The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life is a wonderful piece of work, one which draws many people to admire it, many of whom are not Christians. It’s probably one of the jewels of Second Life. I am very aware of just how fortunate we are to have such a place as a focus for our ministry.
On Thursday at the 2pm SLT service I was musing about the possibility of having a patron saint for the Cathedral. It was the day we remember St Hilda (or Hild to give her the Old English name). She shone like a jewel in a time of change in the church in Britain, a time when Celtic and Roman traditions of Christianity existed side by side, causing difficulties. Maybe Hild would be a good patron saint, should we ever decide to have one for the Cathedral. See what you think when you read her story.
The readings were Psalm 112:1-9, Isaiah 26:1-11, Matthew 5:17-26.
It occurred to me today, as it has on occasion, that our Cathedral here in SL doesn’t have any patron. My nearest RL cathedral in Wakefield, though usually referred to simply as Wakefield Cathedral, is really ‘The Cathedral Church of All Saints, Wakefield’. As such it is able to celebrate its patronal festival on All Saints Day, November 1st. We simply refer to this Cathedral on Epiphany Island as ‘the Cathedral’ or ‘the Anglican Cathedral’. It seems rather a shame that we have no dedication to a particular saint.
I’m not aware that anyone else has given the matter much thought, so perhaps it really isn’t an issue for anyone else. It’s certainly not something that causes me great concern. However, if we were to think of a saint to name the Cathedral after, I think St Hild (or Hilda), whom we remember today, would be a good candidate. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself when I have told you a little about her.
What we know of Hild is given to us by the Venerable Bede in his book ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English’. In his writing he followed the change from Anglo-Saxon pagan religion to Christianity in Britain.
Hild was born in 614 to Hereric and Breguswith. She was of royal blood as her father was the nephew of Edwin of Northumbria. Hereric was poisoned while Hild was still very young, during a time of exile at the court of the British king of Elmet which is in West Yorkshire. It’s likely that Hild moved and grew up in the court of Edwin in Northumbria. On April 12th 627, Easter Day, Paulinus baptised King Edwin and his whole court including the 12 year old Hild. Edwin built a small church at the site of his baptism; York Minster now stands close by. Paulinus was a monk who had come to England with Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory. He went to King Edwin’s court with Ethelburga, a Christian princess from Kent in the south of England, who was to be Edwin’s second wife.
Nothing further is known of Hild until 647, though she may have fled to Kent with Ethelburga when Edwin was killed in battle. She was persuaded by St Aidan to stay in Northumbria instead of going to join her sister in a convent in Gaul as she had planned. By this time the Christianity of Northumbria had become Celtic in character rather than Roman.
Hild first joined a monastery on the bank of the River Wear and there learnt about Celtic monasticism such as that practised by St Aidan on Lindisfarne and which had come initially from Iona. She was appointed by Aidan a year later to be the Abbess of Hartlepool Abbey. In 657 she moved to Whitby where she founded, or revived, a monastery. Both Hartlepool and Whitby were Celtic style monasteries where both men and women lived in small houses of two or three people and came together for prayer.
Hild had many responsibilities at Whitby. She was the spiritual leader of a large community of men and women. She was also a landowner and in that capacity she employed many people to work on the land, caring for animals, cutting wood, tilling the soil. She was also Lady of the village. Caedmon was one of her workers and she encouraged him when she heard of his visions of God. In these visions God taught him songs about the stories in Scripture. Caedmon was the first to sing such songs in the tradition of the Celtic bards, in the language that was becoming English.
Hild is particularly remembered for her involvement with the Synod of Whitby in 664. Differences between Celtic and Roman Christianity were causing problems, particularly over the date of Easter. King Oswy wanted the difficulties resolved. The outcome was in favour of the Roman custom. Many of those who preferred to worship in the Celtic way, left England and returned to Ireland as a result of the Synod. Despite being more Celtic than Roman in her tradition, Hild encouraged others to accept the decision of the Synod. Her influence was crucial in bringing about harmony between the two sides. Unity in Christ was more important to her than her particular tradition. Her last recorded words to the monks and nuns before she died in 680 were, ‘Have evangelical peace among yourselves’.
It is this commitment to peace among people of differing traditions that makes me think Hild would be a good patron saint for our Cathedral. Here people of many denominations and none gather for worship together, stressing what we have in common over what divides us.
Hild is often referred to as a jewel. This comes from a dream which Hild’s mother had on the night before Hild’s birth. Breguswith dreamt that she was wandering in a wood looking for her husband and feeling very sad. Unthinkingly she put her hand inside her dress and brought out a wonderful jewel. Lying in the palm of her hand, it emitted a soft glowing light which grew stronger and stronger until it lit not just the wood where she was, but the whole of England. In her life, Hild’s wisdom and faith shone like that jewel and drew kings and princes to her for her advice. She was revered by ordinary people too as they knew she cared about them. As Bede writes, “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.
It’s my prayer that this ministry on Epiphany Island will shine like a jewel in SL, lighting the dark places and bringing wisdom to those who need it. I pray that we can work together to fulfil this dream, working to achieve harmony and unity between Christians.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor