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|Winwick: History and Antiquities: Part 2|
|Written by Steven Dowd|
ITS HISTORY AND ANTIQUITIES.
Part 1. Etymology of Winwick.
OSWALD, KING OF NORTHUMBRIA.
Born Prince of Northumbria, an ancient kingdom, which was only separated on the south from Mercia by the river Mersey, Oswald in early youth, by the troubles of his native kingdom, was driven into exile; but in the year 638 his uncle, King Edwin, having perished in battle, he saw in that event the call of duty, and at some hazard he obeyed it and returned home.J Ceadwal or Cadwal-lon, the ally of Penda, King of Mercia, who was then ravaging his country, treated the Northumbrians as traitors, and threatened wholly to exterminate them. It required a brave heart and a bold hand to dare to oppose such a man, on whose helm hung the fame of victory in 14 great battles and more than four times that number of skirmishes. But Oswald with a small force encountered the invader at Bingfield (or Hefenfield, as the Saxons call it, or Halidon, as it has since been called), near Hexham, and having set up a wooden cros.s before which he and his host knelt to implore the Divine favour upon their cause, a just war undertaken for their country's safety, a great battle was fought in which Ceadwal fell, and his army was destroyed. Established on the throne of Northumbria Oswald now set himself to establish wholesome laws, and by rendering his people prosperous, to make them forget the troubles of the past in the happiness of their present condition. He had great natural talents, which he had improved by cultivation. A Christian himself, and anxious to introduce Christianity amongst his people, he brought over from Icolmkill priests and holy men to instruct them in the new faith. Of these priests, that St. Elfin to whom, as the Domesday Survey teaches us, the church at Warrington is dedicated, was probably one. Oswald and his brother saints Elfin and Wilfred, having had their Christianity from the Scottish Culdees of Icolmkill, followed them in the time of observing Easter, and some of the practices of the Eastern Church. Oswald and Elfin clung to this faith to the end; but Wilfred, after visiting Eome, deserted it, and introduced the Roman rule in all things throughout his province of York, which may account for so many of our northern churches built after his death being consecrated in his name. Oswald studied to soften the rude manners of his subjects; and when Aidan, another of those priests, whom he raised to be Bishop of Lindisfarn, and who, like St. Elfin, was canonized after his death, was preaching to the people, Oswald, with Christian meekness, was to be seen acting as his interpreter. Open as day to melting charity, he justly gained the name of the "Bounteous Hand." One instance of his charity which has come down to us, and which reminds us of St. Martin sharing his cloak, is characteristic of the man and his times. On the Easter festival, we are told, when a silver dish had been placed before him filled with dainties, on which a blessing was about to be asked, he was suddenly told that there was a crowd of hungry people famishing at the door, whereupon he not only sent the sufferers the food that was before him, but ordered the silver dish to be broken up and the fragments distributed amongst them. He won not only the affection of his own people, but the respect and esteem of the neighbouring princes; the former revered him as a saint, and the latter raised him to the supreme command of their confederacy. His eminence and his high character aroused anew the envy and ambition of his old enemy Penda, who, having resolved on his overthrow, mustered an army, with which he hastily marched into Northumbria, hoping to surprise its monarch unprepared. Not expecting such an attack, Oswald was little prepared for it, but hastily mustering such troops as he could command, he advanced to meet the invader. The two armies met, and engaged on 5th August, 645, when victory declared for the strongest; and Oswald, in the flower of his age, bravely fighting to defend his kingdom from foreign invasion, fell upon the field, breathing with his last breath a prayer for his people. On or near the spot where he fell there is now a well, which has ever since been called by his name. From the holiness of his character, this was once held in high repute, and believed to possess such peculiar virtues that it was resorted to for its efficacy in many complaints. Portions of the soil, it is said, were taken to be administered to the sick. The water was carried away as an eye wash, and one zealous female votary, in the excess of her devotion, is said to have bathed in the well at midnight. Penda ordered the King's head and right arm to be cut off and set up at Oswestry, (5) where they remained until they were fetched away by Oswald's brother and successor, Oswig, and conveyed to Lindisfarne.(6)
The King's body was first buried at Bardenaye, but afterwards removed to Gloucester Abbey. One of the chroniclers thus tells the story:—
King Ethelrede of Mers and Queen Ostride, His wife, daughter of Oswy, at Bardenaye Buried Oswalde, with miracles glorified ; Where many yere full still thereafter he laye, Until the tyme the syster, as books say, Of King Edward the Elder hym translate To Gloucester Abbey, to his estate.
Upon the grave of an old saint " Requiescat in pace " was but an idle lullaby. Piety and religious jealousy never allowed his bones to rest quietly in their first place of sepulture; nay, he was often for years a sort of saint in Eyre, removing from one place to another. Oswald's body, as we have seen, was subjected to two removals, but his scattered members were ubiquitous in their place of rest. His head, which was carried first to Lindisfarne, was translated thence to Durham, and buried in St. Cuth-bert's grave. A window in the cathedral, which represents St. Cuthbert carrying this relic, commemorates the event. And, as if still further to appropriate their possession of this treasure, the monks of Durham took the saint's head for their seal, and, not to do his effigy injustice, they adopted, to represent his portrait, a beautiful antique cameo of the head of Jupiter Fulgurator, an impression of which may be seen in the Warrington Museum. But in what high esteem he was held appears from a second head of the saint being exhibited at Hildesheim, enclosed in a costly niello shrine.(7) The saint's right arm was removed from Lindisfarne to Bamburgh, and there enclosed in a shrine of silver. The other arm was in the possession of Wulstan, at Worcester, who, though rich in relics, prided himself especially on this, as amongst the richest of them all.(8)
But there was another arm of Oswald, celebrated for its healing power, preserved at Peterborough, where King Stephen came to see it. And kings and nobles, knights and ladies were wont to adore it as the safeguard of the place. On his departure King Stephen made an offering of his ring, and remitted a debt of 40 marks which the monks owed him.(9) At York, too, a bone of St. Oswald was among the most valued of the cathedral relics.(9) This multiplication of the saint's relics at least shows his high reputation for sanctity, and that his fame was widely spread. At Winwick, according to tradition the scene of his martyrdom, the church is dedicated in his honour, and in the churchyard there is a fragment of one of those ancient wheel crosses which are supposed to have been set up in holy places such as that where Oswald died to mark the site where churches were to be built.(10) The fragment of the cross at Winwick was dug up in 1830, very near to the place where it now stands. Along the south cornice of the church ran these monkish lines:—
Hie locus Oswalde, quondam placuit tibi valde: Nortanhunbrorum fueras rex nunq polorum Regna tenes, prato passus Marcelde vocato Poscimus hinc a te nostri memor esto beate (Line over the porch obliterated) Anno milleno quingentenoq triceno Sclater post Christum murum renovaverat istum Henricus Johnson curatus erat simul hie tunc.
Of which the following is a translation:—
This place of yore did Oswald greatly love, Northumbria's king, but now a saint above; Who in Marcelde's field did fighting fall, O, blest one, hear ! when here on thee we call.
Transcribed by Steven Dowd from the original book which he owns, Originally publication is from 1878, this text version and layout, edits and errors is © 2008 Steven Dowd, for use at the Newton-le-willows website