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A Depiction of Devoted King Oswald


Please evangelize a little by telling friends about some of God's deeds.  It is by no means a small thing in the kingdom of God that His people should learn of His deeds on behalf of mankind!   


 679 A.D.: Oswald of Northumbria 

  Oswald of Northumbria is not so well known of a name today, but in 7th century Britain he was ruler of nearly all of the island!  He came as close as anyone had up until his time of becoming Overlord, or Braetwalda as they then said, of all the kings of the Island of Britain, the Scots and Picts among those.  Some sources I've read from said that only two or three kingdoms on the island were not under his direct or at least marginal sovereignty. A number ot those kingdoms allied quite willingly with him both because of the strategic advantages they saw in it, but also because he was thought to be a righteous and just king.   

  He had a good start in life politically; he was the son of Ethelfrieth, a king over Northumbria, which was to the East side of the Isle beneath the Sottish and Pictish northernmost end.  Northumbria was composed of two previous smaller kingdoms: Bernicia and Deira.  Oswald was the 2nd of 7 brothers born to Ethelfrith of Bernicia, his father, and Acha of Deira, his mother.  Ethelfrith was in his own turn the grand son of a previous great name:  King Ida, who had first formed and founded the Kingdom of Northumbria. 

  Being a king back then was tough uncertain business.  Wars abounded and few kingdoms had the good fortune to exist in a stable environment, and few remained for long in a firmly established state.  Kingdoms were overturned or changing hands constantly, sometimes through attacks from without, sometimes by revolts or power struggles from within.  

  Oswald's father Ethelfrith became emblematic of this.  He warred with Raedwald of East Anglia (another 'English' kingdom) at the River Idle, and Ethelfrith lost.....and was killed.  The boys - Oswald and his brothers - were hurried to the north west of the island where they were given protection by allies, the Del Riad clan of the Irish, who had settled what is now called Scotland and gained the name Scots there.  (Previously, Ireland had been called Scotia, but when the most powerful Irish clan, these Del Riads, moved there surrounding nations had begun to refer to Northern England as the Kingdom of the Scots.  And it stuck.  Ireland began to be referred to by other names, like Aerie, which essentially stuck.  Aerie-land.) 

  Oswald was about 12 years old when he lost his father and they began to live among the Scots.  They were sent to the Christian monastary on the Isle of Iona, off the Scottish coast, which had been founded by St. Columba (who was himself originally from today's Ireland.)  The boys received their Christian education there, and in time Oswald believed deeply in Jesus.  He had true faith.  The brothers grew up and out of their early years there among those brave and holy monks who were working to introduce Christianity to the disparate peoples of Northern Britain, especially to the fierce Scotts and Picts.  

  Oswald's uncle Edwin (mother's side) had mustered the forces of Northumbria after the death of Oswald's father, and ruled....but for only a short while.  King Cadwallon of Cadfn and King Penda of Mercia fought together against Edwin's forces and had killed Oswald's uncle Edwin.  Northumbria then broke into its formative parts, Deira and Bernicia, for a time. 

  One of Oswald's brothers, Eanfrith, went to rule Bernicia as its king, but in 634 A.D. King Cadwallon again marched to make war, and killed Eanfrith at the Battle of Hatfield Chase.  As for the kingdom of Deira, a cousin of Oswald's family was reigning there. 

  So these powerful Britains (Welsh) and Penda's Mercian kingdom had strengthened their hold on divided Northumbria, and it was fast reverting to paganism.  It next fell to Oswald to attempt to reclaim their former rule; he had reached manhood and at about 30 years old it was time for him to attempt to regain what had been lost.  The people in Bernicia and Deira, struggling beneath the yoke of the Mercians and the the Brythonic Welsh who were both 'foreigners' to them, were well disposed to a return to rule by Oswald's family because they knew his family, and he was of their blood.  His mother had been of the Deiran royal line, and his father a Bernician.  Oswald prepared to stake his claim as ruler.        

 A physical description of him has survived:  "He had arms of great length and power, his eyes were bright blue, his hair was yellow, his face long and his beard thin, and his small lips wearing a kindly smile." 

