CHAPTER  11: A heavenly light appears all night over Oswald's tomb and folk are healed from demonic possession

It would not be right to omit mention of the favours and miracles that were shown when Oswald's bones were discovered and translated into the church where they are now enshrined. This took place through the devout interest of Queen Osthryd of the Mercians, daughter of his brother Oswy who succeeded him on the throne, as I shall mention in due course.

In the province of Lindsey there is a noble monastery called Beardaneu,1 which was greatly loved, favoured, and enriched by the queen and her husband Ethelred. She wished that the honoured bones of her uncle should be reinterred there. But when the wagon carrying the bones arrived towards evening at the abbey, the monks were reluctant to admit it; for although they acknowledged Oswald's holiness, they were influenced by old prejudices against him even after his death, because he originally came from a different province and had ruled them as an alien king. So it came about that the king's bones remained outside the gates all night, with only a large awning spread over the wagon in which they lay. But a sign from heaven showed them that the bones should be


I. Bardney Abbey, Lincs.


welcomed with respect by all the faithful: for throughout the night a pillar of light shone skywards from the waggon, and was seen by nearly all the inhabitants of the province of Lindsey. Early next morning, therefore, the monks who had previously refused to admit it, began to pray earnestly that the holy relics so dear to God should find a resting-place in their midst. Accordingly the bones were washed and laid in a casket made for the purpose, which was placed in the church with fitting honour. And to furnish a lasting memorial of the royal saint, they hung the king's banner of purple and gold over his tomb. The water in which the bones had been washed was poured away in a comer of the cemetery, and from that time on the very earth that had received this venerated water had the saving power to expel devils from the bodies of those who were possessed.

Some while later, when Queen Osthryd was staying in the monastery, the venerable Ethelhild, abbess of a neighbouring house, visited her to pay her respects. This lady, who is still living, is sister of Bishop Ethel win of Lindsey and of Abbot Aldwin of Partney, which lies not far away. While she was talking with the queen, the conversation turned to Oswald, and the abbess told her how she had herself seen the light reaching heavenwards from Oswald's relics on that night. And the queen informed her how the dust from the pavement, on which the water that had washed the bones had been spilt, had already healed many sick people. The abbess then asked that she might be given some of this healing dust; and when it had been given her, she tied it up in a cloth, and put it into a little casket which she took away with her. Some while later, a guest visited her abbey who was often horribly tormented by an evil spirit during the night hours. This man was hospitably welcomed, and had retired to bed after supper, when he was suddenly possessed by the devil and began to cry out, grind his teeth, foam at the mouth, and toss his limbs in wild contortions. No one could hold or bind him, so a servant ran and knocked at the abbess' door to inform her. She opened the monastery gate herself and went out with one of the nuns to the men's quarters, where she called one of the priests to accompany her to the sufferer. On their arrival, they found a crowd already present, none of whom had been able to control the man's wild convulsions. The priest therefore employed exorcism and did all he could to allay the sufferer's frenzy; but all his efforts were useless. When there seemed no hope left of easing his frenzy, the abbess suddenly remembered this dust, and told a maidservant to go at once and fetch the casket containing it. As soon as she returned from her errand and entered the porch of the house where the possessed man lay writhing, he immediately became silent, laying down his head as though to sleep, and relaxing his whole body. 'All in rapt silence stood, with gaze intent,'1 watching anxiously to see the outcome of this affair. After some while, the man who had been so tormented sat up with a deep sigh, saying: “I am now restored to health and in my right mind.” They eagerly asked him what had happened, and he replied: “As soon as the maid carrying the casket approached the porch of the house, all the evil spirits who were tormenting me went away and left me and were nowhere to be seen.” Then the abbess gave him a portion of the dust, and after the priest had offered prayers, the man spent a quiet night and was never again troubled by the old enemy.


CHAPTER 12: A little boy is cured of ague at Saint Oswald's tomb

Some while after this, there was a little boy in the monastery who had been seriously troubled by ague. One day he was anxiously awaiting the hour of an attack, when one of the brothers came in to him and said: “My boy, shall I tell you how you may be cured of this complaint? Get up, and go to Oswald's tomb in the church. Remain there quietly and 


1. Virgil: Aeneid ii. 1. 


mind you don't stir from it until the time that your fever is due to leave you. Then I will come and fetch you.” The boy did as the brother advised, and while he sat by the saint's tomb the fever dared not touch him: furthermore, it was so completely scared that it never recurred, either on the second or the third day, or ever after. A brother of that monastery who told me this Story added that the boy who had been so miraculously cured was by then a young man and still living in the monastery. But it need cause no surprise that the prayers of this king, who now reigns with God, should be acceptable to him, since when he was a king on earth he always used to work and pray fervently for the eternal kingdom.

It is said that Oswald often remained in prayer from the early hour of Lauds until dawn, and that through his practice of constant prayer and thanksgiving to God he always sat with his hands palm upwards on his knees. It is also said, and has become proverbial, that his life even closed in grayer; for when he saw the enemy forces surrounding him and knew that his end was near, he prayed for the souls of his soldiers. “God have mercy on their souls said Oswald as he fell” is now a proverb. As I have already mentioned, his bones were taken up and buried in the Abbey of Bardney; but the king who slew him ordered that his head and hands with the forearms be hacked off and fixed on stakes. The following year, Oswald's successor Oswy came to the place with his army and removed them, placing the head in the church at Lindisfarne, and the hands and arms in his own royal city of Bamburgh.

