Feast day: January 7
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 & (St.) Chad, he entered the school at Lindisfarne Priory at an early 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 AD 653, the mighty armies of King Penda of Mercia expanded their monarch’s influence to the control of Middle Anglia (Leicestershire and parts of Lincoln and Derby), where his son Peada was appointed King. Soon afterward, the young king visited his neighbour, King Oswiu of Northumbria, at Walton (or Atwell or Wattbottle) and, as his new kingdom had already been considerably influenced by East Anglian Christianity, Peada agreed to be baptised in return for the hand of Oswiu’s daughter, Alchflaed. Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne therefore welcomed the King and a number of his nobles into the Christian faith and Oswiu provided him with four priests to instruct his people further. One of these was St. Cedd.
Within a year, Cedd returned home, having helped to convert much of Middle Anglia to Christianity. He travelled to Lindisfarne to confer with Bishop Finan, who promptly sent this impress young missionary out once more to evangelise the people of Essex, who were sorely in need of some spiritual guidance. King Oswiu, having imposed his overlordship there, had persuaded King Sigeberht Sanctus to adopt Christianity, in a general mobilization against Penda of Mercia. Cedd thus turned south again to spread the word of God amongst the East Saxons. He baptised many of the locals and built several churches – possibly Prittlewell and West Mersea amongst them – and is particularly noted for the foundation of monasteries at Ythanchester (Bradwell-on-Sea) and Tilaburg (East Tilbury).
The following year, Cedd made a brief visit to Northumbria once more, where Bishop Finan had no hesitation in ordaining him as Bishop of Essex. Back in his southern province, Cedd pursued the work he had previously begun with more ample authority. He re-instated St. Paul’s in London as the main seat of his diocese. He ordained priests and deacons to assist him in his work and gathered together a large flock of servants of Christ in his two monastic foundations.
Bishop Cedd always remained fond of his homeland, however, and was wont to make regular visits there. On one such occasion in AD 658, Cedd was approached by King Aethelwald of Deira who had been instructed in Christianity and administered the Sacraments by the Bishop’s brother, Caelin. Finding Cedd to be a good and wise man, he pressed upon him to accept a parcel of land at Laestingaeu (Lastingham in Yorkshire) on which to build a Royal monastery and prospective mausoleum. Cedd eventually agreed, but would not lay the foundation stones until the place had first been cleansed through prayer and fasting. This, he undertook himself throughout lent, until his brother, Cynebil, took over, when the Bishop was called to the Royal Court. Cedd was the first Abbot of Lastingham and remained so while still administering to his flock in Essex.
Christianity had not quite been universally accepted in Cedd’s southern province and, by AD 660, there was considerable discontent with the rule of King Sigeberht of Essex. He was murdered by his brothers, Swithelm and Swithfrith, and the former 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 (Suffolk). The East Anglians appear to have held some sort of overlordship in 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, owing to the influence of St. Wilfrid who had been established at Ripon by King Alchfrith of Deira, 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, and prevent a rupture, the King convened a religious synod at Whitby in AD 664. St. Cedd attended the synod – probably with his brother, Chad – to act as interpreter and to speak on behalf of his fellow Celtic ecclesiastics, Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne and Abbess Hilda of Whitby. On the opposing side were Abbot Wilfrid of Ripon, former Bishop Agilbert of Wessex, Romanus, the Queen’s chaplain, and James the Deacon who had remained in Swaledale after St. Paulinus had fled Yorkshire. 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. Both 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 his funeral was attended by some thirty monks from Bradwell who, sadly, also contracted the plague and died. Eventually, a little stone church was built at the Lastingham, in honour the Virgin Mary, and Cedd’s body was interred there, to the right of the altar. The latter remains intact in the Norman crypt that was later built on the site, though St. Cedd’s bones were removed around the same time to the cathedral founded by his brother, Chad, at Lichfield.