St. Hilda of Whitby (614-680), whose Feast Day is November 18 in the Episcopal Church (November 17 in others) was the Abbess of the famed Whitby Abbey, originally known as the monastery Streonshalh, location of the Synod of Whitby in 684. Hilda’s contributions go deeper than hosting the Synod, though. Hilda was born to nobility, the daughter of Hereic, nephew to King Edwin of Northumbria. Hilda, along with Edwin and other members of his court, were baptized on Easter Day 627 by the bishop Paulinus, who accompanied Augustine on the Gregorian Mission to England.
When Hilda was about thirty three years old, she had answered the call to become a nun and had originally planned to live in a monastery in Gaul. The Bishop (later saint) Aidan of Lindisframe called her back to Northumbria and had her establish a monastery on the banks of the River Wear, becoming the first nun in Northumbria.
Hilda lived at the monastery until 657 when she established the monastery at what is now known as Whitby. The strict monastic rule was followed there and soon the monastery became known throughout the land. Kings, princes and ordinary folk came to Hilda for “her advice in their difficulties,” according to Bede. A monastery for men was also established at Whitby and five monks from that monastery became bishops.
The Synod of Whitby, which was held in 684, is significant for the decision of King Oswy, who convened the synod, to adopt, among other things, the Roman method for calculating the day of Easter, and to bring Northumbrian Christianity more in line with Roman traditions.
Hilda lived until the year 680. For some months before her death she was stricken with a fever, and Bede writes that when she died, a sister of the monastery saw her soul being taken to heaven in the company of angels. Her reputation for prudence, faith and devotion to the monastic way of life survives to this day.
The Collect for the Feast of St. Hilda (BCP, 1979):
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to the leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen.