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.