St. Oswald, King of Northumbria and Martyr

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

St. Oswald, King of Northumbria and Martyr (✝642)
Feast Days – July 23 (August 5), September 25 (October 8)

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the
death of His saints.  - Psalms, 115:6

Saint OswaldOswald was a son of Aethelfrith, King of Northumbria.  When the King was killed in battle, his rival seized the throne, and young Oswald fled to Scotland.  There, he lived in the monastery on the island of Iona.  Oswald learned about the Christian faith, accepted it in his heart, and was baptised.  In 632 Northumbria was invaded by two rulers, King Cadwallon of Wales and the pagan king Penda of Mercia.

Oswald decided to return to his native land and claim the throne.  He met Cadwallon and defeated him, although the enemy forces were far superior.  Before the battle, Oswald erected a wooden cross and told his army to kneel before it, asking the Almighty for His mercy and protection.  There were only a dozen Christians in Oswald’s army, but the other soldiers also prayed, and promised to be baptised if they won the battle.

Northumbria was still mostly pagan, and King Oswald’s great desire was to convert his people.  He sent messengers to the monastery of Iona to ask for a Christian preacher.  A monk came, but his attempts failed because the Northumbrians were resistant to the Gospel.  The monk returned to Iona.  Bishop Aidan came soon after, and his ministry was immensely successful.  Aidan preached the word of God with such love and patience that the people opened their hearts to him.  Oswald listened humbly to the advise of the bishop.  In the beginning of his ministry, St. Aidan could not speak English well, and the king always stood beside him and translated the sermon.  Soon, other missionaries came, and the Church of Northumbria thrived.  The king gave money and land to build monasteries.

Oswald lived a true Christian life.  He was kind, humble, and generous to the poor, often sharing his own food with them.  The king prayed from midnight until daybreak, sitting on the floor with his hands turned upwards on his knees.  Oswald married a daughter of the King of Wessex.  The young bride and her father, like most people in Wessex at that time, had not heard the Gospel.  The king’s family became Christians, and the people of Wessex soon followed the example of their ruler.  Thus, the Gospel spread to south-western England.

King Penda of Mercia, Oswald’s enemy, still wanted to conquer Northumbria.  In 640, a war between Mercia and Northumbria broke out.  In the battle of Maserfield, in the ninth year of his reign, King Oswald was killed.  His last words were a prayer for his soldiers, “O God, be merciful to their souls, as said Oswald as he fell.”  Penda ordered that the King’s body be dismembered and offered as a sacrifice to a pagan god.  St. Oswald’s hands and head were nailed to a tree; other parts of his body were placed on stakes.  “Oswald’s tree” performed many miracles of healing and became a site of local pilgrimage.  Oswald’s brother removed the holy head and buried it at Lindisfarne; the hands and body were buried at other English monasteries.  King Oswald is regarded by the English as a national hero.  At the place of the martyr’s death there is now a town bearing his name – Oswestry.

Celtic Cross