N.B. this survey came to an end on 30th November, 2019, with a clear winner in Saint Hild. Thank you all for participating.
The number of saints originating from Yorkshire is really quite substantial. Some of these are household names in parts of the region: others less so. It might seem fitting that God’s own Country has produced so many holy men and woman, but this in no way helps form a decision on the age-old question: who should the Patron Saint of Yorkshire be?
There are, however, perennial nominees for this distinguished epithet, foremost of which are Saint Hild (or Hilda) of Whitby, Saint Wilfrid of York, Saint Robert of Knaresborough and Saint John of Beverley. And, in an attempt to finally put the question to bed, we have decided to hold a poll on the matter, giving you the people of Yorkshire the opportunity to have the final say.
So, simply read the summary bios that follow of each of those Saints that have been nominated for the honour (or do your own research) cast your vote by clicking on the link at the foot of this page, and the results will be revealed a month from now.
Saint Hild of Whitby (also known as Saint Hilda)
Saint’s day: 17th November
Associated Riding: North
Life: Born to the Deiran royal family in 614, Hild’s relationship with the church was much the same as any other, and she seemed destined to live an unremarkable life. However, at the then relatively ripe old age of 33, she took the habit and became a nun. Although we know little of her life immediately following this transition, it was obviously a very successful period for her, and just 10 years later Hild established the now famous Whitby Abbey.
Whitby Abbey became a focal point of worship for the whole of England throughout Hild’s time there. King’s came to seek her counsel, the poor and the destitute sought her succour and aid, the holy came to hear her words. Hild was a great leader by example, charitable, fair, but also demanding. She expected those living within the Abbey’s walls to understand the value of community, peace and charity. All goods were held in common, and charitable works were expected to be enacted: not just read about.
Hild did not believe in the exclusivity of learning, and personally became a teacher to many – of all ranks and backgrounds. She had an especial concern for the common folk, and it was through involving herself so carefully with her parish that she discovered the talents of Caedmon. Although a mere shepherd, Caedmon had an ability with words that only Hild recognised and under her tutelage he became the first ever poet to write verse in the English language.
A number of legends are associated with Hild, the most famous of which is that she turned a plague of adders to stone, supposedly explaining the presence of ammonite fossils on the Whitby coast. Not only a Yorkshire Saint, Hild is the patron of learning, poetry and culture, and also the patron of a number of schools and colleges around the world. Canada, the US, Jamaica, Argentina, Australia, Singapore, India and, of course, the UK, all have learning establishments which have claimed Hild’s patronage.
Saint Wilfrid of York
Saint’s day: 12th October
Associated Riding: N/A, York
Life: Wilfrid was born into a time, when simply holding senior office within the church was enough to secure a sainthood, and by becoming the Bishop of York the honour was guaranteed. Criticised as a lover of pomp, a man with little to no humility, and someone who was able to pick a fight in an empty room, he was, however, a major figure in the ecclesiastical affairs of the time.
Wilfrid’s religious career began auspiciously, included in the first ever pilgrimage to Rome by an English party. This event seems to have shaped the man he became, impressed by the obvious advantage to be had in associating with the Roman rather than the Ionian church (the more dominant of the two in England at that time).
The Synod of Whitby, in 644, provided Wilfrid’s opportunity to shine. Called to finally decide whether England should follow the Roman or Ionian model of worship (following several years of cleverly managed PR by Wilfrid for the Roman cause) the argument came to a head between Colman, the hugely respected Bishop of Lindisfarne, and Wilfrid himself. Despite Colman’s powerful reputation as a man of great piety, the man from York destroyed his opposite number with a series of deft arguments that left the less worldly Colman entirely bemused. From that point on, at least until the Reformation, England was committed to the Roman Catholic church, and Wilfrid had secured his place as a major name in the ecclesiastical history of the nation
Following this, Wilfrid became Bishop of York – although showed his usual talent for offending people by travelling to the continent for consecration, claiming no one in England was qualified to do so. He was nonetheless, an energetic champion for the furtherance of the church he helped establish, and entirely devoted to the Christian cause.
Saint Robert of Knaresborough
Saint’s day: 24th September
Associated Riding: West
Life: Robert was born in York, in 1160, into a relatively wealthy family. He showed a leaning towards religious study early on in life and became a novice at a nearby Cistercian abbey. However, monastic life never proved a comfortable fit for Robert, who seems to have considered it a bit “soft”, and he decided instead to create a hermitage where he could better dedicate himself to holy life.
On the first occasion of attempting to create such a hermitage, Robert’s work was undone by bandits who raided and destroyed the site he had built with his own hands. On a second occasion, his hermitage was destroyed by a local constable in retaliation for Robert’s charitable work in redeeming people from prison and providing them with what nowadays might be known as “rehabilitation”.
It was at this point that Robert retired to that famous cave in Knaresborough where he would spend the rest of his life. Although his focus was on quiet contemplation, meditation and abstinence, his humble piety began to attract the attention of the rich and poor alike. Robert continued to attend charitably to those who sought his help, and his hermitage became a beacon of hope for the needy and the unfortunate until the day he died. His legacy may not have been as grand as some other Saints, but Robert was a true example of what such an accolade should mean.
Saint John of Beverley
Saint’s day: 7th May
Associated Riding: East
Life: The life of the real Saint John was, in truth, rather a modest one. Born in the East Riding of Yorkshire and educated at Cambridge, John was renowned as an excellent preacher, and soon shot through the ranks of the church, becoming Bishop of Hexham and then York respectively. He spent his last days in monastic pursuit, at which time he founded the town of Beverley. John was a modestly pious man who appears to have taken his position seriously and was well respected by those around him.
Despite this relatively humble background (at least as far as Saints are concerned) John only became a remarkable figure after his death, when his name became associated with a number of miracles. Saint John’s banner was also carried into a number of famous battles, where his name was believed to create miracles in favour of the bearer. The first known battle where Saint John’s banner was flown was at the Battle of the Standard in 1138, then by Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and Henry IV in subsequent military campaigns.
Most famously, the miraculous intervention of Saint John was given credit for the English victory at the battle of Agincourt, the battle having been fought on the anniversary of his “translation” (the transfer of a bishop from one episcopal see to another).