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Wilfrid's 1st Journey to Rome

The first full day exploring Lindisfarne and Bamburgh had been most memorable and soon we were back to the Royal County Court Hotel in Durham for another very enjoyable dinner.

So far in our search for St Wilfrid we had learnt how, under the patronage of Queen Eanfled, of Roman disposition and wife to King Oswiu at the Bernician court at Bamburgh, he had spent from 648 to 652/3 at Lindisfarne under the direction of the Celtic abbots Aidan and Finnan, and then, again with the Queen's support, began his journey to Rome.

To learn more about what happened to Wilfrid during that period I had to turned to the book "Life of Wilfrid" by Eddius Stephanus, Wilfrid's choir cantor, and written shortly after Wilfrid's death between 710 and 720. According to Eddius, Queen Eanfled sent Wilfrid to her cousin Erconberht, king of Kent and had him fitted out handsomely and with messages of highest commendation. Wilfrid had to stay in Kent (note where the court adhered to the Roman tradition) for a year before a trusty companion could be found. At the Queen's prompting Oswiu found Biscop Baducing (to become known as Benedict Biscup) - a nobleman and thane of Oswiu. According to the account by the Venerable Bead in his book "Lives of the Abbotts of Wearmouth and Jarrow" on being handed land, as was the custom, by his king, decided to follow holy orders, and was also intent on visiting the Holy See of Rome. At Lyon the two men separated - Benedict went on to Rome and Wilfrid stayed at Lyon under the hospitality and tutelage of Archbishop Dalfinus.

Dalfinus was much taken with Wilfrid and wanted to give him a good part of Gaul to govern and his niece to be his wife! Wilfrid, showing his resolve to go to Rome, politely refused the offer and then Dalfinus equipped him well for his journey with guides and supplies. In Rome Wilfrid made many visits to the shrines of the saints. He found a teacher and friend in Boniface the archdeacon who made him word perfect in the four gospels and taught him the rule about Easter and how the Roman method differed from the Celtic calculation Wilfrid had learnt at Lindisfarne. Wilfrid was presented to the pope and, armed with holy relics he had collected at Rome, he returned to Lyon where he stayed another three years with Archbishop Dalfinus.

During his stay, Wilfrid received from Dalfinus the St Peter's tonsure (Roman form of monk's haircut) and, according to Eddius, Dalfinus intended Wilfrid to become his heir. However Queen Baldhild had nine bishops put to death, including Dalfinus, and Wilfrid expected and was prepared for a similar fate; however the handsome youth was found to be ' A foreigner from across the sea, and Englishmen' and was spared. After seeing Dalfinus buried with due honour, Wilfrid set sail with his relics of the saints and arrived back in Northumbria in 657/8.

It is evident that all this happened in a very stormy and bloody period in Northumbrian history. During Wilfrid's stay at Lindisfarne and during his subsequent travels abroad, Oswiu was still subordinate to the dreaded king Penda of Mercia (who had fought and killed in battle his uncle Edwin in 632, and his brother Oswold in 642). In 651, the same year in which Aidan died, Oswiu quarrelled with Oswin, sub-king of Deira, which lead to Oswin's death and Oswiu's son Alhfrith becoming sub-king of Deira. In 655 Penda invaded Bernicia and Oswiu's forces defeated and killed Penda in the Battle of the Winwaed. Oswiu then reunited Northumbria and became overlord of southern England. He annexed northern Mercia but gave southern Mercia to Penda's son Peada. Peada was murdered just a year later in 656 and a revolt by Mercian nobles brought an end to Oswiu's rule in southern England in 657 - around the time Wilfrid returned to Northumbria!

The part Oswiu's son Alhfrith, sub-king of Deira played in the course of events, and his eventual disappearance from the history books (some say either banished or even murdered at the hand of his father) are fascinating and warrant more investigation on my part. We know that Alhfrith was, like his mother, very interested in and enthusiastic about following the Roman order - so much so that he wanted to accompany Benedict Biscup on his second journey to Rome (the journey after the one Benedict accompanied Wilfrid as far as Lyon) but was over-ruled by his father [LAWJ 12]. Alhfrith also evidently received instruction from Wilfrid and became a great friend and supporter to him. Clearly though in 651, the year Oswiu put down Oswin and established his son Alhfrith as sub-king of Deira, the Celtic way of doing things was still pre-eminent. I come to this conclusion because the young king Alhfrith, presumably still very much under the influence of his father and perhaps grateful for establishing him as a sub-king, invites Celtic Abbot Eata from Melrose to form a monastery at Ripon mirroring the action of his late uncle Oswold who had invited Aidan to form a monastery at Lindisfarne.

Eata's rule was to be short lived! Alhfrith got wind of Wilfrid's arrival back from Europe in 657/8 and 'hearing that he was an adherent of the true Easter rule and an expert in the discipline of the Church of St. Peter (to which the king was greatly devoted), on the advice of his faithful friend Coenwalh, king of the West Saxons, ordered him to appear before him'. Wilfrid realised the king's affection for him and agreed to stay. 'Their love for each other grew daily. As proof of this Alhfrith gave the saintly confessor Wilfrid about ten hides of land (a hide was sufficient land to support one average family) Stanforda' and then shortly afterwards in 660/1 'for his own soul's good, he gave him the monastery at Ripon and thirty hides of land to go with it'.

A visit to Ripon beckoned.