bishop Saint Erc gave to Ita in fosterage when he was a year old. St. Ita kept him until he was six.

The great Navigator revisited her between his voyages and always deferred to her counsel. He once asked her what were the three things which God most detested, and she replied: 'A scowling face, obstinacy in wrong-doing, and too great a confidence in the power of money'. Brendan also asked her what three things God especially loved. She replied, "True faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and open-handedness inspired by charity."

Ita's original name, some claim, was Déirdre, but because of her thirst for holiness she became known as Ita. This quality may have been what drew so many women to join her monastery and families to send their sons to her. Besides her mentoring, Ita is also associated with competence in healing, and an Irish lullaby for the Infant Jesus is attributed to her.

As with other monastic figures of Ireland, she spent much time in solitude, praying and fasting, and the rest of the time in service to those seeking her assistance and advice.

St. Ita died in approximately 570. Her grave, frequently decorated with flowers, is in the ruins of Cill Ide, a Romanesque church at Killeedy where her monastery once stood. A holy well nearby, almost invisible now, was known for centuries for curing smallpox in children and other diseases as well. This well has two names - It is called St. Bernard’s Well on the OS map, but the local name has always been Tobar Bhaile Ui MhÈidÌn, My Little Ita’s Well, coming from the place name, Cill Barra MhÈidÌn. "Church of my little Ita’s Height."

In recent times, the water in the well was said to cure warts and children from the local school, who were suffering from warts, have gone to the well during school hours, to wash the afflicted part and having said the following words: "Bubble up, bubble up, Blessed Well!" three times, have been cured. (Even though tradition has it that the cure only occurs if the well is visited between dusk and dawn!)

There is a strong local following of St. Ita in Munster, particularly in Waterford and Limerick, and her name is a popular one for Irish girls. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a new move was made in Ireland for recognition of her importance in the Catholic church; this was accomplished when Bishop Butler of Limerick obtained from Pope Pius IX a special office and mass for her feast which is now kept on January 15.

An extract from the entry on St. Ita in Edward Sellner's "The Wisdom of the Celtic Saints."
1997 Catholic Information Network
"The Saints: A concise Biographical Dictionary", edited by John Coulson, published by Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1960.
Diocese of Waterford and Lismore
Scoil Íde Naofa
Raheenagh, Ballagh, County Limerick
Image: Anachron from PatriArts

Saturday, 12 May 2012

St Oswald, Archbishop of York (+ 992), 28 February S

There are two Oswalds who are saints in England, one a king, the other a monk. One lived in the 7th century, he was the King of Northumbria who brought St Aidan to Lindisfarne and his feast is on 5th August. The other was a 10th century monk and bishop of Worcester who also became archbishop of York; his feast is on 28th February. It is about the second of these that Patrick Duffy writes here.Of Danish family and becomes a Benedictine monk of Fleury-sur-LoireOswald was of a Danish family and was brought up by his uncle Oda who sent him to the Benedictine abbey of Fleury-sur-Loire to become a monk.
Bishop of Worcester
When Oswald returned to England as a priest in 958/9, he worked for another Danish patron, Oskytel, who had recently become archbishop of York. His activity for Oskytel attracted the notice of Saint Dunstan, then bishop of Worcester and in the process of moving to become archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan persuaded King Edgar to appoint Oswald bishop of Worcester in 961.
Founding monasteriesOswald founded a number of monasteries at Westbury-on-Trym (near Bristol), at Ramsey (in Cambridgeshire) in collaboration with Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester and Pershore and Evesham (in Worcestershire. He also succeeded in gradually changing the cathedral chapter in Worcester from priests to monks, supposedly because the clergy would not give up their wives.
Archbishop of York
In 972 Oswald became archbishop of York, and was able to bring Abbo and other monks of Fleury to York to teach for a number of years.
Death and memoryBut Oswald also held on to the diocese of Worcester, presiding over both dioceses. And it was at Worcester that on 29 February 992 he died, while he was washing the feet of the poor, a practice that had become his daily custom during Lent. He was buried in the Church of St Mary at Worcester. His feast is celebrated on 28th February. He is closely associated with other monks who became bishops - like St Dunstan (909-988) and St Ethelwold (908-984) - in restoring monasticism in England.

