Posted by: anna | December 7, 2010

St Eanfleda

Today (24 November) we commemorate St Eanfleda (Eanflæd), queen of Northumbria, wife of St Oswy and mother of St Elfleda. I think yorkthodox is confused, citing an Enfleda today and an Eanfleda tomorrow, both abbesses of Whitby… So, to start with Eanfleda, Northumbrian queen, later in life nun at Whitby under her daughter the abbess Elfleda, from Miss Dunbar:
St. Eanfleda, Dec. 11 (ENFLEDA, EONFLED, HEANFLET). 7th century. Queen. Daughter of Edwin, king of Northumbria, by his second wife, ST. ETHELBURGA (Æthelburh). Wife of St. Oswy, king of Northumbria, mother of ST. ELFLEDA (1).
Eanfleda was born at Easter, 620, and baptised at Pentecost by Paulinus, her mother’s chaplain. On the defeat of her father in 633, she shared the flight of her mother and Bishop Paulinus to Kent, and was brought up partly at the court of her uncle, King Eadbald, and partly at the first nunnery built in England, at Lyming, where her mother was abbess.
Oswy succeeded his brother, St. Oswald, as King of Bernicia, and by conquest became King of Deira, the other part of Northumbria. In 642 he married his cousin, St. Eanfleda. Like his wife, he was a Christian, and during his twenty-eight years reign did so much for the advance of Christianity in his own and the neighbouring kingdoms, that he has been numbered among the English saints, notwithstanding some inexcusable actions, chief among which was the assassination of his rival and cousin, Oswin, king of Deira.
At the instigation of Eanfleda, and in expiation of the murder of Oswin, Oswy built a monastery at Gilling, the scene of the tragedy, that holy men might make constant intercession for the souls of the murdered and the murderer.
During the reign of Oswy and Eanfleda, the dreaded Penda, pagan king of Mercia, several times invaded Northumbria. After the invasion of 651, peace was concluded between him and Oswy, and further cemented by a double marriage between the families ; Oswy’s son and daughter, Alchfrid and Alchfleda, married ST. KYNEBURGA (I) and Peada, children of Penda.
A direct consequence of these alliances was the spread of the Christian religion in the kingdom of Mercia, Peada and all his followers having been baptised by St. Finan, a Celtic bishop, before leaving Oswy’s Court in 653.
The rugged old heathen, Penda, remained true to his gods and his Valhalla. In his eightieth year (655) he turned his arms against Northumbria for the third time, undeterred by the alliance of four years before. This time he refused to come to terms with Oswy, and prepared for battle. Oswy prayed to God to defend him and his cause, and vowed, in the event of victory, to give his infant daughter ST. ELFLEDA (1), to be consecrated to God. A great battle was fought at Winwidfield, near Leeds. Oswy was victorious, and among other princes and commanders, Penda himself was slain. After the victory, Oswy gave thanks to God, and redeemed his vow by giving his daughter to be brought up in His service by his kinswoman, the abbess HILDA. He did not give his daughter to God empty-handed; her dowry was twelve estates, where holy men and women should carry on spiritual warfare and pray for the peace of the nation.
Eanfleda was the friend and patron of St. Wilfrid of York (633-709), a man very famous in the annals of the early Anglo-Saxon Church, and the friend of many of the English sainted queens, ST. ETHELDREDA, ST. SEXBURGA, ST. ERMENILDA, and others. It was through Eanfleda’s influence that Wilfrid was enabled to become a monk at the age of thirteen, and five years afterwards she assisted him to make his first journey to Rome, a pilgrimage which became the rage among the English of the next generation.
The controversy which divided the English Church in the 7th century, relative to the keeping of Easter according to the Roman or the Celtic Calendar, was productive of so many disputes that it became necessary to have some rule to which all should conform. To further this end, a conference was held, in 664, at St. Hilda’s monastery at Streaneshalch (Whitby), and was largely attended by all, whether clergy or laity, who had a right to vote in national affairs. St. Eanfleda was on the side of St. Wilfrid, the champion of the Roman cause. The result of the conference was a decree, by King Oswy, that Easter should be every where observed according to the Roman Calendar. But it was not until 679 that this command was obeyed throughout the country. The year 664 is memorable for two other events besides the Conference of Whitby : the dedication of the great Abbey of Medehamstede, now Peterborough (see ST. ERMENILDA), of which King Oswy was one of the founders, and a dreadful visitation called the Yellow Plague. (See ST. SEXBURGA.) Eanfleda’s piety and good works were well known to the Pope. In appreciation of her virtues, he sent her a cross, made out of the chains of St. Peter and St. Paul, with a gold key to it.
Oswy was going to Rome to repent and be absolved of the murder of Oswin, but died Feb. 15, 670, aged fifty-eight. He was buried at Whitby, where, after his death, Eanfleda spent the rest of her life as a nun, under her daughter, ST. ELFLEDA. She was buried in the monastery beside her husband, and there, also were laid the bones of her father, King Edwin.
  • Alchfrid, reigned with his father, 688; m. ST. KYNEBURGA ( I ).
  • Egfrid, king, 670-685; m., 1st, ST. ETHELDREDA; 2nd, Ermenburga.
  • Aldfrid, king, 685-705; m. ST. CUTHBURGA.
  • Alfwin, killed, 679
  • Alchfleda, m. Peada, son of Penda.
  • ST. ELFLEDA, abbess of Whitby.
  • ST. OSTHRIDA, +679; m. Ethelred, king of Mercia.
It is not certain that Eanfleda was the mother of any of the children of Oswy, except Elfleda.
Bede, iii. 14. Montalembert, Monks of the West. Analecta, iii., year 1824. Strutt.
Gilling Abbey: wikipedia
Elfleda is indeed listed on yorkthodox on her usual feast day of 8 February, so I will post about her then.
I am delighted as always to find a troparion in French at Acathistes et Offices Orthodoxes, courtesy of M Lopez-Ginisty:
Ton 4 Tropaire à sainte Eanflède, reine de Northumbrie, (Natalice en 671 A.D.)

Fille de saint Edwin et de sainte Ethelburge,*

Tu fus baptisée par l’évêque saint Paulin,*
Tu épousas le roi Oswy de Northumbrie,*
Et tu fondas le monastère de Gilling.*
Etant veuve, tu devins moniale à Whitby.*
Sainte Eanflède, prie Dieu pour notre salut!

Daughter of St Edwin and St Ethelburga,
You were baptised by the holy bishop Paulinus,
You married King Oswy of Northumbria,
And founded the monstery of Gilling.
As a widow, you became a nun at Whitby.
Holy Eanfleda, pray to God for our salvation!

Holy Eanflæd, pray to God for us!


  1. It's one way of doubling the number of saints 🙂

  2. Lovely! What adventures Saints have had…

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