Oswald (d.972) (DNB00)


OSWALD, Saint (d. 972), archbishop of York, said to be of Danish parentage, a nephew on his father's side of Archbishop Odo [q. v.], and related to Oskytel [q. v.l, arch-bishop of York, was brought up under the care of Odo, and was instructed by Frithefode [q. v.] (Historia Ramesiemis, p. 21). laving taken orders, he was enabled by Odo's liberality to purchase the monastery of Winchester, then in the hands of secular clerks or canons, over whom he ruled (Vita S. Oswald, anon. Historians of York, i. 410 ; by later biographers, Eadmer and Senatus, he is said to have entered the monastery as a canon, and to have been elected as dean). Being zealous in piety and persuaded of the excellence of monastic life, he was discontented with his life as a secular clerk, and with his position as head of a body of married clergy, enjoying the revenues that should rightfully have been received by monks living according to the rule of their order. Accordingly he went to Odo and told him that he desired to go over sea to some place that his uncle might choose, that he might there learn the rule of St. Benedict, which was at this period wholly forgotten and neglected in England. Odo joyfully agreed, and sent him to the monastery of Fleury on the Loire, where he knew that the Benedictine rule was carried out to perfection, and whence he had himself received the monastic habit. Oswald took gifts to each of the brethren at Fleury, the number of professed monks there at that time apparently being twelve, beside the abbot Wulfald : they received him joyfully, and admitted him into their society (Vita, anon, p. 414). He applied himself diligently to the study of the scriptures and of the Benedictine rule, practising many austerities, and in all things fulfilling to the utmost the duties of the monastic life. While at Fleury he was advanced to the diaconate and the priesthood, and learnt by heart all the offices of the church, as well as the monastic constitutions, in order that he might on his return to England be fully qualified to teach them to his fellow countrymen (ib. p. 419). In divine service the beauty and strength of his voice were remarkable. He was wont to pray and to officiate in the chapel called the confessional, in the crypt, under the western part of the church, and there it was believed that on one occasion an angel acted as his assistant (Eadmer). After he had stayed at Fleury for some years (Vita, anon. p. 417) he in 959 received a message from his uncle Odo, who was then sick, bidding him come to him. He returned to England, and on reaching Dover heard of the death of Odo.

Oswald went to York to his kinsman Oskvtel, then archbishop of York, who received him with gladness, and persuaded him to go with him to Rome. On this journey he was accompanied by a young friend from Winchester named Germanus, to whom he was much attached. Instead of returning with Osky tel, he and Germanus remained at Fleury . Before long Oskytel sent for him that he might help nim in the reforms that the archbishop was desirous of carrying out. He returned to England, leaving Germanus at Fleury, took an active part in ecclesiastical affairs, and was made Known to Oskytel's friends, and specially to Archbishop Dunstan [q. v.], who prevailed on Eadgar to appoint him to the see of Worcester. He was consecrated by Dunstan in 961. As bishop he was diligent, hospitable, just, liberal to the poor, and greatly beloved in his diocese. In conjunction with Dunstan and Æthelwold, or Ethelwold [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, he was strenuous in the enforcement of monastic discipline, and the three prelates are described as shedding a threefold light throughout the land (Historia Ramesiensis, p. 25). His efforts were specially directed to establish monks in place of the married clergy who were in possession of the religious houses. Eadgar's decree against them was called 'Oswald's law,' as embodying the reform that the bishop was, by the king's orders, carrying out. The special part that he took in the restoration of Benedictinism seems to have been marked by his promotion of learning. He summoned Germanus from Fleury and appointed him to instruct others, for many clerks came to him for instruction, among whom a priest named Eadnoth was the most famous. Twelve of these he formed into a convent, and established them at Westbury in Gloucestershire, under Eadnoth as abbot. He joined with Dunstan and Æthelwold in aiding the king in his monastic reform, and the result of their advice was that Eadgar ordered the formation of forty convents. While, however, Æthelwold proceeded to turn the secular clergy out of the monasteries by force, Oswald appears to have adopted a gentler policy. It is said indeed that he expelled married clerks from seven houses (Eadmer), but that he made any forcible change may well be doubted, for he did not do so in his own church at Worcester. There the canons refused to be reformed, and instead of turning them out, as Æthelwold did at Winchester, he, acting, it is said, by Dunstan's advice, built a new church dedicated to the Virgin, and placed monks there. The superior style in which the monks conducted divine service drew away the congregation from the old church, and the canons, with their dean, Winsige,at their head, finding their church deserted, finally gave way, and Winsige, having assumed the cowl, was appointed by Oswald to be the head of the convent, which was established in the place of the secular chapter. He also established monks at Winchcombe, where he made Germanus abbot. As the number of his disciples was large, he asked the king for some place where he might settle his monks, and Eadgar replied that he could have the monasteries of St. Albans, Ely, or Benfleet (Vita Anon, p. 427), and he is said to have made these churches monastic (Eadmer). Meeting with Æthelwine or Ethelwine [q. v.], earl of East Anglia, at the funeral of one of the king's thegns, he asked him to sell him a place where he might settle a small convent of monks that he had formed. Æthelwine declared that he would not sell him land, but would give him a suitable spot where three men were already settled who desired to become monks, and were even then living as such with a wooden chapel built for them by him, and he said that he would gladly build a large church in its place. This spot was the Isle of Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, and there he founded a monastery. Oswald took a keen interest in the work, and sent Eadnoth from Westbury to superintend the building. He laid the foundations in person, peopled the new house with monks from Westbury, and made Germanus the first prior, to rule the house under himself and Æthelwine, the joint founders; and, when he made Germanus abbot of Winchcombe, appointed Eadnoth to succeed him as prior (Historia Ramenensis, pp. 36-42).

