Hilda of Whitby
the middle of the sixth century, Celtic Christianity had spread
from Ireland to Iona, a small island off the Scottish coast.
While Augustine was introducing Roman Christianity to
Anglo-Saxon England, Celtic Christianity was growing among the
native Britons in the North and West. The seventh century saw
the rapid spread of both traditions, but the British and English
churches were not united. The eventual union would occur in
664, with the help of Hilda, the abbess of Whitby.
Hilda was born into the royal family of
Northumbria, and brought up at the court of her great-uncle,
King Edwin. The queen’s chaplain
was the bishop Paulinus, a former companion of Augustine of
Canterbury, and as a result, Hilda’s early Christian training
was in the Roman tradition. When she was about 20, Edwin was
killed in battle, and Hilda fled, intending to enter a convent
in France. Within the year, however, the kingdom once again
changed hands, and Oswald, a Celtic Christian, became ruler of
Northumbria and summoned the great monk, Aidan, from Iona.
Aidan, in turn, called Hilda back and made her abbess of
Hartlepool, where she formed a rule of life from the teachings
of both Paulinus and Aidan. Renowned for her wisdom and
devotion to God, she became counsel to kings and nobles, and
eventually founded the double monastery at Whitby, where both
nuns and monks lived in strict obedience to her rule.
Meanwhile, though the Roman and Celtic traditions agreed
doctrinally, their differing practices caused so much confusion
in Northumbria, that the king called for a synod to be held at
Whitby. There the direction of the English Church was finally
decided, and England was brought into the fold of Catholic
Christendom. Many Celtic Christians, including Hilda, supported
the decision, choosing unity with the larger Church over
continued isolation. Hilda, in particular, helped to reconcile
Celtic Christians to adopting new customs. She remained at
Whitby for the rest of her life, teaching her children to live
together in peace and love.
This window portrays the deep rift within the Church that
Hilda helped to heal. The scroll in her hand is the Rule of
life by which she governed her monastery. Two Christians, one
Roman (in purple) and one Celtic (in white), receive her wisdom
as the Holy Spirit (shown as a dove) guides the synod, and a new
era dawns for the English Church.
Like Stars Appearing: The Story of the Stained Glass
Windows of St. George's Episcopal Church, Dayton, Ohio
copyright 2004 by Anne E. Rowland. All rights
Stained Glass Windows copyright 2000 by St. George's Episcopal
Church, crafted by Willet Stained Glass.