St. Hilda of Whitby, Abbess

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

St. Hilda of Whitby, Abbess  (✝680)
Feast Day – November 4 (17)

He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and
He will repay him for his deed. - Proverbs, 19:17

Saint HildaSt. Hilda was born in 614 A.D. into a royal house in the kingdom of Northumbria.  The girl’s father was a nephew of St. Edwin, King of Northumbria.  When Hilda was an infant, her mother had an unusual dream:  under her garments she discovered a precious jewel that emitted an exceptionally brilliant light.  The dream was fulfilled in her daughter, whose holiness and charity shone to all of Britain.

When the girl was thirteen, her family received holy baptism.  St. Bishop Aidan had a great influence on the maiden and guided her through a path of spiritual growth.  Hilda lived a virtuous life in the world; when she was thirty-three, with the blessing of St. Aidan, she took the veil.  She settled in a nunnery in Northumbria on the north bank of the River Wear.  There, in a small community of several nuns, St. Hilda stayed only one year.  A more challenging job was in store for her:  in 649, she was appointed abbess of the double monastery at Hartlepool.

For nearly ten years, Mother Hilda served as a prudent shepherdess to both the women’s and men’s monastic houses.  By working hard and living the life of a simple nun, she set an example for others.  The monastery became highly regarded among the commoners and nobles.  Oswiu, King of Northumbria, wanted his daughter Aelflaed to be consecrated to the Lord and asked the abbess to raise his child.  Since age one, Aelflaed was in the care of St. Hilda.  The king’s daughter loved her adoptive mother and grew to become a saintly woman and abbess.

In 657, St. Hilda moved to Whitby, a rugged area on the coast of the North Sea, where she founded a double monastery.  Whitby Abbey soon became a respected school of learning:  children were educated there; scribes were trained in the art of copying and illustrating manuscripts.  The abbey housed an impressive library, with a number of volumes rare for that time.  The community prepared priests and  missionaries.  In 664 the Synod of Whitby was held there.  Already in her lifetime, St. Hilda was esteemed as the Mother of the country.  Kings and bishops valued her wisdom and often came to receive her spiritual advice.

There is a story that shows how attentive Mother Hilda was to ordinary people.  A poor outdoor servant, who tended the animals at the monastery, had a talent for poetry.  He wrote poems at night as he lay in the stable.  The abbess, delighted about the discovery, assisted the young man’s education.  The servant, whose name was Caedmon, became a famous English poet.  He composed many beautiful verses in praise of the Lord.

The last six years of St. Hilda’s life were a great test of courage and patience:  she suffered from a very painful illness.  In the seventh year of suffering, she died.

On the night of St. Hilda’s death, a nun in Hackness, a monastery thirteen miles away, saw a light coming from Whitby Abbey.  The light was moving upwards, accompanied by the angels.  The nun understood that it was the soul of the saintly abbess rising to heaven.  When a messenger arrived at Hackness several hours later, the sisters already knew what message he brought.

Celtic Cross