Son of the pagan King Aethelfrith the Ravager of Bernicia and Princess Aacha of Deira, the second of seven children. Brother of Saint Ebbe the Elder. Nephew of Saint Ethelreda. When his father was killed in battle when Oswald was eleven years old, his mother fled with the family for the court of King Eochaid Buide at Dunadd in modern Scotland. There he converted to Christianity. Educated at the Iona Abbey with his brother Oswiu. Soldier; known to have fought at the Battle of Fid Eoin in 628. Contemporary writings describe him as having “arms of great length and power, eyes bright blue, hair yellow, face long and beard thin, and his small lips wearing a kindly smile”. Reported to have had a pet raven for years.
In 634, Oswald formed his own army, returned to Northumbria, defeated King Cadwallon of Gwynedd, and took the throne of Northumbria. Prior to the battle, he had received a vision of Saint Colman of Lindisfarne; he had also erected a large cross on the field on the night before, attributed his win to his faith and the intervention of the saint, and the victory is known as the Battle of Heavenfield. Brought Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne to Northumbria as bishop to evangelize the kingdom. Built churches and monasteries in his realm, and brought in monks from Scotland to help establish monastic life. Married the daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex, and convinced Cynegils to allow Saint Birinus to evangelize in that kingdom.
Due to victories in combat, and family alliances, Saint Bede claims that Oswald was recognised as Bretwalda by all of Saxon England. His royal standard of purplish-red and gold forms the basis of the coat of arms of modern Northumberland. Because he was killed in battle with invading pagan forces, he is sometimes listed as a martyr. Noted for his personal spirituality, piety, faith, his devotion to the kingdom, his charity to the poor, and his willingness to take arms to defend his throne.
- One Easter he was about to dine with Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne. A crowd of poor came begging alms. Oswald gave them all the food and the wealth he carried on him, then had his silver table settings broken up and distributed.
- Saint Aidan was so moved by the king‘s generosity that he grasped Oswald’s right hand and exclaimed, “May this hand never perish!” For years after, the king was considered invincible. The hand has, indeed, survived, as it is enshrined as a relic in the Bamburgh church.
- Oswald’s body was hacked to pieces on the battle field where he fell, and his head and arms stuck on poles in triumph. One arm taken to an ash tree by Oswald’s pet raven. Where the arm fell to the ground, a holy well sprang up.
- Once a horseman was riding near Heavenfield. The horse developed a medical problem, fell to the ground, rolling around in pain. At one point it happened to roll over the spot where Oswald had died, and was immediately cured.
- The horseman told his story at a nearby inn. The people there took a paralysed girl to the same spot, and she was cured, too.
- People began to take earth from the spot to put into water for the sick to drink. So much earth was removed that it left a pit large enough for a man to stand in.
- Oswald’s niece wanted to have the king buried at Bardney Abbey, Lincolnshire. The monks were reluctant as they were not on good terms with Northumbrian overlords, and when the burial train arrived at their door after dark, they refused to open to let the party in. However, the coffin emitted a bright light that shone into the heavens. The monks considered it a sign, vowed never to turn away anyone for any reason, and allowed the burial.
- When the monks washed the bones prior to enshrinement, they poured the water onto the ground nearby. Local people soon learned that the ground had power to heal.
- A sick man who had led a dissolute life drank water which contained a chip of the stake on which Oswald’s head had been spiked. The man was healed, and reformed his life.
- A little boy was cured of a fever by sitting by Oswald’s tomb at Bardney.
- Pieces from the Heavenfield cross were claimed to have healing powers.
- Healing powers were claimed for moss that grew on the cross.
- A plague in Sussex, England was stopped by Oswald’s intercession.
- Archbishop Willibrord recounted to Saint Wilfrid a series of tales of miracles worked in Germany by Oswald’s relics.
- killed in battle with invading pagan Welsh and Mercian forces on 5 August 642 at Maserfield, Shropshire, England, and thus often listed as a martyr
- reported to have died praying for the souls of his dying bodyguards
- body hacked to pieces with his head and arms stuck on poles
- the dismembered limbs eventually entered relic collections in monasteries around England
- remaining body buried first at Bardney Abbey, Lincolnshire, England
- later translated to Saint Oswald’s church, Gloucester, England
Lord God our King, who by the hand of your servant Oswald lifted up the standard of the cross in the land of Northumbria, that your Gospel might be preached in that land: Plant the standard of the cross in our hearts, and let your grace shine forth in our lives, so that many may be drawn to the knowledge and love of you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.
Lord God, whose servant Oswald the King sent for preachers to bring the Good News of salvation to the people of his country, and stood beside the preacher Aidan and interpreted his words into the Anglo-Saxon language: Place in our hearts a concern for those who have not heard the message of your love; and where we have not the ability to reach them ourselves, grant us the discernment and the charity to uphold those who do have it, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and ever.
Lord God almighty, who so kindled the faith of your servant Oswald with your Spirit that he set up the sign of the passion in his kingdom and turned his people to your light: grant that we, being fired with the same Spirit, may ever be found faithful servants of the gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen. – from Saint Oswald’s Church
Lord God almighty, who so kindled the faith of King Oswald with your Spirit that he set up the sign of the cross in his kingdom and turned his people to the light of Christ: grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit, may always bear our cross before the world and be found faithful servants of the gospel; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. – collect prayer from the memorial Mass of Saint Oswald
God, who gave us this holy meal in which we have celebrated the glory of the cross and the victory of your martyr Oswald: by our communion with Christ in his saving death and resurrection, give us with all your saints the courage to conquer evil and so to share the fruit of the tree of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. – post Communion prayer from the memorial Mass of Saint Oswald
- “Saint Oswald of Northumbria“. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 March 2015. Web. 22 May 2015. <>