Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Cedd, Bishop of London

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He was brother to Saint Chad, bishop of Litchfield, and to Saint Celin, and Cimbert, apostolic priests, who all laboured zealously in the conversion of the English Saxons, their countrymen. Saint Cedd long served God in the monastery of Lindisfarne, founded by Saint Aidan, and for his great sanctity was promoted to the priesthood. Peada, the son of Penda, king of Mercia, was appointed by his father king of the midland English; by which name Bede distinguishes the inhabitants of Leicestershire, and part of Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, from the rest of the Mercians. The young king, with a great number of noblemen, servants, and soldiers, went to Atwall, or Walton, the seat of Oswy, king of the Northumbers, and was there baptized with all his attendants, by Finan, bishop of Lindisfarne. Four priests, Saint Cedd, Adda, Betta, and Diuma, the last a Scot, the rest English, were sent to preach the gospel to his people—the midland English; among whom great multitudes received the word of life with joy. King Penda himself obstructed not these missionaries in preaching the faith in other parts of Mercia, but hated and despised such as embraced the gospel, yet lived not up to it, saying: “Such wretches deserved the utmost contempt, who would not obey the God in whom they believed.” Saint Cedd, after labouring there for some time with great success, was called from this mission to a new harvest. Sigbercht, or Sigebert, king of the East-Saxons, paying a visit to Oswy, in Northumberland, was persuaded by that prince to forsake his idols, and was baptized by bishop Finan. When he was returned to his own kingdom, he entreated king Oswy to send him some teachers, who might instruct his people in the faith of Christ. Oswy called Saint Cedd out of the province of the midland English, and sent him with another priest to the nation of the East-Saxons. When they had travelled over that whole province, and gathered numerous churches to our Lord, Saint Cedd returned to Lindisfarne, to confer with bishop Finan about certain matters of importance. That prelate ordained him bishop of the East-Saxons, having called two other bishops to assist at his consecration. Saint Cedd going back to his province, pursued the work he had begun, built churches, and ordained priests and deacons. Two monasteries were erected by him in those parts, which seem afterwards to have been destroyed by the Danes and never restored. The first he founded near a city, called by the English Saxons, Ythancester, formerly Othona, seated upon the bank of the river Pante, (now Froshwell,) which town was afterwards swallowed up by the gradual encroaching of the sea. Saint Cedd’s other monastery was built at another city called Tillaburg, now Tilbury, near the river Thames, and here Camden supposes the saint chiefly to have resided, as the first English bishops often chose to live in monasteries. But others generally imagine, that London, then the seat of the king, was the ordinary place of his residence, as it was of the ancient bishops of that province, and of all his successors. In a journey which Saint Cedd made to his own country, Edilwald, the son of Oswald, who reigned among the Deiri, in Yorkshire, finding him to be a wise and holy man, desired him to accept of some possessions of land to build a monastery, to which the king might resort to offer his prayers with those who should attend the divine service without intermission, and where he might be buried when he died. The king had before with him a brother of our saint, called Celin, a priest of great piety, who administered the divine word, and the sacrament, to him and his family. Saint Cedd pitched upon a place amidst craggy and remote mountains, which seemed fitter to be a retreat for robbers, or a lurking place for wild beasts, than an habitation for men. Here he resolved first to spend forty days in fasting and prayer, to consecrate the place to God. For this purpose he retired thither in the beginning of Lent. He ate only in the evening, except on Sundays, and his meal consisted of an egg, and a little milk mingled with water, with a small portion of bread, according to the custom of Lindisfarne, derived from that of Saint Columba, by which it appears that, for want of legumes so early in the year, milk and eggs were allowed in that northern climate, which the canons forbade in Lent. Ten days before the end of Lent, the bishop was called to the king for certain pressing affairs, so that he was obliged to commission his priest, Cynibil, who was his brother, to complete it. This monastery being founded in 658, was called Lestingay. Saint Cedd placed in it monks, with a superior from Lindisfarne; but continued to superintend the same, and afterwards made several visits thither from London. Our saint excommunicated a certain nobleman among the East-Saxons, for an incestuous marriage; forbidding any Christian to enter his house, or eat with him. Notwithstanding this prohibition, the king went to a banquet at his house. Upon his return, the holy bishop met him, whom as soon as the king saw, he began to tremble, and righting from his horse, prostrated himself at his feet, begging pardon for his offence. The bishop touched him with a rod which he held in his hand, and said, “O king, because thou wouldst not refrain from the house of that wicked excommunicated person, thou thyself shalt die in that very house.” Accordingly, some time after, the king was basely murdered in 661, by this nobleman and another, both his own kinsmen, who alleged no other reason for their crime, than that he was too easy in forgiving his enemies. This king was succeeded by Suidhelm, the son of Sexbald, whom Saint Cedd regenerated to Christ by baptism. In 664, St Cedd was present at the conference, or synod, of Streneshalch, in which he forsook the Scottish custom, and agreed to receive the canonical observance of the time of Easter. Soon after, a great pestilence breaking out in England, Saint Cedd died of it, in his beloved monastery of Lestingay, in the mountainous part of Yorkshire, since destroyed by the Danes, so that its exact situation is not known. He was first buried in the open cemetery; but, not long after, a church of stone being built in the same monastery, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of our Lord, his body was removed and laid at the right hand of the altar. Thirty of the saint’s religious brethren in Essex, upon the news of his death, came to Lestingay, in the resolution to live and die where their holy father had ended his life. They were willingly received by their brethren; but were all carried off by the same pestilence, except a little boy; who was afterwards found not to have been then baptized, and being in process of time advanced to the priesthood, lived to gain many souls to God. Saint Cedd died on the 26th of October; but is commemorated in the English Martyrology on the 7th of January.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Cedd, Bishop of London”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 25 October 2013. Web. 1 October 2014. <>