Please note that this is a scheduled post because I’m actually in retreat today.
Hilda, or Hild, of Whitby, is the patron saint of the town of Whitby. She’s really quite an interesting woman. Her feast day is today, 17th November, although the lectionary (the church’s calendar that tells you when the saints days occur and what bits of the Bible you’re supposed to read) has usurped her with Hugh of Lincoln and shunted her off to the 19th, which this year is a Sunday, so most places will simply forget she exists.
Except here in the North East of England, where there are many churches dedicated to her. Although she’s known as Hilda of Whitby, she moved around quite a bit. Baptised aged 13 in York, we then know nothing of her life for about 20 years or so, when aged 33, she re-appears and wants to join a Religious Order in France, just like her older sister. (It’s thought, although we don’t know for sure, that she must have been married and then widowed, because it would be very unlikely for a woman to remain single for her entire life in the 6oo’s.)
However, Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, intervened, and that was a very good thing. Because without that intervention and Aidan suggesting that Hilda stay in the area where she was born and grew up, we would not have the religious sites and places of pilgrimage that we have now, namely areas around Hartlepool and Whitby.
All the information that is available about Hilda comes from one source, the Venerable Bede. It seems he was quite taken with her, even though he would almost certainly have never met her, his being 7 or 8 when she died, at the grand age of 66, which for an Anglo-Saxon woman would be the equivalent to someone living to 110 today!
The main fame for Hilda was her monastery hosting the Synod of Whitby. We don’t have the full details of what went on at that Synod (there was no General Synod twitter account back then, sadly) but we do know that it was decided for everyone to follow the Roman method of calculating when to celebrate Easter and therefore Ash Wednesday and Pentecost.
Another thing of interest. In Anglo-Saxon England, there were probably only about 30 bishops in total. Five of the monks who she taught and spent time with became bishops. That’s quite a hefty percentage of the episcopate to have passed under her tutelage.
Hilda has been and continues to be an inspiration, and I personally think is proof that feminism is not a new thing. Women have been strong leaders since the dawn of time.