Our Patron Saints

In 2014 NBCW celebrated its 75th anniversary and chose to recognise this moment by adopting two remarkable women as its patron saints: St Hilda, who played a significant role in the conversion of England to Christianity, and the Welsh St Winefride, who has inspired generations through her life of service and holiness.

St Hilda

Feast Day 17 November

Most of what is known about St Hilda’s life come to us though the writings of the Anglo-Saxon scholar and Benedictine monk, the Venerable Bede. From Bede we learn that Hild, or St Hilda as we know her, was born in 614 AD to a royal household and brought up at the court of her great-uncle, King Edwin of Northumbria. Edwin, under the influence of his Christian wife, converted to Christianity in 627, and Hilda was baptised at the same time. There is then a long gap in her history, but in 647 at around 33 years, on the point of going to join a convent in France, she answered the call of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne to remain in England. Not long after, Aidan appointed her Abbess of Hartlepool.

Her considerable administrative powers, her piety and learning made her the natural choice in 657 to found a new abbey at Whitby in North Yorkshire; at this monastery both nuns and monks lived and worshipped. Bede praises Hilda for her gifts of scholarship and wisdom: she was revered by Laity and Religious and her counsel was sought by kings and powerful figures.

Abbess Hilda lived in a time of great political and religious change. The Celtic and Roman traditions of Christianity followed different calendars, with the result that Easter, the greatest feast of the Christian Church, was being celebrated at different times.

The fame of Whitby Abbey as a place of learning was recognised when, in 664, a great debate was held there to determine how the date of Easter should be calculated. This Synod of Whitby was a landmark in the history of the Church in England, beginning the merging of the two traditions.

St Hilda died in 680 following an illness of several years.

Bede tells us ‘all who knew her called her mother, because of her outstanding devotion and grace’.

St Winefride

Feast Day 3 November

There are many legends surrounding St Winefride but historical evidence suggests she was born in Wales, probably in the 7th century, and her Welsh name was Gwenffrewi (the ‘G’ is silent). Winefride came from a noble, land-owing and devout family. Her aunt was abbess of the convent in Gwytherin, whilst her cousin was the chaplain. After a life of piety Winefride became abbess of Gwytherin, where she died and was buried. There is evidence that not long after her death she was being revered as a saint, with a number of healings attributed to her. In the 11 century a monk from Shrewsbury, bathing in the spring at Gwytherin dedicated to St Winefride, was cured of an illness. St Winefride’s bones were exhumed and taken to the Cathedral at Shrewsbury, where further miraculous cures were attributed to her. Later a relic was returned to Holywell, in Flintshire, Wales which is now a place of pilgrimage, along with Gwytherin church. She is a much-loved saint in England and Wales, with many churches dedicated to her.

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