Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hilda of Northumbria - A Woman of Strength and Energy in the Dark Ages - The Abbess of Whitby

Hilda was born of the nobility during the early 7th century, on or around the year 614 A.D. Her father was the nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria. When she was an infant, her father was poisoned and died. King Edwin took her in and raised her. When King Edwin married a Christian woman, he saw to it that Hild was baptized along with him.   
From an early age, she was admired for her natural wisdom, respected by King Edwin and other noblemen. Despite all that rich attention, her passion was for the ordinary people. She was especially fond of a yung man named Caedmon, a lowly monk and cowheard at a nearby monastery. He loved to sing songs of praise to God, and Hild encouraged him in this. And although Hild had a strong and forceful personality, those who came in contact with her liked her charismatic character. At a time when Christianity was fighting for survival within a pagan world, Hild's passion for God and goodness gained her much respect. 
In 633, King Edwin was killed in battle. She was sent to live in the East Anglian court, and when her sister was widowed, Hild contemplated entering a convent in France with her sister. Instead, Hild heeded the advice of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne and returned to Northumbria where she took her vows as a nun. That decision would change her life. Within a year, she was made an abbess, and later founded the abbey at Whitby. 
For the last six years of her life, Hilda endured fevers and illness, yet continued to work throughout. She died at the age of sixty-six in November 680 A.D. On her deathbed with her final words, she urged the nuns in her charge to preserve peace among themselves and all others. Then she passed into the hands of God. Her final burial spot has been lost over the centuries.
Legend describes a plague of snakes, which she stopped by turning the creatures into stone. The ammonite fossils on the shore at Whitby supposedly add credence to this legend.
Her story is re-imagined in a new novel called: The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dalladay. 
Synopsis: The dramatic story of a seventh-century evangelist. Chosen as Eostre’s handmaid, Hild will serve the fertility goddess for a year before being wed. Her future is predictable―until King Edwin claims her as kin and she learns that her father was murdered.
Her first love is given a command in Edwin’s forces and vanishes from her life, wed to her sister. The court is baptized, ending the old religion and Hild’s role. Life looks bleak. She can’t stop wondering who killed her father.
Suspecting Edwin, she challenges him, only to be married off to safeguard his northern frontier. Struggling in a loveless marriage, she is intrigued by the Iona priests making pilgrimages to spread Christ’s love. When home and family are lost in Oswy’s sack of Edinburgh, she finds herself in enemy hands, but meets the charismatic Aidan. Inspired and guided by him, she builds communities to live and teach Christ’s love. She attracts followers. Even her old enemy, King Oswy, entrusts his child to her, gives her Whitby, and seeks her help to reconcile divisions in his kingdom. She never ceases battling against old superstitions resurrected by storm, plague, and solar eclipse, but at last she receives a bishop’s blessing―from a man she trained herself.

Writing about a woman in the Dark Ages, is no easy feat, as record keeping, especially when it came to women, was rare indeed. To recreate the path of a woman's life requires a painstaking piecing together of facts along with the author's imagination. In The Abbess of Whitby, the author has succeeding in blending fact with fiction to recreate Hild of Northumbria's life. With its stunning cover, Hild's story is a compelling one. As the daughter of the king's nephew, she is chosen as a handmaiden to the queen. She loses favor when she questions the king regarding whether he had a hand at poisoning and murdering her father. The king marries her off to a very difficult, hard man. Her life is miserable until she learns about Christ and becomes a Christian. 

This was an easy read, albeit a little slow at times, but this is typical for biograhical novels. The characters are based on real, colorful persons who lived the historical events described. I have never read a book set in the 7th century, so found it fascinating to learn about this era. More than anything else, this is the story of a fascinating woman who overcame the rigid rules and hardships women faced to gain respect and admiration from the people. A grand tale beautifully told!

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