St. Hilda

 

Born: Bede said that Hilda died in 680 at the age of 66, which would make 614 the year of her birth. Her parents were Hereric, a prince of Deira (a kingdom that broadly corresponded to Yorkshire) and Breguswith. Hereric was nephew to King Edwin of Northumbria and it is generally thought that Breguswith also came from royal stock. It follows that Hilda was of royal blood: her great uncle was a king. Hilda had a sister, Hereswith, who became queen of East Anglia by marriage.

 

Educated: Hilda and her sister, along with King Edwin and other members of the nobility were baptised on Easter Day 627. They were baptised by Paulinus, a missionary from Canterbury in the River Swale near Catterick.

 

Married: Hilda is not known to have married, but since she did not enter the religious life until she was at least 33, many historians assume that she was married. As a royal princess, it is unlikely that she would enter her thirties without having been married, and Bede made no mention of her being a virgin.

 

Family:  There is no record of Hilda having any children of her own.

 

Home:  Hilda seems to have spent her early years in Northumbria. She spent some time with her sister Hereswith in East Anglia. In around 647, she became a nun and went to live at the monastery on the north bank of the Wear. After a year she was made abbess of the monastery at Hartlepool.

 

Known for: Hilda was the second abbess of Hartlepool, which was a double monastery, housing both monks and nuns. She was abbess at Hartlepool for roughly ten years, before she helped to found another double monastery at Whitby in 657 and became the abbess there. During her time at Hartlepool she gained a reputation for piety and wisdom, prompting St. Aidan and other devout people to visit her there. It may have been Hilda’s personal qualities which inspired King Oswy’s choice of Whitby Abbey as the venue for his great Synod of 664. The King summoned the synod to Whitby to determine whether Northumbria should adopt the practices of the Roman Church or continue with those of the Celtic Church. Hilda failed to convince Oswy to stay true to the Celtic tradition. During her time as abbess, Hilda established a school at the monastery. Five pupils of this school went on to become bishops: Aetla at Dorchester-on-Thames, Wilfrid, Bosa and John of Beverley at York, and Oftfor at Worcester. Hilda is also remembered for her encouragement of Caedmon, the Whitby poet.

 

Died: According to Bede, St. Hilda died on 17th November 680.

 

Further Information:  “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” Bede (731):   “St. Hild, Heritage and Legacy” Michelle P.Brown in “Cleveland History” vol. 106 (2014)