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January 15, 2020

Saint Ceolwulf, King of Northumbria (+ 765)

St. Ceolwulf of Northumbria (Feast Day - January 15)

Ceolwulf was born around 695 in Northumbria. His ancestry is thus given by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: "Ceolwulf was the son of Cutha, Cutha of Cuthwin, Cuthwin of Leoldwald, Leoldwald of Egwald, Egwald of Aldhelm, Aldhelm of Ocga, Ocga of Ida, Ida of Eoppa." Ceolwulf's brother, Coenred, seized the Northumbrian throne in AD 716. Coenred ruled for two years when Osric, the last of the House of Aethelric, claimed the throne and ruled for ten years. In 729, shortly before his death, Osric nominated Ceolwulf as his successor.

He consulted the Venerable Bede for advice on important matters. While praising Ceolwulf's piety, Bede also expressed some reservations regarding Ceolwulf's ability to rule. Ceolwulf was a man with deep monastic interests, and perhaps little suited to affairs of state. Bede dedicated his Ecclesiastical History of the English Church to Ceolwulf in 731. In the Preface he says of him:

"To the Most Glorious King Ceolwulf, Bede, the Servant of Christ and Priest. Formerly, at your request, most readily transmitted to you the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, which I had newly published, for you to read, and give it your approbation; and I now send it again to be transcribed and more fully considered at your leisure. And I cannot but recommend the sincerity and zeal, with which you not only diligently give ear to hear the words of the Holy Scripture, but also industriously take care to become acquainted with the actions and sayings of former men of renown, especially of our own nation. For if history relates good things of good men, the attentive hearer is excited to imitate that which is good; or if it mentions evil things of wicked persons, nevertheless the religious and pious hearer or reader, shunning that which is hurtful and perverse, is the more earnestly excited to perform those things which he knows to be good, and worthy of God. Of which you also being deeply sensible, are desirous that the said history should be more fully made familiar to yourself, and to those over whom the Divine Authority has appointed you governor, from your great regard to their general welfare."

The beginning of his reign was disturbed by factions and rebellion, and that same year he was forcibly seized by his enemies and compelled to receive the monastic tonsure. He was deposed for a short period, but quickly restored. The details of the attempted coup are unclear. Bishop Acca of Hexham is said to have been deprived of his see, which suggests he may have supported Ceolwulf's opponents.

As king, he had endowed the monastery at Lindisfarne with many gifts. He obtained a special dispensation for the monks which allowed the consumption of beer and wine, contrary to the established Celtic practice which limited beverages to water and milk.

In 737 Ceolwulf abdicated in favor of his first cousin Eadberht, to voluntarily retire to the monastery in Lindisfarne in search of spiritual perfection. There he led a holy and virtuous life for many years, an example of true contempt for the vanities of the world. His death is recorded on January 15, of 764–765. Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne translated Ceolwulf's relics in 830 to the rebuilt Church of aints Peter, Cuthbert, and Ceolwulf at Norham, to save them from profanity in the Danish Viking attacks. His relics are noted for their many miracles.

He was later canonized, and his feast day is 15 January.