The Heroic Age
The Ripon Connection?
Willibrord, Wilfrid, and the Mission to Frisia
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Michel Aaij for sending me a detailed summary of Van Berkum's 1978/9 article, which was published in Dutch. The responsibility for the interpretation of this article and others resides completely with the author. I would also like to thank Rolf Bremmer for off prints of his articles on Willibrord and the Frisians. Further, I would like to thank Michel Aaij, Rolf Bremmer and Larry Swain for commenting on an early draft of this paper and making very useful recommendations. The responsibility for the final draft and its hypotheses resides with the author.
1. Another example of Willibrord's presence in Frisian pseudo-history is in the Latin Historia Frisae where the Frisian origin myth was remolded in Old Testament terms with Willibrord as Moses leading the Frisians away from evil King Redbad's bondage. This text was so popular that it was translated into Frisian and from Frisian into Middle Dutch (Bremmer13-14). Some of these works are so creative that their authors must have had imaginations worthy of peerage with Geoffrey of Monmouth. Indeed, Rolf Bremmer has suggested these myths be called the 'Matter of Friesland' in imitation of the "English" 'Matter of Britain' spawned by Geoffrey. Bremmer notes that these authors must have intentionally ignored both Bede's History and Alcuin's Life of Willibrord, available in late medieval Frisia, when they constructed their works.
2. Levison's beliefs were influenced by his own German nationalistic political context in the 1930s and 1940s. Even though he suffered the effects of those politics, German historical views were so well engrained that he could not see beyond them. These views prevented him from accepting a strong Irish role in the mission to Frisia and Germany even while living in England as a Jewish expatriate during World War II. See Townsend for a discussion of the influences of his political environment.
3. For a summary of their theories, see Van Berkum 400-403.
4. Wilfrid was driven from Mercia and Wessex by the influence of Queen Osthryth of Merica, sister of King Ecgfrith, and the Queen of Wessex, who was the sister of Ecgfrith's queen, Irmenburgh. The influence of the queens does suggest that the kings were willing to help Wilfrid against King Ecgfrith. Certainly King Æthelred of Mercia was always eager to aid Wilfrid in his Northumbrian troubles.
5. Ian Wood has suggested that Stephanus' description of Wilfrid's trip to Rome and the "reception by Aldgisl and Dagobert, is unquestionably polished to make a point about the reception of strangers" (Wood 1995:14). Significantly, according to Stephanus, both Dagobert and Perctarit, who both significantly receive Wilfrid after Aldgisl, had been exiles before coming to the throne. Stephanus is the only source for Dagobert's exile and the supposed help that he received from Wilfrid in his return from his refuge in Ireland. Unfortunately, the tale that Perctarit tells of his exile is "contradicted directly by continental evidence" (Wood 1995:14). Thus, we must be aware that all is not what it seems to be in Stephanus's account of Wilfrid's continental trips. On Wilfrith's first trip to Rome some years earlier, Stephanus makes several other errors. He errs on the name of Bishop Aunemundus (whom he calls Dalphinus) who is supposedly a great benefactor of Wilfirth and claims that Wilfrith stayed with the bishop until his martyrdom, although this chronologically impossible (Wood 1995:15, Colgrave 153). Dalphinus was Count of Lyons and the brother of Bishop Aunemundus (Colgrave 153), making one wonder which one really was Wilfrith's patron. Stephanus may have viewed the continental trips as unverifiable by English clerics and, therefore, an area where he was free to alter events to make a point. If he assumed so, in general he would have been right.
6. Here Stephan appears to have conflated two brothers: Bishop Aunemundus and his brother Count Dalfinus of Lyon (Colgrave 153). Given that the brothers probably had similar politics, they may have both been executed to remove an opposing political family from Lyon. Why they were so attached to Wilfrid as to offer Dalfinus' daughter in marriage to him and make him the bishop's heir is unknown. Presumably he did have the gift of political savvy and as a foreigner was unencumbered by family feuds that so complicated Frankish politics. Oral transmission of the account may explain the confusion over the name of his mentor(s). Given that the name Dalphinus was apparently prominent in Wilfrid's oral history, one has to wonder which brother was the more important mentor to Wilfrid.
