Oswald of Worcester

Last updated

Archbishop of York
Oswald and Eadnoth.jpg
Term ended29 February 992
Predecessor Edwald
Successor Ealdwulf
Other post(s) Bishop of Worcester
Personal details
Died29 February 992
Feast day29 February (leap years) [1]
28 February (common years)
19 May (POCSP)
Venerated in Catholic Church
Anglican Communion

Oswald of Worcester (died 29 February 992) was Archbishop of York from 972 to his death in 992. He was of Danish ancestry, but brought up by his uncle, Oda of Canterbury, who sent him to France to the abbey of Fleury to become a monk. After a number of years at Fleury, Oswald returned to England at the request of his uncle, who died before Oswald returned. With his uncle's death, Oswald needed a patron and turned to another kinsman, Oskytel, who had recently become Archbishop of York. His activity for Oskytel attracted the notice of Archbishop Dunstan who had Oswald consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961. In 972, Oswald was promoted to the see of York, although he continued to hold Worcester also.


As bishop and archbishop, Oswald was a supporter and one of the leading promoters (together with Æthelwold) of Dunstan's reforms of the church, including monastic reforms. [2] Oswald founded a number of monasteries, including Ramsey Abbey, and reformed another seven, including Winchcombe in Gloucestershire and Pershore and Evesham in Worcestershire. Oswald also switched the cathedral chapter of Worcester from secular clergy to monks. While archbishop, he brought the scholar Abbo of Fleury to teach, and he spent two years in England, mostly at Ramsey. Oswald died in 992, while washing the feet of the poor. A hagiographical life was written shortly after his death, and he was quickly hailed as a saint.

Early life

Oswald, of Danish parentage, was brought up by his uncle Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury, and was also related to Oskytel, later Archbishop of York. [3] He was also related to the cniht Osulf, who received land while Oswald was bishop of Worcester. [4] Oswald was instructed by a Frankish scholar Frithegod. [5] He held the office of dean of Winchester, but he was sent by his uncle to France and entered the monastery of Fleury about 950, [3] where he was ordained in 959. While at Fleury he met Osgar of Abingdon and Germanus of Winchester. [3] The influence of Fleury was to be evident later in Oswald's life, when it was one of the inspirations for the Regularis Concordia , the English code of monastic conduct agreed to in 970. [6]

Return to England

Oswald returned to England in 958 at the behest of his uncle, but Oda died before Oswald returned. Lacking a patron, Oswald turned to Oskytel, recently named Archbishop of York. It is possible that Oswald along with Oskytel travelled to Rome for Oskytel's pallium, but this story is only contained in a 12th-century Ramsey Abbey chronicle, so it may not be authentic. [5] Even if he did not travel to Rome, Oswald was active in ecclesiastical affairs at York until Dunstan obtained Oswald's appointment to the see, or bishopric, of Worcester. [3] He was consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961. [7] Soon after his consecration, he persuaded Germanus to come back to England and made him head of a small religious community near Westbury-on-Trym. [3] After the establishment of this group about 962, Oswald grew worried that because the monastery was located on lands owned by the see of Worcester, his successors in the see might disrupt the community. He was offered the site of Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire by Æthelwine, son of Æthelstan Half-King, and Oswald established a monastery there about 971 that attracted most of the members of the community at Westbury. This foundation at Ramsey went on to become Ramsey Abbey. [8] Ramsey was Oswald's most famous foundation, [9] with its church dedicated in 974. Later, Oswald invited Abbo of Fleury to come and teach at Ramsey. [10] Oswald directed the affairs of Ramsey Abbey until his death, when the dean Eadnoth became the first abbot. [5] He gave a magnificent Bible to Ramsey, which was important enough to merit a mention in Oswald's Life. [11] Alongside the gift of the book, Oswald also contributed wall hangings and other textiles to the abbey. [12]

A medieval manuscript of Abbo of Fleury's work Tract by Abbo of Fleury.jpg
A medieval manuscript of Abbo of Fleury's work

