Oswald of Worcester bigraphy, stories - Bishop of Worcester; Archbishop of York

Oswald of Worcester : biography

- 29 February, 992

Oswald of Worcester (died 29 February 992) was Archbishop of York from 972 to his death in 992. He was of Danish ancestry, but brought up by his uncle, Oda, who sent him to France to the abbey of Fleury to become a monk. After a number of years at Fleury, Oswald returned to England at the request of his uncle, who died before Oswald returned. With his uncle's death, Oswald needed a patron and turned to another kinsman, Oskytel, who had recently become Archbishop of York. His activity for Oskytel attracted the notice of Archbishop Dunstan who had Oswald consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961. In 972 Oswald was promoted to the see of York, although he continued to hold Worcester also.

As bishop and archbishop, Oswald was a supporter and one of the leading promoters (together with Æthelwold) of Dunstan's reforms of the church, including monastic reforms.Lawrence Medieval Monasticism p. 101 Oswald founded a number of monasteries, including Ramsey Abbey, and reformed other seven, including Winchcombe in Gloucestershire and Pershore and Evesham in Worcestershire. Oswald also switched the cathedral chapter of Worcester from secular clergy to monks. While archbishop, he brought the scholar Abbo of Fleury to teach, and he spent two years in England, mostly at Ramsey. Oswald died in 992, while washing the feet of the poor. A hagiographical life was written shortly after his death, and he was quickly hailed as a saint.

Return to England

Oswald returned to England in 958 at the behest of his uncle, but Oda died before Oswald returned. Lacking a patron, Oswald turned to Oskytel, recently named Archbishop of York. It is possible that Oswald along with Oskytel travelled to Rome for Oskytel's pallium, but this story is only contained in a 12th century Ramsey Abbey chronicle, so it may not be authentic. Even if he did not travel to Rome, Oswald was active in ecclesiastical affairs at York until Dunstan obtained Oswald's appointment to the see, or bishopric, of Worcester. He was consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 961.Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 224 Soon after his consecration, he persuaded Germanus to come back to England and made him head of a small religious community near Westbury-on-Trym. After the establishment of this group about 962, Oswald grew worried that because the monastery was located on lands owned by the see of Worcester, his successors in the see might disrupt the community. He was offered the site of Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire by Æthelwine, son of Æthelstan Half-King, and Oswald established a monastery there about 971 that attracted most of the members of the community at Westbury. This foundation at Ramsey went on to become Ramsey Abbey.Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 51 Ramsey was Oswald's most famous foundation,Stenton Anglo Saxon England p. 450 with its church dedicated in 974. Later, Oswald invited Abbo of Fleury to come and teach at Ramsey.Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 488 Oswald directed the affairs of Ramsey Abbey until his death, when the dean Eadnoth became the first abbot. He gave a magnificent Bible to Ramsey, which was important enough to merit a mention in Oswald's Life.Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 95 Alongside the gift of the book, Oswald also contributed wall hangings and other textiles to the abbey.Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 129

Oswald supported Dunstan and Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, in their efforts to purify the Church from secularism. Aided by King Edgar, he took a prominent part in the revival of monastic discipline along the precepts of the Rule of Saint Benedict. His methods differed from Æthelwold's, who often violently ejected secular clergy from churches and replaced them with monks.Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 55 Oswald also organised the estates of his see into administrative hundreds known as the Oswaldslow, which helped stabilise the ecclesiastical revenues. He constantly visited the monasteries he founded, and was long remembered as father of his people both as bishop and archbishop. It was Oswald who changed the cathedral chapter of Worcester from priests to monks,Knowles The Monastic Order in England p. 621 although the exact method that he employed is unclear. One tradition says that Oswald used a slow approach in building up a new church of monks next to the cathedral, allowing the cathedral's priests to continue performing services in the cathedral until the monastic foundation was strong enough to take over the cathedral. Another tradition claims that, instead, Oswald expelled any of the clergy in the cathedral that would not give up their wives and replaced them with monks immediately. Oswald also reformed Winchcombe Abbey, along with the monasteries of Westbury Priory, Pershore Abbey, and Evesham Abbey. It is also possible that monasteries were established in Gloucester and Deerhurst, but evidence is lacking for their exact foundation dates.

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