Tuesday, February 7, 2012


St. Ceolwulf of Northumbria

Feastday: January 15
Died: 764

Ceolwulf, OSB, King, Monk (AC)
 (also known as Ceowulf, Ceolwulph)

King of Northumbria and monk of Lindisfarne, date and place of birth not known; died at Lindisfarne, 764. His ancestry is thus given by the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle": "Ceolwulf was the son of Cutha, Cutha of Cuthwin, Cuthwin of Leoldwald, Leoldwald of Egwald, Egwald of Aldhelm, Aldhelm of Ocga, Ocga of Ida, Ida of Eoppa." Harpsfeld says that he succeeded Osred on the throne, but most authorities say that he was adopted as heir by Osric in 729. Learned and pious, he lacked the vigour and authority necessary for a ruler. Bede bears witness to his learning and piety in the introductory chapter of his "Ecclesiastical History". He dedicated this work "to the most glorious King Ceolwulph", sent it to him for his approval, and addresses him thus: "I cannot but commend the sincerity and zeal, with which you not only give ear to hear the words of Holy Scripture, but also industriously take care to become acquainted with the actions and sayings of former men of renown."

His unfitness for his duties as king prompted his subjects to seize him and confine him in a monastery in the second year of his reign. He escaped from this confinement and reascended the throne. During his reign he appointed his cousin Egbert to be Bishop of York, and Bede tells us that the ecclesiastical affairs of his kingdom were presided over by the four bishops, Wilfrid, Ethelwald, Acca, and Pecthelm. After a reign of eight years he wearied of "the splendid cares of royalty", and voluntarily resigned to become a monk at Lindisfarne (738). His cousin Eadbert succeeded him. Ranulphus Cestrensis speaks of his retirement to St. Bede's monastery of Jarrow, but all others agree that it was Lindisfarne. He brought to the monastery many treasures and much land, and after his entrance the monks were first allowed to drink wine and beer, contrary to the tradition handed down from St. Aidan, who only allowed them milk or water. Henry of Huntingdon, when entering into detail with regard to his retirement, says he was principally urged to it by reading the writings of Bede on the lives of former kings who had resigned their thrones to enter the monastic state. He was buried in the cathedral of Lindisfarne next to the tomb of St. Cuthbert, and, according to Malmesbury, many miracles were wrought at his tomb. The body was afterwards transferred to the mainland of Northumberland, probably along with St. Cuthbert's, in order to preserve it from desecration at the time of the Danish invasion. His feast day in the calendar is the 15th of January.

Ceolwulf was king of Northumbria from 729 until 737, except for a short period in 731 or 732 when he was deposed, and quickly restored to power. Ceolwulf finally abdicated and entered the monastery at Lindisfarne. He was the "most glorious king" to whom Bede dedicated his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.

He was adopted as heir by his predecessor, and distant cousin, Osric. Ceolwulf was brother of Coenred and was the second of the Leodwaldings to rule Northumbria. With the extinction of the main line of the Eoppingas at the death of Osric (or, if Osric was not in fact of the direct line, even earlier, in 716, at the death of Osred son of Aldfrith), the kingdom of Northumbria entered into a long period of dynastic conflict and instability, which was only ended by the destruction of the kingdom by the Vikings in 867.

As with Aldfrith, the Irish annals give Ceolwulf an Irish name, "Eóchaid son of Cuidin", and if Cuidin is a calque of Cuthwine, Eóchaid is no more obviously related to Ceolwulf than Flann is to Aldfrith. For this reason, it has been suggested that Ceolwulf had spent time in Ireland, perhaps studying to enter into religion. Be that as it may, his reign appears to have met with the approval of clerics such as Bede and William of Malmesbury.

As said, Ceolwulf was deposed for a short period in the autumn of 731 or 732, but quickly restored. The details of the attempted coup are unclear. Bishop Acca of Hexham is said to have been driven from his seat, and Alric and Esc killed.

Ceolwulf was succeeded by his first cousin Eadberht. His death is recorded in the winter of 764–765. He was later canonized, and his feast day is January 15..

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