|Hilda of Whitby (c. 614–680)|
I couldn’t let this day pass without paying tribute to St. Hilda, truly a remarkable woman who deserves to be remembered. According to the calendar of the Church of England, today―November 19―is St. Hilda’s Day!
The 7th Century double monastery―funded, founded, built, and led by St. Hilda―is WhitbyForum’s namesake.
For those who don’t know about double monasteries, they were double because they housed both monks and nuns who lived separately, but worshiped and served God together, usually under the leadership of an abbess.
So when Frank and I were brainstorming names for this website with our close friends, Park and Susan Anders, my historian husband pulled Whitby Abbey out of his mental storehouse of historical information and WhitbyForum was birthed―along with the WhitbyForum vision: “Men and women serving God together.”
Hilda of Whitby was abbess of the most famous double monastery in England. As a grandniece of King Edwin of Northumbria, she was born to the life of a noblewoman. She became a Christian at 13 when she was baptised along with others in King Edwin’s household.
Her teacher and mentor was no less than Saint Aiden, the Christian bishop/missionary described as “the Apostle of the English,” who was credited with restoring Christianity to Northumbria, the territory where Whitby Abbey was built.
Hilda became part of the Gallic tradition where noble females became heads of double monasteries. Under her extraordinary leadership, Whitby Abbey became renown as a great center of learning―especially the study of sacred scripture. The Abbey gained a reputation for providing clergy, monks and nuns with a rigorous and thorough religious education, that also included the arts and sciences. The Abbey became known as one of the best seminaries for learning in its day. Whitby Abbey became a school for bishops, producing five during Hilda’s tenure.
In 664, she hosted at her Abbey the Synod of Whitby, bringing together representatives from the Celtic and Roman churches to resolve their ecclesiastical differences.
The Venerable Bede, a well-known Northumbrian monk, preserved St. Hilda’s remarkable history. His writings portray a woman of great energy who was a skilled administrator and teacher. Her reputation for wisdom was so significant that kings and princes sought her advice.
Her concern for ordinary people is reflected in the story of Cædmon, one of the monastery’s herdsmen who was inspired in a dream to sing verses in praise of God. She recognized his gift and encouraged him to develop it. He eventually composed the first hymns in the English language.The contemporary Christian band―Caedmon’s Call
―draws their name from this story.
She inspired deep affection among those who knew her. To quote the Venerable Bede, “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.
History reminds us that godly men have always learned from women and benefited from their wisdom. We have much to celebrate today!
Happy St. Hilda’s Day!