St.Oswald in Life and Death

There are no contemporary images of Oswald. Hildesheim Cathedral, in Germany, also claims his skull, and this is its 12th-century reliquary.Oswald (604-642) was King of Northumbria. He spent his youth in exile in Western Scotland and Ireland, and was converted to Christianity. He returned from exile in 633 and defeated the Welsh king, Cadwallon, who was invading Northumbria, at the battle of Heavenfield. Bede, who is the source of most of our knowledge of Oswald, says that before the battle he erected a giant wooden cross and asked his army to join him in prayer. (Book Three of Bede's Ecclesiastical History is largely an account of the life and miracles of St Oswald).

 

Oswald ruled for eight years and was in some sense overlord of the other kingdoms of the English and married a West Saxon princess. Oswald was killed in battle, possibly at Oswestry (Oswald’s Tree), against the pagan king Penda of Mercia, who cut off his head and arm and erected them on stakes as battle trophies. They were subsequently rescued and taken back to Northumbria, and his head is thought to be with the bones of St Cuthbert today in Durham Cathedral. The rest of his body was exhumed by his niece Osthryth, who married the first Christian king of Mercia. She and her husband founded the monastery at Bardney, and Oswald’s relics were taken there. He became a saint of European importance.

There are no contemporary images of Oswald. Hildesheim Cathedral, in Germany, also claims his skull, and this is its 12th-century reliquary.