When King Edwin defeated Aethelfrith the Destroyer in the Battle of the River Idle in 616, all Aethelfrith's family were forced to flee. Initially they went to Strathclyde, where Oswald and his brothers learned how to be warriors, before moving on to Iona, where they learned about the Christian Faith. In 633 Edwin himself was killed, and the throne of Northumbria was now Oswald's to claim. Having returned to Bamburgh with a small band of soldiers, Oswald boosted his army and marched south towards Hexham then, at Heavenfield, he defeated the Welsh King Cadwallon.
Having endured a period of severe persecution under Cadwallon, Oswald wanted to bring his people hope and so he sent back to Iona asking them to send him a mission team to tell his people about Jesus. Initially they sent Corman but, after only a short stay, he returned to Iona believing the task to be impossible. The monks on Iona however, were not about to give up that easily and so they sent Aidan. Aidan was Irish and unable to speak the native language of the Northumbrian people, but his gentleness made him ideally suited to the task. But how could an Irishman preach to the English? There was only one solution, Oswald himself would accompany the monk and act as his translator. In this way, not only would the new king be able to meet his subjects, they would be able to see how much his faith meant to him. Together, both priest and king made many converts.
Oswald knew that ruling a kingdom was no easy task, and so spent many hours in prayer. It was said of him that, whenever he sat down his hands fell naturally into his lap with the palms facing upwards as this was the position in which he prayed.
Oswald's prayerful wisdom and his love for his people shone out one Easter as he prepared to celebrate the feast with Aidan and number of his monks and nobles. As the meal was being served Oswald was told of a group of peasants who had approached his castle gate. They were starving after a long winter without food. Without hesitation Oswald ordered that the whole feast be given to them, along with the silver dishes on which the meal was to be served. In this way, not only would they have food now, but also the means to provide for their future.
Sadly, Oswald's short reign was ended in the Battle of Maserfield as he faced the pagan King Penda. Unfortunately, during the battle, Oswald was cut off from his men and, as Penda's archers picked them off one at a time, Oswald's last breath was a prayer asking God's mercy on his men. After his victory, Penda desecrated Oswald's body, impaling various parts on stakes. It was his brother Oswy who bravely marched south to bury his brother, taking his head with him back to Lindisfarne where it was buried as a holy relic, along with the body of Saint Cuthbert some years later. This is why Cuthbert is often portrayed holding Oswald's head.