A.D. 642. This illustrious King was the son of a pagan. Ethelfrid, King of Northumbria. He was compelled on the death of his father to seek safety in the north, and took refuge with his two brothers at Iona, where all three received baptism. Eanfrid, the eldest, obtained the throne of Northumbria, but relapsed into paganism. He met with a violent death at the hands of the British prince, Cadwalla, and Oswald succeeded him as king. Cadwalla was defeated near Hexham by Oswald’s inferior army, the Christian prince having previously erected a large wooden cross on the field of battle, before which he knelt in prayer for the success of his arms, and promised, with the consent of his soldiers, that all would embrace Christianity should God grant them the victory.
On ascending the throne Oswald procured a missionary for his people from Iona in the person of Aidan, who became eventually the first Bishop of Lindisfarne. The saintly King did not disdain to act as interpreter to his people of the instructions given by Aidan in the Celtic tongue. Oswald reigned but eight years, yet they were years of blessing for the nation The King led the way in the practice of the Christian virtues, especially of charity to the poor. It was on the occasion of the distribution to a hungry multitude at the palace gates of the food prepared for the King’s repast, and the division of the costly silver dish itself amongst the poverty-stricken people, that Saint Aidan, who was about to join the King at a banquet, cried out enthusiastically as he seized Oswald’s right hand, “May this hand never corrupt!” The utterance was prophetic, as the sequel will show.
The saintly King met his death on the field of battle, when resisting the invasion of his dominions by Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. His dying words were a prayer for the souls of all who had fallen in the battle. Many miracles were wrought by his intercession and by the use of particles of the cross he had erected. His right hand and arm, in accordance with Saint Aidan’s prophecy, remained in corrupt till the time of the Venerable Bede, who tells us that they were honoured in the Church of Saint Peter at Bamborough. His head was taken to the monastery of Lindisfarne; it was eventually deposited in Saint Cuthbert’s shrine and was carried with the remains of that saint to Durham Minster.
Many monasteries and churches both in England and Scotland bore the name of Saint Oswald. Those in Northumbria and Cumbria can scarcely be termed Scottish in these days, but Kirkoswald near Maybole and Carluke in Lanarkshire possessed respectively a church and chapel dedicated to the holy King. His death occurred on August 5th, but his feast has been transferred to this day. Devotion to Saint Oswald flourished greatly in Ireland as well as in Scotland and England, and extended to the Continent.