History Meme-Tag: Oswald of Northumbria

Jonathan Jarret has tagged me with a mutated meme on favorite historical figures. Who else would I pick other than St Oswald of Northumbria? So how this works is that I have to replicate the instructions (mutated meme only), give seven interesting or unusual facts about this figure and then tag several other people to pass the meme on. Given that Jonathan has already tagged several people I would have tagged, I better hurry up!


  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
  3. Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
  4. Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

And the last shall be first: I am tagging Dr. Nokes, Jennifer Lynn Jordan, Chris Laning, Dr Mike Drout, Nicola Griffith, and for good measure I’ll tag Derek the Ænglican, and Larry Swain again.

So why did I pick St Oswald, King of Northumbria? Well, I’ve been working on him for nearly 10 years now. He is certainly the most persistent topic in my studies. My early interest in historical roots of the Arthurian legend, led me to Bede’s History who presented me with a historical figure who embodied so much of what is appealing about Arthur (and is a saint to boot!). In Oswald I see much of the richness of legend and heroism of Arthurian lore, and yet, he is a bona fide historical figure who made a significant impact on history. Perhaps someday I will write a post comparing Arthur and Oswald…

Odd historical facts about Oswald:

  1. His name means “Ruler of the Gods”, a name for Woden. The power of his name may have affected his ability to be an evangelist, his immediate appeal as a saint, and for his ability to be a Christian role model in Frisia and Germany. Five of Æthelfrith’s seven known sons have names that begin with Os- referring to Woden.
  2. Oswald was only about 13 years old when he went into exile among the Scots of Dalriada. He would have gained all his military experience among the Scots. He remained there for 17 years and was baptized among them. Oswald was accepted into exile by the King Eochaid, son of his father’s greatest northern rival, Aedan mac Gabran, who Æthelfrith defeated at the battle of Degsastan in English territory in c. 603. Defeat of Aedan allowed Æthelfrith to turn his attention south to Deira and beyond the Humber, and was the turning point in Bernician-Northumbrian history.
  3. Royal or noble women have had the greatest impact on spreading Oswald’s veneration: his niece Queen Osthryth of Merica (founds his cult at Bardney), Lady Æthelflæd of Mercia (moves his relics from Bardney to Gloucester), Eadgyth (Edith) of Wessex (married Otto the great of Saxony), and perhaps most significantly for his universal veneration, by Judith of Flanders (who takes his cult to Bavaria) and re-enforced by Matilda daughter of Henry II who married the Welf Duke Henry the Lion. [The male controlled relics – his head and arm(s)- are not available to the public.]
  4. Oswald’s icon is the black raven, which doesn’t appear in writing until the 12th century, simultaneously in England and Germany. This talking raven is analogous to Woden’s talking ravens.
  5. The Oswaldian romances of the raven and the ring are based on Oswald’s marriage of Cyngisl’s daughter and his standing as godfather to Cyngisl of Wessex. This is probably one of the strongest historical facts of Bede’s account of Oswald. The poetic epic romance Oswalt is one of the earliest pieces of vernacular German literature.
  6. Oswald is the patron saint of the canton of Zug Switzerland and its cathedral. His image (with the raven) was once found on Swiss coins. St Oswald’s church in Zug claims that his arm was brought there in 1485. Patronage of St Oswald was once wide-spread throughout Bavaria and Switzerland.
  7. Pope Benedict XVI was baptized in a Bavarian St. Oswald’s Church, which is becoming a pilgrimage site to pray for him, and featured on 80th birthday celebration stamps from the Vatican. He said his first mass and 25th anniversary mass in another Church of St. Oswald (of Northumbria) in Freising, Germany. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a new medal with Pope Benedict XVI on one side and St. Oswald on the other?

9 thoughts on “History Meme-Tag: Oswald of Northumbria

  1. This looks like an interesting, fun meme to try. I’m going to join in just as soon as I get my head in order after all this New Years partying!

  2. Yours is very interesting, too. I knew about Whitby, but I didn’t know the synode was hosted by a woman.

    Lol, I’m always researching the men; I should look for an interesting Mediaeval German woman for a change, like Hroswitha of Gandersheim, fe.

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