CHAPTER 13: A man in Ireland is recalled from death's door by means of Oswald's relics

The fame of this illustrious hero was not confined to Britain, for the rays of his beneficent light shone far overseas, and reached Germany and Ireland. The most reverend Bishop Acca tells how, on a journey to Rome, Bishop Wilfrid and he stayed awhile with the most holy Wilbrord, then Archbishop of the Frisians, and how he heard him speak of the miracles that had been done by the relics of the venerated king in his own province. Wilbrord also told them that when he was still a priest in Ireland, and living the life of a pilgrim out of love for his heavenly home, stories of the king's holiness were already current far and wide. I include in this history one of the stories that he told.

“At the time of the great plague that swept Britain and Ireland he said, 'one of its many victims was a scholar of Scottish race, who was well read in literature but utterly uninterested and careless in the matter of his eternal salvation. When he realized that his death was near, he began to fear that as soon as he died his sins would drag him down to hell. As I was in the neighbourhood, he sent for me and said with tears in his voice, sighing and trembling: "You can see how this disease has tightened its hold and brought me to the point of death. I have no doubt that after the death of my body I shall immediately be condemned to the eternal death of the soul and endure all the torments of hell; for although I have made a great study of the scriptures, I have for a long time devoted myself to evil-doing rather than to keeping God's Commandments. But, if God's mercy allows me to survive, I solemnly resolve to amend my evil ways and will completely reform my character and way of life in submission to the will of God. I am fully aware that I do not deserve any prolongation of my life, nor can I expect it, unless it pleases God to pardon a wretched sinner through the intercession of those who have served Him faithfully. I have heard the well-known story of your most saintly King Oswald, whose wonderful faith and virtue have become renowned even after his death by the working of miracles. I therefore beg you, if you possess any of his relics, to bring them to me, and perhaps God will have pity on me for his sake." I told him: "I have a portion of the stake to which the king's head was fixed by the heathen after his death, and if you will make a sincere act of faith, God of His mercy and through the merits of this great saint may grant you a long term of earthly life and render you fitted to enter into life eternal. The man then assured me that he had complete faith in this. Then I blessed some water, and put in it a chip of this oak, and gave it to the sick man to drink. He quickly began to feel better, and having recovered from his illness, he lived many years after. He gave his heart and life entirely to God, and wherever he went he proclaimed the mercy of our kind Creator and the glory of His faithful servant Oswald.

CHAPTER 14: On the death of Paulinus, Ithamar succeeds to his Bishopric of Rochester. An account of the wonderful humility of King Oswin, who was treacherously murdered by Oswy [A.D. 642-651]

When Oswald departed to the kingdom of heaven, his brother Oswy, a young man of about thirty, succeeded to his earthly throne and ruled for twenty-eight troubled years. He was attacked both by the pagan Mercians, who had already killed his brother, and also by his own son Alchfrid and his nephew Ethelwald, son of his brother and predecessor. In the year of our Lord 644, the second year of Oswy's reign, the most reverend father Paulinus, formerly Bishop of York and subsequently Bishop of Rochester, died on the tenth of October, after an episcopate lasting nineteen years, two months, and twenty-one days. He was buried in the sacristy of the church of the blessed Apostle Andrew, which had been founded and built in Rochester by King Ethelbert. In his place Archbishop Honorius consecrated Ithamar, a man of Kent, but as worthy and learned as his predecessors.

During the first part of his reign, Oswy shared the royal dignity with Oswin, who came of Edwin's royal line and was son of the above-mentioned Osric. This prince, who was a man of great holiness and piety, ruled the province of Deira most prosperously for seven years and was deeply loved by all. But even with him Oswy, who ruled the province of Bernicia, that is, the northern part of the Transhumbrian people, could not live peaceably; and when their differences grew more acute, he most treacherously murdered him. For, when the kings had raised armies against each other, Oswin realized that his opponent's forces were far stronger than his own, and decided not to risk an engagement but to await a more favourable opportunity. So he disbanded the army that he had raised at Wilfaresdun, that is, Wilfar's Hill, ten miles north-west of the village of Cataract,1 and sent all his men to their homes. He himself, accompanied by a single trusted soldier named Tondhere, went back and lay concealed in the house of the nobleman Hunwald, whom he regarded as his greatest friend. Alas, it was far otherwise: for Hunwald betrayed Oswin and his man to Oswy, who amid universal disgust ordered his commander Ethelwin to put them both to death. This crime took place on the twentieth of August at In-Getlingum in the ninth year of his reign, and here at a later date, in atonement for this crime, a monastery was built in which prayers were to be offered to God daily for the souls of the two kings, both slayer and slain alike.

