Cedd: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bishop of London

Saint Cedd, Bishop
Diocese Diocese of London
Enthroned c654
Reign ended 664
Predecessor Mellitus
Successor Wine
Personal details
Born c.620
Died 26 October 664
Denomination Catholic
Feast day 26 October
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church; Anglican Communion
Title as Saint Evangelist of the Middle Angles and East Saxons
Attributes Bishop holding a model of the church at Bradwell-on-Sea
Patronage Essex; Lastingham; interpreters
Shrines Lastingham. Shrine destroyed in Danish period but corresponding to the crypt of the present parish church

Saint Cedd (c. 620 – 26 October 664) was the evangelist of the Middle Angles and East Saxons in England.



The little that is known about Saint Cedd comes to us mainly from the writing of Saint Bede in his Ecclesiastical History Of The English People. The following account is based entirely on Book 3 of Bede's History.

Cedd was born in the kingdom of Northumbria and brought up on the island of Lindisfarne by Saint Aidan. He was one of four brothers: Chad (originally Ceadda), Cynibil and Caelin being his siblings.[1] The first datable reference to Cedd by Bede makes clear that he was a priest by the year 653.[2] This probably pushes his birth date back to the early 620s. It is likely that Cedd was oldest of the brothers and was acknowledged the head of the family. While he was alive, he seems to have taken the lead, while Chad was his chosen successor.

Aidan had come to Northumbria from Iona, bringing with him a set of practices that are known as the Celtic Rite. As well as superficial differences over the Computus (calculation of the date of Easter), and the cut of the tonsure, these involved a pattern of Church organization fundamentally different from the diocesan structure that was evolving on the continent of Europe. Activity centred on monasteries, which acted as bases for peripatetic missionary bishops. There was a strong emphasis on personal asceticism, on Biblical exegesis, and on eschatology. Aidan was well-known for his personal austerity and disregard for the trappings of wealth and power, and Bede several times stresses that Cedd and Chad absorbed his example and traditions. Bede tells us that Chad and many other Northumbrians went to study with the Irish after the death of Aidan[3] (651). Cedd is not mentioned as one of these wandering scholars. He is further pictured by Bede as very close to Aidan's successor, Finan. So is highly likely that he owed his entire formation as a priest and scholar to Aidan and to Lindisfarne.

Mission to Mercia

In 653, Cedd was sent by King Oswiu with three other priests, to evangelise the Middle Angles,[4] who were one of the core ethnic groups of Mercia, based on the mid-Trent valley. Peada, son of Penda was sub-king of the Middle Angles. Peada had agreed to become a Christian in return for the hand of Oswiu's daughter, Alchflaed, in marriage. This was a time of growing Northumbrian power, as Oswiu reunited and consolidated the Northumbrian kingdom after its earlier (641/2) defeat by Penda. Peada travelled to Northumbria to negotiate his marriage and baptism.

Cedd, together with the other priests, Adda, Betti and Diuma, accompanied Peada back to Middle Anglia and won a considerable number of converts of all classes. Bede relates that the pagan Penda did not obstruct preaching even among his subjects in Mercia proper, and portrays him as generally sympathetic to Christianity at this point - a very different view from the general estimate of Penda as a devoted pagan. However, the mission apparently made little headway in the wider Mercian polity, since Bede credits Cedd's brother Chad with the effective evangelization of Mercia, more than a decade later. It seems that, to make progress among the general population, Christianity needed positive royal backing, including grants of land for monasteries, rather than merely a benign attitude.

Bishop of the East Saxons

Cedd was soon recalled from the mission to Mercia by Oswiu himself. The king then sent him to the East Saxon kingdom, accompanied by one other priest. This was at the request of King Sigeberht to re-convert his people.[5]

The East Saxon kingdom was originally converted by missionaries from Canterbury, where St. Augustine had established a Roman mission in 597. The first bishop of the Roman Rite was Mellitus, who arrived in Essex in 604, but he had been driven out after about a decade. Thereafter, the religious destiny of the kingdom was constantly in the balance, with the royal family itself divided - some Christian, some pagan, and some wanting to tolerate both.

Bede tells us that Sigeberht's decision to be baptized and to reconvert his kingdom definitively was on the initiative of Oswiu. In fact Sigeberht travelled to Northumbria to accept baptism from Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne. It seems that Cedd went to the East Saxons partly as an emissary of the Northumbrian monarchy. Certainly his prospects can only have been helped by the continuing success of Northumbria, especially the final defeat of Penda in 655.

After making some conversions, Cedd returned to Lindisfarne to report to Finan. In recognition of his success, Finan ordained him bishop, calling in two other Irish bishops to assist at the rite. Cedd was appointed bishop of the East Saxons.

Bede's record makes clear that Cedd demanded personal commitment and that he was unafraid to confront the powerful. He excommunicated a thegn who was in an unlawful marriage and forbade Christians to accept the man's hospitality. According to Bede, when Sigeberht himself continued to visit the man's home, Cedd descended on their revels to denounce the king openly, foretelling that he would die in that very house. Bede asserts that the King's subsequent murder (660) was his penance for defying Cedd's injunction.