7. Wilfrid presumably booked passage on a Frisian merchant ship or a ship leaving for a Frisian port of call, perhaps from York, to begin his journey to the Rome in 678. There is no reason to believe that Frisia was not Wilfrid's intended destination.
8. Ebrion had succeeded by the time Wilfrid made his return journey to Britain. Wilfrid was surprised to find Dagobert dead and Ebrion's supporters threatening his life again (Colgrave 67-69). Yet, he was able to talk his way free again and return to Britain.
9. Given Wilfrid's claimed role in the elevation of Dagobert II, Ebrion may have needed very little of a bribe to pursue a vendetta against Wilfrid.
10. Could it be that Wilfrid was only willing to leave someone behind to administer the land rather than the converts? Stephan does not mention the gift of 300 hides of land on the Isle of Wight. This is ten times the 30 hide original grant of land for the monastery of Ripon. Stephan may have not wanted to link Wilfrid too closely with the ruthless Caedwalla, who was not baptized until he reached Rome, and he eventually slew Wilfrid's loyal patron King Æthelwalh of Sussex. Wilfrid's family continued to control the monastery in Sussex through the early eighth century. It may also be that Wilfrid's followers had lost control of the huge land grant on the Isle of Wight after Caedwalla and Wilfrid's deaths. Rollason (14, 34 n. 79) suggests that Swithberht may have been left behind in Frisia by Wilfrid but I know of no primary source support for this belief.
11. His first visit to Sussex is in a near ship wreck where Wilfrid commands his armed retainers to attack the hostile pagans, and they survive and sail away due to their military success (VW ch.13). However, Wilfrid returns later during another period of exile from Northumbria to gain the friendship of the King of the South Saxons, only to quickly switch alliances to Caedwalla of Wessex after he killed the Sussex king. Wilfrid gained many estates in Sussex and on the Isle of Wight from this switch in patrons (HE 4.15-16).
12. Eata was made abbot of Lindisfarne at the request of Bishop Colman after the Synod of Whitby.
13. Bede says his seat was at either Hexham or Lindisfarne (HE 4.12) but Hexham must have been his original designated see. Bede refers to him returning to the see for which he was originally consecrated when Cuthbert became Bishop of Lindisfarne (HE 4.28). The Bernician see was further divided into three sees in 681, with Eata becoming Bishop of Lindisfarne, Wilfrid's follower Tunberht becoming Bishop of Hexham, and Trumwine as Bishop of the Picts/Abercorn. (HE 4.12)
14. He was the brother of Æthelwine, who also studied in Ireland and later became bishop of Lindsey, Abbess Æthelhild who had a monastery near Bardney, and Ealdwine, who was abbot of Partney. (HE 3.11, 3.27, 4.3) The confluence of the siblings Æthelwine, Æthelhild, and Ealdwine in Lindsey suggests that they were members of a noble, if not royal, dynasty in Lindsey.
15. The fact that Cynefrith was the abbot of Gelling, a hereditary monastery belonging to kinsmen of King Oswine, suggests that he and his brother Coelfrith, Bede's abbot at Wearmouth-Jarrow, were Deirans. He went to study in Ireland before the great plague of 664 in which he died.
16. The Englishman Tuda was consecrated a bishop in southern Ireland pre-664 and followed the Roman rites. He was among the adherents of the Romanist position already teaching and debating with Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne in Northumbria before the synod was called at Whitby. Tuda was Bishop Colman and King Oswiu's first choice as Bishop of Lindisfarne/Northumbria after the Synod of Whitby. Unfortunately, he died in the plague after only a few months as bishop. It is unclear whether Tuda was a Northumbrian or not. His name suggests that he was either English or British. Tuda is not an Irish name.
