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Saint Cedd of Lastingham


St. Cedd was the eldest of four holy brothers, born into a noble Northumbrian family at the beginning of the 7th century. With his siblings, Cynebil, Caelin &  Chad, he entered the school at Lindisfarne Priory at a young age and learnt the ways of the Irish monks under Bishop Aidan. They were eventually sent to Ireland for further study and all four subsequently became priests.

In 653 AD, King Penda of Mercia expanded his influence to control Middle Anglia where his son, Peada, was appointed King. After his appointment the young king visited his neighbour, King Oswiu of Northumbria whose kingdom was already influenced by Christianity.  Peada agreed to be baptised in return for the hand of Oswiu’s daughter, Alchflaed. Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne welcomed the King into the Christian faith and Oswiu provided him with four priests to instruct his people further, one of whom was St. Cedd.

Within a year Cedd returned home, having helped to convert much of Middle Anglia to Christianity. He went to Lindisfarne to confer with Bishop Finan, who promptly sent this young missionary out to evangelise to the people of Essex.  King Oswiu, having imposed himself there, had persuaded King Sigeberht Sanctus to adopt Christianity in a general move against Penda of Mercia. Cedd turned south again to spread the word of God amongst the East Saxons and baptised many.  He built several churches and is noted for the foundation of monasteries at Ythanchester  and East Tilbury.

The following year, Cedd made a brief visit to Northumbria once more and Bishop Finan had no hesitation in ordaining him as Bishop of Essex. Cedd pursued the work he had previously begun with more authority. He re-instated St. Paul’s in London as the main seat of his diocese and ordained priests and deacons to assist him in his work.  He gathered a large flock of servants of Christ in his two monastic foundations

Bishop Cedd always remained fond of his homeland.  On an occasion in 658AD, Cedd was approached by King Aethelwald of Deira, who, finding Cedd to be a good and wise man, pressed him to accept a land at Lastingham in Yorkshire.  Here, he built a Royal monastery and prospective mausoleum. Cedd would not lay the foundation stones until the place had first been cleansed through prayer and fasting. Cedd was the first Abbot of Lastingham and remained so while still administering in Essex.  Christianity had not quite been universally accepted here and by 660 AD, there was considerable discontent with the rule of King Sigeberht of Essex who was murdered by his brothers. One brother took the throne as a pagan King. St. Cedd was forced to flee north into East Anglia, where he settled at the Court of King Aethelwald at Rendlesham in Suffolk. The East Anglians appear to have held some sort of dominance over Essex at this time and, within about two years, Aethelwald had persuaded Swithelm that it would be in his interest to become Christian. Cedd baptised him at Rendlesham, with Aethelwald as his godfather, and the two returned to Essex.

It was around this time that a great divide was forming in the Northumbrian Church. All the missionaries of the north had been brought up in Iona or Lindisfarne, and followed the Celtic ritual. Wilfrid, ordained by a French bishop, introduced Roman ways. The split even extended to the Royal household where, each year, Oswiu celebrated the Celtic Easter feast and his Queen, the Roman. To settle this difference, the King convened a religious synod at Whitby in AD 664. St. Cedd attended the synod with his brother, Chad, as interpreter.  After much debate, it was decided that the Roman usages should be adopted and Cedd, along with many others, reluctantly renounced the customs of Lindisfarne and returned to his diocese to spread the new Roman ways amongst the people of Essex.

The same year, Cedd visited his Abbey at Lastingham while a great plague was, unfortunately, raging through the area.  He and his brother, Cynebil, fell sick and, after placing Lastingham in the charge of their youngest brother, Chad, they died. Cedd was first buried in the open air and, eventually, a little stone church was built at the Lastingham, in honour the Virgin Mary.  Cedd’s body was interred there but his bones were moved to the cathedral founded by his brother Chad, at Lichfield.  His feast day is 7th January