In 972 Eadgar, by the advice of Dunstan, made Oswald archbishop of York, which his biographer describes as being at that time a rich and populous city, filled with merchants from different parts, and especially of Danish race. By the king's command he went to Rome to receive his pall, and was there honourably received by Pope John XIII. On his return he gave the king, who welcomed him home, the pope's blessing and his own. He took part with Dunstan in the solemn coronation of Eadgar at Bath on Whit Sunday 973. Along with the archiepiscopate he retained the see of Worcester, doing so, it is said, by the desire of Dunstan, who feared that otherwise the monastic reformation there might be undone. He did not displace the secular clergy in his church at York, and, though he was received with much gladness and ceremony there when he went to be installed, seems to have chiefly resided at Worcester. In 974 he dedicated the church at Ramsey, every year visited the convent in company with Æthelwine, acted as abbot, and endowed the house with the vills of Needingworth and Wistow in Huntingdonshire, and with land at Burwell in Cambridgeshire. In order to make it a seat of learning he sent to Fleury for the monk Abbo, who is said to have been master of the seven arts, and made him teacher of the monastic school. Abbo remained two years at Ramsey, was elected abbot of Fleury, and was slain in 1004. Part of Oswald's work was undone after the death of Eadgar; for Ælfhere of Mercia expelled the monks from many churches in that district. At Ramsey, however, Oswald's convent was safe under the protection of Æthelwine. At some time during his archi-episcopate Oswald collected the bones of saints buried in the monastery of Ripon, which then lay in ruins, and among them the bones of St. Wilfrid the founder. He put the relics in a shrine, and, Eadmer says, carried them to Worcester (Vita Anon. p. 462; Eadmer, ap. Hist. of York, ii. 32; see under Odo). Towards the end of his life, when he was broken with age, he heard with deep grief that the principal tower of the church at Ramsey had cracked throughout its whole height. He went to Ramsey from York, and encouraged the monks to set about rebuilding the church. The work being finished in 991, Oswald re-dedicated the church in November, in the presence of the great men of five shires, of the Bishop of Dorchester, and others. The ceremony was magnificent, and was followed by a banquet, at which there was no stint of wine and mead (Historia Ramesiensis, pp. 85-95; Vita Anon. pp. 463-6). Oswald then went to Worcester, and during the winter suffered much from ill-health. In February 992 he seemed better, and each day during Lent, as his custom was, he washed the feet of twelve poor men while Psalms cxx.-cxxxiv. were sung. After he had done so on 29 Feb. he died while singing the doxology. He was buried in his church at Worcester, and his remains were placed in a shrine by Aldulf or Ealdulf [q. v.], who succeeded him at York and Worcester. He was a man of great holiness, diligent, liberal, and kindly. He valued learning, and promoted it among the monasteries under his care. Though he was zealous in monastic reformation he was not violent, and evidently preferred to give up a reform rather than carry it through by force. Miracles were wrought at his tomb, and his name was placed in the calendar. He is said to have written a book of letters to Archbishop Odo, a treatise addressed to Abbo of Fleury, and beginning 'Praescientia Dei monachus,' a treatise 'Ad Sanctos,' written while he was at Fleury, and beginning 'Oswaldus supplex monachus,' and synodal constitutions (Bale, cent. ii. 141; Tanner, Bibl. Brit. p. 560). None of these are now known to exist; the first probably never did exist (Wright). The portiphory of St. Oswald is preserved in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and his stole was at Beverley Minster in the twelfth century; it was of purple, and was adorned with gold and precious stones (Historians of York, ii. 341).

[The chief authority is the Life by an anonymous and contemporary author, a monk of Ramsey, existing in manuscript only in Cotton. MS. Nero, E. 1, and printed in Hist. of York, i. 399–475 (Rolls Ser.); in ii. 1–5 is the Life by Eadmer, written for the monks of Worcester, which is of some use, specially as regards arrangement, and is followed by a book of miracles. The Life by Senatus, which follows, is of no value, and this may also be said of the two short lives at the end of the same volume; the second of them was first printed in Capgrave's Legenda. Hist. Rames., pp. 21–49, 85–102 (Rolls Ser.), is of value for Oswald's doings at Ramsey; Will. of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontiff. pp. 247–50 (Rolls Ser.); Flor. Wig. i. 141, 142, 149 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Kemble's Codex Dipl. Nos. 486, 487, 494–497, 506–11, 529–31, 538–42, 549–61, and seq.; Wilkins's Concilia, i. 218, 222, 239; Raine's Fasti Ebor. pp. 118–28; Wright's Biogr. Lit. i. 462.]

W. H.