Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Hilda

[Saint Hilda of Whitby]Article

Abbess, born 614; died 680. Practically speaking, all our knowledge of Saint Hilda is derived from the pages of Bede. She was the daughter of Hereric, the nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria, and she seems like her great-uncle to have become a Christian through the preaching of Saint Paulinus about the year 627, when she was thirteen years old.

Moved by the example of her sister Hereswith, who, after marrying Ethelhere of East Anglia, became a nun at Chelles in Gaul, Hilda also journeyed to East Anglia, intending to follow her sister abroad. But Saint Aidan recalled her to her own country, and after leading a monastic life for a while on the north bank of the Wear and afterwards at Hartlepool, where she ruled a double monastery of monks and nuns with great success, Hilda eventually undertook to set in order a monastery at Streaneshalch, a place to which the Danes a century or two later gave the name of Whitby.

Under the rule of Saint Hilda the monastery at Whitby became very famous. The Sacred Scriptures were specially studied there, and no less than five of the inmates became bishops, Saint John, Bishop of Hexham, and still more Saint Wilfrid, Bishop of York, rendering untold service to the Anglo-Saxon Church at this critical period of the struggle with paganism. Here, in 664, was held the important synod at which King Oswy, convinced by the arguments of Saint Wilfrid, decided the observance of Easter and other moot points. Saint Hilda herself later on seems to have sided with Theodore against Wilfrid. The fame of Saint Hilda’s wisdom was so great that from far and near monks and even royal personages came to consult her.

Seven years before her death the saint was stricken down with a grievous fever which never left her till she breathed her last, but, in spite of this, she neglected none of her duties to God or to her subjects. She passed away most peacefully after receiving the Holy Viaticum, and the tolling of the monastery bell was heard miraculously at Hackness thirteen miles away, where also a devout nun named Begu saw the soul of Saint Hilda borne to heaven by angels.

With Saint Hilda is intimately connected the story of Caedmon, the sacred bard. When he was brought before Saint Hilda she admitted him to take monastic vows in her monastery, where he most piously died.

The cultus of Saint Hilda from an early period is attested by the inclusion of her name in the calendar of Saint Willibrord, written at the beginning of the eighth century. It was alleged at a later date the remains of Saint Hilda were translated to Glastonbury by King Edmund, but this is only part of the “great Glastonbury myth.” Another story states that Saint Edmund brought her relics to Gloucester. Saint Hilda’s feast seems to have been kept on 17 November. There are a dozen or more old English churches dedicated to Saint Hilda on the northeast coast and South Shields is probably a corruption of Saint Hilda.

MLA Citation

  • Herbert Thurston. “Saint Hilda”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 18 November 2013. Web. 30 October 2014. <>