Wednesday, June 5, 2019

St. Oda, Son of a Viking

From A Clerk of Oxford:
Today is the feast of St Oda, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died on 2 June 958. Oda has perhaps the most exciting family background of any Anglo-Saxon churchman (possibly of any archbishop of Canterbury ever): Oda's father was a Danish Viking, who came to England in c.865 as part of the so-called 'Great Heathen Army' led by Ivar the Boneless and Ubbe, the men whom medieval legend called the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. This Viking army raided and conquered large parts of England in a series of devastating campaigns, until eventually making peace and settling down in the north and east of England, in the area which later became known as the Danelaw. Oda's father seems to have settled in East Anglia.

Now, the name 'Great Heathen Army' may have alerted you to the fact that these Vikings were not Christians - but Oda became a Christian (his hagiographers say he did this in childhood, in the face of his father's fierce opposition, supposedly), entered the church, became a royal adviser, and in 941 was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. A meteoric rise for the son of a pagan Viking! As Archbishop of Canterbury, Oda seems to have made a special effort to support the church in his native East Anglia, perhaps to repair some of the damage his ancestors had done there. Other members of his family also became prominent churchmen, most notably his nephew, the great monastic reformer St Oswald of Worcester.

Although we have various contemporary sources for Oda's career, the first stand-alone Life of Oda wasn't written until after the Norman Conquest; it was composed at Canterbury shortly before 1100 by the monk and historian Eadmer, as part of his effort to rescue various Anglo-Saxon archbishops from obscurity. He based his Life largely on the work of Byrhtferth, writing a century earlier at Ramsey Abbey, which had been founded by Oda's nephew St Oswald. Here's a very nice-looking manuscript of Eadmer's Life (BL Harley 624, f.121), produced at Canterbury during the author's lifetime...(Read more.)

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