Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
33. ETHELBURGA:
 
Ethelburga was the daughter of King Ethelbert of Kent, the king who welcomed St. Augustine to Canterbury, and his wife, the Frankish princess Bertha. Bertha was already a Christian when she married, and Ethelbert became Christian as a result of the mission of St. Augustine. So it is likely that Ethelburga was brought up as a Christian. It was agreed that she would marry King Edwin of Northumbria, who at he time was still a pagan. But he accepted that her Christian faith would be respected, that her chaplain would be allowed to preach Christianity, and that Edwin would consider the Christian faith for himself. She brought with her as her chaplain Paulinus, who certainly was permitted to evangelise freely.
 
It must have taken a great deal of courage for a young girl (Anglo-Saxons were usually married in their early teens) to come to an unknown place to marry an unknown man. I hope she was encouraged by a letter she received from the Pope himself (there is a copy of it in Bede). It urged her to do all she could to help the conversion of her husband, and enclosed a present of a silver mirror and an ivory comb. Naturally we don't know how much her example weighed with Edwin, but eventually he did accept the Christian faith.
 
However when Edwin was killed in battle Paulinus thought it his duty to escort Ethelburga, who by now had several young children, back to her family in Kent.
 
Sadly the children seem to have died in infancy, with the exception of the eldest girl, Eanflaed, who returned to Northumbria to marry King Oswy.
 
Like many royal widows Ethelburga then became a nun. Her brother Eadbald King of Kent gave her land at Lyminge where she founded a double-monastery, which she ruled as Abbess until her death in 647. She is one of many examples of Christian royal and noble women, whose influence may well have been considerable, but is, in the nature of things, unrecorded.
 
34. BOSA:
 
Bosa, whose date of birth is not known, was one of the many male students trained by St. Hild at her double monastery at Whitby. Of these we know of five who eventually became bishops: these are Aetla of Dorchester, Oftfor of Worcester, John of Beverley, a second Wilfrid later bishop of York, and Bosa, who was consecrated bishop in 678 by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury.
 
The occasion of his consecration was the quarrel between St. Wilfrid and King Egfrith. Wilfrid, as bishop of York, was in fact bishop of the whole of the north of England. He became too powerful for the King of Northumbria, who expelled him. Archbishop Theodore took the opportunity given by Wilfrid's absence to divide the huge and unwieldly diocese of York. Bosa became bishop of the southern part, the sub-kingdom of Deira, with his seat at York, and Aidan's pupil Eata became bishop of the northern part, Bernicia.
 
Bosa was bishop of York for two periods, 678-686 and 691-705, the year in which he died. Between 686 and 691 Wilfrid returned and reclaimed the diocese of York. But he then quarrelled with King Aldfrith and was again expelled. We have no idea of Bosa's thoughts and feelings about all this. However, the fact that one of Bosa's pupils, Acca, found it possible later to become a disciple of St. Wilfrid, suggests that Bosa, generously, did not communicate any sense of grievance. Bede clearly admired what he knew of Bosa: he calls him 'a man of great holiness and humility'.
 
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