Sage of the Ages

Today the church remembers another delightfully obscure saint who, because of her Celtic heritage and bent, has carved a nice niche in my own heart: St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, Sage of the Ages.

St. Hilda was a Northumbrian princess who was born in the early 7th Century. She was raised in the Christian faith and baptized at the age of thirteen in York. She lived her early years as a member of the King’s court, where she was respected for her insight, and eventually entered into monastic life at the age of thirty-three.

In the year 649 she was appointed Abbess of Hartlepool by St. Aiden, and a few years later went on to found a “double house” in Whitby, a monastery for both men and women, of which she became Abbess. The monastery grew in reputation due to the wise scholarship taught there.

It was here at Whitby in 664 that a meeting took place where the gathered religious elites argued on what to do with the divide between those following Celtic-Christian traditions (earth-oriented, feminine-friendly, wisdom-focused, egalitarian), and those who followed the Roman-Christian traditions (male-centered, punitive, dogmatic, strictly hierarchical, forced piety).

The Synod resulted in a union between the two philosophies, though Hilda remained favorable to the Celtic way of being.

Nevertheless, she was obedient to the decision of the council, and incorporated Roman thought into her official teachings. But, in her practice, she was Celtic to the core. She was known for being wise, and many people would come to her seeking sage advice. The Venerable Bede held her in extremely high regard. She insisted that those preparing for the priesthood study the scriptures, and felt that proper readiness for the office included extending peace and charity beyond the monastery walls.

The towns people, as well as her monastic companions, all called her “Mother.”

In the last years of her life a lingering illness festered and finally took her. She died on November 17th in 680, but due to the number of saints already honored on the 17th of November, St. Hilda received her own date, the 18th, her resurrection morning.

St. Hilda is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that wisdom is not found in adhering to dogma, that peace and charity are necessary for clergy, and that while much of the church, and much of its history, has a problem with women in positions of power, they have always been there and should always be there.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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