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St. Ceolwulf, King of Northumbria
(c.AD 695-764)

Ceolwulf was of the race of King Ida the Burner of Bernicia; but of a younger branch of the family to the mighty house of Aethelric which was in the ascendant at the time of his birth, around AD 695. The House of Ocga only came to the fore when Ceolwulf's brother, Coenred, seized the Northumbrian throne in AD 716. He ruled for only two years, but Celowulf must have enjoyed the short-lived influence which it brought him.

King Osric, the last of the House of Aethelric, then took the Northumbrian crown and ruled for more than ten years. In AD 729, he nominated Ceolwulf as his successor and died shortly afterward. Ceolwulf was a man with deep monastic interests, perhaps little suited to affairs of state. Bede looked to him as his patron and dedicated his "History of the English Church" to him in AD 731. Ceolwulf, meanwhile, was vainly attempting to struggle against the disorder and decay of his country; but that same year, he was ambushed, made captive by, now unknown, enemies and shut up in a monastery. He did still, however, have supporters throughout the country and they were, fortunately, able to secure his escape and subsequent restoration to the throne. Bishop Acca of Hexham was expelled from his See shortly after these events and it seems likely he was a major opponent of Ceolwulf's regime.

Ceolwulf reigned justly on for some eight years, before regrets and an unconquerable desire for that mon-astic life compelled him to abandon his lofty position. He made the best provisions possible for the security of his country and for a good understanding between the spiritual and temporal authorities, nominating, as his successor, his worthy cousin, Prince Edbert. Then, giving up the cares of powers, he resigned. He cut his long beard, had his head shaved in the form of a crown and retired to bury himself anew on the holy island of Lindisfarne, in the monastery beaten by the winds and waves of the North Sea. There, he passed the last twenty or so years of his life in study and happiness. He had, while King, enriched this monastery with many great gifts, and obtained permission for the use of wine and beer for the monks, who, up to that time, according to the rigid rule of ancient Celtic discipline, had been allowed no beverage but water and milk.

He died on 15th January AD 764 and was buried next to St. Cuthbert in Lindisfarne Priory. Miracles attested his sanctity and his holy body followed St. Cuthbert's to the newly built church at Norham-upon-Tweed, in AD 830. Here he remained, a major pilgrimage attraction until the Reformation, though his head was translated to Durham Cathedral.

Partly Edited from S. Baring-Gould's "The Lives of the Saints" (1877).

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.