From Ælfric's 'Life of King Oswald'
Return to contents page
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.
Æfter þan þe Augustinus to Engla lande becom, wæs
sum æþele cyning, Oswold gehaten, on Norþhymbra lande,
gelyfed swyþe on God.
(2) Se ferde on his iugoþe fram
his freondum and magum to Scotlande on sæ, and þær
sona wearþ gefullod, and his geferan samod þe mid him siþedon.
(3) Betwux þam wearþ ofslagen
Eadwine his eam, Norþhymbra cynincg, on Crist gelyfed, fram Brytta
cyninge, Cedwalla geciged, and twegen his æftergengan binnan twam
gearum; and se Cedwalla sloh and to sceame tucode þa Norþhymbran
leode æfter heora hlafordes fylle oþ þæt Oswold
se eadiga his yfelnysse adwæscte.
(4) Oswold him
com to, and him cenlice
wiþ feaht mid lytlum werode, ac his geleafa hine getrymde, and
Crist him gefylste to his feonda slege.
(5) Oswold þa arærde ane
rode sona Gode to wurþmynte, ær þan þe he to
þam gewinne come, and clypode to his geferum:
(6) "Uton feallan to þære
rode, and þone Ælmihtigan biddan þæt he us ahredde
wiþ þone modigan feond þe us afyllan wile.
(7) God sylf wat geare þæt
we winnaþ rihtlice wiþ þysne reþan cyning to
ahreddenne ure leode."
(8) Hi feollon þa ealle mid
Oswolde cyninge on gebedum; and syþþan on ærne mergen
eodon to þa gefeohte, and gewunnon þær sige, swa swa
se Eallwealdend him uþe for Oswoldes geleafan; and aledon heora
fynd, þone modigan Cedwallan mid his micclan werode, þe
wende þæt him ne mihte nan werod wiþstandan.
(9) Seo ylce rod siþþan
þe Oswold þær arærde on wurþmynte þær
stod, and wurdon fela gehælde untrumra manna and eac swilce nytena þurh þa ylcan rode, swa swa us rehte Beda.
(10) Sum man feoll on ise, þæt
his earm tobærst, and læg þa on bedde gebrocod forþearle,
oþ þæt man him fette of þære foresædan
rode sumne dæl þæs meoses þe heo mid beweaxen
wæs, and se adliga sona on slæpe wearþ gehæled
on þære ylcan nihte þurh Oswoldes geearnungum.
(11) Seo stow is gehaten "Heofonfeld"
on Englisc, wiþ þone langan weall þe þa Romaniscan
worhtan, þær þær Oswold oferwann þone
(12) And þær wearþ
siþþan aræred swiþe mære cyrce Gode to
wurþmynte, þe wunaþ a on ecnysse.