17. It should be noted that Chad and Egbert also studied with this group. Chad and his brothers all worked only in Deira or south of the Humber. However, Egbert seems to have had close ties with Bernicia, perhaps with Melrose in particular (Kirby 2002). Yet, Eata, Boisil and Cuthbert of Melrose were all working at Ripon in c. 660.
18. Abbot Ceolfrith may have been a member of Wilfrid's Ripon and a Romanist, but his brother Cynefrith died at Ráith Máelsigi in Ireland. Yet, Cynefrith died in 664 before the Roman rites were enforced in Deira, so he could have went to Ireland as the only place politically available to a Deiran Romanist.
19. Egbert appears to have retained considerable contacts with Bernicia. In addition to possibly communicating with Bede's Abbot Ceolfrith, he was also in contact with the founder of Æthelwulf's monastery referred to in de Abbatibus (Campbell 10-15).
20. In his Martyrology, Bede claims that the Hewalds had been part of Willibrord's mission, although the History seems to imply that they were sent independently from Ireland. In HE V.10 Bede claims that Egbert "attempted to send holy and industrious men...among these Willibrord" to preach to the peoples of Germany. This suggests that Egbert may have sent more than one group with the Hewalds possibly making a follow-up group to Willibrord's mission. Yet, Bede's statement in the Martyrology is stronger and must be given priority until better sources for extra missions are found.
21. Rollason (2001:23) points out that all these peoples were indeed not Germanic. The Huns, Rugians, and Danes were probably not Germanic and the former two were outside their missionary area.
22. Melrose was an important monastery in the Hiberno-Roman group, providing several abbots and bishops of Lindisfarne including Cuthbert and Eata.
23. It is unlikely that Egbert's mission to Iona would be referred to unless it had already been completed. See Duncan for the date of 718 for the full conversion of Iona to the Roman cause.
24. Bede mentions Swithbert's death in HE V.11. For Swithbert's death in c. 713, see Wilson p. 23.
25. In the Greater Chronicle, there is no mention of Iona specifically or the correction of the tonsure, that is mentioned in his chronological summary in HE V.24.
26. Although Bede claims that Egbert converted Iona to the Roman observances in 716, the annals suggest the conversion was a slow process not completed until 718. Events in Pictland in 717 may have also helped convince Iona (Duncan; Kirby 2002).
27. Alcuin appears to have conflated Wilfrid's first and second trip to Rome, claiming Wilfrid had his near fatal illness on his return from the trip where he evangelized Frisia (Godman 51-53). He similarly conflates Willibrord's two trips to Rome. It seems unlikely that he could have made to such mistakes by accident. Rather, it seems like a handy way to shorten his material.
28. Wood 2001 stresses that the verse and prose Lives should be considered together since they were composed together.
29. Although Alcuin tells us that Willibrord was a student of Egbert and Wichtberht, information probably gleaned from Bede, he does not tell us where in Ireland Willibrord stayed or that he was ordained a priest there. This we are left to surmise. We learn nothing about his companions or indeed, who accompanied him on his mission. Were they all Englishmen staying in Ireland or were there Irishmen among them as well? Alcuin doesn't even tell us if Willibrord was in a part of Ireland that accepted the Roman church or not. It is assumed that they were at Ráith Máelsigi in southern Ireland, where Rome was accepted, but we do not know that for sure. Given Egbert and Willibrord's ties to Melrose and Lindisfarne respectively, Egbert could have moved to Mayo or elsewhere after 664.
30. Although the cathedral at York must have been completed for, consecrated, and used by Bishop Aidan there is no direct mention of Aidan in the poem. Aidan is only mentioned in the miracles of Oswald's arm and Cuthbert's vision of Aidan going to heaven. St. Oswine, King of Deira and friend of Bishop Aidan, is also omitted from the York poem. Stephen of Ripon claims in the Life of Bishop Wilfrid that Colman was metropolitan of York but he is not mentioned in Alcuin's York poem either.
