Saint of the Day – 20 August – Saint Oswine of Deira (Died 651) King, Martyr, King of Deira in northern England. Also known as Osuine, Oswin. Born a Prince, the son of King Osric of Deira in Northumbria and died by being murdered on 20 August 651 at Gilling, Yorkshire, England on the orders of his cousin Oswy. Patronage – betrayal victims (his location was betrayed to his murders by a one of his supposedly loyal nobles).
“King Oswine was of a goodly countenance and tall of stature, pleasant in discourse and courteous in behaviour; and bountiful to all, gentle and simple alike.
[…] He had given a beautiful horse to Bishop Aidan, to use either in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though the Bishop was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting the Bishop and asking alms, he immediately dismounted and ordered the horse, with all his royal trappings, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor and, in a manner, the father of the wretched.
This being told to the King, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the Bishop, “What did you mean, my lord Bishop, by giving the poor man that royal horse, which it was fitting that you should have for your own use? Had not we many other horses of less value, or things of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, instead of giving that horse, which I had chosen and set apart for your own use?”
Thereupon the Bishop answered, “What do you say, O King? Is that son of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?”
Upon this they went in to dinner and the Bishop sat in his place but the King, who had come in from hunting, stood warming himself, with his attendants, at the fire. Then, on a sudden, whilst he was warming himself, calling to mind what the Bishop had said to him, he ungirt his sword and gave it to a servant and hastened to the Bishop and fell down at his feet’ beseeching him to forgive him:
“For from this time forward,” said he, “I will never speak anymore of this, nor will I judge of what or how much of our money you shall give to the sons of God.” […] The King, at the Bishop’s command and request, was comforted but the Bishop, on the other hand, grew sad and was moved even to tears. His Priest then asking him, in the language of his country, which the King and his servants did not understand, why he wept.
“I know,” said he, “that the King will not live long, for I never before saw a humble King, whence I perceive that he will soon be snatched out of this life, because this nation is not worthy of such a ruler.” Not long after, the Bishop’s gloomy foreboding was fulfilled by the King’s sad death….”
The Venerable Bede (673-735) : Ecclesiastical History of England, 3
St Oswine ruled as King of Deira (southern Northumbria) from 644-651, in the second generation after England’s conversion to Christianity by St Augustine of Canterbury. His father had been murdered by the warlord Cadwalla and young Oswine had been spirited away to safety in Wessex shortly afterwards. Following the death of his kinsman, Oswald, at the hands of King Penda of Mercia in 642, he returned to Deira and became King around 644 . His kinsman Oswy ruled Bernicia, the northern part of Northumbria.
Oswine had a great reputation for sanctity and justice and for seven years the kingdom of Deira enjoyed great happiness and prosperity. But his kinsmen Oswy, jealous of his power, made war upon Oswine. Oswine found himself unable to best the armies of Oswy and so he disbanded them and fled to Humwald of Gilling, whom had recently pledged allegiance to Oswine. But the unscrupulous Humwald quickly betrayed the saintly King Oswin to some of Oswy’s officers who murdered him at Gilling in 651. The slain king was immediately venerated as a Saint as St Bede explained above.
He was buried at Gilling, but his remains were lost during the Danish troubles. Only one year before the Norman Conquest (1065), St Oswine appeared in a vision to a monk named Edmund and revealed the location of his body. On 20 August 1103 his body was transferred solemnly to its final resting place. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries during Henry VIII’s reign, his body was found to be intact in the tomb but it was sacrilegiously destroyed. Only a fragment remained, which is now kept at Durham Cathedral.
As a side note, Eanfleda, the wife of Oswine’s murderer Oswy and daughter of St Edwin, persuaded her husband to do penance for Oswine’s murder by endowing a Monastery at Gilling, which he promptly did. Some remains of the Monastery can still be seen today, though it was destroyed by the Danes in the 11th century.
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