by Mary Roe
reprinted in Signs of the Times No. 40 - Jan 2011

I and many of my friends are as puzzled as  your correspondent, Robert Ian Williams, by the choice of St. Hilda as a patron of the newly formed group of those who regard themselves as traditionalists with regard to the practice of their Christian faith, although on somewhat different grounds from his.

We can see however, that St. Wilfrid makes a lot of sense.  As head of a community of men and women, St. Hilda was in an unbroken line of such women going back to apolstolic times, e.g. among others, Phoebe (Paul's prostasis - patron/mentor in Rome.)  According to Bede, not only did kings and princes  seek her advice 'and took it', but she was in control of the training and ordaining of priests who she insisted  should be better versed in Scripture than had been the practice previously, and as she herself was. She regularly heard the confessions of these priests after they were ordained and gave them absolution just as she did her nuns. St. Hilda, in company with other abbesses of her generation, such as Ebba,  Etheldreda and others, was referred to as sacerdos maxima. All over Europe, at this time, such women overseers (episcopae) of the church were practising their jurisdiction  exempt from the oversight of Bishops.

Hilda's pre-eminence among these women was clearly recognised when she was chosen to host the Synod of Whitby,  in which her contemporary, Wilfrid, and his party for Roman innovation succeeded in depriving  her  of her traditional role which she had inherited through what we now call the Celtic tradition.

Regardless of their expectations of Christmas, it does seem as if this particular group of poorly informed turkeys has voted Bernard Matthews as their patron saint.  If St. Hilda is not turning in her grave, it may be because, like so many of her contemporaries, she was buried with her crozier in her hand, which would make such a manoeuvre a bit difficult.


Mary Roe is a retired RE teacher, lay reader, widow of a bishop, and member of the Modern Church Council.