Hilda

Abbess of Whitby

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Hilda
Abbess of Whitby

Picture courtesy of prayerfoundation.org

Hilda, abbess of Whitby, was one of the most celebrated of the Anglo-Saxon abbesses, and one of the most influential women in English history. The grandniece of Edwin, king of Northumbria. She was brought up in the pagan tradition, but was prepared for baptism by Bishop Paulinus of York, one of the companions of Augustine of Canterbury, and was baptised in 627 along with Edwin. She lived a quiet and devout life at court for 20 years until deciding to enter monastic life when she was 33.

She intended to join her sister in the monastery at Chelles near Paris, but Bishop Aidan, much impressed by her holiness, invited her to join a small community in East Anglia. A year later Aidan appointed her as abbess of a monastery near Hartlepool in Northumbria. Here she formed her rule of life on the basis of what Paulinus and Aidan had taught her. She gained the greatest respect from Aidan and other bishops and from princes for her wisdom and devotion.

In 657 she established her own monastery at Whitby. It was for both men and women, and under Hilda, became famous for its devotion and study. She was widely sought after for her advice. It was at Whitby that the synod was held in 664 at which it was decided that the English church would follow the Roman traditions rather than the Celtic ones. Hilda had favoured the Celtic tradition, but graciously accepted the synod's decision. She died surrounded by the monks and nuns of Whitby with her last words urging them 'to maintain the gospel peace among themselves and with others'.

BORN:c.614

DIED: 17 November 680, Whitby, North Yorkshire, England.

The quotes on St Hilda at the bottom of our prayer pages today, all come from the Venerable Bede who wrote about her life.