  While it was still 634 A.D. Oswald made his move.  He gathered to him those allies that he could and traveled to fight, yet when he encountered his mustered enemies, their armies were found to be much larger. 

  While facing the prospect of battling a formidably more powerful foe, Oswald received a dream that seemed to be from the great Scottish saint Columba, dead for 35 years, and acting upon that saint's encouragement - in the dream - to stand firm and be a man because he would be upheld, Oswald had his men erect a large Christian cross upon a prominent spot.  He then encouraged his men to pray to the Holy Father and Christ for victory.  The spot there after became known as Heavenfield, because it was the first place in that region that such a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven had been erected.

  They battle was enjoined, and by its end Oswald's forces had acheived such a great victory that the Britons and Anglicans he battled were only able to muster defensive forces for quite a great time afterwards.  Oswald was now king of his father's reunited kingdom of Northumbria, but with an even better hand to play.  His enemies were temporarily beaten back into survival mode.

  Once established as king, Oswald turned his thoughts to the service of Jesus very early, and felt thankfully certain that his ability to reclaim their lost land was a gift from the Almighty, granted for the sake of the Son.  He sent North to get a priest from among the Scotts who could re-Christianize his land.  

  The first priest that they sent did not mesh well with the largely pagan population of Oswald's new kingdom, and that priest eventually found it best to return.  But the second one, named Aiden, was humble and loving and well spoken....which made him much more well received, and as the gospel was preached the land began to turn again and more fully to Christ.  The Episcopal See of Lindisfarne was established, and Oswald was keen to assist in erecting Christian churches throughout his realm.  In fact, though he was the king, Oswald, who had gained a good command of the Irish Gaelic tongue, often helped the Irish missionaries that worked for Aiden by translating their speech into the local tongue as they struggled to gain fluency in the local English as it then was spoken.  He apparently enjoyed the work. 

  He was seen as a righteous and Christian king, and for about 8 years he reigned.  His power and influence spread throughout the isle of Britain, and Christianity made inroads into many areas of the island because of this.  Oswald was a force for God. 

  As for his nature as a man, Oswald was a king well known for his generosity and prayerfulness.  Once, when with his priest (more like a bishop) eating on a Christian holiday, a messenger came in to the king to tell them that some of the poor were gathered outside seeking food and alms from the king.  The king immediately handed the servant the bowls of royal food that they had been enjoying, and instructed him also to cut the royal silver serving platter to peices and hand those out as well.  The pleased priest, his dinner companion, grabbed his arm and said "May the Lord bless this arm and hand!"  

  All things end.  The powerful pagan king named Penda, of Mercia, ruled a kingdom which lay in the middle of Oswald's alliance of kingdoms, and their realms were often clashing.  Penda's military recovered strength after his earlier losses.   

  (Penda was one of the many rulers of Germanic origin within this British isle that claimed to be a directly descended ancestor of Woden, but if true, the Woden that they descended from could not have been too terribly old.  There remains a record of Penda's supposed line of descent:  Penda, Pybba, Cryda, Cynewald, Cnebba, Icel, Eomer, Angeltheow, Offa, Wermund, Wihtlaeg, and Woden.  That is only 12 generations in total, so if each generation was 40 years, that only reached back to about the 200 A.D. time frame.  So either the particular Woden referred to was born after Jesus arose, or the geneology was invented, or some of the earliest people on that list had extremely long lives.  Yet, it is recorded in the Saxon Chrionicle of the 6th century, and elsewhere, that it was a sign of legitimacy with these early Saxon and Anglo and Mercian kings to be able to prove their lineage back to Woden, which as we know, was also the name of the chief supposed God of the Germanic and Scandinavian pagan pantheon.  And I have read that when the Aes from above the black sea migrated to Scandinavia and became today's Scandinavians it was at around the time of Christ, and they had a Woden who led them.  It may have been him.)      

  But as to the friction between Oswald and Penda, it eventually led to war, and during the 'Battle of Masserfield' in 642 A.D. King Oswald was killed by the forces of Penda, and his Northumbrian army retreated.  This also began a long lasting Mercian dominance over the Saxons. 