Oswald supported Dunstan and Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in their efforts to purify the Church from secularism. Aided by King Edgar, he took a prominent part in the revival of monastic discipline along the precepts of the Rule of Saint Benedict. His methods differed from Æthelwold's, who often violently ejected secular clergy from churches and replaced them with monks. [13] Oswald also organised the estates of his see into administrative hundreds known as the Oswaldslow, which helped stabilise the ecclesiastical revenues. [10] He constantly visited the monasteries he founded, and was long remembered as father of his people both as bishop and archbishop. [13] It was Oswald who changed the cathedral chapter of Worcester from priests to monks, [14] although the exact method that he employed is unclear. One tradition says that Oswald used a slow approach in building up a new church of monks next to the cathedral, allowing the cathedral's priests to continue performing services in the cathedral until the monastic foundation was strong enough to take over the cathedral. [9] Another tradition claims that, instead, Oswald expelled any of the clergy in the cathedral that would not give up their wives and replaced them with monks immediately. Oswald also reformed Winchcombe Abbey, along with the monasteries of Westbury Priory, Pershore Abbey, and Evesham Abbey. It is also possible that monasteries were established in Gloucester and Deerhurst, but evidence is lacking for their exact foundation dates. [5]

Archbishop of York

In 972 Oswald was made Archbishop of York [7] and journeyed to Rome to receive a pallium from Pope John XIII. It is possible that he also travelled on Edgar's behalf to the court of the Emperor Otto I, and that these two journeys had been combined. [5] He continued to hold the see of Worcester in addition to York. [7] The holding of Worcester in addition to York became traditional for almost the next fifty years. Although it was uncanonical, it had many advantages for York in that it added a much richer diocese to their holdings, and one which was more peaceful as well. [15] When Edgar died in 975, Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia, broke up many monastic communities, some of which were Oswald's foundations. [16] Ramsey, however, was not disturbed, probably due to the patronage of Æthelwine, Ealdorman of East Anglia, son of Æthelstan Half-King. Ælfhere was a supporter of Ethelred the Unready, the son of Edgar's third marriage, while Oswald supported the son of Edgar's first marriage, Edward the Martyr, [5] in the dispute over who would succeed King Edgar. [17]

In 985, Oswald invited Abbo of Fleury to come to Ramsey to help found the monastic school there. Abbo was at Ramsey from 985 to 987, where he taught computus, or the methods for calculating Easter. It was also often used in trying to calculate the date of the Last Judgment. [18] A surviving manuscript gives a list compiled by Oswald, setting forth estates that had been taken from the diocese of York. [19]

Death and sainthood

Oswald died on 29 February 992 in the act of washing the feet of the poor at Worcester, [13] as was his daily custom during Lent, and was buried in the Church of St Mary at Worcester. He promoted the education of the clergy and persuaded scholars to come from Fleury and teach in England. [16] A Life of Oswald was written after his death, probably by Byrhtferth, a monk of Ramsey Abbey. [20] Two manuscripts, a psalter (Harley MS 2904 in the British Library) and a pontifical (MS 100, part 2 from Sidney Sussex College of Cambridge University), probably belonged to Oswald and would have been used in his daily devotions. [5]

Almost immediately after his death miracles were reported at his funeral and at his tomb. His remains were translated to a different burial spot in Worcester Cathedral ten years after his death. His feast day is celebrated on 28 February [21] or on 19 May in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. [22]


