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Elfleda

(653—714)


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St Hilda (614—680) abbess of Strensall–Whitby

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

 

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(653–714),

abbess of Whitby. Her father, Oswiu, king of Northumbria, and her mother Enfleda vowed to consecrate her in infancy to the religious life if he were successful in battle against Penda, the heathen king of Mercia. He won the battle of the Winwaed (654); accordingly, he entrusted her to Hilda, abbess of Hartlepool. A few years later, both went to Whitby, a double monastery ruled by Hilda, and later a mausoleum of the Northumbrian royal family. Enfleda and Elfleda became abbesses in turn; during Elfleda's abbacy the earliest Life of Gregory the Great was written there.

She was the friend of both Cuthbert and Wilfrid. In 684 she met Cuthbert on Coquet Island; he told her that her brother, King Egfrith, would die within a year and that her half-brother Aldfrith would succeed him. Later she was cured of paralysis by Cuthbert's girdle. Her skill as mediator was exercised in Wilfrid's favour at the synod of the river Nidd (705), when he was reconciled to both Canterbury and the church in Northumbria. She asserted that Aldfrith on his death-bed had promised to obey the commands of the papacy concerning Wilfrid and had enjoined his heir, Osred, to do the same. This earned the praise of Wilfrid's biographer as the ‘comforter and best counsellor of the whole province’.

Her relics were discovered and translated at Whitby c.1125; her cult is attested only by late martyrologies. Feast: 8 February.

Bede, H.E., iii. 24; iv. 26; B. Colgrave (ed.), Eddius Stephanus' Life of Wilfrid (1927);id., Two Lives of St Cuthbert (1940); G.P., pp. 242, 254.

Subjects: Christianity.


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