King Oswin was a man of handsome appearance and lofty stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner. He was generous to high and low alike, and soon won the affection of everyone by his regal qualities of mind and body, so that nobles came from almost every province to enter his service. But among his other especial endowments of virtue and moderation the greatest was what one may describe as the singular blessing of humility, of which a single instance will be sufficient. He had given Bishop Aidan a very fine horse, in order that


1. Catterick. 

2. Gilling, Yorks.


he could ride whenever he had to cross a river or undertake any difficult or urgent journey, although the bishop ordinarily travelled on foot. Not long afterwards, when a poor man met the bishop and asked for alms, the bishop immediately dismounted and ordered the horse with all its royal trappings to be given to the beggar; for he was most compassionate, a protector of the poor and a father to the wretched. When this action came to the king's ears, he asked the bishop as they were going in to dine: “My lord bishop, why did you give away the royal horse which was necessary for your own use? Have we not many less valuable horses or other belongings which would have been good enough for beggars, without giving away a horse that I had specially selected for your personal use?” The bishop at once answered, “What are you saying, Your Majesty? Is this child of a mare more valuable to you than this child of God?” At this they went in to dinner, and the bishop sat down in his place; but the king, who had come in from hunting, stood warming himself by the fire with his attendants. As he stood by the fire, the king turned over in his mind what the bishop had said; then suddenly unbuckling his sword and handing it to a servant, he impulsively knelt at the bishop's feet and begged his forgiveness, saying: “I will not refer to this matter again, nor will I enquire how much of our bounty you give away to God's children.” The bishop was deeply moved, and immediately stood up and raised him to his feet, assuring him of his high regard and begging him to sit down to his food without regrets. At the bishop's urgent request, the king sat down and began to be merry; but Aidan on the contrary grew so sad that he began to shed tears. His chaplain asked him in his own language, which the king and his servants did not understand, why he wept. Aidan replied: “I know that the king will not live very long; for I have never before seen a humble king. I feel that he will soon be taken from us, because this nation is not worthy of such a king.” Not very long afterwards, as I have related, the bishop's foreboding was borne out by the king's death. And Bishop Aidan himself was taken from this world only eleven days after his beloved king, and received the eternal reward of his labours from our Lord on the thirty-first of August 651.

CHAPTER 15: Bishop Aidan foretells a coming storm and gives seafarers holy oil to calm the waves [A.D. 651]

Almighty God made known the greatness of Aidan's merits by the evidence of miracles, of which it must suffice to mention three in his memory. A priest named Utta, a truthful and serious man, who on that account was generally respected by all, even by worldly princes, was sent to Kent to bring back Eanfled as wife for King Oswy: she was the daughter of King Edwin and had been taken to Kent when her father was killed. Intending to make the outward journey by land and to return with the princess by sea, he went to Bishop Aidan and asked him to pray for him and his companions as they set out on their long journey. When Aidan had blessed them and commended them to God, he gave them some holy oil, saying: “When you set sail, you will encounter a storm and contrary winds. Remember then to pour the oil that I am giving you on to the sea, and the wind will immediately drop, giving you a pleasant, calm voyage and a safe return home.” Everything happened as the bishop foretold. In a rising gale, the sailors dropped anchor, hoping to ride out the storm. This proved impossible; for the roaring seas broke into the ship from every side, and it began to fill. Everyone felt that his last hour had come, when at last the priest remembered the bishop's words. He took out the flask of oil, and poured some of it over the sea, which immediately ceased its raging as Aidan had foretold. So it came about that the man of God through the spirit of prophecy both foretold the storm and, although absent, calmed its fury. The story of this miracle is no groundless fable; for it was related to me by Cynimund, a most faithful priest of our own church Qarrow, who had it from the mouth of the priest Utta, on and through whom the miracle was performed.

CHAPTER 16: Aidans prayers save the royal city when fired by the enemy

Another notable miracle of the same father Aidan is told by those in a position to know the facts. While he was bishop, Penda and his enemy army of Mercians spread ruin far and wide throughout the lands of the Northumbrians and reached the very gates of the royal city, which takes its name from Bebba, a former queen. Unable to enter it either by force or after a siege. Penda attempted to set fire to it. Pulling down all the neighbouring villages, he carried to Bamburgh a vast quantity of beams, rafters, wattled walls, and thatched roofs, piling it high around the city wall on the landward side. Directly the wind became favourable, he set fire to this mass, intending to destroy the city. Now, while all this was happening, the most reverend Bishop Aidan was living on Fame Island, which lies nearly two miles from the city and which was his retreat when he wished to pray alone and undisturbed: indeed, his lonely hermitage can be seen there to this day. When the saint saw the column of smoke and flame wafted by the winds above the city walls, he is said to have raised his eyes and hands to heaven, saying with tears: “Lord, see what evil Penda does!” No sooner had he spoken than the wind shifted away from the city, and drove back the flames on to those who had kindled them, so injuring some and unnerving all that they abandoned their assault on a city so clearly under God's protection.

CHAPTER 17: The wooden buttress of the Church against which Aidan leaned as he died is untouched when the rest of the Church is burned down. His spiritual life [A.D. 651]

Death came to Aidan when he had completed sixteen years of his episcopate, while he was staying at a royal residence near the capital. Having a church and lodging there, Aidan often used to go and stay at the place, travelling about the surrounding countryside to preach. This was his practice at all the king's country-seats, for he had no personal possessions except his church and a few fields around it. When he fell ill, a tent was erected for him on the west side of the church, so that the tent was actually attached to the church wall. And so it happened that, as he drew his last breath, he was leaning against a post that buttressed the wall on the outside. He passed away on the last day of August, in the seventeenth year of his episcopate, and his body was soon taken across to Lindisfarne Island and buried in the monks' cemetery. When a larger church, dedicated to the most blessed Prince of the Apostles, was built there some while later, his bones were transferred to it and buried at the right side of the altar in accordance with the honours due to so great a prelate.

