This passage is taken from one of Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints, a sermon-cycle composed in the last decade of the tenth century. Ælfric wrote most of his works while he was a monk at Cerne Abbas, Dorset, before, in 1005, becoming abbot of Eynsham in Oxfordshire. Ælfric was a prolific writer, composing not only three cycles of homilies (two sets of Catholic Homilies, and the Lives of the Saints), but also various other works of an educational nature, including a Grammar and a Colloquy, both designed to help in the teaching of Latin. He is generally regarded as the most important and versatile prose-writer of late Anglo-Saxon England, only rivalled by his contemporary Wulfstan. A convenient text of the Homily appears in H.Sweet (rev. D.Whitelock), Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). Translations of other works by Ælfric, accompanied by an account of his life are conveniently available in M.Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Prose (London: Dent, 1975).
King Oswald was the great royal saint of the Kingdom of Northumbria; his regnal dates are 633 - 641. The Northumbrian kings had a special devotion to the cult of the Cross, demonstrated by the appearance of the cross-symbol on their coins and by their collection of relic-fragments allegedly taken from the True Cross on which Christ was crucified; Oswald’s raising of a cross at “Heavenfield” can be related to the erection of great stone crosses as hegemony symbols on the borders of the ancient Northumbrian kingdom. The most famous of these crosses is of course that at Ruthwell; see (VI) above.