  1. "FEBRUARY 29 BUSY Saint Oswald of Worcester A.D. 925–992". Today’s Saint. The Dynamic Catholic Institute. Archived from the original on 29 February 2024. Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  2. Lawrence Medieval Monasticism p. 101
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Knowles Monastic Order p. 40
  4. Richardson and Sayles Governance of Mediaeval England p. 57
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Brooks "Oswald (St Oswald)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  6. Lawrence Medieval Monasticism pp. 102–103
  7. 1 2 3 Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 224
  8. Knowles Monastic Order p. 51
  9. 1 2 Stenton Anglo Saxon England p. 450
  10. 1 2 Knowles Monastic Order p. 488
  11. Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 95
  12. Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 129
  13. 1 2 3 Knowles Monastic Order p. 55
  14. Knowles Monastic Order p. 621
  15. Stenton Anglo Saxon England 3rd ed. p. 436
  16. 1 2 Knowles Monastic Order p. 53
  17. Williams Æthelred the Unready p. 9
  18. Fletcher Bloodfeud p. 92
  19. Wormald Making of English Law p. 186
  20. Knowles Monastic Order p. 494
  21. Walsh New Dictionary of Saints p. 459
  22. Divine Worship: The Missal p. 734

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dunstan</span> 10th-century Archbishop of Canterbury and saint

Dunstan, OSB was an English bishop. He was successively Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, later canonised. His work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church. His 11th-century biographer Osbern, himself an artist and scribe, states that Dunstan was skilled in "making a picture and forming letters", as were other clergy of his age who reached senior rank. Dunstan served as an important minister of state to several English kings. He was the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least among which were those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the Devil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eadwig</span> King of England from 955 to 959

Eadwig was King of England from 23 November 955 until his death. He was the elder son of Edmund I and his first wife Ælfgifu, who died in 944. Eadwig and his brother Edgar were young children when their father was killed trying to rescue his seneschal from attack by an outlawed thief on 26 May 946. As Edmund's sons were too young to rule he was succeeded by his brother Eadred, who suffered from ill health and died unmarried in his early 30s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward the Martyr</span> King of the English (975–978)

Edward the Martyr was King of the English from 8 July 975 until he was killed on 18 March 978. He was the eldest son of King Edgar. On Edgar's death, the succession to the throne was contested between Edward's supporters and those of his younger half-brother, the future King Æthelred the Unready. As they were both children, it is unlikely that they played an active role in the dispute, which was probably between rival family alliances. Edward's principal supporters were Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Æthelwine, Ealdorman of East Anglia, while Æthelred was backed by his mother, Queen Ælfthryth and her friend Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester. The dispute was quickly settled. Edward was chosen as king and Æthelred received the lands traditionally allocated to the king's eldest son in compensation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edgar, King of England</span> King of the English from 959 to 975

Edgar was King of the English from 959 until his death. He became king of all England on his brother's death. He was the younger son of King Edmund I and his first wife Ælfgifu. A detailed account of Edgar's reign is not possible, because only a few events were recorded by chroniclers and monastic writers were more interested in recording the activities of the leaders of the church.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pershore Abbey</span> Church

Pershore Abbey, at Pershore in Worcestershire, was an Anglo-Saxon abbey and is now an Anglican parish church, the Church of the Holy Cross.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abbo of Fleury</span> Monk and abbot of Fleury Abbey (c.945–1004)

Abbo or Abbon of Fleury, also known as Saint Abbo or Abbon, was a monk and abbot of Fleury Abbey in present-day Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire near Orléans, France.

Æthelgar was Archbishop of Canterbury, and previously Bishop of Selsey.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Æthelwold of Winchester</span> Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984

Æthelwold of Winchester was Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984 and one of the leaders of the tenth-century monastic reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oscytel</span> 10th-century Archbishop of York and Bishop of Dorchester

Oscytel was a medieval Bishop of Dorchester and Archbishop of York.

Ealdwulf was a medieval Abbot of Peterborough, Bishop of Worcester, and Archbishop of York.

Æthelstan Half-King was an important and influential Ealdorman of East Anglia who interacted with five kings of England, including his adopted son King Edgar the Peaceful. Many of Æthelstan's close relatives were also involved in important affairs, but soon after the death of King Eadred in 955, he left his position and became a monk at Glastonbury Abbey.

Koenwald or Cenwald or Coenwald was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Worcester, probably of Mercian origin.

