Wilfrid (634-709) is one of the greatest and also one of the most controversial English Saints. Born to a wealthy family in Northumberland, Wilfrid was second generation Christian. He had an interest in the things of God from a young age and went to study in Lindisfarne, a centre of Celtic Christianity, under St Aidan.
Intent on continuing his education, Wilfrid set out to travel to Rome, but was beguiled by the high lifestyle of the Archbishop of Lyon and stayed for quite a while living the high-life. Eventually he arrived in Rome about 654, when he was about 20. He stayed for a short while, but returned to Lyon where he continued his education under the patronage of the Archbishop.
At the age of about 27, Wilfrid designed a magnificent new abbey at Ripon in Yorkshire with fine stonework using skilled men he had brought from France. He directly influenced the move away from Celtic to the more orderly Roman church practices and is best known for championing and winning the case for the Roman,
as opposed to the Celtic method of calculating the date of Easter at the famous Synod of Whitby in 664.
He became Bishop of York with a See covering the whole of Northumbria. During this time, he built magnificent stone churches at Ripon and Hexham, acquired vast landholdings and established monasteries in Northumbria, Mercia, Sussex and the Isle of Wight and converted Sussex, the last vestige of paganism, to
He was the confidant of kings and queens but, made many powerful enemies and was twice banished from Northumbria. He made three journeys on foot and horseback through Europe to Rome and was not afraid to seek papal jurisdiction over both crown and church when he felt badly treated. His life was threatened many times: being shipwrecked and nearly killed by natives off the coast of Sussex, imprisoned in Northumbria by the king and twice nearly murdered whilst travelling abroad.
The few remaining years of his life were spent in comparative retirement, principally at Hexham and Ripon. His last public act was the consecration of Evesham Abbey; he died on his way home at his monastery at Oundle in the year 709, and was buried at Ripon.
Wilfrid was one of the most versatile and accomplished men of his own or any other age. He was a great builder, a lover of learning, and a musician; he knew how to create splendid effects through art and through religious ceremonial. He was also a founder and a builder of people as well as stones. He was, in fact, a great creative artist.