Wilfrid, St

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Wilfrid, St (c.634–c.709). Bishop of Northumbria. Noble, Northumbrian, sent by Queen Eanflæd to study at Lindisfarne, Wilfrid then travelled to Kent, to Lyons, and to Rome. Back home, he introduced Roman ways in the monastery of Ripon, given to him by Alhfrith of Deira, was ordained by Agilbert, Frankish bishop of Wessex, for whom he spoke at the Synod of Whitby (664) in favour of the Roman Easter, and was sent for consecration in Paris as bishop for the Northumbrians.

His subsequent career was stormy, involving deprivation (664–9, 678–86, 691–706) and divisions of his see, appropriation of assets of his monasteries, disagreements with the Northumbrian kings Ecgfrith and Aldfrith and with the archbishops of Canterbury Theodore and Berhtwald, visits to the pope to appeal (he put in some missionary work in Frisia in 678–9 en route), imprisonment, exile, and Northumbrian councils (Austerfield in 703 and Nidd 706). While not at home, he worked amongst the South Saxons, the West Saxons in the Isle of Wight, and in Mercia. He died as bishop of Hexham at Oundle in 709 or 710 and was buried at Ripon. His relics were moved to Canterbury, probably in 948, by Archbishop Oda.

The Wilfridian view, expressed in the partisan life attributed to Eddius Stephanus, was apparently that the good in the Northumbrian church was Roman, that it had been introduced by Wilfrid, and that, like a latter-day Old Testament prophet, he was persecuted by persons with ignoble motives. The historical perception of the opposition, strong at Whitby (under Hilda), Lindisfarne, and perhaps Jarrow, possibly enunciated in Bede's measured account, differed, giving Wilfrid less prominence. Wilfrid's episcopal style and ideals resembled those in Gaul, where bishops had large sees, huge estates, and a high political profile, combining personal asceticism with public grandeur. Theodore implicitly favoured smaller sees, as more manageable and less corrupting, while Irish bishops tended to be glorified priests, inferior in most ways to abbots. There were questions of which monastery could establish precedent for supplying bishops to a see, Whitby having designs on York. Wilfrid may have wanted archiepiscopal status for York.

Wilfrid was in many respects—his ferocity, retinue, the loyalty of his followers, and his death-bed distribution of treasure—an ecclesiastical version of a traditional aristocratic warlord. His wealth was, however, not out of line, which suggests that other considerations irritated his kings. He refused to persuade Queen Æthelthryth to consummate her marriage to Ecgfrith, and if, as is possible, the estates which she had given Wilfrid at Hexham would have reverted to Ecgfrith when she retired, had she not alienated them, Ecgfrith's irritation must have been compounded. Wilfrid's promotion of Æthelthryth's cult was perhaps in part to emphasize his own sanctity. His promotion of King Oswald's cult makes it plausible that he supported claims of Oswald's offspring to the Northumbrian kingship, against those of Oswiu's family. Wilfrid's activities in Mercia and his friendship with Mercian kings, notably Wulfhere and Æthelred, might also have rendered him suspect.

The intensity of feeling Wilfrid aroused is testimony to his importance. Conversion (of Frisians and Anglo-Saxons), foundation of monasteries (including Oundle in Mercia and Selsey in Sussex), and building (his crypts at Ripon and Hexham survive) were grist to his mill. His churches were in Gallic style, proclaiming his allegiances. He also brought from Gaul esteem for the rule of St Benedict, to whose English diffusion he contributed. He was a channel for Roman influence, promoting the cult of the Virgin, but he did not dramatically enhance papal authority.

A. E. Redgate

Wilfrid, St

views updated May 18 2018

Wilfrid, St (634–709). English bishop. As abbot of Ripon, he introduced the Benedictine rule, and at the Synod of Whitby (664) he helped to secure the Roman (against the Celtic) dating of Easter (see also HILDA). He is remembered as a cosmopolitan churchman and proponent of closer relations between the English Church and Rome. Feast day, 12 Oct.

Wilfrid, St

views updated May 21 2018

Wilfrid, St (c.633–709), Northumbrian-born bishop of York and afterwards of Hexham, who at the Synod of Whitby in 664 was a chief proponent of the case for calculating the date of Easter by the Roman rather than the Celtic method. His feast day is 12 October.

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Saint Wilfrid

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Saint Wilfrid