Oswald of Worcester (died 29 February 992) was Archbishop of York from 972 to his death in 992. He was of Danish ancestry, but brought up by his uncle, Oda, who sent him to France to the abbey of Fleury to become a monk. After a number of years at Fleury, Oswald returned to England at the request of his uncle, who died before Oswald returned. With his uncle's death, Oswald needed a patron and turned to another kinsman,Oskytel, who had recently become Archbishop of York. His activity for Oskytel attracted the notice of Archbishop Dunstanwho had Oswald consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961. In 972 Oswald was promoted to the see of York, although he continued to hold Worcester also.
As bishop and archbishop, Oswald was a supporter and one of the leading promoters (together with Æthelwold) of Dunstan's reforms of the church, including monastic reforms.[1] Oswald founded a number of monasteries, including Ramsey Abbey, and reformed other seven, including Winchcombein Gloucestershire and Pershore andEvesham in Worcestershire. Oswald also switched the cathedral chapter of Worcester from secular clergy to monks. While archbishop, he brought the scholar Abbo of Fleury to teach, and he spent two years in England, mostly at Ramsey. Oswald died in 992, while washing the feet of the poor. A hagiographical life was written shortly after his death, and he was quickly hailed as a saint.

Oswald, of Danish parentage, was brought up by his uncle Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury, and was also related to Oskytel, later Archbishop of York.[2] He was also related to thecniht Osulf, who received land while Oswald was bishop of Worcester.[3] Oswald was instructed by a Frankish scholar Frithegod.[4] He held the office of dean of Winchester, but he was sent by his uncle to France and entered the monastery of Fleury about 950,[2]where he was ordained in 959. While at Fleury he met Osgar of Abingdon and Germanus of Winchester.[2] The influence of Fleury was to be evident later in Oswald's life, when it was one of the inspirations for the Regularis Concordia, the English code of monastic conduct agreed to in 970.[5]

Early life

Return to England

Oswald returned to England in 958 at the behest of his uncle, but Oda died before Oswald returned. Lacking a patron, Oswald turned to Oskytel, recently named Archbishop of York. It is possible that Oswald along with Oskytel traveled to Rome for Oskytel's pallium, but this story is only contained in a 12th century Ramsey Abbey chronicle, so it may not be authentic.[4] Even if he did not travel to Rome, Oswald was active in ecclesiastical affairs at York until Dunstan obtained Oswald's appointment to the see, or bishopric, ofWorcester.[2] He was consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961.[6] Soon after his consecration, he persuaded Germanus to come back to England and made him head of a small religious community near Westbury-on-Trym.[2] After the establishment of this group about 962, Oswald grew worried that because the monastery was located on lands owned by the see of Worcester, his successors in the see might disrupt the community. He was offered the site of Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire by Æthelwine, son of Æthelstan Half-King, and Oswald established a monastery there about 971 that attracted most of the members of the community at Westbury. This foundation at Ramsey went on to become Ramsey Abbey.[7] Ramsey was Oswald's most famous foundation,[8] with its church dedicated in 974. Later, Oswald invited Abbo of Fleury to come and teach at Ramsey.[9]Oswald directed the affairs of Ramsey Abbey until his death, when the dean Eadnoth became the first abbot.[4] He gave a magnificent Bible to Ramsey, which was important enough to merit a mention in Oswald's Life.[10] Alongside the gift of the book, Oswald also contributed wall hangings and other textiles to the abbey.[11]
A medieval manuscript of Abbo of Fleury's work
Oswald supported Dunstan and Æthelwold,Bishop of Winchester, in their efforts to purify the Church from secularism. Aided by KingEdgar, he took a prominent part in the revival of monastic discipline along the precepts of theRule of Saint Benedict. His methods differed from Æthelwold's, who often violently ejected secular clergy from churches and replaced them with monks.[12] Oswald also organized the estates of his see into administrativehundreds known as the Oswaldslow, which helped stabilize the ecclesiastical revenues.[9]He constantly visited the monasteries he founded, and was long remembered as father of his people both as bishop and archbishop.[12] It was Oswald who changed the cathedral chapter of Worcester from priests to monks,[13]although the exact method that he employed is unclear. One tradition says that Oswald used a slow approach in building up a new church of monks next to the cathedral, allowing the cathedral's priests to continue performing services in the cathedral until the monastic foundation was strong enough to take over the cathedral.[8] Another tradition claims that, instead, Oswald expelled any of the clergy in the cathedral that would not give up their wives and replaced them with monks immediately. Oswald also reformed Winchcombe Abbey, along with the monasteries of Westbury Priory, Pershore Abbey, and Evesham Abbey. It is also possible that monasteries were established in Gloucester and Deerhurst, but evidence is lacking for their exact foundation dates.[4]
Archbishop of York
In 972 Oswald was made Archbishop of York[6] and journeyed to Rome to receive a pallium from Pope John XIII. It is possible that he also traveled on Edgar's behalf to the court of the Emperor Otto I, and that these two journeys had been combined.[4][14] He continued to hold the see of Worcester in addition to York.[6] The holding of Worcester in addition to York became traditional for almost the next fifty years. Although it was uncanonical, it had many advantages for York in that it added a much richer diocese to their holdings, and one which was more peaceful as well.[15] When Edgar died in 975,Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia, broke up many monastic communities, some of which were Oswald's foundations.[16] Ramsey, however, was not disturbed, probably due to the patronage of Æthelwine, Ealdorman of East Anglia, son of Æthelstan Half-King. Ælfhere was a supporter of Ethelred the Unready, the son of Edgar's third marriage, while Oswald supported the son of Edgar's first marriage, Edward the Martyr,[4] in the dispute over who would succeed King Edgar.[17]
In 985, Oswald invited Abbo of Fleury to come to Ramsey to help found the monastic school there. Abbo was at Ramsey from 985 to 987, where he taught computus, or the methods for calculating Easter. It was also often used in trying to calculate the date of theLast Judgment.[18] A surviving manuscript gives a list compiled by Oswald, setting forth estates that had been taken from the diocese of York.[19]
Death and sainthood
Oswald died on 29 February 992 in the act of washing the feet of the poor at Worcester,[12]as was his daily custom during Lent, and was buried in the Church of Saint Mary at Worcester. He promoted the education of the clergy and persuaded scholars to come from Fleury and teach in England.[16] A Life of Oswald was written after his death, probably byByrhtferth, a monk of Ramsey Abbey.[20] Two manuscripts, a psalter (Harley MS 2904 in the British Library) and a pontifical (MS 100, part 2 from Sidney Sussex College of Cambridge University), probably belonged to Oswald and would have been used in his daily devotions.[4]
Almost immediately after his death miracles were reported at his funeral and at his tomb. His remains were translated to a different burial spot in the cathedral ten years after his death. His feast day is celebrated on 28 February.[21]
Primary sources
There is a Vita sancti Oswaldi auctore anonymo (Anonymous Life of Saint Oswald), written soon after Oswald's death (probably by Byrhtferth) that did much to spread his cult throughout England. Later, Eadmer wrote Vita sancti Oswaldi (Life of Saint Oswald) andMiracula sancti Oswaldi (Miracles of Saint Oswald) at the request of the chapter of Worcester.[4] There is also a life written by Senatus, prior of Worcester, and important biographical information in the Historia Rameseiensis.

