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REVOLTING SAINTS - 2



Wilfrid (634-709) is one of the greatest and also one of the most controversial of English Saints. He helped bring the discipline of the English Church into line with that of Rome, and proved to be a dedicated pastor and a zealous, skilled missionary.


Born to a wealthy family in Northumberland, Wilfrid was second generation Christian. He had an interest in the things of God from a young age and went to study in Lindisfarne, a centre of Celtic Christianity, under St Aidan. Intent on continuing his education, Wilfrid set out to travel to Rome, but was beguiled by the high lifestyle of the Archbishop of Lyon and stayed for quite a while living the high-life.


Eventually he arrived in Rome about 654, when he was about 20. He stayed for a short while, but returned to Lyon, where he continued his education under the patronage of the Archbishop, but this time without the parties!.


At the age of 27, Wilfrid returned to England, and was elected Abbot of Ripon.

His main work at Ripon was the introduction of the Roman rule, and the putting forward of Roman practice as per the wishes of the Holy See in the face of opposition from Scottish monks in Northumbria.To settle this, 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, in consequence of the favours he had then obtained, 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 Compiègne. He delayed some time in France, whether by his own fault or not is not quite clear. On his return in 666 he was driven from his course by a storm, and shipwrecked on the coast of Sussex, where the heathen inhabitants repelled him and almost killed him. He succeeded in landing, however, in Kent not far from Sandwich, and from there he made his way to Northumbria,


His allegiance to Rome had made Wilfrid unpopular, but against local opinion

he was appointed Bishop of York and after some difficulty finally took

possession of his See in 669.


Wilfrid was an advocate for the use of music in ecclesiastical ceremonies. He sent to Kent for a singing master to instruct his clergy in the Roman (Gregorian Chant) style of church music.


Saint Etheldreda, foundress of Ely Abbey

He became Spiritual director to the Northumbrian queen,Æthelthryth,or Etheldreda, the first wife of Ecgfrith. In 678, Wilfrid and King Ecgfrith quarrelled, and Wilfrid was expelled from his see. This was compounded by a profound disagreement with Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. Wilfrid appealed to Rome. While waiting for the case to be decided, he was forced to go into exile. The famous Abbess Hilda of Whitby was the leader of the faction of the Northumbrian church that disliked Wilfrid, and her close ties with Archbishop Theodore helped to undermine Wilfrid's position in Northumbria.


Another contributory factor in Wilfrid's expulsion was his encouragement of King Ecgfrith’s wife, AEhelthryth's (Etheldreda ’s) entry into a nunnery. Wilfrid had personally given her the veil on her retirement to Ely Abbey. Out of her dowry she donated the lands which Wilfrid used to fund and found Hexham Abbey. When Ecgfrith remarried, his new queen wanted to recover this dowry, but it was too late!


Hexham Abbey

In exile he worked hard and long to evangelize the heathen south Saxons who had nearly killed him a decade earlier. The Meon Valley was one of the last places in England to receive the gospel. Its villages were inhabited by Saxons and Jutes, and Saint Wilfrid came to live among them from 681 – 686AD. The churches he founded remain alongside the River Meon and a ‘Pilgrimage Trail, In the Steps of Saint Wilfrid’ has been designed to encourage modern pilgrims and walkers to discover these churches for themselves – and, maybe, to learn something about the faith which motivated Wilfrid to leave his palace and live very humbly amongst these foreign settlers.



For some of that time he spearheaded a mission to Friesland, which was the

starting point of the great English mission to the Germanic peoples.


More trouble “up North”. In 691, he had to retire again to the Midlands, until Rome once again vindicated him. 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.


In 703, he resigned completely, exhausted and brow-beaten,

and retired to his monastery at Ripon, where he spent his remaining time in prayer and penitential practices, until his death (in Oundle) in 709.


St. Wilfrid was controversial, outstanding, extremely capable, revolutionary,

and possessed unbounded courage, remaining firm in his convictions

despite falling-out frequently with civil and ecclesiastical authorities.


His feast day is October 12th.




Peace in the Middle East

God of mercy and compassion, of grace and reconciliation, pour your peace upon all your people in the Middle East: Jews, Muslims and Christians, Palestinians and Israelis. Let hatred be turned into love,

fear to trust,

despair to hope, oppression to freedom,

occupation to liberation, that violent encounters may be replaced by loving embraces, and peace and justice experienced by all.

- Reverend Said


Personal prayer for difficult times

Let nothing disturb you,

let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing away:

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

St Teresa of Avila

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