St. Oswin, King and Martyr
IDA, descended from Woden, landed with an army of English Saxons, at Flamborough in Yorkshire in 547, and founded the kingdom of Northumberland, or rather of that part of it called Bernicia, was succeeded by Ethelfrid, whose two sons, and successively heirs, Oswald and Oswi, established the faith of Christ in the northern parts of England. After the death of Ida, his cousin Ælla, a descendant also from Woden, conquered Deira, or the rest of Yorkshire, to which afterwards Lancashire was added. His valiant and religious son Edwin embraced the Christian faith in 617, and sealed it with his blood in 633. St. Oswald received the same crown in 642, whose brother Oswi inherited his crown. With his agreement his cousin Oswin, son of Osric, cousin-german to Edwi, having passed ten years in banishment, was called by right of inheritance to take possession of the kingdom of Deira in 642, which he governed seven years with great virtue, prudence, and prosperity, beloved by all, and enjoyed plenty and every spiritual and temporal advantage. He was tall of stature, comely in his person, liberal and affable to all, especially to the poor, sober at table, modest and most devout. 1
For an instance of his humility St. Bede relates that he had bestowed on the holy bishop Aidan a horse, on which, though he usually made his journeys on foot, he might sometimes ride, and cross rivers. Soon after the bishop meeting a poor man who asked an alms of him, not having any thing else, gave him his horse with all his rich furniture. Next time he waited on the king, before they sat down to table, the king asked him why he had given so fine a horse to a beggar which he intended for his own use: adding, we had horses of less value, or other presents which would have supplied his wants. The bishop answered: “Is then a colt of more value in your majesty’s eye than a son of God?” When they had entered the dining-room, the bishop took his seat, but the king being just come in from hunting, stood by the fire with his servants warming himself. Here, calling to mind the bishop’s words, he put off his sword, and going in haste cast himself at the bishop’s feet, begging his pardon for having found fault with his charity, and promising never again to censure whatever of his goods he should give to the poor, how valuable soever. The bishop, struck with such an example of humility, raised him up with confusion, and assured him he was well satisfied, on condition his majesty was cheerful and sat down. The king hereupon expressed great joy at table, but the bishop appeared sorrowful, and said to his attendants in the Scottish language, which the king and his courtiers did not understand, that he was assured so humble and so good a king would not live long. 2
A quarrel arose betwixt Oswi and Oswin about the boundaries of their dominions, and they raised armies. Oswin seeing his weakness, and being desirous to spare human blood, dismissed his forces at a place called Wilfar’s Dun, or the hill of Wilfare, situated ten miles westward from a town called Cataract. Attended with one faithful soldier named Tonder, he retired to a town called Ingethling, now Gilling, near Richmond in Yorkshire, which estate he had lately bestowed on Count Hudwald. He hoped under his protection to lie here concealed, or at least that Oswi would content himself with possessing his kingdom, and would suffer him to live; but Oswi apprehended that so long as a prince so much beloved was alive, his usurpation could not be secured to him. He therefore ordered Count Ethelwin with a body of soldiers to march in search of him, and to kill him. Hudwald treacherously betrayed his guest. When Oswin saw the castle surrounded with soldiers he courageously disposed himself for death, only entreating Ethelwin to content himself with his life, and spare that of his faithful servant Tonder. The generous officer seemed unwilling to survive his master, and both were slain together, and buried at Gilling in 651, on the 20th of August. Queen Eanfled daughter to king Edwin, wife of Oswi, and near relation of Oswin, with her husband’s leave, founded a monastery at Gilling, in which prayers might be ever put up for both kings. It was afterwards destroyed by the Danes. 1 She appointed Trumhere the first abbot, an Englishman, who had been instructed and ordained by the Scots at Lindisfarne. He was afterwards made bishop of South-Mercia, which he converted to the faith in the days of king Wulfere. The body of St. Oswin, whose shrine was made illustrious by many miracles, was some time after translated to the strong fortress of Tinmouth, and laid in a stone coffin, in a secret part of the chapel built under the rock, secured against the approach of any enemy. The country being sometimes under infidel Danish princes, this precious treasure was forgotten till a monk of Tinmouth, 2 named Edward or Edmund, (for these names were the same, and were given promiscuously to this monk,) discovered it, admonished it is said in a vision, and informed Egilwin bishop of Durham, in whose presence with the count and people, the sepulchre was dug open, and the sacred remains taken up, cleansed, and wrapped in precious linen and rich cloths, in 1065, on the 11th of March. Tosti Earl of Northumberland repaired and endowed more richly this monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tinmouth; he had married Judith, daughter of Baldwin Earl of Flanders, who with the bishop’s leave washed with her own hands the hair, still stained with blood, and the bones of the martyr; for only these parts remained entire, the flesh being returned to dust. Robert of Mowbray, a nobleman illustrious by a long line of noble and great ancestors, and by the glory of his own military skill and exploits, was made Earl of Northumberland by William the Conqueror. As he resided in the castle of Tinmouth he had a great devotion to St. Oswin, finished the new monastery and church of our Lady, which Tosti had begun, and subjected it to the abbey of St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire. St. Oswin’s remains were at his desire translated into the same out of the old oratory of our Lady, then falling to decay. The translation was performed on the 20th of August, the day of his death, in 1103, by Ranulf, bishop of Durham, attended by Richard abbot of St. Alban’s, Hugh abbot of Salisbury, and many other persons of distinction. See the life of St. Oswin, MSS. in the Cotton Library, Julius A. X. in forty-three leaves, 8vo. on vellum. Also in John of Tinmouth abridged in Capgrave, Leland Collectan. vol. 4, p. 113; also Bede Hist. l. 3, c. 14, with Smith’s notes; Alford’s Annales Anglo-Saxon, ad an. 651, much more accurate in this account, as usual, than Cressy, B. 15, ch. 14, n. 8, 9. 3
Note 1. See Leland Itiner. vol. 8, p. 52, alias 85; Tanner. not. Monast.
Note 2. The monastery of Tinmouth was founded by St. Oswald, according to Leland. (Collect. vol. 3, p. 43.) Walteof, earl of Northumberland, gave it to the monks of Yarrow; Earl Albry to Durham; Robert de Moubray under the conqueror to the Black monks from St. Alban’s, to which abbey it continued subordinate as a cell to the dissolution.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VIII: August.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866. August 20