Hild was the Great-niece of King Edwin, the most powerful pagan Northumbrian king, who ruled from the Humber to the Firth of Forth. When she was 13, Hild was baptised by Paulinus. Later, in the reign of King Oswald, she became Abbess of Hartlepool. 8 years later she founded the abbey at Whitby. Called by the Saxons “Streanaeshalch”, Whitby was a foundation of monks and nuns. This type of mixed monastery was always headed by an Abbess. Situated to the north of the present mediaeval ruin, to the right in the picture, it was abandoned after Viking raids in 867AD.

Oswald was succeeded by King Oswui, whose court had a mixture of followers of both the Celtic and Roman Christian traditions, who, for instance, celebrated Easter at different times. The Celtic church in Ireland had maintained traditions from St Patrick and ultimately from the original Christians from the Roman Empire. The church of Rome, however, had modified traditions and had strengthened the principle of Papal Authority.

The original calculation of the date of Easter was determined by the Synod of Nicea to be the first Sunday after the Jewish festival of Passover. Passover is, as stated in Exodus 12:1, the 15th day of the first month. As the Jewish calendar was based on Lunar months, this date had to be regulated by the Temple Priests in Jerusalem to keep it in line with Spring in Palestine. However, after the destruction of the state of Judea by the roman emperor Titus in AD70, there remained no central Jewish authority to perform this function. Passover then came to be celebrated at different times in different communities.

Therefore Pope John 1st instructed Dionysius Exiguus, a Russian Monk, to determine the correct date for Easter. He decided his own way of determining the date of Easter, making it the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. As the equinox is on 21st March, this means Easter drifts between 22nd March and 25th April. This became the established tradition in the Church of Rome. The celtic church continued the system established at Nicea.

In order to solve this dispute, in 664AD, Oswui summoned the so called “Synod of Whitby”. To speak on behalf of the Celtic tradition was Colman, Abbott of Lindisfarne. Speaking for the Roman tradition was Wilfrid. The outcome was in favour of the Roman tradition, and England became part of the mainstream European church.

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Photograph by the author.