Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury (605)

Feast day:  May 26

Saint Augustine of Canterbury

He is the founder of the Church in southern England, which at that time was almost entirely pagan, though Christianity thrived in the Celtic lands of IrelandWales and parts ofScotland. Augustine, a monk at the monastery of St Andrew inRome, was chosen by Pope Gregory I to lead a mission toEngland

He and a party of about forty monks landed in England in 597; they were received warmly by King Aethelbert, who was baptised by Augustine and thus became the first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxon people. In 601 Pope Gregory made Augustine Archbishop of Britain, and he established his cathedral atCanterbury, where he also established a monastery. Saint Augustine worked unsuccessfully to unite his churches with those of the Irish monks and hierarchs, who followed different liturgical practices, kept a different date of Pascha, and disapproved of the less severe Roman monastic practices introduced by the Archbishop. He reposed in peace.


Saint AidanBishop of Lindisfarne. Born in Ireland; died 651. Also known as Aeda or Áedán (in old Irish).

Saint Aidan is said to have been a disciple of Saint Senan (f.d. March 8) on Scattery Island, but nothing else is known with certainty of his early life before he became a monk of Iona... 

He was well received by King Oswald, who had lived in exile among the Irish monks of Iona and had requested monks to evangelize his kingdom. The first missionary, Corman, was unsuccessful because of the roughness of his methods, so Aidan was sent to replace him. Oswald bestowed the isle of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) on Aidan for his episcopal seat and his diocese reached from the Forth to the Humber.

By his actions he showed that he neither sought nor loved the things of this world; the presents which were given to him by the king or other rich men he distributed among the poor. He rarely attended the king at table, and never without taking with him one or two of his clergy, and always afterwards made haste to get away and back to his work.

The centre of his activity was Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland, between Berwick and Bamburgh. Here he established a monastery under the Rule of Saint Columcille; it was not improperly been called the English Iona, for from it the paganism of Northumbria was gradually dispelled and barbarian customs undermined. The community was not allowed to accumulate wealth; surpluses were applied to the needs of the poor and the manumission of slaves. From Lindisfarne Aidan made journeys on foot throughout the diocese, visiting his flock and establishing missionary centres.

Aidan's apostolate was advanced by numerous miracles according to Saint Bede, who wrote his biography. It was also aided by the fact that Aidan preached in Irish and the king provided the translation. Saint Aidan took to this monastery 12 English boys to be raised there, and he was indefatigable in tending to the welfare of children and slaves, for the manumission of many of whom he paid from alms bestowed on him.

Saints Aidan and ChadThe great king Saint Oswald assisted his bishop in every possible way until his death in battle against the pagan King Penda in 642. A beautiful story preserved by Saint Bede tells that Oswald was sitting at dinner one Easter day, Saint Aidan at his side, when he was told a great crowd of poor people were seeking alms at the gate. Taking a massive silver dish, he loaded it with meat from his own table and ordered it distributed amongst the poor, and ordered the silver dish to be broken in fragments, and those too distributed to them. Aidan, Bede says, took hold of the king's right hand, saying "Let this hand never decay!" His blessing was fulfilled. After Oswald's death his incorrupt right arm was preserved as a sacred relic.

Oswald's successor, Saint Oswin, also supported Aidan's apostolate and when in 651, Oswin was murdered in Gilling, Aidan survived him only 11 days. He died at the royal castle of Bamburgh, which he used as a missionary centre, leaning against a wall of the church where a tent had been erected to shelter him. He was first buried in the cemetery of Lindisfarne, but when the new church of Saint Peterwas finished, his body was translated into the sanctuary.

The monks of Lindisfarne, fleeing repeated Viking attacks, abandoned their holy island in 875, taking with them the relics of St. Oswald and St. Aidan packed into the coffin containing St. Cuthbert's uncorrupted body. For over 100 years the monks wandered, settling here and there, and founding churches. In 995, fearing another attack from Danish raiders, the monks again fled with their precious relics. According to legend, when the monks approached the town of Durham the coffin began to grow heavy and one of the monks had a dream in which Cuthbert said his body would finally rest at 'Dunholme'. None of the monks knew of such a place but, inquiring of local villagers, overheard two women speaking about a lost cow which was said to have strayed into 'the Dunholme'. Investigated by the monks, this turned out to be a wooded promontory in a loop above the River Wear, which is where Durham cathedral now stands.

