Saints of Our Land

Aelred of Rievaulx - Cistercian Monk and Abbot

Feast Day | 12 January

Aelred was born in Hexham in 1109. His family was well connected. At an early age, he was sent into the service of King David of Scotland. There, he rose to the position of Master of the Royal Household. In time, he became attracted to the religious life, but he was also attracted to the life he lived at court. It took considerable personal struggle for him at 24 to give up secular pursuits and enter the newly founded Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in Yorkshire in 1133. At 34, he moved from there and took charge of a new foundation in Lincolnshire. Within four years, he had returned to Rievaulx as Abbot, where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in 1167.

Aelred is remembered for his energy and gentleness. His writings and sermons were characterised by a deep love of Sacred Scripture and a personal love of Christ as friend and saviour. He was sensitive and understanding in his dealings with fellow monks, and under his direction, the monastery at Rievaulx grew to an extraordinary size.

He did not enjoy robust health, and the last ten years of his life were marked by long, painful illness. His position as Abbot required him to travel on visitation to monasteries in England, Scotland and France. These journeys took their toll.

Aelred was a singularly attractive figure, a man of great spiritual power but also of warm friendliness and humanity. He has been called the St Bernard of the North.  

Saint John of Beverley - Bishop

Feast Day | 7 May

John of Beverley was born at Harpham a few miles from Driffeld on the Wolds. He studied at Canterbury under St.Adrian, the African-born abbot of the famous monastery there, who was a great scripture scholar and a fine teacher of Greek and Latin. When John returned to the North, he entered the double monastery at Whitby under the remarkable abbess, St. Hilda, who had a great influence on many of the outstanding religious people of her time.

In 687 John was consecrated Bishop of Hexham in succession to Bishop Eata, one of the twelve disciples of St.Aidan and the teacher of St.Cuthbert. During his time at Hexham, John ordained the future St.Bede as priest. He was a good pastoral bishop, a man who loved the Scripture, and a patient teacher. Like many of his contemporaries he also had a deep seated need for prayerful solitude and used to retire to a quiet place on the banks of the Tyne for prayer and study of Scriptures, especially during the season of Lent. In 705 he was appointed to the See of York in succession to St.Bosa, himself a former monk of the monastery at Whitby. John remained in the diocese for 12 years but the call of solitude remained strong, and four years before his death he retired to Beverley to a religious house he founded there.

John died in721, having worked for more than thirty years as a bishop. His shrine became famous up and down the country and was considered to be one of the chief places of devotion in England for many years. 

St William of York - Bishop

Feast Day | 8 June

William Fitzherbert was born at the end of the eleventh century into a position of favour and wealth, and was a nephew of the future King Stephen. In his early days he received a good education and when he holy order, he became the treasurer of the cathedral church of York. Even if he received this office through patronage, it was generally agreed that he carried it out with wisdom and charity.

This was the time of the accession of King Stephen and the civil war with Queen Maud with all the disastrous effects that it was bound to have on the government of the Church in England. When William was elected to the archbishopric of York in 1140, his election was challenged by supporters of the Queen because of his family relationship with the King. So began a dispute over his position as archbishop that was to continue almost until the time of William’s own death. Some accounts would suggest that he was ill served by his advisers and suffered the disadvantages of having too many politically minded relatives in positions of authority. But he himself would seem to have lived an exemplary life and was even careless of his own interests. Although Pope Innocent II upheld the appointment, the next Pope Eugenius III suspended him from duties on the advice of no less that St.Bernard of Clairvaux and another candidate was appointed to the See of York.

William retired for seven years to Winchester where his uncle was bishop and papal legate and lived there quietly without complaint. It was only when his successor at York died and he was again elected to the archbishopric that he travelled to Rome and received the pallium from Pope Anastasius IV. On his return to England, William was mild and conciliatory towards his former enemies and well-liked by his flock. But he had hardly begun work in the city of York when he was taken ill and died in 1154. He was buried in his cathedral and the solemn translation of his relics took place in 1283.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help - Patron of the Diocese of Middlesbrough

Feast day | 27 June

The popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title derives from an ancient eastern icon of the Mother of God and the Child Jesus which has long been venerated under the name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.


 This icon appears to have been painted in Crete in the early 14th century and was venerated in Crete with great devotion as a miraculous image. It was stolen from there and brought to Rome in 1499, and after a series of mysterious events was given into the charge of the Augustinians and placed in their church,

St. Matthew, in Rome where it became again the focus of much popular devotion and was given the title by which it is now known. The painting remained in St. Matthew's until 1798 when the church was razed to the ground during the occupation of Rome and the setting up of the free Roman Republic in that year. Although the icon was saved, it was placed in the private oratory of another Augustinian house in Rome and largely forgotten. Only after some 50 years was it rediscovered and given into the care of the Redemptorists who translated it with the greatest splendour to their own church in Rome of Alfonso in 1866 where it remains enthroned above the high altar.