Finan, who had also come from the Scottish island and monastery of Iona, succeeded him as bishop and held the office for a considerable time. Some years later, Penda, King of the Mercians, came into these parts with an invading army and destroyed everything that he found with fire and sword; and he burned down the village and the church where Aidan had died. But, in a wonderful manner, the beam against which he was leaning at his death was the only object untouched by the flames which devoured everything around it. This miracle was noticed and a church was soon rebuilt on the same site, with the beam supporting the structure from the outside as before. Sometime later in another fire, caused this time by carelessness, the village and church were again destroyed; but even on this occasion the beam remained undamaged. For, although in a most extraordinary way the flames licked through the very holes of the pins that secured it to the building, they were not permitted to destroy the beam. When the church was rebuilt for the third time, the beam was not employed as an outside support again, but was set up inside the church as a memorial of this miracle, so that those who entered might kneel there and ask God's mercy. Since that day many are known to have obtained the grace of healing at this spot, and many have cut chips of wood from the beam and put them in water, by which means many have been cured of their diseases.


I have dealt at length with the character and life of Aidan, although one cannot commend or approve his inadequate knowledge of the proper observance of Easter; indeed, as I have made clear in my book on the seasons, I strongly disapprove of these practices. None the less, as a truthful historian, I have given an accurate account of his life, commending all that was excellent and preserving his memory for the benefit of my readers. He cultivated peace and love, purity and humility; he was above anger and greed, and despised pride and conceit; he set himself to keep as well as to teach the laws of God, and was diligent in study and prayer. He used his priestly authority to check the proud and powerful; he tenderly comforted the sick; he relieved and protected the poor. To sum up in brief what I have learned from those who knew him, he took pains never to neglect anything that he had learned from the writings of the evangelists, apostles and prophets, and he set himself to carry them out with all his powers.

I greatly admire and love all these things about Aidan, because I have no doubt that they are pleasing to God; but I cannot approve or commend his failure to observe Easter at the proper time, whether he did it through ignorance of the canonical times or in deference to the customs of his own nation. But this in him I do approve, that in keeping his Easter he believed, worshipped, and taught exactly what we do, namely the redemption of the human race through the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven of the Man Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. He always kept Easter, not as some mistakenly suppose, on the fourteenth moon whatever the day was, as the Jews do, but on the Lord's Day falling between the fourteenth and twentieth days of the moon. He did so because he held that the Resurrection of our Lord took place on the day following the Sabbath and because, like the rest of Holy Church, he rightly expected our own resurrection to take place on the same day after the Sabbath, which we now call the Lord's Day.

CHAPTER 18: The life and death of the devout King Sigbert [A.D.635]

About this time, after the death of Earpwald, successor to Redwald, the kingdom of the East Angles was ruled by his brother Sigbert, a good and religious man who had been baptized long previously in Gaul while he had been living in exile to escape the hostility of Redwald. When he returned home and became king, he wished to copy what he had seen well contrived in Gaul, and he was quick to found a school for the education of boys in the study of letters. In this project he was assisted by Bishop Felix, who had come to him from Kent and provided him with teachers and masters according to the practice of Canterbury.

King Sigbert became so ardent in his love for the kingdom of heaven that he abandoned the affairs of his earthly kingdom, and entrusted them to his kinsman Egric, who had already governed part of the kingdom. He then entered a monastery that he had founded and, after receiving the tonsure, devoted his energies to winning an everlasting kingdom. A considerable while later, the Mercians led by King Penda attacked the East Angles who, finding themselves less experienced in warfare than their enemies, asked Egbert to go into battle with them and foster the morale of the fighting men. When he refused, they dragged him out of the monastery regardless of his protests, and took him into battle with them in the hope that their men would be less likely to panic or think of flight if they were under the eye of one who had once been a gallant and distinguished commander. But, mindful of his monastic yows, Sigbert, surrounded by a well-armed host, refused to carry anything more than a stick, and when the heathen charged, both he and King Egric were killed and the army scattered.

These kings were succeeded by Anna son of Eni, an excellent man of royal stock, and father of a distinguished family, of whom I shall give an account in due course. Anna also was later killed by the same pagan king of the Mercians who had slain his predecessors.

CHAPTER 19: Fursey establishes a monastery among the East Angles: the incorruption of his body after death attests to his visions and holiness [A.D. 633]

During Sigbert's reign there came from Ireland a holy man named Fursey, renowned for his words and doings and outstanding in virtue. His purpose was to spend his life as a pilgrim for love of our Lord, and to go wherever he found an opening. On his arrival in the province of the East Angles, he was honourably received by the king and preached the Gospel as he always did. Inspired by the example of his goodness and the effectiveness of his teaching, many unbelievers were converted to Christ, and many who already believed were drawn to greater love and faith in him.

Once when he was ill, God granted Fursey to enjoy a vision, in which he was directed to continue his diligent preaching of the word and to maintain his accustomed vigils and prayers with indefatigable zeal; for although death is certain, its coming is unpredictable, as our Lord says: Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.9 Stimulated by this vision, Fursey set himself with all speed to build a monastery on a site given him by King Sigbert, and to establish a regular observance in it. This monastery was pleasantly situated in some woods close to the sea, within the area of a fortification that the English call Cnobheresburg meaning Cnobhere's Town. Subsequently, Anna, king of the province, and his nobles endowed the house with finer buildings and gifts.