The monks of Glastonbury claimed that they held the bones of St. Aidan ofLindisfarne (in Northumberland) as early as the 11th century. We know that this was not his whole body, as it was accepted that half of it lay at Iona in Scotland, and some relics were also claimed by Durham Cathedral. As only a partial saint and the earliest recorded, it seems likely that Aidan may have been the only Northern relic brought south to Glastonbury by Tyccea, though not apparently because of the Viking threat.

Saint AidanSaint Bede highly praises the Irish Aidan who did so much to bring the Gospel to his Anglo-Saxon brothers. "He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works."

He wrote that Saint Aidan "was a man of remarkable gentleness, goodness, and moderation, zealous for God; but not fully according to knowledge... "By which Bede means that he followed and taught the liturgical and disciplinary customs of the Celtic Christians, which differed from those of Continental Christianity. Montague notes that one effort of Anglo-Saxon education being conducted by Irish monks was that English writing was distinguished by its Irish orthography. Aidan brought to Ireland the custom of Wednesday and Friday fasts [see the Didache].

In art, Saint Aidan is portrayed as a bishop with the monastery of Lindisfarne in his hand and a stag at his feet (because of the legend that his prayer rendered invisible a deer pursued by hunters). He might also be portrayed (1) holding a light torch; (2) giving a horse to a poor man; (3) calming a storm; or (4) extinguishing a fire by his prayers, He is especially venerated at Glastonbury, Lindisfarne, andWhitby.

King of Northumbria and Martyr. Born, probably, 605; died 5 Aug., 642.