There are signs that Cedd's position in Essex became more tenuous after the death of Sigeberht. The new king, and murderer of Sigeberht, Swithelm, was a pagan. It seems that he had long been a client of Ethelwald, king of the East Angles, who was himself increasingly dependent on Wulfhere, Christian king of a newly resurgent Mercia. After some persuasion from Ethelwald, Swithelm accepted baptism from Cedd, although Cedd had to travel into East Anglia to baptize him at Ethelwald's home. This kept the East Saxon kingdom Christian for the time being.

Bede presents Cedd's work as decisive in the conversion of the East Saxons. This is despite earlier missionary work and a subsequent relapse into paganism. It seems that substantial work had been done but that there was still a possibility of that it could be undone.

Monastic Foundations

Cedd founded many churches. He also founded monasteries at Tilaburg (probably East Tilbury, but possibly West Tilbury) and Ithancester (almost certainly Bradwell-on-Sea).

Cedd also became abbot of the monastery of Lastingham in his native Northumbria at the request of the sub-king of Deira, Ethelwald (not to be confused with Ethelwald of the East Angles). Bede records the foundation in some detail,[1] making clear that Ethelwald was put in contact with Cedd through Caelin, Cedd's brother, who was on the king's staff. Cedd undertook a forty-day fast to purify the site, although urgent royal business took him away after thirty days and Cynibil took over the fast for him.

Cedd occupied the position of abbot of Lastingham to the end of his life, while maintaining his position as missionary bishop and diplomat, often far away from the monastery itself. His brother Chad was to do the same. Clearly Lastingham was regarded as a monastic base for the family of Cedd[6], giving them intellectual and spiritual support and a place of retreat. However, Bede makes clear that Cedd appointed others to have day-to-day care of Lastingham, and probably Chad did the same.

Final Years

Cedd had been brought up in the Celtic Rite which differed from the Roman Rite, both in the accepted form of the tonsure (i.e. the shaven patch of scalp adopted by Christian monks) and in the method of calculating the date of Easter. These differences came to a head within the Northumbrian kingdom at a meeting known as the Synod of Whitby. The proceedings of the council were hampered by the participants' mutual incomprehension of each other's languages, which probably included Gaelic, Old English, Frankish and Early Welsh, as well as Latin. Bede tells us that Cedd was a conscientious interpreter for both sides.[7] Cedd's facility with the languages, together with his status as a trusted royal emissary, must have given him a key role as a go-between in the negotiations. Moreover, this facility would be seen as an eschatological sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, reversing the disaster of Babel[8]. When the council ended, he returned to Essex. According to Bede, he accepted the Roman observance of Easter,[9] and returned to his work as bishop, abandoning the practices of the Scots - by which Bede means the Irish from the Kingdom of Dál Riata.

A short time later, he travelled back to Northumbria, this time to the monastery at Lastingham, where he fell ill with the plague and died on 26 October 664.[1][10] Bede records that a party of thirty monks travelled up from Essex to Lastingham. All but one small boy died there of the plague. Cedd was initially buried at Lastingham in an open-air grave, but his body was moved to a shrine inside the later stone church at the monastery. Chad succeeded Cedd as abbot at Lastingham.

King Swithelm died at about the same time as Cedd and was succeeded by the joint kings Sighere and Sebbi. There was a partial reversion to paganism, which Bede blames on the effects of the plague. Mercia under King Wulfhere was now the dominant force south of the Humber, so it fell to Wulfhere to take prompt action. He dispatched Bishop Jaruman to take over Cedd's work among the East Saxons. Jaruman, working (according to Bede) with great discretion, toured Essex, negotiated with local magnates, and soon restored the situation.[11]

In Modern Culture


  1. ^ a b c Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 23.  
  2. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 21.  
  3. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 27.  
  4. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 21.  
  5. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 22.  
  6. ^ Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. 1991. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-00769-4. P.253
  7. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 25.  
  8. ^ Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. 1991. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-00769-4. P.9.
  9. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 26.  
  10. ^ Powicke Handbook of British Chronology p. 238
  11. ^ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, chapter 30.  


External links

Background Reading

  • Bassett, Steven, Ed. The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. Leicester University Press, 1989. ISBN 9780718513672. Studies on state formation that provide important political background to the conversion.
  • Fletcher, Richard. The Conversion of Europe: From Paganism to Christianity 371-1386. . HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 0002552035. Places the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons in the widest possible context, and places Cedd's family incidentally but tellingly within the author's overall interpretation.
  • Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. 1991. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 9780271007694. Cedd and Chad are strongly featured in this widely-recommended narrative account of the conversion, much revised since its first publication in 1972, and giving a clear picture of the political and cultural context.
Religious titles
Preceded by
Bishop of London
Succeeded by


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address