The World Turns To Ice

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Strange Happenings on St Oswin's Day

It has been said in many parts of the British Isles that, since ancient times, trees would bleed when struck by an axe. John Capgrave (21 April 1393 – 12 August 1464) relates that in the year 1384 on the 20th day of August, the feast of St Oswin, the king being at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a wright hewed a tree...but at every stroke it poured out blood 'as if it had been a beast'.  He was so terrified that he left his work. The same thing happened ( according to Holinshed's 'Chronicles of England') when this fellow, 'having no rever[ence] to this myracle, took the axe and smet', and again the blood ran out.
                                                               Taken from Eleanor Hull's 'Folklore of the British Isles', 1928

St Oswin was King of Deira in Northumbria 644-51 and venerated as a martyr.  His short reign and premature death were due to treachery and dynastic struggles.  According to Bede Oswiu wished to regain the land and power and quarrelled with Oswin which resulted in them raising armies against each other.  However, instead of adding one more battle to the long tale of violence in 7th Century Northumbria, Oswin, realizing that he was outnumbered, disbanded his army to avoid bloodshed, hoping to make good his claim at a future date.

Accompanied by a single trusted soldier, he hid in the house of his best friend Hunwald.  This Earl, however, treacherously betrayed him to Oswiu, who ordered Oswin and his soldier to be put to death.  This was on 20 August 651, preceeding the death of his friend Aidan, apostle of Northumbria to whom he was devoted, by just 12 days.

Bede described Oswin as 'a man of handsome appearance and great stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner.  He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of all by his kingly qualities of mind and body so that even men of very high birth came from nearly every province to his service'.  In expiation of his crime, Oswiu built a monastery at Gilling, where Oswin was killed.

Oswin was culted as a martyr because he died, 'if not for the faith of Christ', at least for the justice of Christ', as a 12th century homilist explained.
                                                                   Taken from 'The Oxford Dictionary of Saints', 2004 ed

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