 The second of seven brothers, sons of Ethelfrid, who was grandson of Ida, founder of the Kingdom of Northumbria in 547. Oswald's mother was Acha, daughter of Ella or Alla, who, after Ida's death, had seized Deira and thus separated it from the Northern Bernicia... The years of Oswald's youth were spent at home, as long as his father reigned, but when, in 617, Ethelfrid was slain in battle by Redwald, King of the East Angles, Oswald with his brothers fled for protection from Edwin, their uncle, Acha's brother, to the land of the Scots and were cared for at Columba's Monastery at Hii, or Iona. There they remained until Edwin's death in the battle of Heathfield (633). Eanfrid, his elder brother, then returned to accept the Kingdom of Deira, whilst Osric, cousin of Edwin, received Bernicia. The kingdom was thus again divided and both parts relapsed into paganism. In the following year Osric was slain in battle, and Eanfrid treacherously murdered by the British king, Cadwalla. Oswald thereupon came down from the North, and in 635 a small but resolute band gathered round him near the Roman Wall at a spot seven miles north of Hexham, afterwards known as Hevenfelt, or Heaven's Field. Here, encouraged by a vision and promise of victory from St. Columba, who shrouded with his mantle all his camp, Oswald set up a cross of wood as his standard -- the first Christian symbol ever raised in Bernicia -- and gave battle to the Britons, who were led, probably, by Cadwalla. The Britons were completely routed, and thenceforth could only act on the defensive. Oswald was thoroughly grounded in the principles of the Christian religion, and, though but twelve nobles with whom he returned from exile were Christians, far from abandoning his faith, his first care was to spread it among the Bernicians, thus confirming the political union effected by Edwin with a religious union unknown before. Edwin, it is true, had himself received the Faith in 627, through the influence of his wife Ethelburga, sister of the Kentish King, who had brought St. Paulinus to the North, but his example was followed only by the people of Deira. Oswald, brought up in Columba's monastery at Iona, naturally looked the North for missionaries. The first preacher who set forth soon returned, having found the Northumbrian people too barbarous and stubborn. Then Aidan was sent, "a man of singular meekness, piety and moderation", who established his episcopal see at Lindisfarne, in 635. Oswald's zealous co-operation with the monk-bishop soon filled the land with churches and monasteries, and the church at York, begun by Edwin, was completed. Moreover, his wonderful humility in the midst of success, his charity, and his piety soon had their effect in turning his subjects from Woden to Christ. We are told that the king in his Court acted as the interpreter of the Irish missionaries who knew not the language of his thanes. It was Oswald's work to add to the warlike glory of his father Ethelfrid and the wise administration of his uncle Edwin the moral power of Christianity, and to build up a great kingdom. Edwin had gathered the whole English race into one political body and was overlord of every English kingdom save that of Kent. The Venerable Bede (III, 6) says that Oswald had a greater dominion than any of his ancestors, and that "he brought under his sway all the nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages, namely the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the English". He had great power in the North-West, as far south as Chester and Lancashire, and was probably owned as overlord by the Welsh Kingdom of Strath Clyde, as well as by the Picts and Scots of Dalriada. In the East he was supreme in Lindsey, and the words of Bede seem to imply that he was overlord of Mercia, which was still ruled by Penda; but this could have been scarcely more than nominal. The West Saxons in the South, influenced by the fear of Penda, readily acknowledged Oswald, their allegiance being strengthened, in 635, by the conversion of King Cynegils, of Wessex, at whose baptism Oswald stood sponsor, and whose daughter he married. Both sovereigns then established Bishop Birinus at Dorchester. This vast supremacy, extending from north to south, and broken only by Penda's kingdom in Mid-Britain and that of the East Angles, led Adamnan of Hii to call Oswald "The Emperor of the whole of Britain". Christianity seemed to be forming a network round the pagan Penda of Mercia. The kingdom of the East Angles, which was still Christian, but acknowledged Penda as overlord, was necessary to Oswald to maintain the connection between his dominions in the north and the south. War was therefore inevitable. At the battle of Maserfeld, said to be seven miles from Shrewsbury, "on the border of Wales, near Offa's dyke", Oswald was slain on 5 Aug., 642, and thus perished "the most powerful and most Christian King" in the eighth year of his reign and in the flower of his age. His last words were for the spiritual welfare of his soldiers, whence the proverb: "God have mercy on their souls, as said Oswald when he fell." His body was mutilated by Penda, and his limbs set up on stakes, where they remained a full year, until they were taken away by Oswy and given to the monks at Bardney in Lindsey. In the tenth century some of the bones were carried off by Ethelred and Ethelfleda of Mercia to St. Peter's, Gloucester. His head was taken from the battlefield to the church of St. Peter in the royal fortress at Bamborough, and was afterwards translated to Lindisfarne, where, for fear of the Danes, it was placed in 875 in the coffin of St. Cuthbert, which found its resting place at Durham in 998. It was in the coffin at the translation of St. Cuthbert in 1104, and was thought to be there when the tomb was opened in 1828. His arm and hand (or hands) were taken to Bamborough and perhaps afterwards removed to Peterborough, and were still incorrupt in the time of Symeon of Durham, early in the twelfth century. Reginald gives an account of his personal appearance: arms of great length and power, eyes bright blue, hair yellow, face long and beard thin, and his small lips wearing a kindly smile. Oswald laboured to bring order and law to his kingdom. He won great reverence for his kingly virtues as well as his virtually monastic life of prayer and devotion. He was famous for his care for the poor. A beautiful story preserved by Saint Bede tells that Oswald was sitting at dinner one Easter day, Saint Aidan at his side, when he was told a great crowd of poor people were seeking alms at the gate. Taking a massive silver dish, he loaded it with meat from his own table and ordered it distributed amongst the poor, and ordered the silver dish to be broken in fragments, and those too distributed to them. Aidan, Bede says, took hold of the king's right hand, saying "Let this hand never decay!" His blessing was fulfilled. After Oswald's death his incorrupt right arm was preserved as a sacred relic.