 The connection between this icon and the Diocese of Middlesbrough arises out of the personal devotion to the image of Richard Lacy, the first bishop of the diocese. As a student in Rome the young Lacy had been present at the solemn enthronement of the icon at St. Alfonso in 1866, it became  one of the first dioceses to be dedicated to Our Lady under the title, and devotion to the icon has remained popular in the diocese since.


 The traditional Eastern icon of the Blessed Virgin presented Mary as the Mother of God and her child as the Lord enthroned in majesty. But from the 13th century onwards a new style of icon painting appeared which softened the aloof severity of the original icon and introduced more human elements. The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help belongs to this second period. The Mother inclines her head towards her Son who in turn seems to press closer to her. It seems as if Christ child is caught in the very moment of shock and horror at the sight of the instruments of his passion carried by the angels, and his sandal all but falls off his foot in his fear. The image full of a pathos and tragedy that gives it for us a more familiar Western appeal.


 Even so, the image remains in essence an icon of the Eastern Church. As such it becomes an ecumenical image, a reminder of the rich heritage of the Eastern Church, not least in her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also becomes a sign of unity as the Mother draws the attention of the East and West towards her Son and upon his suffering and death.

St Oswald  - King and Martyr

Feast Day | 3 August

Saint Oswald was born at the very beginning of the 7th century. He was the youngest son of the pagan Ethelfrid, the first king of a united Northumbria. After his father's death in battle, the young Oswald fled to lona for safety and there was baptised and became a devoted Christian.


 In 633 Oswald returned to Northumbria to regain his father's kingdom. It was said that he set up a wooden cross as his standard and dedicated himself and his people to God's protection before engaging himself in battle with the occupying Welsh King Cadwallon, not far from the present Hexham. He defeated and killed Cadwllon and at once invited the monks from lona to begin the evangelisation of his Kingdom which extended from the Forth to the Humber. After initial difficulties, the monk Aidan was sent to lead these Irish missionaries and Oswald found him to be both a valued adviser and a good friend. Oswald took seriously the work of bringing Christianity to his people and was even known to accompany Aidan on his missionary expeditions and to act as interpreter during the time Aidan was learning the language of the English. He was also well known both for his personal prayerfulness and his charity to those in need.


 Sadly the reign of King Oswald last only eight years. In 642 he was killed in battle by Penda the pagan king of the Mercians. It was said that as he fell in death he was heard to pray for those who died with him. Oswald was a popular hero and his reputation as a saint was widespread even into mainland Europe. 

Blessed Nicholas Postgate - Priest and Martyr

Feast Day | 7 August

Nicholas Postgate was born around 1598 at Kirkdale House, Egton, one of the children of James and Margaret Postgate. His father died in 1602, leaving his widow with the four young children to bring up. His mother was fined several times for non-attendance at the parish church before she died in 1624. The influence of missionary priests in the area probably led to Nicholas leaving home in 1621 to attend the training college for Catholic priests at Douai in northern France. Ordained priest on 2 April 1629, and knowing that he faced a sentence of death if caught, he returned to England on 29 June 1630.


 His first home was at the Saxton near Tadcaster, later moving to Holderness in East Yorkshire. After the death of Lady Dunbar in 1659, he is believed to have gone to Everingham. He was over 60 when he returned to his native moors and settled in a small thatched cottage at Ugthorpe near Whitby. Here, he lived in virtual poverty, serving the Catholics of the North Yorkshire moors from northern Cleveland to the well south of Whitby and inland to Pickering. In 1664, he wrote to the President of the English college at Douai that during his 34 years working in Yorkshire, he had performed 226 marriages, baptised 593 infants and buried 719 dead. He also brought 2400 persons into the Catholic Church.


 On 8 December 1678, Father Postgate walked from Red Barn Farm at Littlebeck to baptise the infant son of Matthew and Mary Lythe. Unfortunately, John Reeves, an Excise Collector from Whitby, decided to organise a search at Red Barn Farm in the hope of finding a connection with the Titus Oates Plot. Arriving as the baptism took place and finding Catholic books, relics, wafers, etc, he arrested Father Postgate together with Matthew Lythe, two other farmers.


 After appearing before Magistrate Sir William Cayley at Brompton the following day, he was sent to York to await trial. The trial was lengthy, and in 1679, he was indicted for high treason for being a Catholic priest. The death of the 83-year-old priest took place on 7 August 1679 at Knavesmire, York, where he was hung, drawn and quartered, which the Law inflicted on Catholic priests.

