Hilda was another of those formidable princesses who influenced the growth of the Celtic and Saxon Church in Britain. Indeed, she lived at the meeting point between the two traditions – Roman and Celtic – in Whitby, Yorkshire, then in the Kingdom of Northumbria.
A teenage convert, she lived her faith to the full, eventually becoming Abbess of Whitby, a double monastery where women and men lived in their own communities, side by side, coming together for daily worship and no doubt for study; Whitby was reknown for learning, though the Viking raids would put paid to that.
Being high on the cliff-top was not sufficient defence; books and plate were stolen, the monastery destroyed. What we see now is the ruined Norman Abbey, destroyed at the Reformation.
But before all that, it was at Whitby that King Oswy held a Church Synod in 664, attended by delegates from across England, where it was decided to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Church in Rome, a conscious effort to maintain church unity.
Hilda also encouraged the first English hymn writer, Caedmon, who was a groom in the Abbey stables, and was heard singing his songs in the stables.
This carving of Hilda stands above the town, on the high cross just visible to the right of the hilltop. The five bishops around her are the five bishops the monastery provided for the early Church in Northumbria. The snakes at her feet? Well, they do say that Hilda sorted out a plague of snakes around the area, turning them into stone in the shape of ammonite fossils. We found a little ammonite in a rock, and the segment of a bigger one that we carried home from a local beach does a serpentine quality about it!
Dear Lord, in the name of Saint Hilda, we pray for girls throughout the world who would like to study more; may we learn to encourage each other to develop our gifts, as Hilda encouraged the groom and poet, Caedmon. Amen.