St. Hilda

Saint Hilda (614-680) A Lady Of The People

Saint Hilda was born into the Royal Family of Saint Edwin and so, when his arch rival Oswald came to the Northumbrian throne, Hilda believed her life in the north of England had come to an end. Saint Aidan however, had other ideas and, on hearing that she was already on her way to join a convent in France, sent some monks to bring her back.

A key part of Aidan's mission was to educate men and boys in his school on Lindisfarne and what he now needed was a similar school for girls. Initially Hilda wasn't sure about Aidan's proposal and so, with Oswald's blessing she moved to a small plot of land at Monkwearmouth, there she would pray and discern whether God was calling her to this ministry or not.

Hilda met the challenge with great enthusiasm and, following the year's experiment, Aidan installed her as Abbess of Hartlepool where she transformed the community. Hilda's success here meant that, when the next King, Oswy decided to grant some land at Whitby for the founding of a new Community, she was the natural choice. Unusually, Hilda's community at Whitby was a mixed community catering for both men and women, moving on from the initial work she was commissioned to do.

Hilda's ministry at Whitby is remembered for two key reasons: firstly the Synod in 664. In this year King Oswy, who followed the Celtic way, found himself celebrating Easter one week before his wife, who followed the Roman way, and he wanted to know why. Hilda offered her monastery as the venue for the Synod and her offer was accepted because she was of royal blood, and therefore carried the necessary status for such an important meeting. Her offer was also accepted because, athough she was born into Edwin's Family who followed the Roman way, she now worked happily among the Celts, and so Hilda had no bias.

The second story of this royal lady concerns Caedmon, an illiterate cowherd. Each evening after supper, the community would make their own entertainment by passing a lyre round the table so that everyone could sing a short song. Being illiterate Caedmon hated this and often went and hid. One evening as he hid in a barn, God spoke to him and told him what to sing. Reluctantly Caedmon agreed and went and sang the song God had given him to the monks. They were utterly amazed and took him to Hilda who discerned that God had obviously gifted him, and straight away she removed him from his task of tending the animals and put him under the care of the best monk she could find to encourage him in his gift. In this way Caedmon became the first Christian poet in England.

Ill health eventually forced Hild to leave Whitby, and she moved to a small community near Hackness where she was nursed by a small group of sisters until she died peacefully at the ripe old age of 66, almost twice the expected life-span of that time.

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