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Myths and Legends
Stained glass window
St Oswald window, Durham Cathedral

© Jarrold Publishing, Chapter of Durham
Cult of a King

Oswald, Northumbria and Mercia

The story of King Oswald is brimming with heroism, kingship and Christian valour. His father, King Aelfrith, laid the foundations for the mighty realm of Northumbria by uniting the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deria. Anglo-Saxon Northumbria stretched from Hull to Edinburgh, the name refers to ‘land north of the Humber’.

In 617, at the age of 11, Oswald fled to Dal Riada in western Scotland after the murder of his father by his brother in law, Edwin. In 634, after 17 years in exile and a failed attempt by his elder brother Osfrid to regain his father’s kingdom, Oswald set off with a small army to avenge his father and brother’s death. Oswald’s victory Cadwallon of Gwynedd (North Wales) at Heavenfield, outside Hexham, was the beginning of his eight year reign.

Stained glass window
Detail from St Oswald window
© Jarrold Publishing, Chapter of Durham
During his exile, Oswald had been baptised on Iona, which at the time was at the head of an important community of monasteries located in Ireland and Scotland. During his reign as King, he acquired a reputation as a devout Christian, committed to using his power to promote his faith. When looking for a bishop, he invited one of St Columba’s (the founder of Iona’s monastery) disciples from Iona to found a monastery on Lindisfarne, now known as Holy Island located off the North East coast. The monk sent was Aidan; Oswald and Aidan have become legendary figures in the conversion of England to Christianity.

During Oswald’s reign as king of Northumbria, the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia, which encompassed most of central England and was ruled by the pagan King Penda, posed the greatest obstacle to a Christian England. In 'The Conversion of the English', historian H Curtois describes Mercia during Oswald’s lifetime as “a big black blot of heathenism, untouched as yet by Christian effort”.


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Your comments

1 larry from Meifod/Morda/W.Australia - 2 February 2004
"Sorry cannot sympathise Oswald was popularised by Anglo Anglican beliefs which tend to discount and demonise parallel cultures or earlier religions I would not be interested in some High Church promotion of an historic figure"

2 June McCarthy from Oswestry - 29 January 2004
"In view of the importance of King Oswald as a historical and Christian figure, it is sad that the sites in Oswestry associated with his last great battle and death have recently been built on, Maserfield is currently being developed for housing. Oswestry Councils have been slow to protect a site which had significance for our heritage and great tourist potential. Local people had asked for the Maserfield meadow to be designated a St Oswald's Park, but to no avail."




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