Keys to the Past

Glossary

Wilfrid

(634-709AD)
Wilfrid is a Anglo-Saxon saint associated with Northumbria - but by no means exclusively so. (His life is a contrast to that of Bede). He was born to a wealthy family and out of his own choosing entered religious life when 14. He was first at Lindisfarne (Northumberland) - but then travelled to Rome on the first of his many journeys. (With Wilfred was Saint Benedict Biscop who was had turned to a religious life. He was later to found Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, (both Tyne and Wear) monasteries). Wilfred returned once he had studied canon and scripture law at seminaries in Rome and France.

Upon his return Wilfrid was awarded lands to build monasteries. He was appointed to represent the Roman styles of worship at the Synod of Whitby in 664AD. This dealt with methods of worship, the calculation of the dates of Easter, and types of tonsure (monastic haircuts) were discussed. Wilfrid's arguments won the day. He was appointed as Bishop of Lindisfarne and York in time, building churches in the Roman manner at Hexham (Northumberland) and Ripon (Yorkshire) and York. These buildings were constructed in stone, with crypts, spiral stairs, pillars and ornate decoration whilst Wilfrid was in favour.

However, Wilfrid was out of favour and deprived of his legal rights as Bishop. He was deprived in such a way three times and put forward his case to the Pope in Rome twice in person. On returning once he was imprisoned. Whilst out of favour he acted as a missionary in Frisia (the Netherlands and Germany), Sussex (where he had a narrow escape from pagans after being shipwrecked) and then in Mercia (the English Midlands). Wilfrid died at his own monastery of Oundle, (Northamptonshire). His own followers carried out his work in Northumbria, by Acca as Bishop of Hexham, and abroad. Willibrord (653-739AD) was a pupil of Wilfrid's at Ripon - but acted as a missionary to Frisia and died his founded monastery in Luxembourg. A hagiography of Wilfrid was written by Eddius Stephanus - who knew, and travelled, with Wilfrid.

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