A Brief Biography of Hilda of Whitby

By Tim Lambert

Hilda of Whitby was an influential woman in the Anglo-Saxon Church. Christianity was first brought to Britain during the Roman occupation. However, in 407 the last Roman soldiers left Britain. In the 5th and 6th centuries Pagan peoples, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes from Germany and Denmark invaded what is now England and gradually conquered it. At the time of Hilda, in the 7th century, it was divided into small kingdoms.

However, Christianity continued to thrive in Wales and it spread to Ireland and Scotland. Cut off from the Church in Rome Celtic Christians formed a distinctive Celtic Church. However, in 597 the Pope sent monks to Kent to begin the work of converting the Anglo-Saxons.

Hilda was born in 614. Her father was Hereric a great-nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria (in the north of England). Meanwhile, in 627 King Edwin and all his nobles were baptized. (He may have been influenced by his wife, Ethelburga, who was a Christian). Hilda was baptized at the same time.

Hilda may have been married then widowed. At any rate in 647, when she was in her 30s Hilda became a nun in the Abbey of Hartlepool, which followed the Celtic tradition. After a year she was made the abbess. In 657 she founded an abbey at Whitby. It became a great Christian centre.

Then in 664 Whitby was the scene of a famous synod (Church meeting). The Roman Church and the Celtic Church had different ways of calculating the date of Easter. King Oswiu of Northumbria decided to follow the Roman way and Hilda accepted his decision.

However, in 674 Hilda fell ill and she suffered ill health for the last 6 years of her life. She died on 17 November 680 aged 66. Early in the 8th century the great writer The Venerable Bede wrote about Hilda in glowing terms.

Whitby Abbey