Much of what we know about the intricacies of early English history comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede. Bede was born during the end of St. Hilda’s life. Much of what you’ll read here has come through Bede’s work.
Hilda was born in 614. She was baptized on Easter Day at age 13 near the present site of York Minster. Her birth and early years are somewhat complicated to follow, but in short, she was brought up in the court of King Edward. Her father died when she was young, and she was taken into the care of Edwin, who married Aerthelbuch of Kent. She was a practicing Roman Catholic and brought Hilda under her Christian influence.
At age 33, Hilda answered the call of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne in North Umbria to become a nun. She first resided at a convent on the Weir River, where she learned many of the Celtic traditions. She had not been there long when she was appointed abbess at Hartlepool Abbey. In 657, Hilda became abbess of Whitby Abbey and remained there until her death at age 66.
Bede describes Hilda as a woman of high energy and a skilled administrator and teacher. She was a landowner and employed many people to care for the sheep and cattle. Woodcutters cared for the surrounding forest. Hilda gained a reputation for wisdom, and kings and princes sought her advice. She was also concerned and caring for the common folk. Hilda, a custodian and advocate of the beauty of words, is considered a patron saint of learning and culture, including poetry.
On a personal note, when I graduated from college, I taught at a Montessori school in Connecticut called Whitby. The school was founded by a group of Catholic women in the 1950s. They derived their inspiration from Whitby in England. At their opening ceremonies, they were presented with a stone from the Whiteby grounds (the stones surrounding the abbey contain unique fossils called ammorites; they look like little curled up snakes in the rock.) After a number of years, the stone was placed in storage and eventually lost.
One day I was out in the woods near my classroom. I was working with some students to convert an old dilapidated shed into a rabbit hutch. As we cleaned out the hutch, we found a strange-looking stone. I took it to the Headmaster, and lo and behold, it was the Whitby Stone. I was the hero of the day.