St. Hilda of Whitby

Hilda was the great-niece of Edwin of Northumbria, and was brought up in his court. He soon married the Christian princess Aelthelburgh of Kent, who was allowed to bring her religion with her to Northumbria, along with her chaplain, Paulinus of York. No doubt she was a great influence to her new husband, since, only two years later, King Edwin and his entire court were baptized, including the 13-year-old Hilda. Later, when Edwin died in battle and Northumbria was overrun by the pagan King of Mercia, the queen and her companions returned to her home in Kent. Hilda presumably stayed there until she turned 33, at which point she answered Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne’s request for her to return to Northumbria as a nun. In 657, Hilda founded the Whitby Abbey, where she stayed till her death. She is described as a woman of great energy, with skill as an administrator and teacher. Her reputation became such the kings and princes would seek her advice. She never lost sight of the ordinary people, though, as in the case of Caedmon. A simple herder, he was inspired in a dream to sing praises to God. Hilda encouraged him to develop his talent, and he is now recognized as one of Christianity’s great medieval poets. Hilda’s feast day is November 17.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Rather than stay with those she had grown close to, Hilda answered God’s call to return to Northumbria. When have you felt God calling you to do something or go somewhere out of your comfort zone? What did you do?
  • Hilda was a mother figure to all, because of her encouraging and compassionate nature. Share an example of a time when you inspired or encouraged another in his or her pursuits. Who have been the “encouragers” for you?