31. It is unclear exactly when Wilgils left his secular life for the church. Alcuin refers to him giving up his 'worldly career' and that Wilgils was given a number of estates surrounding his hermitage as a perpetual gift by the king. This might have been in exchange for giving up secular estates to the king or at least imply that he had a career worthy of such a gift. If he entered the church later in life, the king who gave the gift might have been King Ecgfrith (r. 670-685). This assumes that the grant was not made much later and simply claimed for Wilgils by Alcuin.
32. One has to wonder if Wilgils entry into monastic life was not influenced by his support for rebel King Alchfrith. After Alchfrith rebelled against his father King Oswiu, he is never heard from again and his rival, Oswiu's younger son Ecgfrith, probably became King of Deira. The church may have been one of the few options for survival for the nobles who supported Alchfrith.
33. It is worth recalling that when Wilfrid first became Bishop of York, Bernicia and Deira were still technically two separate kingdoms. It would not be until after the death of Ælfwine in 679 that Ecgfrith assumed direct control over Deira without the pretense of a separate king for Deira. Ripon in Deira was Wilfrid's first and probably most beloved monastery.
34. Van Berkum also discussed the unlikelihood that Wilfrid would have approved of Willibrord's time in Ireland.
35. Alcuin calls Egbert a bishop in chapter four of the prose Life of Willibrord.
36. Alcuin generally minimizes the contribution of Ireland to Willibrord's mission. The omission of his ordination from Alcuin's Lives of Willibrord is perhaps the best evidence that Alcuin intentionally wanted Willibrord's followers to forget the role of the Irish. Alcuin does not mention the monastery of Raith Melsigi, the failed mission of Wichtberht, or any other event there.
37. For the burial of Oswald's head at Lindisfarne and the placement of his arms and hands at Bamburgh, see HE III.12. It is possible that Willibrord obtained his relic from the site of its display somewhere in Mercia, but it seems unlikely that a Deiran youth would have obtained a relic from within Mercia by c. 679. Willibrord tells Acca and Wilfrid that the healed man lived for many years suggesting that the miracle happened soon after Willibrord's arrival in Ireland, probably before Bardney was established in Lindsey between 679 and 697. Bardney came to possess the relics of Oswald from Oswald's death site still in Mercian control. These relics included his body and banner.
38. Wilfrid's role in the return of Frankish King Dagobert II from exile in Ireland to Austrasia has been suggested to be evidence of his Irish contacts, which could have involved Ráith Máelsigi. However, Picard (1991: 42-51) has convincingly shown that the Irish arrangements surrounding Dagobert II's exile in Ireland and return involved Pippin II, the Irish abbot Ultan of Fosses and the Irish monasteries of Slane and Louth in central Ireland38. Dagobert's II's exile and return likely had nothing to do with the Egbert's monastery in Ireland.
39. An "Ichtbricht epscop" signed Cain Adomnan in 697. This person has been assumed to be Egbert (Ecgberht) but O'Croinin (1984:25-26) has shown that it is more likely to represent Wichtberht. Ichtbricht is commemorated on December 8th in the martyrologies, as opposed to April 24 for Egbert.
40. As Kirby has recently noted, there are problems with Boisil's visionary message to Egbert's companion. Most notably, why would Egbert wait twenty-eight years before attempting his mission to Iona in fulfillment of the vision? There is no good answer and Kirby has hypothesized that the vision was invented at Melrose for whom Boisil was a validating prophetic figure (Kirby 2002: 51-53). The fact that Boisil of Melrose was used in this manner to explain why Egbert did not go to Germany himself, further suggests that there was some connection between Egbert and Melrose (Kirby 2002: 52). Boisil seems to have become the key saint of Melrose whose role in the development of the careers of Cuthbert and Egbert parallels Melrose's role as the training ground for future abbots and bishops of Lindisfarne. Several of the abbots and bishops of Lindisfarne from Eata's abbacy of Lindisfarne beginning in 664 through at least Æthelwold's tenure as bishop of Lindisfarne had been previously priors or abbots of Melrose. Æthelwold died in 740. Melrose became an English foundation during Aidan's time, founded by either Aidan or more likely Eata, since Bede says that Aidan refused to accept land outside of Lindisfarne and small amounts of land around churches. Melrose was already under Eata's direction when Cuthbert arrived at Melrose after seeing his vision of Aidan being carried to heaven. Boisil may have been chosen as the primary saint of Melrose not only for symbolic reasons exemplifying the use of Melrose as a training center for Lindisfarne but also because the other saints of Melrose were buried elsewhere. Eata the probable founder of Melrose, and probably its longest living owner/abbot, was presumably buried at Hexham, while Aidan and Cuthbert were buried at Lindisfarne. The lack of personal traditions about Eata may be due in no small part to his burial in the unfriendly ground of Hexham, where his cult is unlikely to have been supported by Bishops Wilfrid or Acca.