<i>Regularis Concordia</i> (Winchester)

The Regularis Concordia was the most important document of the English Benedictine Reform, sanctioned by the Council of Winchester in about 973.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eadnoth the Younger</span> 11th-century Bishop of Dorchester and Abbot of Ramsey

Eadnoth the Younger or Eadnoth I was a medieval monk and prelate, successively Abbot of Ramsey and Bishop of Dorchester. From a prominent family of priests in the Fens, he was related to Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, Archbishop of York and founder of Ramsey Abbey. Following in the footsteps of his illustrious kinsman, he initially became a monk at Worcester. He is found at Ramsey supervising construction works in the 980s, and around 992 actually became Abbot of Ramsey. As abbot, he founded two daughter houses in what is now Cambridgeshire, namely, a monastery at St Ives and a nunnery at Chatteris. At some point between 1007 and 1009, he became Bishop of Dorchester, a see that encompassed much of the eastern Danelaw. He died at the Battle of Assandun in 1016, fighting Cnut the Great.

Ælfhere was Ealdorman of Mercia. His family, along with those of Æthelstan Half-King and Æthelstan Rota, rose to greatness in the middle third of the 10th century. In the reign of Edward the Martyr, Ælfhere was a leader of the anti-monastic reaction and an ally of Edward's stepmother Queen Dowager Ælfthryth. After the killing of Edward by Ælfthryth's servants in 978, Ælfhere supported the new king, Ælfthryth's son Æthelred the Unready, and was the leading nobleman in the Kingdom of England until his death in 983.

Æthelwine was ealdorman of East Anglia and one of the leading noblemen in the kingdom of England in the later 10th century. As with his kinsmen, the principal source for his life is Byrhtferth's life of Oswald of Worcester. Æthelwine founded Ramsey Abbey in 969, and Byrhtferth and Ramsey Abbey remembered him as Dei amicus, but the monks of nearby Ely saw him as an enemy who had seized their lands.

Æthelstan Mannessune was a landowner and monastic patron in late 10th-century Anglo-Saxon England, coming from a family of secularised priests. Remembered by Ely Abbey as an enemy, he and his family endowed Ramsey Abbey and allegedly provided it with a piece of the True Cross. His children became important in their own right, one of them, Eadnoth, becoming Abbot of Ramsey and Bishop of Dorchester, and another becoming abbess of Chatteris nunnery.

Germanus was a medieval English abbot and Benedictine monk. He travelled to Rome in about 957 and became a monk at Fleury Abbey in France. Back in England by 964 he served as a monastic official before being named abbot of Winchcombe Abbey in about 970, a position he was removed from in 975. Germanus may have become abbot of Cholsey Abbey in 992.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">English Benedictine Reform</span> Religious reform movement in the late Anglo-Saxon period

The English Benedictine Reform or Monastic Reform of the English church in the late tenth century was a religious and intellectual movement in the later Anglo-Saxon period. In the mid-tenth century almost all monasteries were staffed by secular clergy, who were often married. The reformers sought to replace them with celibate contemplative monks following the Rule of Saint Benedict. The movement was inspired by Continental monastic reforms, and the leading figures were Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, and Oswald, Archbishop of York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ælfwynn, wife of Æthelstan Half-King</span> Member of a wealthy Anglo-Saxon family in Huntingdonshire, spouse of Æthelstan Half-King, died 983

Ælfwynn or Ælfwyn was a member of a wealthy Anglo-Saxon family in Huntingdonshire who married Æthelstan Half-King, the powerful ealdorman of East Anglia, in about 932. She is chiefly known for having been foster-mother to the future King Edgar the Peaceful following his mother's death in 944, when he was an infant. She had four sons, and the youngest, Æthelwine, became the chief secular magnate and leading supporter of the monastic reform movement. Ælfwynn donated her estates for his foundation of Ramsey Abbey in 966 and was probably buried there.


Further reading

Christian titles
Preceded by Bishop of Worcester
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of York