For today’s post we return to England, as today’s saint is Saint Oswald of Northumbria:
Oswald (c 604 – 5 August 642) was King of Northumbria from 634 until his death, and was venerated as a saint in the Middle Ages.
Oswald was the son of Æthelfrith of Bernicia and came to rule after spending a period in exile; after defeating the British ruler Cadwallon ap Cadfan, Oswald brought the two Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira once again under a single ruler, and promoted the spread of Christianity in Northumbria. He was given a strongly positive assessment by the historian Bede, writing a little less than a century after Oswald’s death, who regarded Oswald as a saintly king; it is also Bede who is the main source for present-day historical knowledge of Oswald. After eight years of rule, in which he was the most powerful ruler in Britain, Oswald was killed in the Battle of Maserfield.
While the history on Saint Oswald is sparse at some parts, and may be glossed over at others, what account we do have indicates that he was a good and just king. Perhaps even the archetypical “good king,” the idea of which has been carried throughout English tradition over the centuries.
Two things stand out in particular. The first is that he was very much involved in the evangelizing of his subjects, and reintroducing Christianity to England, where it has largely disappeared after the Roman retreat. The second was his generosity and kindness to the poor. Here is a small quote from the wiki article on him:
Bede recounts Oswald’s generosity to the poor and to strangers, and tells a story highlighting this characteristic: on one occasion, at Easter, Oswald was sitting at dinner with Aidan, and had “a silver dish full of dainties before him”, when a servant, whom Oswald “had appointed to relieve the poor”, came in and told Oswald that a crowd of the poor were in the streets begging alms from the king. Oswald, according to Bede, then immediately had his food given to the poor and even had the dish broken up and distributed.
Reading his story reminded me of these verses from Proverbs:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
By justice a king gives stability to the land,
but one who exacts gifts ruins it.