August 5 - Saint Oswald of Northumbria

Son of the pagan King Aethelfrith the Ravager of Bernicia and PrincessAacha of Deira, the second of seven children. Brother of Saint Ebbe the Elder. Nephew of Saint Ethelreda. When his father was killed in battlewhen Oswald was eleven years old, his mother fled with the family for the court of King Eochaid Buide at Dunadd in modern Scotland. There heconverted to Christianity. Educated at the Iona Abbey with his brother Oswiu. Soldier; known to have fought at the Battle of Fid Eoin in 628. Contemporary writings describe him as having “arms of great length and power, eyes bright blue, hair yellow, face long and beard thin, and his small lips wearing a kindly smile”. Reported to have had a pet raven for years.

In 634, Oswald formed his own army, returned to Northumbria, defeated King Cadwallon of Gwynedd, and took the throne of Northumbria. Prior to the battle, he had received a vision of Saint Colman of Lindisfarne; he had also erected a large cross on the field on the night before, attributed his win to his faith and the intervention of the saint, and the victory is known as the Battle of Heavenfield. Brought Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne toNorthumbria as bishop to evangelize the kingdom. Built churches and monasteries in his realm, and brought in monks from Scotland to help establish monastic life. Married the daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex, and convinced Cynegils to allow Saint Birinus toevangelize in that kingdom.

Due to victories in combat, and family alliances, Saint Bede claims that Oswald was recognised as Bretwalda by all of Saxon England. His royal standard of purplish-red and gold forms the basis of the coat of arms of modern Northumberland. Because he waskilled in battle with invading pagan forces, he is sometimes listed as a martyr. Noted for his personal spirituality, piety, faith, his devotion to the kingdom, his charity to the poor, and his willingness to take arms to defend his throne.

Oswald was a king and a saint, and made a large mark in his short time; inevitably, large tales are told of him.

  • One Easter he was about to dine with Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. A crowd of poorcame begging alms. Oswald gave them all the food and the wealth he carried on him, then had his silver table settings broken up and distributed.
  • Saint Aidan was so moved by the king’s generosity that he grasped Oswald’s right hand and exclaimed, “May this hand never perish!” For years after, the king was considered invincible. The hand has, indeed, survived, as it is enshrined as a relic in the Bamburgh church.
  • Oswald’s body was hacked to pieces on the battle field where he fell, and his head and arms stuck on poles in triumph. One arm taken to an ash tree by Oswald’s petraven. Where the arm fell to the ground, a holy well sprang up.
  • Once a horseman was riding near Heavenfield. The horse developed a medical problem, fell to the ground, rolling around in pain. At one point it happened to roll over the spot where Oswald had died, and was immediately cured.
  • The horseman told his story at a nearby inn. The people there took a paralysed girlto the same spot, and she was cured, too.
  • People began to take earth from the spot to put into water for the sick to drink. So much earth was removed that it left a pit large enough for a man to stand in.
  • Oswald’s niece wanted to have the king buried at Bardney Abbey, Lincolnshire. Themonks were reluctant as they were not on good terms with Northumbrianoverlords, and when the burial train arrived at their door after dark, they refused to open to let the party in. However, the coffin emitted a bright light that shone into the heavens. The monks considered it a sign, vowed never to turn away anyone for any reason, and allowed the burial.
  • When the monks washed the bones prior to enshrinement, they poured the water onto the ground nearby. Local people soon learned that the ground had power toheal.
  • A sick man who had led a dissolute life drank water which contained a chip of the stake on which Oswald’s head had been spiked. The man was healed, and reformed his life.
  • A little boy was cured of a fever by sitting by Oswald’s tomb at Bardney.
  • Pieces from the Heavenfield cross were claimed to have healing powers.
  • Healing powers were claimed for moss that grew on the cross.
  • A plague in Sussex, England was stopped by Oswald’s intercession.
  • Archbishop Willibrord recounted to Saint Wilfrid a series of tales of miracles worked in Germany by Oswald’s relics.