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St. Wilfrid

Bishop & Confessor

Wilfrid, at the age of thirteen, left home to escape from mistreatment by his stepmother; and thenceforth he found little peace on earth; for he fought vigorously all his life long to bring the Christians of England who followed the peculiar Celtic customs into accord with the more general usages of the Church of God, under the discipline of the Holy See.

Being the son of a Northumbrian thane, he went first to the court of King Oswy, and thence was sent, at the age of fourteen to Lindisfarne and Whitby for instruction in divine science. He also studied the Roman usages at Canterbury; and in 654 set out for Rome with Saint Benedict Biscop on the latter’s first journey to the eternal city. There he tried to perfect himself in holy things, and was finally made secretary to Pope Saint Martin.

When he returned to England, Aldfrid, son of Oswy, appointed him to instruct the Northumbrians in the Roman usages, for that prince liked not the Celtic customs concerning the date of Easter and various other matters, any more than Wilfrid. And when Alfred required the monks whom he had placed in the newly-built monastery at Ripon to give up their peculiar Celtic usages, many of them returned to their former monastery of Melrose; whereupon Wilfrid was made Abbot of Ripon. Now when the dispute regarding the two ecclesiastical observances became more acute, a synod was held at Whitby to decide the matter. For the Celtic party said their usages came through France from the tradition which Saint John the Evangelist had established in Asia Minor, whereas the Roman party claimed the authority of the Prince of the Apostles for their custom.

And when most of those present at the council decided in favor of Roman canon law and discipline, the others withdrew from work in Northumbria and retired to the holy island of Iona. Whereafter Wilfrid was chosen Bishop of the Northumbrians and went to Paris for consecration, for he held the neighboring bishops as schismatics. But he was so long delayed on this journey that King Oswy grew impatient, and had Saint Chad consecrated in his stead. Which was the occasion of fresh controversy when Wilfrid returned and went to live in his Abbey of Ripon.

However, in 699 Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, set him up as Archbishop of York, and Chad went to work among the Mercians. But Wilfrid incurred the enmity of Egfrid, after the latter became King; which the same moved Saint Theodore to divide the northern territory into four dioceses, leaving one for Wilfrid, and intruding three others into the rest of Wilfrid's former jurisdiction. Then was made the first appeal to the Holy See, namely, from Wilfrid as Bishop of York, against the Archbishop of Canterbury; to which end Wilfrid set out for Rome a second time. And on his way thither he preached the Gospel mightily in Friesland, converting many heathens, and thereby opening the way for the harvest of souls with Saint Willibrord and his companions gathered in.

Now when Pope Saint Agatho had decided the case in Wilfrid's favour, he returned to King Egfrid with the decree, who promptly cast him into prison, and kept him there for many months. And when he was set free, he was obliged to flee from one place to another, until he came into the region of the South Saxons. There he settled down, and laboured greatly in the Gospel, converting many, and establishing a bishoprick which afterwards became the See of Chichester. But in 686, after King Egfrid had died, Wilfrid was recalled to York, through an intervention of Saint Theodore and others. However, so many difficulties arose that he went to Rome for a third time, to make a second appeal to the Holy See. As a result of which he was again, by papal decree, awarded all his foprmer authority in Northumbria. But he was then seventy-two years old, and shortly thereafter died in peace, namely on April 24th, 709. But his feast is usually kept on October 12th, being the day of the translation of his relicks.

Excerpt from the Anglican Breviary

Additional Information:

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