Anglo-Saxon Saints

Anglo-Saxon Saints

Hlafdige Arastorm © Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor 2016

First, remember that there were Christians in what is now Great Britain before Pope Gregory sent Augustine as a missionary un 597. There were a lot of Celtic Christians, who acknowledged Rome, but just didn’t feel they needed to check in with the Pope. Also remember that Augustine of Canterbury is not the same as St. Augustine of Hippo- who lived in the 4th century and is one of “Fathers” of the Church (he wrote a lot).

During the 7th century, Kings supported the church with huge land grants. Often they installed their daughters to run monasteries. Double monasteries (one house male, one female) were popular and even run by these royal women. Kings were used to rewarding service with land, they may not have been aware that the Church never gave anything back. Bede worried that the extent of these gifts sometimes interfered with the ability of Kings to raise armies to defend the people.

Anglo-Saxon Kings were known to retire and become abbots (apart from the SCA, one of the few places you can be an ex-king and alive). They would create a religious house (self supporting) and move in as the Abbot. Queens often also retired to monasteries. These were also use like finishing schools for upper class women. Children could be fostered with individuals or foundations for training. Sometimes they took orders, sometimes not.

After the Synod of Whitby 664, (and probably complicated by huge losses to the plague that year), accommodation between the Roman and Celtic churches became more obvious. While one bishop could make another bishop, three was preferable, but they were down to one, and he was Celtic! So Wilfrid went to Paris to be elevated.

Abbots and Abbesses were often made saints soon after they died. People were sometimes even considered saints while still alive. Of the first 25 Archbishops of Canterbury, nearly all were canonized. Miracles that attest to sainthood included visions, and healings, as well as healings by relics after they died, visions of them by others, and their bodies being “uncorrupted” (not as rotted as expected) when they were moved. Often a sweet smell would be described.

Martyrdom also contributed to saintliness. While being killed defending the faith was the “best” (red martyrdom), there were also green martyrdom and white martyrdom. Jerome spoke of White martyrdom of hermits going to live in the desert. Green martyrdom may be the Irish version of that (not many deserts in Ireland), or sometimes severe fasting, and mortification of the flesh.

During the 9th century many monasteries were sacked by Vikings (that’s where the treasure was). The late 10th century was the Age of the Benedictine or Monastic Reform. Most monasteries were staffed by secular clergy, usually married. Dunstan, Æthelwold and Oswald led this push to make them follow Benedictine Rule more closely (poverty, celibacy, obedience, humility, moderation in speech, frequent and regular prayer and psalms, physical labor).

Some of the most Popular Anglo-Saxon Saints:

Æthelthryth aka Audrey, Chad, Cuthbert, Eadgyth aka Edith, Edmund , Hild, Oswald, Swithin, Wilfrid,

Others include Alfred the Great, Bede, Boniface, Benedict Biscop, Botolph (patron of Travelers), Cædmonm Cedd, Dunstan, Mungo aka Kentigern, Weburh,

Albertson, Clinton, Anglo-Saxon Saints and Heros, Fordham U Press 1967

Cavill, Paul, Anglo-Saxon Christianity, Fount, 1999

Phillips, Fr Andrew, The Hallowing of England, Anglo-Saxon Books, 1994 (and Wikipedia)