Oswald, St

Oswald, St., an English saint, was king of Bernicia, in Northumbria, England, from 634 to 642. He was a son of Ethelfrith, who was born in 604, and who became one of the most powerful S. Rxon monarchs. Oswald was noted for his piety and charitable nature. As a youth, while living in banishment among the Scots in Ireland, he had been instructed in Christianity and baptized by pious monks, and through their influence he was filled with an ardent zeal for the Christian faith. He sought to re-establish in England the Christian religion, which had been well-nigh abolished by Penda, the warlike pagan monarch of Mercia, and his equally warlike ally Cadwallon. Oswald defeated and slew Cadwallon, and having restored to Northumbria its independence in 636, it was now his firm resolution to do his utmost to make the worship of his God universal among his people. In order to carry out this object, he applied to the monks of Iona to send him one of their number. They consecrated the excellent and amiable monk Aidan as bishop, and sent him to Northumbria. Until he had gained a complete knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon tongue, Oswald himself acted as his interpreter. By this joint activity of the zealous king and Aidan, a firm foundation was laid for the Church in that district, and the success of their labor was truly unparalleled. Oswald founded an episcopal see in the island of Lindisfarne; and, aided by other missionaries from Iona, bishop Aidan converted in a few years the whole north of England to Christianity. Oswald, after a reign of eight years, met his death in battle with the pagan tribe of the Mercians, Aug. 5, 642. He fell by the sword of Penda, "in who worshipped Odin, and never left the altars of his grim war-god dry for want of a victim." As an illustration of Oswald's piety, we read in Miller's History of the Anglo-Saxons that "previous to his battle with the Welsh king (Cadwallon), which occurred soon after he was seated upon the throne of Bernicia, he planted the image of the cross upon the field, holding it with his own hands while his soldiers filled up the hollow which they had made in the earth to receive it. When the cross was firmly secured he exclaimed, 'Let us all bend our knees, and with one heart and voice pray to the true and the living God that he in his mercy will defend us from a proud and cruel enemy; for to him it is known that we have commenced this war for the salvation and safety of our people.' All knelt, as he had commanded, around the cross, and when the last murmur of the solemn prayer had died away, they marched onward with stouter hearts to meet the terrible enemy." Of the battle we have no other record than that Cadwallon fell, and that his army was destroyed. The spot where the cross was planted was afterwards called Heaven-field, and was for ages held in great reverence by the people. "Penda hated not the Christians who adhered rigidly to the tenets of their new creed," but if they halted between Christianity and Odinism he abhorred them. The reason why he attacked Oswald is not known. It may have been to revenge the fall and defeat of Cadwallon, or it may have been simply love of conquest. Nor has it ever been charged that he attacked the Bernician king because the latter was a zealous Christian. All that is known is that Penda attacked and slew him at Maserfelth on Aug. 5, 642. In the above-mentioned work by Miller we read that "while the barbed javelin which caused his death was still fixed in his breast, he never for a moment ceased to pray, and that for centuries after his death his name was ever linked with the following pious sentence: 'May the Lord have mercy on their souls! as Oswald said when he fell on the battle-field.'" Of his charitable nature it is related that "one day, as he was about to partake of the refreshments which were placed before him in a silver dish, the almoner, whose office it was to relieve the poor, stepped in and informed him that a number of beggars were waiting without soliciting alms. When his eye alighted upon the rich vessel in which the dainties were piled, the thought of their wants and his own unnecessary luxuries rose before him with so striking a contrast that he ordered the untouched food to be distributed among the beggars, and the silver dish to be broken up and given to them." But Penda, after the battle of Maserfelth, ordered the head and limbs of this pious and charitable king to be severed from the body, and, transfixed on stakes, to be exposed to public gaze. Oswald was canonized. The fifth of March became Oswald's day, and: the legend of Oswald is the theme of many old German poems and of the Icelandic Osvaldo Saga. See Miller, History of the Anglo-Saxons; Osvaldo Saga (Edinb. 1854). His name was cherished in the affection and respect of his nation, and hence soon began to be honored as that of a saint. Miracles were said to be wrought at his tomb and by his relics; and indeed the faith in them prevailed through the whole of these islands. Oswald's remains were carried to Bardney, in Lincolnshire, by Osthrida, and afterwards to St. Oswald's, in Gloucestershire, by Elfieda, the daughter of king Alfred. But more yet than the English legend, German myth has embellished Oswald's name. See Kurtz, Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschich. 1:234 (Mitau, 1874; Engl. trans. Phila. 1875, 1:301); Clement, Handb. of Legendary and Mythological Art, p. 243 (New York, 1872); Neander, Ch. History (Torrey's transl.), 3:20 sq.; Theologisches Universal-Lexikon, s.v.; Die beiden Oswaldgedichte, ed. in Haupt's Zeitschrift fur deutsches Alterthumn, vol. ii, and by Etmiller (Zurich, 1845); Zingerle, Die Oswaldlegende (Stuttg. 1856); Wright, Biog. of Brit. Lit. (see Index); Collier, Eccles. Hist. (see Index in vol. viii); Churton, Hist. of the Early Engl. Church, p. 238, 244. (R. B. A.)

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