  Oswald's body fell into the hands of his enemy Penda, who cut it up and placed the various parts prominently on stakes, and God's first very widely powerful Christian king of this storied isle that would become Great Britain was no more.  The remains stayed skewered on those stakes for about a year before being reclaimed by his people.  But even early on, there were powerful works associated with his remains. 

  It was witnessed that one of Oswalds severed arm parts was grabbed by a raven and carried off for a ways, but it was dropped onto a tree, and fell to the ground there.  Where it landed, the local people observed that a spring began to flow, and kept flowing.  So the spot became well known.  As time passed, they noticed that the tree seemed to endure beyond the normal life span of such trees. 

  About a year after the defeat Oswald's younger brother was able to retrieve the bones (through raiding or negotiation I do not know) and they were lovingly washed clean with water.  When thrown out, the wash water became the site of several notable miracles for years afterwards.

  But, the greatest surprise and sign of Oswald's holiness came about 37 years later, in 679 A.D., when Oswald's niece, Osthryth (sometimes Ostryth),  decided to move the bones of King Oswald, her famous and well remembered saintly uncle, to the monestary at Bardney Abbey in Lindsey where she believed they would be safer from the the hands of raiding enemies.  (And this woman would eventually meet her own earthly end at the hand of such raiders!)


The ruins of Bardney Abbey as they appear in our day.


  Surprisingly, the monks there refused to open their monastery's gates to the wagon carrying the famous king's bones and remains.  They noted that their kingdom was one that Oswald had occupied by force those 40 some years ago, and that they didn't know if it was appropriate to honor his remains in their monastary given that fact.  For the night, at least, the bones of King Oswald sat outside the walls of the monestary in the wagon as the matter was debated and considered. 

  But, during the night, a most surprising and awe inspiring miracle occurred:  it was observed sometime during the night that a strong beam of bright light bridged from the heavens down to the wagon holding Oswald's bones, and that the beam remained in place, illuminating the wagon and its venerable contents through much of the night. 

  In the morning, the monks were of no mind to ignore this heavenly manifestation, and they not only allowed Ostryth's request, but in penitance they formally asked of her that they be allowed the honor of hosting Oswald's remains.  And to make their repentance clear to all, they removed the formerly closed doors of the Monaestery walls...those same doors which they now felt they had wrongly shut against her uncle's remains.  

  They now saw clearly that these were the bones of a quite favored Earthly king.  They there after left those monastery doors removed and, in time, in various parts of that region, when you forgot to close a door a saying came to popular usage:  people might say "Close the door!  Were you born in Bardney?"  That appears to be the origin of the American saying that pertains to the same tresspass; we commonly say "Close the door!  Were you born in a barn?" if you leave the house door hanging open when it shouldn't be.  The 'barn' idea could makes sense to a certain extent also, but I have read that people unexplainedly began saying 'barn' instead of 'Bardney' somewhere down the line, probably because they incorrectly overheard someone else use the phrase. 

  King Oswald had brought much of Britain around from Woden worship to knowledge of Jesus, the only Savior of mankind, and that probably added many souls to Heaven's book of life.  And perhaps God decided to honor him a little in return, as these events suggest.  After all, though God is no respecter of persons, such a manifestation of heavenly favor could only strengthen men's belief in Jesus, whom Oswald had so constantly held up to the people of his kingdom as the real and actual Son of God, and only path to Heaven.    

  So to recap this, those monks left those particular doors of their Monastery off the hinges permanently, such that there came to be a common addage associated with it, an addage used throughout various areas of Britain.  It must have taken a pretty notable event to warrant such a display of penitance by the monks, and I think that speaks to the likelihood that this miracle truly occurred.  

  The spot where part of the king's arm had been dropped by the raven was treated as a holy place for a long while, and miracles are noted and recorded to have occurred there.  That speaks to the likely truth of this account. 

  The King's regathered remains are honored relics even today in the several places where they reside.  And that he was a real historical personage there is no doubt. 

