Oswald was king of Northumbria in the first half of the 7th century. He had spent time in the monastery of Iona founded by St Columba and was baptised there. He then returned to Northumbria in 634, to be followed the next year by St Aidan, who had been one of St Columba’s monks at Iona. Aidan became bishop of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) and a strong friendship developed between him and Oswald. The Christianity of Northumbria at this time was Celtic, even though St Augustine had arrived in the south of England at the end of the previous century bringing Roman Christianity. It was still a time when England was only partly Christianised, and Northumbria’s powerful neighbour, Mercia, was pagan. Bitter enmity existed between Mercia (which extended from the Welsh borders into what we know today as the West Midlands) and Northumbria. Mercia’s King Penda had killed Oswald’s predecessor, Edwin, and in 642 he killed Oswald, before being killed himself by Oswald’s successor, Oswy, in 654. It was Oswald’s practice before a battle to erect a cross on the battlefield. The place where he erected his cross before the battle with Penda became known as St Oswaldes Treow – better known today as Oswestry, on the Welsh border with Shropshire. Oswald was known as a man of humilty and generosity. His ‘day’ is 5th August.
A Word in Season