Ever since his death, Father Nicholas Postgate has been honoured by local Catholics and families who have moved abroad.


On 22 November 1987, along with 84 other martyrs, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

St Margaret Clitherow - Martyr

Feast Day | 30 August


Margaret Clitherow, n. Middleton, was born about 1556 and died on 25th March 1586. She was a daughter of Thomas Middleton, Sheriff of York (1564-5), a wax- Chandler. She married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in St. Martin’s church, Coney Street, 8 July, 1571, and lived in The Shambles. 


 After about three years of married life Margaret converted to Catholicism and became most fervent in her faith, continually risking her life by harbouring and maintaining priests, and was frequently imprisoned, sometimes for two years at a time; she was a model of all virtues. Though her husband was not a Catholic, his brother was a priest, and Margaret provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and a second in another part of the city, where she kept priests hidden and had Mass continually celebrated through the thick of the persecution. Some of her priests were martyred and Margaret who desired the same grace above all things, used to make secret pilgrimages by night to York Tyburn to pray  beneath the gibbet for this intention.


 In 1586, Margaret was arrested and called before the York Assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead to the case to prevent a trial that would entail her children being made to testify, and therefore being subjected to torture. As a result she was executed by being crushed to death, the standard inducement to force a plea, on Good Friday 1586. “God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this”, she said. She was constantly urged to confess her crimes but only said “No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesus”.


 Her sons Henry and William became priests, and her daughter Anne a nun at St.Ursula’s, Louvain.


In 2008, a commemorative plaque was installed at the Micklegate end of Ouse Bridge to mark the site of her martyrdom; the Bishop of Middlesbrough unveiled this in a ceremony on Friday 29 August 2008. 

St Aidan - Bishop

Feast day | 31 August

Aidan, a native of Ireland, was a monk on lona. When the Christian King Oswald returned from exile on lona to his kingdom of Northumbria, he invited the monks of lona to provide missionaries to instruct his people in Christianity. After initial difficulties, Aidan was consecrated bishop and sent with a group of Irish monks to begin this task.


He established a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne which became the centre of a major missionary effort in the North of England. The monastery also became a valuable centre of learning and an important training ground for the education of English boys who would continue the work of evangelisation.


From Lindisfarne Aidan journeyed throughout Northumberland, usually on foot, and working closely with the King who found him to be a wise adviser and a good personal friend. After Oswald’s death, Aidan continued this work under his successor, Oswin, but when Oswin himself was killed nine years later, Aidan did not long survive him and died two weeks later in 651.


 According to Bede, Aidan was a man of great gentleness and moderation, outstanding for his energetic missionary work. His influence on the North of England was enormous, and his wise promotion of Christian education among the native English laid the solid foundation for the spread of the Gospel in the centuries which followed his death. 

St Paulinus - Bishop

Feast Day | 10 October

Paulinus, was a member of the second company of missionary monks sent by Pope Gregory to England from Rome in 601 to assist Saint Augustine of Canterbury and his companions.  For many years Paulinus stayed in the region around Kent but when the Kentish princess Ethelburga came north to Northumbria to marry the pagan King, Edwin, Paulinus was consecrated bishop and came north with her as her Chaplain.

Paulinus was a tall, inspiring man and by his persistent efforts, he won over King Edwin to the Christian faith in spite of the King’s original reluctance. Edwin was baptized at York by Paulinus himself on the eve of Easter Sunday in 627, along with many of the King’s family and nobles.

From this time onwards, Paulinus was able to make a series of missionary journeys over the whole region, converting and baptizing huge number of people. He reached as far south as Lincoln, where he built a stone church. The success of his ministry was given recognition when he was appointed Archbishop of York by Pope Honorius I in 632.

Almost at the same time, his work was cut short by the death of King Edwin while fighting the pagan leader, Cadwllon. Paulinus was persuaded to take the widowed Queen Ethelburga and her children, by sea, to safety in her native Kent. He himself spent the remaining twelve years of his life as Bishop of Rochester. He died there in 644. 

St Wilfrid of York - Bishop

Feast Day | 12 October

Wilfrid was born in Northumbria in 634. As a boy was educated in the monastery of Lindisfrane. Later he travelled to Rome in the company of Benet Biscop, spending a considerable time at Lyons on the way. This wider, continental experience had a profound effect upon the young man and, on his return, he showed himself to have become a keen supporter of the traditions of the Roman Church as against the prevailing ‘Celtic’ Customs introduced by the Irish missionaries from lona under St. Aidan. Shortly afterwards he was appointed Abbot of Ripon, and sometime later he was ordained priest.


