Hilda, St

Hilda, St.

the celebrated abbess of Whitby, was grand-niece of Edwin, king of Northumbria, and conspicuous for piety and devotion to the Christian faith from the age of thirteen. When, after the death of Edwin, the Northumbrians relapsed into idolatry, Hilda withdrew, probably, into East Anglia, but returned to Northumbria on the accession of Oswald, and, devoting herself to a life of celibacy, founded a small nunnery on the Wear. She subsequently (about A.D. 650) became abbess of Heorta, now Hartlepool, where she remained seven years. Oswy, the brother and successor of the gentle and virtuous Oswald, when marching to defend his throne and faith against Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, vowed that if the Lord vouchsafed to him the victory, he would devote to his service in 'holy virginity his infant daughter, the princess Elfleda. Having defeated and slain his dreaded foe near Leeds, in Yorkshire, Oswy, in pursuance of his vow, committed Elfleda, with princely gifts in lands, etc., to the care of Hilda. Soon afterwards Hilda purchased ten "hides" of land at Streoneshalb, now Whitby, and erected a new monastery, in which she, as abbess, took up her abode with her royal charge. The wealth of this monastery, and the dignity and high religious character of Hilda, made it the most celebrated in England, and a nursery of eminent men, among whom may be mentioned Hedda, Wilfrid, and Caedmon, the poet. Dugdale (as quoted by Mrs. Jameson) says that Hilda "was a professed enemy to the extension of the papal jurisdiction in this country, and opposed with all her might the tonsure of priests and the celebration of Easter according to the Roman ritual." She died in November, 680, aged sixty-three years, and was succeeded as abbess by Elfleda. Among the marvels related of her are that a nun at Hakenes saw angels conveying her soul to bliss, and that certain fossils found near Whitby having the form of coiled snakes were those reptiles thus changed by the power of her prayers. Smith, Rel. of Anc. Brit. p. 343-47; Butler, Lives of the Saints, Nov. 18; Wright, Biog. Brit. Lit. (Anglo-Saxon Period), see Index; Jameson, Legends of the Monastic Orders, p. 58-62. (J.W.M.)

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