World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Vita Sancti Wilfrithi

Article Id: WHEBN0023070506
Reproduction Date:

Title: Vita Sancti Wilfrithi  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Theodore of Tarsus, Wilfrid, Stephen of Ripon, Balthild, Cædwalla of Wessex, Sigebert III, Amounderness, Acca of Hexham, Battle of Two Rivers, 10th century in literature
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Vita Sancti Wilfrithi

Vita Sancti Wilfrithi
"The Life of St. Wilfrid"
A page from an 11th-century manuscript of the Vita Sancti Wilfrithi describing the foundation of Hexham Abbey
Author(s) Stephen of Ripon
Language medieval Latin
Date composed between 709 and c. 720

1. London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian D. vi. Provenance: probably transferred from Yorkshire before it was held in Canterbury and then acquired by the British Library.

fos. 2-77: 9th century, with 11th-century additions;
fos. 78-125: 11th century, with 12th-century additions on final page.
2. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Fell vol. III 34a-56b, originally vol. I. Written in late 11th or early 12th century.[1]
Genre prose hagiography

The Vita Sancti Wilfrithi or Life of St Wilfrid (spelled "Wilfrid" in the modern era[2]) is an early 8th-century hagiographic text recounting the life of the Northumbrian bishop, Wilfrid. Although a hagiography, it has few miracles, while its main concerns are with the politics of the Northumbrian church and the history of the monasteries of Ripon and Hexham. It is one of a collection of historical sources from the late 7th- and early 8th-centuries, along with the anonymous Vita Sancti Cuthberti, the works of Bede and Adomnán's Vita Sancti Columbae, that detail the Christianisation of Great Britain and make the period the best documented period in English history before the age of Alfred the Great.

Date and authorship

In the preface to the Vita Wilfrithi, the author reveals that he is a priest called Stephen.[3] Writers in modern times often style the author "Eddius Stephanus",[4] an attribution that goes back to the 17th century.[5] This attribution is now thought unlikely by many historians.[6] The identification was made because the Vita Wilfrithi recounts that sometime between 666 and 669, Wilfrid brought two singing masters from Kent to Ripon, Ædde and Æona.[7]

This Ædde was also mentioned by Bede, who says that an Æddi cognomento Stephanus ("Ædde, also known as Stephen") was brought to Northumbria by Wilfrid and was the first singing-master (cantor) among the Northumbrians.[8] This is not however thought to be good evidence by many modern historians,[9] while many other factors, such as age, make the attribution positively unlikely.[10]

The Vita Wilfrithi can be dated reasonably securely between 709, the year of Wilfrid's death, and c. 720.[11] The latter date, c. 720, is the approximate date of the Vita Sancti Cuthberti, a text which the Vita Wilfrithi quotes,[12] and indeed imitates so often that one historian has used the word "plagiarism".[13] There are some indications that it was written after 716.[14]


The Vita narrates the life and career of Wilfrid, from his boyhood until his death, with brief digressions into the other affairs of Wilfrid's two main monasteries, Ripon and Hexham.[15] It details his boyhood decision to become a churchman, his quarrels with Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, and various secular figures, his travels back and forth between England and Rome, his participation in church synods, and eventually his death.[16]

The text devotes over one third of its contents to Wilfrid's "Northumbrian achievements", but Stephen devotes almost no space to Wilfrid's second period in office as Bishop of York (686–691), and little space to his activity in Mercia.[17] The Vita Wilfrithi, in common with many hagiographies written close to the death of their subject, records very few miracles, but like Bede and Eusebius of Caesarea, incorporates full documents relevant to its story.[15]


According to Fulk et al., the Vita Wilfrithi is tendentious and partisan.[18] The Vita, perhaps mirroring the views of Wilfrid himself, is contemptuous of the Gaelic contribution, the "poisonous seeds" they planted, to the development of the Northumbrian and English church, and thus discredits Lindisfarne and the other English monasteries associated with them.[19]

Wilfrid is given full responsibility for the victory of the Roman faction in the Synod of Whitby, his great triumph over the Gaelic monks. Bede however sidelines Wilfrid, making it unclear to the modern historian which writer is being more accurate; and while Stephen depicts the second half of the 7th century as a "Wilfridian golden age", in the narrative of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Wilfrid is but one of many ecclesiastical figures who contribute to the development of the English church.[20] These factors led the historian Walter Goffart to argue that Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica was actually written because the leaders of the Bernician church sought to counter the version of history being promulgated by the Deiran "Wilfridians" in the Vita Wilfrithi.[21]


The Vita Wilfrithi inspired a 10th-century Latin poem entitled Breviloquium Vitae Wilfridi, written by Frithegod to commemorate Oda's acquisition of Wilfrid's relics for Canterbury Cathedral around 950. The historian Michael Lapidge has called the Breviloquium "one of the most difficult Latin poems written in pre-conquest England".[22]



  • Colgrave, Bertram, ed. and trans. (1927). The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.