  There seems, overall, to be quite a lot of proof that this event really happened - that people saw something which impressed them greatly back in that day.  That pretty well rules out the chance that this is a legend, and additionally, the well respected ancient historian named the Venerable Bede preserved the greatest details of this event in his writings.  He has been found a reliable enough historian by many, and was a man with an astoundingly good mind.

  I personally think it happened pretty much just the way that the account is preserved.  The monks refused his bones.  Then they saw what they saw, and were convinced of their error, and from then on, their attitude was "Enter in, these Holy bones!"

  God is great, and always has been!  We just are slow to believe, sometimes.  But even so, for the sake of our constantly erring souls, he has given us numerous events to marvel over.  So many that only the confirmed God rejectors can sneer at so very great of a number of historically recorded and memorialized 'Great Deeds of God'.  This website will never be able to gather more than an insignificant fraction of all those miraculous events that have occurred, yet even so we already have many dozens.  I think that even the Bible's pages may not contain so many as have been since recorded in Christian history, though the Bible is a vastly more authoritive source, being the Holy Word of God, given to men.

  But, just as Elisha produced twice as many miracles as his master Elijah, so too has the Christian Church been fruitful in miracles that are to the Glory of Christ our King, His Holy Father and ours, and the Holy Spirit which works so lovingly and powerfully to bring us into the knowledge of all truth.

  We are gratefully grafted into a very rich vine indeed.  May we show it our gratitude by serving faithfully, selflessly, and well.

  Here follows a writing from the historian of ancient England known as the Venerable Bede.  His name may sound humorous to us today, but he was very well respected, and a person of remarkable abilities.  This is a section of one of his writings which was about King Oswald, and about the miracles done with the dust from the place where his body fell in battle.  I found it at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, at   :

How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles even after his death; for, in the place where he was killed by the pagans, fighting for his country, sick men and cattle are frequently healed to this day. Whence it came to pass that many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water, brought much relief with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, a hole was made as deep as the height of a man. Nor is it surprising that the sick should be healed in the place where he died; for, whilst he lived, he never ceased to provide for the poor and the sick, and to bestow alms on them, and assist them.

Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the dust carried from it; but we have thought it sufficient to mention two, which we have heard from our elders.

It happened, not long after his death, that a man was travelling on horseback near that place, when his horse on a sudden fell sick, stood still, hung his head, and foamed at the mouth, and, at length, as his pain increased, he fell to the ground; the rider dismounted, and taking off his saddle, waited to see whether the beast would recover or die. At length, after writhing for a long time in extreme anguish, the horse happened in his struggles to come to the very place where the great king died. Immediately the pain abated, the beast ceased from his frantic kicking, and, after the manner of horses, as if resting from his weariness, he rolled from side to side, and then starting up, perfectly recovered, began to graze hungrily on the green herbage. The rider observing this, and being an intelligent man, concluded that there must be some wonderful sanctity in the place where the horse had been healed, and he marked the spot. After which he again mounted his horse, and went on to the inn where he intended to stop. On his arrival he found a girl, niece to the landlord, who had long been sick of the palsy; and when the members of the household, in his presence, lamented the girl’s grievous calamity, he gave them an account of the place where his horse had been cured. In brief, she was put into a wagon and carried to the place and laid down there. At first she slept awhile, and when she awoke, found herself healed of her infirmity. Upon which she called for water, washed her face, arranged her hair, put a kerchief on her head, and returned home on foot, in good health, with those who had brought her.


    I personally believe that realizing how many great deeds of God have actually occurred through out history will lead some people to be saved giving their life to Christ.  If you agree, then please, take the time to be a 'missionary', to love your neighbor enough to care about their soul.  Please mention and recommend visiting the Deeds of God website on any social media sites that you belong to.  Tell a favorite account to your friends or family, and tell them where you read it.  To know God is to stand in awe of Him, but too few people know Him today.  Accounts like these are yet another way to come to know Jesus and the Holy Father, and the Spirit of Truth that helps us understand.  Thank you.  Dan Curry



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Good account, right!!  The Lord's power is sometimes great to those with deep faith!






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