Fursey was of noble Irish blood and even more noble in mind than in birth; for from his boyhood he had not only read sacred books and observed monastic discipline but, as is fitting in saints, had also diligently practised all that he learned.

In course of time he had built himself a monastery in which he might devote himself more freely to sacred studies. There, as the book on his life informs us, he fell ill and entered a trance; and quitting his body from sunset to cockcrow, was privileged to see the choirs of angels, and to hear the songs of the blessed. He used to say that, among other things, he clearly heard them sing: 'The saints shall go from strength to strength9, and 'The God of gods shall be seen in Sion. Then he returned to bodily consciousness; but three days later he was again withdrawn from it, and saw not only the greater joys of the blessed, but the amazing struggles of evil spirits, who fought to prevent his approach to heaven by constant wicked accusations: nevertheless, under the protection of the angels, he reached his goal. And if any one wishes to learn about these experiences in greater detail, let him read the above-mentioned little book on his life, and I think that he will reap great benefit from it. It describes the deceitful cunning with which the devils threw back at him his actions, his idle words, and even his thoughts, as though they were recorded in a book; and it tells of the joyful and sorrowful things that he learned both from the angels and from the saints who appeared among the angels.

I have, however, thought it proper to record in this history one happening which may be helpful to many. When Fursey had been carried up to a great height, he was told by his angel guides to look back at the world. As he looked down, he saw what appeared to be a gloomy valley beneath him, and four fires in the air, not far from one another. Asking what these were, the angels told him that they were the fires which were to burn and consume the world. “One of them is Falsehood, when we do not renounce Satan and all his works as we promised at our Baptism. The next is Covetousness, when we put the love of worldly wealth before the love of God. The third is Discord, when we needlessly offend our neighbours, even in small matters. The fourth is Cruelty, when we think it no crime to rob and defraud the weak.” These fires gradually grew together and merged into one vast conflagration, so that Fursey in alarm cried to the angel: “Master, the fire is coming near me!” To which the angel replied: “It will not burn you, because you did not kindle it; for although it appears as a great and terrible fire, it tests everyone according to his deserts, and will burn away his sinful desires. For as every man's body is set on fire by unlawful desire, so when death frees him from the body, he must make due atonement for his sins by fire.” Then he saw one of the three angels who had been his guides in both his visions go forward and divide the flames, while the other two flew on each side of him to protect him from harm. He also saw devils, who flew through the flames stirring up the fires of war against the just. These evil spirits made accusations against him, while the good spirits spoke in his defence. Fursey also saw a greater vision of the heavenly hosts and of the saints of his own nation who had once worthily adorned the dignity of priesthood, and from them he learned many things of spiritual benefit both to himself and to those who were ready to listen. And when they had ended speaking and returned to heaven with the other angelic spirits, there remained with Fursey the three angels who were to restore him to his body. As they approached the great fire, the angel divided the flames as before for him to pass. But when the man of God came to the passage opened among the flames, wicked spirits seized one of those whom they had been tormenting in the fire, and thrust him against Fursey, so that he was burned on his shoulder and jaw. He recognized this man, and remembered that he had received some of his clothing when he died. And when the holy angel quickly took the man and cast him back into the flames, the malicious devil said: “Don't reject one of your own friends; for since you accepted the property of this sinner, you must share his punishment.” But the angel defended Fursey, saying: “He did not accept them out of greed, but in order to save the man's soul.” The fire then died down, and the angel turned to Fursey, saying: “You lit this fire, so you were burned: had you not accepted property from one who died in his sins, you would not have shared his punishment.' And he went on to instruct Fursey in salutary words what should be done for the salvation of those who repented on their death-bed. And when Fursey had been restored to his body, he found that the burn that he had received in his soul had left a permanent and visible scar on his shoulder and jaw; and in this strange way his body afforded visible evidence of the inward sufferings of his soul. He continued to set an example of virtue to others in his life and teaching as before, but he would relate his visions only to those who were moved by penitence to ask him. An old brother of our monastery, who is still living, testifies that he once knew a truthful and devout man who had met Fursey in the province of the East Angles, and heard of these visions from his own mouth. He added that it was a frosty and bitter winter's day when Fursey told his story; and yet, though he wore only a thin garment, he was sweating profusely as though it had been summer, either because of the consolation or the terror of his recollections.

To return to my original narrative, when Fursey had preached the word of God among the Irish for many years, he could no longer endure the crowds that thronged him. So he abandoned everything he seemed to possess and, leaving his native island with a few companions, crossed into Britain to the province of the Angles, where he preached the word of God and built the above-mentioned noble monastery. Having done this with success, he began to long to be rid of all worldly business, even of the affairs of the monastery; and having entrusted the care of souls to his brother FuUan and the priests Gobban and Dicul, he freed himself of all worldly responsibilities and resolved to end his life as a hermit. Now Fursey had another brother named Ultan, who after many years in a monastery had adopted the life of a hermit. So Fursey sought him out alone and for a year shared his life of prayer and austerity, supporting himself by daily manual labour.

