Wilfrid was one of the most influential – and at times controversial – figures in the early English church.
Born into an aristocratic Northumbrian family in 634, Wilfrid joined the monastery of Lindisfarne as a teenager, before making the first of his three trips to Rome. On his way back to England, he spent three years with the Bishop of Lyons, where he became steeped in the ways of the continental church.
Upon his return to Northumbria in 658, he was given the recently founded monastery of Ripon to be its Abbot.
He immediately set about building a new stone church on the site where the present Cathedral still stands. He also introduced the Benedictine Rule for his monks and promoted the most up-to-date Roman customs, including the singing of plainchant.
In 664 he represented the Roman party at the Synod of Whitby. This was the council convened to decide between the Roman and the Celtic methods of calculating the date of Easter. As a result of Wilfrid’s advocacy, the Roman party prevailed and in recognition of his role at the Synod, Wilfrid was appointed Bishop of York.
Wilfrid insisted on being consecrated in France, but by the time he returned to Northumbria, he found that St Chad had been installed in his place. Wilfrid withdrew to his monastery at Ripon until 669 when Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury restored him to his bishopric.
A few years later in 678, however, Theodore decided to divide the huge northern diocese into three. This was strongly resisted by Wilfrid, who left for Rome to appeal to the Pope. Although successful, further disputes with the king of Northumbria, as well as his ongoing quarrel with Archbishop Theodore, meant that Wilfrid spent much of his episcopacy in exile.
During these periods he served as a bishop at Lichfield in the kingdom of Mercia, undertook missionary work in Holland and the south of England, and founded numerous churches all over the country.
In 704 Wilfrid made his third and final trip to Rome in order to petition the Pope, and was once again vindicated. After his return to England it was agreed at the Synod of Nidd that he should retain the monasteries of Ripon and Hexham.
A few years later in 709 or 710, Wilfrid died at Oundle. His monks immediately brought his body back to his favourite monastery of Ripon, where he was buried. As a result, Ripon became an important shrine and pilgrimage destination during the Middle Ages.
Ripon Cathedral is open to visitors every day from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm. Entrance is FREE.
The ‘Ripon Jewel’ is a Saxon ornament that was found close to the Cathedral in 1976. It is a small gold roundel, 29mm (just over an inch) in diameter. The back is a plain gold sheet, but settings for gems have been fashioned on the front with strips of gold. The four square cells have been filled with amber, and the smaller triangular cells with garnets. The central setting and inner arcs of inlay are missing.
A new hand-painted Paschal Candle is lit every year on Easter Eve; the five pins represent the five wounds of Christ.