St Wilfrid OSB (in some places), Oct 12




The feast of St Wilfrid (633-709), abbot and bishop of York, is not celebrated in the Universal Benedictine calendar, but in some places, such as England.

From the martyrology:
"At York, in England, St. Wilfrid, bishop and confessor."
Wilfrid was born in Northumbria in about 633 and left home early due to a family conflict, eventually studying at the monastery of Lindisfarne in Northumbria before ending up at the King of Kent's court at Canterbury in 652.

He undertook a pilgrimage to Rome with St Benedict Biscop some time between 653 and 658.  He seems to have split up with St Benedict Biscop in Lyon, when Wilfrid stayed under the patronage of Annemund, the archbishop. Although he did make eventually make it to Rome, he remained based in Lyons for some years, leaving only after his patron's murder.

St Wilfrid returned to Northumbria in about 658,and  shortly before 664 King Alhfrith gave Wilfrid a monastery he had recently founded at Ripon, formed around a group of monks from Melrose Abbey.  Wilfrid ejected the abbot, Eata, because he would not follow the Roman customs; Cuthbert, later a saint, was another of the monks expelled.

Shortly afterwards Wilfrid was ordained a priest in the kingdom of the Gewisse, part of Wessex.

He was the lead player in the push to adopt the Roman date for Easter (and other customs) at the Synod of Whitby in 666, and a year later was made bishop of York.  He refused to be ordained by the indigenous bishops (considering those of the Irish tradition invalidly ordained) so went to Gaul for the ceremony.  This proved to be a bad mistake though, as while he either lingered there or was detained, another bishop was installed in his place.  Worse, on his way home his ship was wrecked and his party attacked by the local pagans where he landed.

Wilfrid spent three years in exile as abbot of Ripon, before being restored to his see by Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury after his arrival in 669.  Further disputes, however,led him to lose his diocese once again, resolved only partially in his favour after an appeal to Rome.  He eventually retired to his monastery and died at the age of 70.

St Wilfrid and the Rule

St Wilfrid is one of those saints that I have to admit I find difficult to like, though perhaps I have been unduly influenced by St Bede the Venerable's less than favourable presentation of him in his (contemporaneous) history.

Although a great fund raiser, and enthusiastic founder of churches and monasteries, he lived ostentatiously, travelled with a large retinue, seems to have utterly lacked humility, and managed to quarrel with virtually every leading figure of the time.

His main claim to Benedictine fame, though, is the claim in his life that he was the first to introduce the Rule of St Benedict to Northumbria.

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