In this first part of a two part blog entry Fred tells us of the life of St Oswald. (Feast day August 5th)
Born in 604 with a claim to the mostly pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira (jointly referred to as Northumbria in the North of England), Oswald and his brothers were raised in exile in the Irish kingdom of Dal Riata in what is now Scotland. They were converted to their hosts’ Christianity, and Oswald remained pious for the rest of his life.
In 633, Oswald succeeded to the thrones of Northumbria and proceeded to evangelise his people. A great supporter of the Irish missionary, St Aiden, he sponsored the founding of the great monastery on Lindisfarne. He translated many Latin and Irish religious texts into his native English, and was famed for his intellect and wisdom.
Oswald lived the gospel. On one occasion, while hosting a great feast, news was brought of many beggars at the gate of his hall. He immediately distributed the feast among them, and then broke up the silver plate and had that distributed too. This event led Aiden to hold up Oswald’s arm and declare “may this arm never whither”. The arm was supposedly intact until the Great Iconoclasm of the 16th Century.
Facing a massive invasion from the pagan, Penda of Mercia and his British allies, Oswald was visited by an angel who instructed him to raise a wooden cross and have his army pray. The next day, they won a great victory against the odds, and the battlefield become known as Heavenfield.
In 642, Oswald was killed fighting Penda’s Mercians and the Britons at Maserfield, and his body was hacked to pieces and limbs rearranged on a ‘tree’ of spears, possibly at what is now Oswestry (Oswald’s Tree).
His relics and burial site, as well as the remains of the cross of Heavenfield were said to work many miracles, and a popular cult of Oswald lasted across Europe until the Faith of Our Fathers was purged in the Reformation.
In the second part Fred will reflect on St Oswald’s role in his personal faith.