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Another pious prince ruled Deira. St. Oswin, who was noted for his goodness and humility. At last a dispute arose between him and king Oswi, respecting the boundaries of their dominions, and both levied armies. Oswin finding himself weakest, was anxious to save human blood, so dismissed his troops at a place called Wulfare's Dunn, or the hill of Wulfare, ten miles west of Catterick. Some think this spot was Ellerton on the Swale; but the greater probability is, that the dismissal took place at Wulsha, Ulveshow, or Ulshaw Bridge, then a ford of the Yore, on the Roman military road, which was unquestionably still used.
The king himself, accompanied by his faithful attendant Tonder, took shelter at Ingethling, now Gilling, with Earl Hudwald, on whom he had lately conferred that manor ; but Earl Ethelwin being sent by Oswi in pursuit, St. Oswin and his devoted adherant were slain together, August 20th, A.D. 651. Queen Eanfled, Oswi's wife, with her husband's leave—who too late repented his fatal order—founded a monastery on the spot, in which, prayers might be for ever put up for both kings. It was afterwards destroyed by the Danes.
The year 655 witnessed King Penda's downfall. Oswi, with an inferior army, defeated and slew him near Loyden, which is Leeds, on the river Winnaed, subsequently called Aire. The place was named Winwidfield, or the field of victory. At the time of his death, Penda was eighty years old, and of these he had reigned thirty, during which period he was a continual persecutor of Christianity, and slew five pious kings : yet, like some of the heathen Roman emperors, he had many Christians in his court, from whom he exacted a strict observance of their religious duties. He may properly be accounted the last Pagan king of all England, and it is remarkable that all his children were Christians; some of them eminent for sanctity, were afterwards canonized. With him, on this, the last of his fields, fell thirty princes of the blood royal. Penda was thirteenth in descent from Woden: of his successors, kings of Mercia, eight successively enjoyed the dignity of Bretwalda, or Rex Gentis Anglorum, viz., from 659 to 800. Of the family were three martyred princes, and five canonized widows, or virgins, besides several who were by the Saxons accounted amongst the blessed. (1) His descendants yet remain in England.
And now, for nearly two hundred years, Wensleydale had peace--the valley was Catholic and happy. Churches were built on sites, now long forgotten, or faintly remembered in tradition, and the people, attentive to every sacred duty, prospered in all temporal concerns. It was during this period, more, perhaps, than at any other, that England won the glorious title for which our country was long pre-eminent—THE ISLAND OF SAINTS.
At length new trials and persecutions drew on
(1) Very many of the Saxon Royal Ladies adopted a life of religion either as nuns or recluses. A recluse was a woman of approved piety, whom the abbot permitted to reside in a cell near the church, and to attend daily at the divine service. She generally wore the same habit as a nun, and submitted to the same regulations; but some of the princesses often retained a great part of the dress which they had worn in a secular life. St. Aldhelm has described one of these royal nuns. Her under vest was of fine linen, of a violet colour; above this, she wore a scarlet tunic, with wide sleeves, and a hood fringed with silk; her shoes were of red leather; the locks on her forehead and temples were curled with irons; and a veil was tied to her head with ribbands, crossed over her breast, and permitted to fall behind to the ground. Her nails were pared to a point, that they might resemble the talons of a falcon. St. Ald. de. laud. virg., p. 364.) When Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, was labouring to revive the original discipline of the Benedictine Institute, he saw at court the abbess Editha, daughter of king Edgar. Her dress was splendid, and shocked the austere notions of the prelate. “Daughter,” he observed to her," the spouse, whom you have chosen, delights not in external pomp, It is the heart which he demands." " True, father," replied the abbess, “ and my heart I have given him. While he possesses it, he will not be offended with external pomp." (Malm de reg., l. ii., c. 19, f. 50.) Editha might, with justice, be permitted to make the reply. Within the walls of her convent she was distinguished by the austerity of her life; and her profuse donations to the indigent demonstrated the solidity of her virtue. After her death, the Saxon Church enrolled her name in the catalogue of saints. She is likewise commemorated with peculiar praise in the Roman Martyrology. Vide Lingard's highly valuable “ Antiquities of the Anglo Saxon Church."
