Oswald, King of Northumbria, St.
OSWALD, KING OF NORTHUMBRIA, ST.
Martyr; b. 604; d. Aug. 5, 642. The son of King Aethelfrith, he lived in exile after his father's death in 616, and was brought up in the monastery of iona. His cousin, King edwin of northumbria, was slain in battle in 633 fighting against Penda, the heathen King of Mercia, and Cadwallon, Penda's British ally. A year later Oswald attacked Cadwallon at Heavenfield, near Hexham, and won a great victory. The wooden cross Oswald erected before the battle long enjoyed fame for its miraculous powers. After Edwin's death Northumbria had lapsed into heathenism, but Oswald, with the help of aidan of lindis farne, sent as bishop from Iona at his request, set about its reconversion. He often accompanied Aidan on evangelizing tours from his see in lindisfarne, sometimes acting as interpreter since Aidan spoke but little English. So Christianity, in its Celtic form, was restored.
bede recounted many tales about the king's humility and generosity. For some time he was overlord of all the English kingdoms, but in 642 he was killed fighting against Penda. His last words, "May God have mercy on their souls," a prayer for his soldiers, later became a proverb. Bede is the source for several stories about cures that took place on the spot where Oswald fell. His body was later discovered and brought by his niece, Queen Osthryth, to a monastery at Bardney in Mercia; but the brethren were unwilling to receive the bones of a former foe. At length the monks were convinced by a column of light above the bier that these were the relics of a saint and gladly received them. From then on the monastery doors were kept continually open. Oswald's head was placed in the coffin of St. cuthbert of lindisfarne and is still in Durham. The arms, long incorrupt, were deposited at Bamborough. The body was translated to Gloucester when Bardney was destroyed in 909 by the Danes; later willibrord took some of the relics to Frisia, and many continental churches still claim them. He is venerated as a martyr, and churches were dedicated to him in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, and northern Italy. Feast: Aug. 9 (formerly 5).
Bibliography: bede, Historia ecclesiastica 2.5, 20; 3.1–3, 5, 6, 9, 11–13; 5.24. Acta Sanctorum Aug. 2:83–103. aelfric of eynsham, Lives of Three English Saints, ed. g. i. needham (London 1966, rev. ed. Exeter 1976). w. hunt, in The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900; reprinted with corrections, 21 v., 1908–09, 1921–22, 1938; supplement 1901– ) 14:1215–17. a. h. thompson, ed., Bede, His Life, Times, and Writings (Oxford 1935) 217–220. j. oswald, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7:1296. r. brÄuer, Das Problem des "Spielmännischen" aus der Sicht der St.-Oswald- Überlieferung (Berlin 1969), legends. Der Münchner Oswald: mit e. Anh., Die ostschwäbische Prosabearbeitung, ed. m. curschmann (Tübingen 1974). c. m. fandrey, Das Oswald-Reliquiar im Hildesheimer Domschatz (Göppingen 1987).