At this period, the province was again distressed by the attacks of the heathen, and Fursey, foreseeing that even monasteries would be endangered, set his affairs in order and sailed over to Gaul, where he was honourably received by King Clovis [II] and his chamberlain Earconwald, and built a monastery at Latiniacum. Not long afterwards, when he fell sick and died, the noble Earconwald took his body and placed it in the porch of a church he was building in his estate called Peronne, until the church itself should be consecrated. This took place twenty-seven days later, and when the body was taken from the porch to be buried near the altar, it was found to be as free from decay as on the day of his death. Four years later a more suitable chapel was built for his resting-place to the east of the altar, and his still uncorrupt body was transferred to it with great honour. In this chapel God has granted many miracles as evidence of the saint's merits. I have briefly recorded these events and the incorruption of his body, so that the reader may understand more clearly how great a man Fursey was. But he will find a fuller account of Fursey and his companions in the book on his life which I have mentioned.

CHAPTER 20: On the death of Honorius [A.D. 653], Deusdedit succeeds him as Archbishop of Canterbury. The succession of the bishops of the East Angles and of Rochester

Meanwhile Felix, Bishop of the East Angles, died after an episcopate of seventeen years, and Archbishop Honorius consecrated Thomas his deacon from the province of the Gyrwas to succeed him. He died after five years in the bishopric, and was followed by Bertgils, a man of Kent known as Boniface. Archbishop Honorius himself, having run his course, died on the thirtieth of September 653, and after a vacancy of eighteen months Deusdedit, a West Saxon, was elected to the archiepiscopal see and so became the sixth Archbishop. He was consecrated by Ithamar, Bishop of Rochester, on the twenty-sixth of March (655), and ruled the see until his death nine years, four months, and two days later. And on the death of Ithamar, Deusdedit himself conconsecrated Damian, a South Saxon, in his place.

CHAPTER 21: The Province of the Middle Angles, under its king Peada, becomes Christian [A.D. 653]

About this time the Middle Angles, ruled by their king Peada, son of Penda, accepted the true Faith and its sacraments. Peada, who was a noble young man, well deserving the title and dignity of a king, whom his father had appointed to the kingship of this people, went to Oswy king of the Northumbrians and requested the hand of his daughter Alchfled in marriage. Oswy, however, would not agree to this unless the king and his people accepted the Christian Faith and were baptized. So when Peada had received instruction in the true Faith, and had learned of the promises of the kingdom of heaven and of man's hope of resurrection and eternal life to come, he said that he would gladly become a Christian, even if he were refused the princess. He was chiefly influenced to accept the Faith by King Oswy’s son Alchfrid, who was his kinsman and friend, and had married his sister Cyniburg, daughter of King Penda.

Accordingly, Peada was baptized by Bishop Finan, together with his companions and thanes and all their servants, at a well-known village belonging to the king known as At-Wall. Then, taking with him four priests, chosen for their learning and holy life, to instruct and baptize his people, he returned home full of joy. These priests were Cedd, Adda, Betti, and Diuma, all of whom were English except Diuma, who was a Scot. As I have said, Adda was brother of Utta, a well-known priest and Abbot of Gateshead. On their arrival in the province with the king, these priests preached the word of God and found a ready hearing, both noble and common folk alike coming in great numbers daily to renounce their idols and receive Baptism.

King Penda himself did not forbid the preaching of the Faith to any even of his own Mercians who wished to listen; but he hated and despised any whom he knew to be insincere in their practice of Christianity once they had accepted it, and said that any who despised the commandments of the God in whom they professed to believe were themselves despicable wretches. This Christian mission was begun two years before Penda's death. And when Penda was killed, and was succeeded by the Christian King Oswy, as I shall tell later, Diuma, one of these four priests, was consecrated Bishop of the Middle Angles and Mercians by Bishop Finan, since a shortage of priests made it necessary for one bishop to preside over two peoples. During his short episcopate, Diuma converted many to the Faith, and died among the Middle Angles in the district known as In-Feppingum. He was succeeded by Ceollach, a Scot who relinquished the see after a short time and returned to the Isle of Iona, the chief and mother-house of many Scots monasteries. His successor was Bishop Trumhere, a devout man trained as a monk, English by race but consecrated bishop by the Scots. This took place during the reign of King Wulfhere, of whom I shall speak later.

CHAPTER 22: The East Saxons, who had apostatized from the Faith under King Sigbert, are re-converted by the preaching of Cedd [A.D. 653]

About this time also, the East Saxons, who had once rejected the Faith and driven out Bishop Mellitus, again accepted it under the influence of King Oswy. For Sigbert their king, successor to Sigbert the Small, was a friend of Oswy and often used to visit him in the province of the Northumbrians. Oswy used to reason with him how gods made by man's handiwork could not be gods, and how a god could not be made from a log or block of stone, the rest of which might be burned or made into articles of everyday use or possibly thrown away as rubbish to be trampled underfoot and reduced to dust. He showed him how God is rather to be understood as a being of boundless majesty, invisible to human eyes, almighty, everlasting, Creator of heaven and earth and of the human race. He told him that he rules and will judge the world in justice, abiding in eternity, not in base and perishable metal; and that it should be rightly understood that all who know and do the will of their Creator will receive an eternal reward from him. King Oswy advanced these and other arguments during friendly and brotherly talks with Sigbert, who, encouraged by the agreement of his friends, was at length convinced. So he talked it over with his advisers, and with one accord they accepted the Faith and were baptized with him by Bishop Finan in the king's village of At-Wall, so named because it stands close to the wall which the Romans once built to protect Britain, about twelve miles from the eastern coast.