41. Bede and Alcuin give no indication that he traveled through England en route for Frisia as others have suggested. Van Berkum refutes the many hypotheses for passage through England before arriving among the Franks.
42. Pippin had only recently gained control of all France after Ebrion's death. King Theuderic was nominally in control until his death in 691, when his son Clovis III succeeded him. Although the descendents of Theuderic ruled Frankia throughout Willibrord's life, they are not mentioned by Bede or Alcuin. Wood (1994: 232-4) suggests that the group that brought Dagobert II back from exile was independent of Pippin II. Therefore it is unclear where Pippin II stood on the return of Dagobert II and Wilfrid's role therein. Nevertheless, there is no indication that his views on Wilfrid influenced his welcoming of Willibrord.
43. VanBerkum (404-405) suggests that if anyone prepared the way for the mission to Frisia or aided in its establishment, it was Wulfram and the Irish-Columbanian monks of Fontenelle.
44. VanBerkum (409) notes that Sergius may have heard news of Wilfrid's work in Wessex from former King Caedwalla who retired to Rome in 689.
45. The vacancy at Canterbury can date Swithberht's ordination to between July 692 and August 693 (McClure and Collins 414).
46. There is some precedent of an archbishop appointment to an immature church in Archbishop Augustine of Canterbury. However, one of the reasons for the appointments that travel for consecrations was difficult and dangerous. Eden's article in this issue further discusses the concept that the English lived at the end of the known world. The Frisian mission did not suffer from distance away from other Christians. There were plenty of Gaulish bishops nearby. The unusualness of Willibrord's consecration is underscored by the fact that no one was appointed Archbishop of Frisia on his death. Later, episcopal sees in the region did not develop directly from Willibrord's see.
47. Echternach became Willibrord's primary cult site where he was buried in 739. As mentioned earlier, Echternach became a family monastery increasing its association with Willibrord.
48. The names of other scribes who wrote charters for Willibrord are Elduinus, Docfa, Ansbaldus, and Richisus (Netzer 1989b: 132).
49 Willibrord consecrated Abbess Harlindis. The book was preserved at Aldeneyck during the Middle Ages. (Netzer 1989a: 207-208). The lives of Harlindis and Reglindis, the founders of Aldeneyck, claim that Willibrord and Boniface visited them together, placing the visit during the short time that Boniface worked with Willibrord. McKitterick (1994: III: 428-9) suggest that they may have produced the Maeseyck Gospels and have a very close relationship with Echternach.
50. Willibrord's monk's visit is documented in the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert written between Cuthbert's translation in 698 and the death of King Aldfrith in December 704. For the death of King Aldfrith, see Kirby 1995: 385.
51. These works include the Book of Prophets, the Calendar, and the Augsburg Gospels.
52. Paulinus was the Bishop of York and Oswald was King of Deira (and Bernicia). Cuthbert and Oethelwald were both one-time monks or priests of Ripon and Wilgils, Willibrord's father, was a Deiran by birth and founder of a Deiran monastery.
