Saturday, 17 November 2012

Feast of St Hilda

'All who knew her called her Mother' - Bede

Hilda was born in 614 into the Deiran royal household in bloody and fractious 
Nothing else seems to be known about Hilda up to 648 except that she was 
baptised with Edwin's court in a river near York.; possibly she did marry, 
was widowed and then, as was the custom for royal household,planned to 
retreat to a life in the church.
Oswold became king of Northumbria in 633 and brought Aidan from Iona to 
form a monastery at Lindisfarne.  When he became Bishop, Aidan of Lindisfarne 
asked Hilda to form a monastery. Hilda accepted the call and was given a 
small household at the mouth of the river Wear. 
In 649,  Aidan made a further request to Hilda to become abbess of the
 established monastery at Hartlepool, a community of men and woman.
When Oswiu became king of the Northumbria and overlord of southern England,
Hilda was given land to form a monastery at  Whitby.
At the age of 43,  Hilda moved to Whitby and formed another double monastery 
for men and women. Her abbey was to become one of the greatest religious 
and centre of learning in the known world.
Although Hilda had been baptised in the Roman tradition by Paulinus, the contact and influence in her very formative years was very much with great Celtic people like Aidan and Finan  and later Cuthbert. 

Oswiu, decided to call a meeting of church leaders in 664 to resolve these differences once and for all. This became known as The Synod of Whitby as it was held at Hilda's monastery. Hilda very much supported the Celtic view put to the Synod by bishop Colman but it was the Roman view, championed by Wilfrid that won the day. Hilda accepted the change to Roman ways but remained a critic of Wilfrid .

Through the rest of Wilfrid's stormy life until Hilda's death in 680 she remained at Whitby continuing to build on her good works and offering council and advice to kings and bishops alike. She was also responsible for nurturing the talents of a humble cowman called Caedmon who became England's first poet. Hilda  died at Whitby. The night before she died, Begu, a nun from Hackness monastery, had a vision. Whilst resting in the dormitory, Begu saw the roof open revealing the soul of Hilda as it was carried to heaven by angels. Begu told the Prioress and all the sisters were praying when monks from Whitby arrived to tell them the news and found that they already knew. 

Hilda is someone I have come to know, admire and love through the Celtic tradition. When I first learnt of her feastday I took a double-take, surely the 17th November was already taken? And by the patron saint of my childhood parish and the saint who I asked to walk beside me at my Confirmation (not Mary's cousin as many people assume - though I hold her in  great affection). Much less known, Elizabeth was canonised only four years after her death as the first royal Franciscan for her devotion to the poor. 

This window is in St Mary's on Lindisfarne.
Elizabeth of Hungary lived for only twenty four years yet she was a child, princess, mother, queen, widow, exile, and one of the most pious women to ever live. 
Elizabeth was a child devoted to God. She was an intelligent, well-educated girl who practiced penance and regularly gave alms to the poor. At an early age, she put herself under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and Saint John.

 Elizabeth was married between the ages of thirteen and fourteen.  The match proved to be a happy one. Ludwig loved her and believed his position put him in the  service of God. Ludwig died leaving Elizabeth with three children, a widow at the age of twenty. In her devotion she became aware of the Rule of Francis and wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. She built a monastery for the Franciscan order in 1225 at Eisenach. After a difficult few years she formally relinquished worldly possessions and then became one of the first tertiaries, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. Her last act of the outside world was the completion of the Franciscan hospital at Marburg in the summer of 1228. After this, she devoted her heart and soul to the aid of the poor and sick, especially the most severely afflicted. She died only a few years later, at the age of twenty-four.

St. Elizabeth is generally represented as a princess holding roses in her lap. According to a legend, she was met unexpectedly as she went secretly on an errand of mercy, and, so the story runs, the bread she was trying to conceal  suddenly turned into roses.

Amongst others, she is the patron saint of widows, bakers, the falsely accused and tramps.

The Communion of Saints certainly gives us something to aspire to.



  1. I also read that Elizabeth is the patron saint of the homeless... in the sense of 'tramps' maybe.
    Both Hilda and Elizabeth make great models to follow.
    Thank you, Word.

  2. I love hearing these stories, with all the historically familiar names! "Hilda" also reminds me of a friend from a previous life, as well as someone here in town who has been very kind to me.

  3. thank you river song, we all need our friends - blessings