Having now become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, Sigbert returned to the capital of his earthly kingdom after asking Oswy to send him teachers to convert his people to the Faith of Christ and baptize them. Accordingly Oswy sent to the province of the Middle Angles and summoned the man of God, Cedd, whom he dispatched with another priest as companion to evangelize the East Saxons. When these priests had visited the entire province and established a strong Christian community, Cedd returned home to Lindisfame for consultations with Bishop Finan. When the latter learned the great success of his preaching, he invited two other bishops to assist him, and consecrated Cedd Bishop of the East Saxons. And when Cedd had been raised to the dignity of bishop, he returned to his province and used his increased authority to promote the work already begun. He built churches in several places and ordained priests and deacons to assist in teaching the Faith and baptizing the people, especially in the city which the Saxons call Ythancaestir and that called Tilaburg.1 The former place stands on the bank of the River Pant, the latter on the River Thames. Here Cedd established communities of the servants of Christ and taught them to maintain the discipline of the regular life so far as these untutored folk were then capable of doing.

To the great joy of the king and all his people, the Gospel of eternal life made daily headway throughout the province for a considerable time until, at the instigation of the Enemy of all good men, the king was murdered by his own kinsmen. This horrid crime was committed by two brothers who, on being asked their motive, had no answer to make except that they hated the king because he was too lenient towards his enemies and too readily forgave injuries when offenders asked pardon. This then was the fault for which the king was killed, that he sincerely observed the teachings of the Gospel. Yet in this undeserved fate he was overtaken by punishment for his real fault, as the man of God had once foretold. For one of the nobles who murdered him had contracted an illicit marriage, and the bishop, being unable to prevent or correct this, had therefore excommunicated him, forbidding anyone to enter his house or eat at his table. But the king had disregarded this ban and had accepted the noble's


1. Tilbury


invitation to a feast. As he was leaving the house, the bishop met him, and the king immediately dismounted from his horse and fell trembling at his feet, begging pardon for his fault. The bishop, for he too had been on horseback, also dismounted in great anger and, touching the prostrate king with the staff in his hand, exercised his pontifical authority and said: “I tell you that, since you have refused to avoid the house of a man who is lost and damned, this very house will be the place of your death.” However, since the death of this religious king was due to his loyal obedience to Christ's commandments, we may beheive that it atoned for his earlier offence and increased his merits.

Sigbert was succeeded as king by Swidhelm, son of Sexbald, who had been baptized by Cedd in the province of the East Angles at the king's country-seat of Rendlesham, that is, Rendil's House: his godfather was Ethelwald, King of the East Angles, brother of king Anna.

CHAPTER 23: Cedd receives the site for a monastery from King Ethelwald, and hallows it to our Lord with prayer and fasting: his death [A.D. 659]

During his episcopate among the East Saxons, God's servant Cedd often visited his own province, that is the province of the Northumbrians, to preach. Ethelwald, son of King Oswald, who ruled in the region of Deira, knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy, and virtuous man, asked him to accept a grant of land to found a monastery, to which he himself might often come to pray and hear the word of God and where he might be buried: for he firmly believed that the Daily prayers of those who would serve God there would be of great help to him. The king's chaplain had been Cedd's brother, a priest named Caelin, a man equally devoted to God, who had ministered the Word and Sacraments to himself and his family, and it was mainly through him that the king came to know and love the bishop. In accordance with the king's wishes, Cedd chose a site for the monastery among some high and remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation. His purpose in this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass, with reeds and rushes”, so that the fruits of good works might spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like the beasts.

The man of God wished first of all to purify the site of the monastery from the taint of earlier crimes by prayer and fasting and make it acceptable to God before laying the foundations. He therefore asked the king's permission to remain there throughout the approaching season of Lent, and during this time he fasted until evening every day except Sunday according to custom. Even then, he took no food but a morsel of bread, a hen's egg and a little watered milk. He explained that it was the custom of those who had trained him in the rule of regular discipline to dedicate the site of any monastery or church to God with prayer and fasting. But ten days before the end of Lent a messenger arrived to summon him to the king. So in order that the king's business should not interrupt the work of dedication, Cedd asked his brother the priest Cynibil to complete this holy task. The latter readily consented, and when the period of prayer, and fasting came to an end, he built the monastery now called Laestingaeu,1 and established there the observance of the usages of Linchsfarne where he had been trained.

When Cedd had been bishop of the province and administered the affairs of this monastery for many years through his chosen representatives, he happened to visit the monastery during a time of plague, and there fell sick and died. He was first buried in the open, but in the course of time a stone church was built, dedicated to the blessed Mother of God, and in it his body was reinterred on the right side of the altar. 


1. Lastingham, near Whitby. 


The bishop bequeathed the abbacy of the monastery to his brother Chad, who subsequently became a bishop as I shall record later. The four brothers I have mentioned - Cedd, Cynibil, Caelin, and Chad - all became famous priests of our Lord, and two became bishops, which is a rare occurrence in one family. When the brethren of Cedd's monastery in the province of the East Saxons heard that their founder had died and been buried in the province of the Northumbrians, about thirty of them came there wishing either, God willing, to live near the body of their Father, or else to die and be laid to rest at his side. They were kindly welcomed by their brothers and fellow-soldiers of Christ, and all of them died there of the plague with the exception of one little boy who must surely have been preserved from death by the prayers of his Father Chad. For many years afterwards, when this boy was still alive and applying himself to the study of the Scriptures, he suddenly learned that he had never been baptized; so he at once sought salvation in the waters of the font, and was subsequently admitted to the priesthood and proved himself a support to many in the Church. So I have no doubt that, when the boy visited the tomb of his beloved Father, he was saved from imminent death by his prayers, in order that he might escape eternal death and by his witness exercise a ministry of life and salvation to the other brethren.

