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Hilda of Whitby
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Hilda of Whitby

Hilda of Whitby is a Christian Saint.

Originally a pagan, Hilda was born to noble parents (her great-uncle was King Edwin of Northumbria) in Northumbria, England in 614. Orphaned at thirteen, she converted to Christianity along with much of her great-uncle's household. She was baptized on Easter, 627.

Following the death of her husband, Hilda's sister Hereswith became a nun at Chelles in Gaul, and Hilda originally intended to follow her example, as there were no monasteries for women in Northumbria at that time. But St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, granted her a tract of land on the north banks of the River Wear, and for the following year, she lived a monastic life with a few companions.

She was next installed as abbess of a double monastery at Hartlepool, and subsequently became abbess of the monastery at Streaneshalch, or Whitby.

Under Hilda's guidance, the Whitby monastery produced five bishops (among them St. John, Bishop of Hexham, and St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York) and she appears to have been considered a woman of wisdom, whose counsel was worth seeking out. In 664, a synod was held at Whitby that led to King Oswiu of Northumbria adopting the Roman method of computing the date of Easter, rather than the hitherto used Celtic method. Although Hilda's monasteries had until then used the Celtic method, she accepted the decision.

Hilda is also connected with the story of Caedmon, the religious bard. It is said that after she heard him play, she urged him to take holy orders, which he did.

In about 673, Hilda contracted a fever, which weakened her for the rest of her life, although she continued to rule Whitby. Her death, in 680, is reported to have been peaceful. She died after receiving viaticum, and her legend holds that at the moment of her passing the bells of the monastery of Hackness, some thirteen miles distant, tolled. A nun named Begu also claimed to have witness Hilda's soul being borne to heaven by angels.

Hilda is considered one of the patron saints of learning and culture (including, due to her patronage of Caedmon, of poetry.)

In the Roman Catholic church, St. Hilda's feast day is November 17. In the Church of England, it is November 18.