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Enfleda

(d. c. 704)


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Edwin (d. 633)

St Wilfrid (c. 634—709) bishop of Hexham

St Paulinus (c. 730—802)

Oswin (d. 651) king of Deira

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(d. c.704),

abbess of Whitby. The daughter of Edwin, king of Northumbria, and his wife Ethelburga, a Kentish princess, Enfleda was baptized by Paulinus at Pentecost 626. This marked the beginning of his fruitful apostolate in Northumbria and was the expression of Edwin's gratitude at being delivered from the hand of an assassin. After Edwin's defeat and death at the battle of Hatfield Chase (633), Ethelburga and Enfleda (now aged seven) returned to Kent with Paulinus. In 642 Enfleda married Oswiu of Bernicia: this marriage to the princess of the Deiran line was planned to unite the two sections of Northumbria into one coherent kingdom. Enfleda, however, was faithful to her Roman-trained teachers; she was the patron of Wilfrid when he was a young man, and her adhesion to the European calculation of Easter while her husband followed the Northern Irish system helped to bring about the Synod of Whitby (663/4), which decided on the single Easter for the whole kingdom. Soon after this Pope Vitalian wrote to Oswiu and sent her a present of a gold cross with a key made out of the links of what were believed to be St Peter's chains.

After Oswiu's death in 670 Enfleda became a nun at Whitby which she ruled with her daughter Elfleda. This was not the first time she had shown interest in the monastic life, for in 651, after her husband had murdered his brother Oswin, she had persuaded him to found the monastery of Gilling in reparation. Oswiu was buried at Whitby, and during Enfleda's rule the relics of her father, Edwin, were translated there and buried in the chapel of St Gregory. Whitby fostered the cult of Edwin as Bardney (Lincs.) promoted that of Oswald. Both Edwin and Oswald had been killed by the heathen Penda of Mercia and both, it was thought, could be accounted martyrs. The destruction of Whitby and its records by the Danes has removed all trace of an early liturgical cult of Enfleda, but Glastonbury claimed to have her relics, with those of some other Northumbrian saints, in the 11th century. A late Welsh tradition that Enfleda and Edwin were baptized by a certain Rum map Urbgen is unworthy of credence. Feast: 24 November (in Wilson's Martyrologe of 1608, followed by Challoner).

Bede, H.E., ii. 9; iii. 15, 24–5, 29; iv. 26; v. 19; B. Colgrave (ed.), The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great (1968); Stanton, pp. 564–5.

Subjects: Christianity.


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