Saints of the Day – Elfleda, Abbess

main article for Saint Elfleda of WhitbyArticle

(also known as Ælflaed, Ethelfleda, Edilfleda, Elgiva)

Born 653; died 714. Daughter of King Oswy of Northumbria and his wife Saint Eanfleda, Elfleda was offered to Saint Hilda and the convent of Hartlepool as a little child. Her parents had vowed to consecrate her in infancy if Oswy were successful in battle against the heathen King Penda of Mercia. Oswy won the battle of Winwaed in 654, he kept his vow. In 657, Hilda founded or refounded Whitby Abbey and Elfleda migrated there with Saint Hilda. When Oswy died in 670, Eanfleda joined her daughter at the double monastery governed by Hilda, and which later become the mausoleum of the Northumbrian royal family. In turn Eanfleda and Elfleda succeeded Hilda as abbess of Whitby. During Elfleda’s abbacy, the earliest vita of Saint Gregory the Great was written there.

Elfleda was one of the most influential personages of her time. She counted both Saint Cuthbert and Saint Wilfred as friends. In 684, she met Cuthbert on Coquet Island. He told her that her brother, King Egfrith, would die within a year and that her half-brother Aldfrith would succeed him. Both of which occurred. Later she was cured of paralysis by Cuthbert’s girdle.

One of her primary means of influence was in her role as mediator. Elfleda was instrumental in reconciling Saint Theodore of Canterbury and Saint Wilfrid. At the synod of the River Nidd in 705, she exercised her talent to reconcile Wilfrid to both Canterbury and the church in Northumbria. She asserted that Aldfrith on his death bed had promised to obey the commands of the Holy See concerning Wilfrid and had enjoined his heir to do the same.

Elfleda’s relics were discovered and translated at Whitby about 1125. Her cultus, however, is attest only by late martyrologies (Benedictines, Farmer, Gill).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 May 2020. Web. 1 December 2021. <>