  1. ^ Lawrence Medieval Monasticism p. 101
  2. a b c d e Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 40
  3. ^ Richardson The Governance of Mediaeval England p. 57
  4. a b c d e f g h Brooks "Oswald (St Oswald) (d. 992)Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ Lawrence Medieval Monasticism pp. 102–103
  6. a b c Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 224
  7. ^ Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 51
  8. a b Stenton Anglo Saxon England p. 450
  9. a b Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 488
  10. ^ Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 95
  11. ^ Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 129
  12. a b c Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 55
  13. ^ Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 621
  14. ^ Byrhtferth's Life only mentions the journey of an abbot and thegn (miles) to the German court, Historians of the Church of York I, p. 435.
  15. ^ Stenton Anglo Saxon England 3rd ed. p. 436
  16. a b Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 53
  17. ^ Williams Æthelred the Unready p. 9
  18. ^ Fletcher Bloodfeud p. 92
  19. ^ Wormald Making of English Law p. 186
  20. ^ Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 494
  21. ^ Walsh A New Dictionary of Saints p. 459
  22. References
  • Brooks, N. P. (2004). "Oswald (St Oswald) (d. 992)" (subscription or UK public library membership required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
  • Dodwell, C. R. (1985). Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective (Cornell University Press 1985 ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9300-5.
  • Fletcher, R. A. (2003). Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516136-X.
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology (Third revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56350-X.
  • Knowles, David (1976). The Monastic Order in England: A History of its Development from the Times of St. Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 940–1216 (Second reprint ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-05479-6.
  • Lawrence, C. H. (2001). Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (Third ed.). New York: Longman. ISBN 0-582-40427-4.
  • Lutz, Cora E. (1977). Schoolmasters of the Tenth Century (First ed.). Archon Books. ISBN 0-208-01628-7.
  • Richardson, H. G.; Sayles, G. O. (1963). The Governance of Mediaeval England. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England (Third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.ISBN 978-0-19-280139-5.
  • Walsh, Michael J. (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. London: Burns & Oats.ISBN 0-86012-438-X.
  • Williams, Ann (2003). Aethelred the Unready: The Ill-Counselled King. London: Hambledon & London. ISBN 1-85285-382-4.
  • Wormald, Patrick (1999). The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-22740-7.