 After the death of Aidan, the differing customs of the Romans and the Celts became the cause of bitter dispute. In 664 a Synod was held in Whitby, in the famous monastery of St. Hilda, to settle the question and Wilfrid took a leading part in the debate, successfully arguing for the abolition of the Celtic traditions and the imposition of the church discipline of Rome.

 Within twelve months he had been appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne. He chose to be consecrated in Paris, and was absent in France for so long that St. Chad, one of Aidan’s pupils, was consecrated bishop in his place. Wilfrid had to appeal to St. Theodore of Canterbury, his metropolitan, before he was able to take possession of his diocese. He established himself at York, but encountered much hostility being opposed at various times not only by some of the secular rulers of his day but even by men of great sanctity like St.Jhon of Beveley. A particular dispute arose in 678 when Theodore made an attempt divide the large, unwieldy diocese of Lindisfarne/York into two parts. Wilfrid objected to the division and made an appeal to Rome against his archbishop. Not only he was successful, but in doing so he became the first Englishman to take a law suit to the Roman courts.


 In spite of this, his return to Northumberland was much less successful. For a while he was imprisoned by the King of Northumbria and eventually escaped to Sussex. It is a tribute to his courage and dedication that he was able to use this time well, carrying on an energetic mission to the South Saxons and also for a brief period among the people of Friesland, so beginning the great English mission to the Germanic people that was to be continued by pupil, St.Willibrord.


 Wilfrid returned to Northumbria in 686, but was not allowed to remain long in the area. Once he appealed in person to Rome. But in the end he accepted a compromise solution under which he became Bishop of Hexam while retaining his monastery at Ripon. There he the introduced many additional Roman customs and reorganised the monastery under the rule of St.Benedict. He died in 709. 

St John of Bridlington - Priest

Feast Day | 21 October

John of Bridlington was born in about 1319. His family name was Thwing and it is likely that he was born in the village of that name a few miles inland from the east Yorkshire coastal town of Bridlington.As a young man he was sent to Oxford to pursue his studies, but after two years he returned home. Soon afterwards, at the age of twenty, he entered the religious life under the rule of the Canons Regular of Augustine and joined the ancient Priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Bridlingtone or Burlington as it was then called.


 Though he held various office in his community, John was unconcerned about his own advancement being totally preoccupied by public prayer and private devotion. When first elected to the office of prior he persuaded his fellow canons to choose someone else. But in time, when the office fell vacant again, he was obliged to accept this position. He was said to be a good and considerate superior to his brethren and a man of compassion and charity to all those in need. He died in 1379 and was buried in his own priory but already his reputation was widespread far beyond the local area. His remains were translated to a place of honour in the priory in 1404 on the orders of Pope Boniface IX.


Saint John of Bridlington was a contemplative, a man of prayer, with a particular devotion to the celebration of the Mass. Although called to public office as prior, he always remained a contemplative at heart, and at various times in his life experienced the gift of ecstasies. He was noted for his self-effacing spirit and a great virtue humility. 

St Hilda of Whitby - Abbess

Feast Day | 19 November

Saint Hilda (or Hild) was born in Northumbria in 614.she was the grandniece of King Edwin of Northumbria and was not baptized until the age of 13 when she was received into the Church by Paulinus at York, at the same time as King Edwin and many of his nobles.

The first part of Hilda’s life was spent in the ordinary secular pursuits of the day. But these were years of constant warfare and in 665, her sister Hereswith, the wife of the King of the East Angles, suffered the loss of her husband in battle and decided to withdraw from the world to the monastery of Cale in Paris where she entered religious life. At the age of 33, Hilda decided to follow her and was only prevented from doing so by the intervention of St.Aidan who directed her first to establish a small religious house on the north bank of the Wear where she stayed for a year, and then to take charge of the monastery of Hieu at Hartlepool. She proved to be an able and wise superior and, after several years at Hartlepool, she set about establishing the famous double monastery at Whitby which she governed for the rest of life.

Hilda was an extra ordinary woman for her time. Her influence was widespread and her advice was valued by high and low alike. In her monastery she gave ‘a great example of peace and charity’, as Bede says ‘all who knew her called her mother, such were wonderful godliness and grace’. She laid emphasis on the study of the scriptures and insisted on careful preparation for the priesthood, after the manner of St.Aidan on Lindisfarne. Among her community was the first English poet, Caedmon, who had been the community’s herds man until his poetic genius was discovered. After the death of St.Aidan, when the divisions between those who held the Celtic tradition and those who supported Roman ways became critical, it was at her monastery that the important Synod of Whitby was held in 644 to decide upon a common church order among the rival parties.

Although her last seven years of constant illness, she continued to lead her community to the end. Towards daybreak on 17 November 680 she asked for and received viaticum and died peacefully with her community around her or as St. Bede says, ‘she joyfully saw death approaching....and passed death to life’.