Today is the feast day of Saint Wilfrid. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Wilfrid was born about the year 634 of an Christian family. He was unhappy at home. Through the unkindness of a stepmother, and in his fourteenth year he was sent away to the Court of King Oswy, King of Northumbria. Here he attracted the attention of Queen Eanfleda and by her, at his own request, he was sent to the Monastery of Lindisfarne. Here he was trained by the Celtic monks at Lindisfarne.
Yet even as a boy Wilfrid longed for perfect conformity with the Holy See in discipline as well as in doctrine, and at the first opportunity he set out for Rome. When his devotion and his desire for instruction in the difficulties of the liturgy were satisfied, he was ready to return to England. On his way home he stayed for three years at Lyons, where he received the tonsure from Bishop Annemundas.
Returning to England he received the newly founded monastery at Ripon as the gift of Alchfrid, Oswy’s son and heir. Here he established the full Benedictine Rule. The Columbite monks, who had been settled previously at Ripon, withdrew to the North. It was not until he had been for five years Abbot of Ripon, that Wilfrid became a priest. His main work at Ripon was the introduction of Roman rules and the putting forward of a Roman practice with regard to the point at issue between the Holy See and the Scottish monks in Northumbria; to settle these questions the synod of Whitby was held in 664.
Chiefly owing to Wilfrid’s advocacy of the claims of the Holy See the votes of the majority were given to that side, and Colman and his monks, bitterly disappointed, withdrew from Northumbria. Wilfrid was elected bishop in Colman’s place, and, refusing to receive consecration from the northern bishops, whom he regarded as schismatics, went over to France to be consecrated at Compiegne.
He again remained for a time across the Channel, and then found, when he returned to England, that another had replaced him in his newly assigned see of York. That bishop, whose position was more than doubtful, was persuaded to retire when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Northumbria; Wilfrid was thereby reinstated in 669. He enforced the Roman obedience in his see and founded many monasteries of the Benedictine Order.
As Bishop of York he had to combat the passions of wicked kings, the cowardice of worldly prelates, the errors of holy men. He was twice exiled and once imprisoned; finally the difficulties were settled with the aid of Roman authority. In 686 he was called back to his diocese of York, where eventually he swept away the abuses of many years and a too national system, and substituted instead a vigorous Catholic discipline, modeled and dependent on Rome.
When the large see of York was definitively divided and suffragan dioceses established, Saint Wilfrid was given two smaller sees but not York. He decided to accept the settlement reached with other British ecclesiastics, since the principle of Roman authority had been vindicated. He died October 12, 709, amid the monks of Ripon and was buried in this monastery. The greater part of his relics were transferred to the cathedral of Canterbury in the year 959.
Beyond all others of his time, St. Wilfrid stands out as the great defender of the rights of the Holy See. For that principle he fought all through his life, first against Colman and the Scottish monks from Iona, and then against Theodore and his successor in the See of Canterbury; and much of his life was spent in exile for this reason. But to him above all others is due the establishment of the authority of the Roman See in England, and for that reason he will always have a very high place among English saints.
Eddius, the biographer of St. Wilfrid, was brought by that saint from Canterbury when he returned to York in 669. His special work was to be in connection with the music of the church of York, and he was to teach the Roman method of chant. He was an inmate of the monastery of Ripon in 709, when St. Wilfrid spent his last days there, and he undertook the work of writing the life of the saint at the request of Acca, St. Wilfrid’s successor in the See of Hexham. The best edition of the work is in Raines, “Historians of the Church of York” (Rolls Series).
Image: Lambert Barnard (1485 – 1567), created Chichester Cathedral’s Tudor paintings by command of Robert Sherborne Bishop of Chichester in 1519. They are believed to be the largest surviving paintings of their kind, the two huge painted panels (14ft x 32ft) are on display in the transepts of the Cathedral, from which this copy, an engraving by T.King Drawing Master Chichester October 1807, was taken. It shows Wifrid receiving a charter from King Caedwella (7)
Research by REGINA Staff