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WILFRID (c. 634-709)

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 641 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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WILFRID (c. 634-709), English archbishop, was born of good parentage in Northumbria, c. 634. When serving in King Oswio's court, he attracted the notice of the queen, Eanfled, who, fostering his inclination for a religious life, placed him under the care of an old noble, Cudda, now a monk at Lindisfarne. Later on Eanfled enabled him to visit Rome in the company of Benedict Biscop. At Lyons Wilfrid's pleasing features and quick intelligence made Annemund, the archbishop, desire to adopt him and marry him to his niece. Resisting his offers, the youth went on to Rome, received the papal benediction, and then, in accordance with his promise, returned to Lyons, where he stayed for three years, till the murder of his patron, whose fate the executioners would not let him share. On his return home, Oswio's son Alchfrid gave him a monastery at Ripon, and, before long, Agilbert, bishop of the Gewissae, or West Saxons, ordained him priest. He was probably already regarded as the leading exponent of the Roman discipline in England when his speech at the council of Whitby determined the overthrow of the Celtic party (664). About a year later he was consecrated to the see of York, not, however, in England, where perhaps he could not find the fitting number of orthodox prelates, but at Compiegne, Agilbert being now bishop of Paris. On his return journey he narrowly escaped the pagan wreckers of Sussex, and only reached his own country to find Ceadda (St Chad) installed in his see. The rest of his life is largely a record of wandering and misfortune. For three years (665-668) he ruled his monastery at Ripon in peace, though acting as bishop in Mercia and Kent during vacancies in sees there. On Archbishop Theodore's arrival (668) he was restored to his see, and spent in it nine years of ceaseless activity, especially in building churches, only to be driven out through the anger of King Ecgfrith's queen (677). Theodore now divided Wilfrid's large diocese into three; and the aggrieved prelate went to lay his case before the bishop of Rome. On his way a west wind drove him to Friesland, where he evangelized the natives and prepared the way for Willibrord (q.v.). Late in life he ordained Suidbert bishop of the Frisians. A synod held at Rome under Agatho (68o) ordained his restitution ; but even this decision could not prevent his being cast into prison on his return home. When released he wandered first to Mercia, then to Wessex and finally to Sussex. Here he rescued the pagan folk from an impending famine, sent preachers to the Isle of Wight and founded a monastery at Selsey. After Ecgfrith's death (loth May 685) Wilfrid was restored to York (much circumscribed), and Ripon (686-687). He was once more driven out in 691-692, and spent seven years in Mercia. A great council of the English Church held in Northumbria excommunicated him in 702. He again appealed to Rome in person, and obtained another decision in his favour (703-704). Despite the intercession of Brihwald, archbishop of Canterbury, Aldfrith king of Northumbria refused to admit the aged prelate into his kingdom till his last illness (705). This year or the next a council was held near the River Nidd, the papal letters were read, and, despite the opposition of the bishops, Wilfrid once more received the abbeys of Ripon and Hexham. Not long after he died at Oundle in Northamptonshire as he was going on a visit to Ceolred, king of Mercia (709). He was buried at Ripon, whence, according to Eadmer, his bones were afterwards removed to Canterbury. Wilfrid's is a memorable name in English history, not only because of the large part he played in supplanting the Celtic discipline and in establishing a precedent of appeal to papal authority, but also by reason of his services to architecture and learning. At York he renewed Paulinus's old church, roofing it with lead and furnishing it with glass windows; at Ripon he built an entirely new basilica with columns and porches; at Hexham in honour of St Andrew he reared a still nobler church, over which Eddins grows eloquent. In the early days of his bishopric he used to travel about his diocese attended by a little troop of skilled masons. He seems to have also reformed the method of conducting the divine services by the aid of his skilled chanters, tEdde and eEona, and to have established or renewed the rule of St Benedict in the monasteries. On each visit to Rome it was his delight to collect relics for his native land; and to his favourite basilica at Ripon he gave a bookcase wrought in gold and precious stones, besides a splendid copy of the Gospels. Wilfrid's life was written shortly after his death by Eddius at the request of Acca, his successor at Hexham, and Tatbert, abbot of Ripon—both intimate friends of the great bishop. Other lives were written by Frithegode in the loth, by Folcard in the Iith, and by Eadmer early in the 12th century. See also Bede's Hist. Eccl. v. 19, iii. 25, iv. 13, &c. All the lives are printed in J. Raine's Historians of the Church of York, vol. i. " Rolls " series.
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