CHAPTER 24: On the death of Penda, the Province of the Mercians accepts the Faith of Christ: in gratitude for his victory, Oswy gives endowments and lands to God for the building of monasteries [A.D. 655]

At this period King Oswy was subjected to savage and intolerable attacks by Penda, the above-mentioned King of the Mercians who had slain his brother. At length dire need compelled him to offer Penda an incalculable quantity of regalia and presents as the price of peace, on condition that he returned home and ceased his ruinous devastation of the provinces of his kingdom. But the treacherous king refused to consider his offer, and declared his intention of wiping out the entire nation from the highest to the humblest in the land. Accordingly Oswy turned for help to the mercy of God, who alone could save the land from its barbarous and godless enemy; and he bound himself with an oath, saying: “If the heathen refuses to accept our gifts, let us offer them to the Lord our God.” So he vowed that, if he were victorious, he would offer his daughter to God as a consecrated virgin and give twelve estates to build monasteries. This done, he gave battle with an insignificant force to the pagan armies, which are said to have been thirty times greater than his own and comprised thirty battle-hardened legions under famous commanders. Oswy and his son Alchfrid, trusting in Christ as their leader, met them, as I have said, with very small forces. His other son Egfrid was at the time held hostage at the court of Queen Cynwise in the province of the Mercians. But Oswald's son Ethelwald, who should have helped them, had gone over to the enemy and had acted as guide to Penda's army against his own kin and country, although during the actual battle he withdrew and awaited the outcome in a place of safety. When battle had been joined, the pagans suffered defeat. Almost all the thirty commanders who had come to Penda's aid were killed. Among them Ethelhere, brother and successor of King Anna of the East Angles, who had been responsible for the war, fell with all his men. This battle was fought close by the River Winwaed, which at the time was swollen by heavy rains and had flooded the surrounding country: as a result, many more were drowned while attempting to escape than perished by the sword.

In fulfilment of his vow to the Lord, King Oswy gave thanks to God for his victory and dedicated his daughter Aelffled, who was scarcely a year old, to his service in perpetual virginity. He also gave twelve small grants of land, where heavenly warfare was to take the place of earthly, and to provide for the needs of monks to make constant intercession for the perpetual peace of his nation. Six of these lay in the province of Deira, and six in Bernicia, each of ten hides in extent, making one hundred and twenty in all. The daughter whom King Oswy had in this way dedicated to God entered the monastery of Heruteu1 or Hart's Island, at that time ruled by Abbess Hilda. Two years later, the Abbess acquired a property of ten hides at a place called Streanaeshalch, where she founded a monastery. In this the king's daughter became first a novice and later a mistress of the monastic life, until at fifty-nine years of age this holy virgin departed to the wedding-feast and embrace of her heavenly Bridegroom. In the church of this monastery, dedicated to the holy Apostle Peter, she herself, her father Oswy, her mother Eanfled, her mother's father Edwin, and many other noble folk are buried. This battle was won by King Oswy in the region of Loidis3 on the fifteenth of November in the thirteenth year of his reign, to the great benefit of both nations. For not only did he deliver his own people from the hostile attacks of the heathen, but after cutting off their infidel head he converted the Mercians and their neighbours to the Christian Faith.

The first Bishop in the province of the Mercians, together with the people of Lindsey and the Middle Angles, was the above-mentioned Diuma, who died and was buried among the Middle Angles. The second was Ceollach, who resigned the bishopric and returned to the land of the Scots; for both he and Diuma were of Scottish race. The third was Trumhere, an Englishman trained and ordained by the Scots, who was abbot of the monastery of In-Getlingum. As I have said, this was the place where King Oswin had been killed and where his kinswoman Queen Eanfled, in expiation for his unjust death, petitioned King Oswy to grant God's servant Trumhere,

I. Hartlepool.

2. Whitby. 

3. Leeds.

4. Gilling, near Richmond.

who was also a near relative of the king, land on which to build a monastery; in this way, prayer could be offered for the eternal salvation of both kings, slayer and slain alike. For three years after the death of Penda, King Oswy ruled both the Mercians and the other peoples of the southern provinces; he also subjected most of the Picts to English rule. At this time he granted Peada, son of Penda, because he was his kinsman, the Kingdom of the South Mercians, which consists of five thousand hides of land and is divided by the River Trent from the land of the North Mercians, which consists of seven thousand hides. In the following spring, however, during the Festival of Easter, Peada was foully assassinated through the treachery, it is said, of his own wife. And three years after Penda's death the Mercian leaders Immin, Eafa, and Eadbert rebelled against Oswy and proclaimed as king Wulfhere, son of Penda, a youth whom they had kept hidden; and having driven out the representatives of a king whom they refused to acknowledge, they boldly recovered their liberty and lands. Free under their own king, they gave willing allegiance to Christ their true King, so that they might win his eternal kingdom in heaven. King Wulfhere ruled the Mercians for seventeen years and, as I have said, had Trumhere as his first bishop. The second bishop was Jaruman; the third, Chad; the fourth, Wynfrid. All these in turn held the bishopric of the Mercians under King Wulfhere.









Keith Hunt