Feast Day : November 17
Most of what is known about Hilda comes from the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Hilda was nobly born in 614, the daughter of Hereric, nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria. Bede tells the story that Hilda’s mother, Bregusuit, had a dream during the child’s infancy. Bregusuit’s husband was in exile. In the dream, she looked everywhere for him, but could not find him. Instead, she found a precious jewel under her garment, which cast a light that spread throughout all Britain. The jewel would prove to be Hilda. At age 13 Hilda became a Christian after hearing the preaching of St. Paulinus, the first bishop of the Northumbrians. When her sister, Hereswith, became a nun in Gaul, Hilda decided to follow in her footsteps. After a year she was recalled by St. Aidan, who gave her land on the River Wear, where she led a monastic life with a small group of companions. Hilda then was made abbess at Hartlepool, a double monastery of men and women. Hilda set the place in order, and received extensive religious instruction from Aidan and others. After a few years, she undertook to build or improve a monastery at Streaneshalch (later renamed Whitby). Hilda became famous for her wisdom, and kings and princes were among those who came to seek her advice. Whitby was known especially for the study of the Scriptures. Under her administration, Whitby produced five distinguished bishops: Bosa, Hedda, Oftfor, John (Bishop of Haexham) and Wilfrid (Bishop of York). In 664 an important synod was held at Whitby at which King Oswy set the observance of Easter. Hilda’s work was instrumental in the spread of Christianity during a crucial period of struggle against paganism. In 663, Hilda was stricken with a serious fever that lasted until her death seven years later. During that time, she neglected none of her duties. According to Bede, she died at dawn after receiving Communion and admonishing her disciples to preserve evangelical peace. When the bell was tolled to announce her passing, it was miraculously heard by a nun, Begu, in a monastery 13 miles away. Begu had a vision in which she saw the soul of Hilda borne up to heaven by angels in a radiance of light. She reported the vision to her abbess, Frigyth, who assembled all the nuns to pray and sing psalms for Hilda’s soul. When monks came the next day to announce the news of Hilda’s death, the sisters said they already knew. Legend has it that Hilda’s body was translated to Glastonbury or Gloucester by King Edmund, but these stories are doubtful.