On this day: St. Oswald

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Oswald of Worcester. "He is renowned as one of the three leaders of the English 'Tenth-century Reformation' which not only revived monasticism in England within a single generation, but also transformed the whole structure and culture of the English church."

-- Oswald of Worcester: Life and Influence, edited by Nicholas Brooks and Catherine Cubitt, Leicester University Press, London, 1996.

Oswald was brought up by his uncle Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury from 942-959. Oda sent Oswald to France where he became a Benedictine at Fleury-sur-Loire. He was ordained there and returned to England in 959 when Oda died. King Edgar of Wessex appointed Oswald Bishop of Worcester in 962 and Archbishop of York in 972. Oswald held both offices concurrently. He replaced married canons with monks and established several monasteries, including Ramsey. Oswald was generous to his relatives and to the poor. During Lent, he washed the feet of twelve poor men every day. He was engaged in that activity when he died.

The millennium of Oswald’s death in 992 was observed with a conference at Worcester in 1992. The book of proceedings, linked above, contains presentations by scholars from many disciplines. From one we learn how St. Oswald “used the wealth of Worcester Cathedral and of his foundation at Ramsey to establish the fortunes of his extended kin”. Another provides “a masterly analysis of the rural economy of the cathedral's estates” and explains “how the forced labor of slaves and peasants produced the surplus on which a reformed but aristocratic community depended”. Other contributors are experts in topography, archaeology, the population of tenth-century Worcester, liturgy, manuscript production, and music.

"Oswald established a great musical tradition at Worcester (which continues, especially in the shape of the Three Choirs Festival, drawing on the talents of Worcester, Gloucester, and Hereford, Cathedrals). He encouraged learning of all sorts, bringing learned masters over from the Continent, including Abbo of Fleury, a noted mathematician and astronomer, who spent two years at Ramsey Abbey."

--Butler’s Lives of the Saints

Click here for information about the 2011 Three Choirs Festival, to be held at Worcester Cathedral in August. “We remember the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 with John Adams monumental cantata On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned in 2002 and recalling the fall of the World Trade Center in New York. This theme is reflected too in our Wednesday evensong which will feature the first performance of a newly commissioned anthem Still, in remembrance by Jackson Hill of Pennsylvania, USA.”

Deus qui magna dulcedinis tuae clementia beatissimum Osuualdum apostolico serto exornasti in aruis, eius quesumus obtentu concede familiae tuae uiam propere incedere aeternae prosperitatis. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

--Collect for the feast of St. Oswald, from Byrhtferth of Ramsey: The Lives of St Oswald and St Ecgwine, edited and translated by Michael Lapidge, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here