Abbess of Whitby; died in 680
Anglo-Saxon royalty, Hilda chose the monastic life. Kings and other powerful men sought out her advice. Also, the rigorous study of theology and Scripture her rule required prepared some monks for the priesthood and the episcopate. In other words, she prepared priests and bishops, but could not be one, due to her sex. This is a fine argument for the ordination of women.
From the New Zealand Anglicans:
Hilda, abbess of Whitby, was one of the most celebrated of the Anglo-Saxon abbesses, and one of the most influential women in English history. She was born in 614, the grandniece of Edwin, king of Northumbria. She was brought up in the pagan tradition, but was prepared for baptism by Bishop Paulinus of York, one of the companions of Augustine of Canterbury, and was baptised in 627 along with Edwin. She lived a quiet and devout life at court for 20 years until deciding to enter monastic life.
She intended to join her sister in the monastery at Chelles near Paris, but Bishop Aidan, much impressed by her holiness, invited her to join a small community in East Anglia. A year later Aidan appointed her as abbess of a monastery near Hartlepool in Northumbria. Here she formed her rule of life on the basis of what Paulinus and Aidan had taught her. She gained the greatest respect from Aidan and other bishops and from princes for her wisdom and devotion.
Then in 657 Hilda founded a monastery at Whitby. Like a number of other Anglo-Saxon monasteries, it was a double community, for women and men, who lived in adjoining buildings and worshipped together. They lived in strict observance of Hilda’s rule of justice, devotion, chastity, peace and charity. Much energy was devoted to study, and five of the monks later became bishops. The nuns were diligent students and particularly useful in the patient writing and copying of documents. Hilda fostered Latin education and the development of libraries, but she also gave warm encouragement to the religious poet Caedmon, who wrote in the vernacular. The historian Bede wrote that “all her acquaintances called [her] Mother because of her wonderful devotion and grace.”
In 664 Whitby was the site of a famous synod, called to decide between the older Celtic traditions of the church in Britain and the newer Roman ones. The synod decided in favour of the Roman customs. Hilda had favoured the Celtic tradition, but graciously accepted the synod’s decision.
The last six years of Hilda’s life were dogged by illness, though she continued without complaint to rule the abbey. She died on 17 November 680, surrounded by her monks and nuns and urging them “to maintain the gospel peace among themselves and with others”.
For Liturgical Use
Hilda was born in 614. She was baptised at the age of 13 and eventually sought a monastic life when she was 33. Bishop Aidan, impressed by her holiness, made her an abbess, and in 657 she established her own monastery at Whitby. It was for both men and women, and, under Hilda, became famous for its devotion and study. She was widely sought after for her advice. It was at Whitby that the synod was held in 664 at which it was decided that the English church would follow the Roman traditions rather than the Celtic ones. Hilda died in 680.
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.