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St. Elflaeda of Whitby
Abbess of Whitby
Born: AD 653
Died: 8th February AD 714 at Whitby, Yorkshire North Riding
Elflaeda was the youngest daughter of King Oswiu of Northumbria and his
second wife, St.
Enflaeda. She was scarcely a year old when vowed by her father to the
service of God in perpetual virginity, as a thank-offering for his victory over
the pagan Mercians at the Battle of Winwaed (near Leeds) in AD 655; a triumph
which liberated his country and established Christianity in it. Elflaeda was at
once consigned to the care of the holy abbess, St.
Hilda, her second cousin, then living at Hartlepool. Her dowry was
twelve estates, where holy men and women could carry on spiritual warfare and
pray for the peace of the nation. Two years later, Hilda built the famous double
monastery of Whitby, from this new found wealth.
At Whitby Abbey, Elflaeda, never regretting her destiny, lived for sixty
years, first as a learner and, afterwards, as a teacher of monastic holiness.
She succeeded Hilda as abbess in AD 680. St. Trumwin, formerly a missionary
bishop amongst the Picts, assisted her in the management of her monastery, where
he rested from his labours and where he was buried. Once when deprived, by
illness, of the use of her limbs, Elflaeda was cured by the girdle of St.
Cuthbert of Lindisfarne which he sent to her. This girdle also cured one
of the nuns of an intolerable pain in the head. Elflaeda worked a winding-sheet
for Cuthbert in return and sent it to him.
Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Elflaeda, Abbess of Whitby, asking her to
Wilfrid (the Elder) when he was recalled from exile by her
brother, King Aldfrith of Northumbria. The king again quarrelled with Wilfrid,
but on his deathbed he sent for Elflaeda, and she afterwards declared at a
council of prelates that her brother in his last hours desired a reconciliation.
Elflaeda outlived Wilfrid and also her friend, St. Cuthbert, who died in AD
687. She was present at his translation in AD 698 and wrapped him in a linen
cloth. She herself died on 8th February AD 714.
Edited from Agnes Dunbar's "A Dictionary of Saintly Women" (1904).