“Beneath the shade the Northmen came,
The Pagan Danes made successful irruptions into England, and gained possession of Northumbria. Their cruelties towards the Christians of all ages, and both sexes, were great. “They could conceive no greater pleasure than to feast their eyes with the flames of the villages, which they had plundered, and their ears with the groans of their captives, expiring under the anguish of torture. Their route was marked by the mangled carcases of the nuns, the monks, and the priests whom they had massacred. From the banks of the Ouse to the river Tyne, the towns, churches, and monasteries were laid in ashes; and so complete was their destruction, that succeeding generations could with difficulty, trace the vestiges of their former existence”(1). This lasted more than seventeen years. It was sad, then, to view Wensleydale, recently so tranquil. The barbarous persecutors sought to re-establish foul idolatry in the sacred places where lately the One True God was devoutly worshipped in peace. Thousands fell victims to heathen fury, and doubtless, in Wensleydale, many suffered. But those happy saints gave themselves up willingly to death for the Catholic Faith, knowing it to be the entrance to eternal bliss. They have received their crowns, and are numbered with the white robed army of martyrs.
“Where is your dwelling, ye sainted ?
Through what Elysium more bright
ye in glory and light?
Breathes there a soul that may dare
Or hope to dwell with you there?
(1) Lingard. Anglo Saxon Churches. Vol. 11, p. 220–5.
Sages, who, even in exploring
Nature through all her bright ways,
And veil'd your eyes in the blaze-
you had sown in your blood-
Chasten'd from evil to good.
Look'd to your Heavenly Spouse-
in heaven's sweet air? Or, oh! to whom is it granted,
Bright souls, to dwell with you there?" MOORE. Sweetly indeed had the beauties of their celestial abode been described, centuries ago, in melodious verse, by one who, eminent on earth for his sanctity, has long been a member of the glorious company—a sharer in their never failing, never-ending bliss-St. AUGUSTINE. A description beautifully versified by B. Peter Damian, Cardinal Archbishop of Ostia, in the eleventh century. “In that far land the citizens all share one equal bread, And keep desire and hunger still, although to fulness fed : Unwearied by satiety, unracked by hunger's strife, The air they breathe is nourishment, and spiritual life! Around them, bright with endless Spring, perpetual roses bloom, Warm balsams gratefully exude luxurious perfume; Red crocusses, and lilies white, shine dazzling in the sun ; Green meadows yield them harvests green, and streams with
(1) Flos perpetuus rosarum ver agit perpetuum,
It is probably to this persecution that the martyrdom of Saint Alkelda, of Middleham, must be assigned. The name of this virgin saint does not occur in any of the best known martyrologies, yet of the fact of her existence and suffering, the most sceptical are convinced. Middleham church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St. Alkelda; and in charters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the day of her feast is mentioned as being well known, though our calendars no longer retain it.(1) In the absence, therefore, of written authority, I must content myself with recording the few particulars of this saint, which local tradition has preserved from the remote era when she received her crown, to the present day.
Saint Alkelda is said to have been the daughter of a Saxon Prince, or Earl, who, on account of her religion, was put to death by strangulation, by the Danes. In the east window of the chantry of our Blessed Lady, her passion was depicted in stained glass; portions of the representation are still there. She was shown in the act of being strangled by two females, who had twisted a napkin round her neck. Possibly, the scene of her suffering was the site of the present church, or a little to the west of it; for it is certain that her sacred remains repose somewhere in the edifice, and a spring which rises not far off, is named St. Alkelda's Well. The water of this fountain was accounted beneficial for weak the writer knew a Protestant lady, who died not long since at an advanced age, who, in early youth, was accustomed to repair to it every morning, and who received much relief from its strengthening qualities. Certain fee-farm rents in Middleham, are required to be paid upon St. Alkelda's Tomb, and were regularly deposited on a stone table
1 According to the Harleian MSS. 145248, fol. 1786, Giggleswick Church, Craven, in Com. Ebor, is dedicated to St. Alkelda. Of the founder or foundation of this church we have no record, but it evidently existed, and was unappropriated in the reign of king Stephen. (Vide Townley MSS.) At Settle, in the parish of Giggleswick, there is an annual fair held on the first Tuesday after the 27th October.