Wilfrid

634-709. Bishop of York. Son of a Northumbrian nobleman, he was educated at Lindisfarne then went to study the Roman form of religious life at Canterbury. After visiting Rome with Benedict Biscop* in 654, he returned to England as abbot of Ripon. At the Synod of Whitby* (663/4) he was the chief and most vehement advocate of the Roman tradition concerning the dating of Easter. Shortly after the synod he was appointed bishop of Northumbria with his seat at York. He went to Gaul for consecration by Frankish bishops. Due to his dallying there for two years, King Oswy had Chad,* abbot of Lastingham, consecrated as bishop of York. On his return in 666 Wilfrid went to Ripon, but Theodore of Tarsus* (archbishop of Canterbury) had him installed at York in 669.

He was an ambitious and able man with a forceful personality. He fell foul of King Ecgfrith, and in 678 Theodore, concerned at Wilfrid's love of power, divided the diocese of York into four and appointed other bishops for the various sections. Wilfrid appealed to Theodore and then to Pope Agatho. The papal synod upheld his case, but on his return to England he was imprisoned by Ecgfrith. After his release he went to Sussex, where he had some success evangelizing the heathen South Saxons. After the death of Ecgfrith in 686 he was reconciled to Theodore and returned north as bishop of Ripon and abbot of Hexham. In 691 he was banished after a dispute with King Aldfrith. King Ethelred of Mercia invited him to become bishop of Leicester. In 703 the synod called by Archbishop Brihtwold at Austerfield in Yorkshire decreed that he should resign the see of York and retire to Ripon as a monk. He appealed again to Rome. His claims were upheld, but he agreed to the appointment of John of Beverley* as bishop of York and himself as bishop of Hexham.

He spent his last years in the monastery at Ripon till his death at the monastery at Oundle in Northamptonshire. His importance lies in the large part he played in the Romanization of the Celtic Church.

See J. Raine, The Historians of the Church of York and its Archbishops (ed. B. Colgrave, 1927), and B. Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus (1927).