53. Edwin, Oswine, Oswald and Ecgfrith were all kin of the Deiran royal dynasty. Oswald and Ecgfrith were related to the Deirans via their mothers, the sister and daughter of Edwin respectively. Bede stresses Oswald's material linkage with Edwin in his discussion of Oswald's rule in Deira (HE III.6). It is also probable that Ecgfrith was sub-king of Deira from c. 665 to 670.
54. The Deiran influence is evident in the commemorations for Gregory the Great and Paulinus of York in the primary hand. These two figures were considered the Apostles to Deira. Bishop Aidan is not written in the primary hand. The kings included, albeit mostly in glosses, have a Deiran influence as well. The only two kings of the Bernician dynasty listed also ruled Deira directly and were related to the Deiran royal dynasty through the their mothers. Further, Oswald may have been seen as an avenger and protector of Deira for his slaying of Cadwallon, the slayer of two Deiran kings within a year.
55. See McKitterick 1994:IV for a review of the contacts between Willibrord and the Frankish church, especially Cologne.
56. The dates used for both match Irish sources, such as the Martyrology of Oengus, and conflict with Bede's dates.
57. The orthography of the Gregory the Great entry, "sancti grigori rome", is found only in Hiberno-Latin (Richter 1999: 150, 168 n. 38).
58. It is possible the sliver came from Bardney in Lindsey where Oswald's niece Osthryth enshrined her uncle's bones. If the Mercians kept the stake, or it was still on the site when the bones were discovered, it likely would have been sent to Bardney with his other remains and possibly his war banner. Thacker (114) suggests that the cult of Oswald could have come from Bardney to Raith Maelsigi via Æthelhun's brother Æthelwine. Bardney was not established until 679 at the very earliest and possibly as late as the 690s, although I favor earlier rather than later. Even so, Bardney was a monastery closely established with Queen Osthryth whose brothers were Wilfrid's enemies, although her husband King Æthelred was apparently his supporter (perhaps mainly for his opposition to the Northumbrian kings). This topic will be discussed further in another work in progress.
59. Further, there is no evidence that the cult of St. Oswald was supported at Ripon.
60. Acca succeeded to only a small part of Wilfrid's vast holdings, the see of Hexham. In an effort to promote his smaller domain, he promoted the two saints associated the monastery: St. Andrew, to whom the cathedral of Hexham is dedicated, and St. Oswald. It is surely Acca who built the church at Heavenfield, referred to by Bede in 731 as having been recently constructed. Acca may have been much more impressed by Willibrord himself and his stories of Oswald than the venerable old Wilfrid.
61. Wilfrid's support from Mercia (and Wessex) were secondary to the use they put him to in secular and ecclesiastical politics. Wilfrid's support from Æthelred suited Mercian political ambitions in Kent (Pelteret 178) and possibly Æthelred's ongoing role in the Bernician-Mercian feud.
62. We must also keep in mind that Balthild and Ebrion's power base was in Neustria, while Pippin and Dagobert's was in Austrasia. Austrasia borders Frisia. Could the Frisians have been involved in the return of Dagobert II as a means of weakening Ebrion and Neustrian pressure on their border?
63. For a discussion of the term peregrinus and the Old English term elþeodig, see Charles-Thomas 1976. For a definition of elðeodig, see Clark Hall 104.
64. See Charles-Edwards (1976) for the legal rights of peregrini.
65. Van Berkum (410-411) also believes that by the time Wilfrid visited Frisia in 703-704, he would not have brought up objections to Willibrord's leaving Ripon over twenty years earlier.
66. It should be noted that Acca did not have to actively go anywhere to become part of Wilfrid's household. Acca had been educated at York and appears to have transferred from Bosa to Wilfrid when Bosa was deposed in Wilfrid's favor. Therefore, Acca did not necessarily have to declare his politics until he left with Wilfrid during Wilfrid's second exile from York. Like Willibrord at Ripon, Acca appears to have been left behind when his superior was deposed and removed from his see. It is unclear where Bosa spent his time between his initial deposition and regaining of the see of York. Since he was educated at Whitby, it is possible that he returned there and acted as Whitby's bishop with a see restricted to the monastery.
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