The Celtic Pilgrimage – Northumberland / North Yorkshire

This the last of this series of Celtic Pilgrimage reflections and we end at a pivotal time in the life of the Christian church from the 7th century. The Synod of Whitby 664AD was called by King Oswiu, hosted by Hilda, Abbess at the double monastery at Whitby. Men and women lived separately within the monastery but worshipped together in monastery church.

Christianity had been slowly spreading through Northumberland and Yorkshire throughout the 620s. Missionaries from Rome and from the Celtic tradition were shaping religious beliefs throughout the kingdom of King Oswiu. However, different practices had developed between these two branches of Christianity and not surprisingly these differences caused conflict and confusion.

There was the matter of the style of the Monks Tonsure. The tonsure was part of monk’s identity.

I include the cartoon which speaks volumes for me. I view it through 21 century eyes but it is a reminder that what seemed be of vital importance at one point in history loses its importance across the ages.

Another major difference, was between the two ways the date of Easter was calculated. I do not intend to go into detail other than to say the two different methods of calculation meant that Easter had two dates which could be up to four weeks apart. It is recorded that on one year, King Oswiu was happily celebrating Easter Sunday while his wife was still keeping her Lenten fast and observing Palm Sunday. Something did need to be done.

It is important to recognize that the Celtic, mainly Irish, and Roman missionaries did have much in common – there was much more that united them than divided them. By the time of the synod, the southern Irish had already adopted the Roman calculation of Easter, and the monks at Iona themselves would change by the early 8th century. The decision of the Synod of Whitby regarding calculating the date of Easter endures to this day.

The matter was settled when King Oswui asked the question of Synod “who is the gatekeeper of heaven?” Both Bishop Wilfred who supported the Roman stand point and Bishop Colman supported the Celtic position both agreed that it was St Peter. Bishop Wilfred also claimed the authority of St Peter while Bishop Colman claimed the authority of St John. King Oswui accepted St Wilfred’s stand. Bishop Colman left Lindisfarne following the Synod and returned to Iona.

This Synod was an important step in the settling British Christianity around the authority and rule of Rome.

What the last stop on our Celtic Pilgrimage highlights, is the serious differences people had to wrestle with. What we do require today is the spirit, the simplicity that was the hallmark of the early Celtic Christians. We need to embrace, as they did, the beauty and Divine presence of creation and a concern for it. Then live as followers of Jesus.

Type in English Heritage Synod of Whitby into your Browser, for some additional information and photographs. There is also an English Heritage podcast.

Pause and Pray

We, rightly, are concerned about the world we live in. Celtic Christians due of the beauty and the Divine presence in creation. We need to embrace that spirit.

+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Opening Prayer
Creator God, you made the goodness of the land,
the riches of the sea and the rhythm of the seasons;
as we thank you for the harvest, may we cherish and
respect this planet and its peoples,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Word of the Lord

Psalm 100
O be joyful in the Lord, all the earth; •
serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Know that the Lord is God; •
it is he that has made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; •
give thanks to him and bless his name.
For the Lord is gracious; his steadfast love is everlasting, •
and his faithfulness endures from generation to generation.


New Testament Reading

Philippians (4.4-9)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


Thank you, Lord, for this day, the privilege of travelling a little further in your company.

Speak through my words Lord. May they bring wisdom, healing, comfort, encouragement and humility. May they speak out for justice, freedom, truthfulness and equality. May they be your words, Lord.

Bless us with strength when faith is wounded by the world around us.
Bless us with patience when our prayers are seemingly unanswered.
Bless us with peace when daily schedules start to overwhelm us.
Bless us with joy in quiet moments and simple pleasures

Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd, loving and embracing the vulnerable and weak, looking for the fallen, searching for the lost, be with all who work with those whose lives have been devastated by loss, whether by natural disaster or human fault. Grant them courage, strength and protection, these loving shepherds, who willingly choose to place their own lives at risk in often dangerous situations that others might now live.

Bless those whose faith, even when tested by pain, loss or sorrow, still shines through the darkness of their lives as a witness to you, and speaks so clearly of your love for them. Bless them, for their witness to your grace and mercy, and hold them gently in the comfort of your arms.

Let us draw into our circle of prayer our:
Family and Friends
Local church and its leaders
wider community
widening our circle to include:
those in government and positions of authority
those who are oppressed, those who are hungry and homeless
those who are ill, those facing death
Merciful Father, accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

The Lords Prayer

May the blessing of love be ours
May the blessing of joy be ours
May the blessing of peace be ours
May the blessing of patience be ours
May the blessing of kindness be ours
May the blessing of generosity be ours
May the blessing of faithfulness be ours

May the blessing of gentleness be ours
May the blessing of self-control be ours
That we might become a blessing to others
through your Holy Spirit flowing freely from our hearts

+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You may wish the finish this time of reflective prayer sitting silently and enjoying a peaceful moment or two. You may also think about listening to some music that has touched you or a favourite hymn or song. Enjoy these moments! God bless!

Derek Akker
(Derek is a retired Anglican Parish Priest and a member of the congregations of All Saints & St James)
Harvest Collect Year C – Liturgy © Common Worship, The Archbishops Council, 2000
The prayers by John Birch are from ‘Ripples’ and are reproduced with his permission

Parish of Kirklees Valley, Bury, (All Saints, Elton & St James, Woolfold)
In the Diocese of Manchester
CCLI Licence Number 1243418 Church Copyright and Streaming Licence

Whitby Monastry, Photo by Cajeo Zhang on Unsplash

St Luke’s Gospel Introduction
Lindisfarne Gospels As we pause and pray let us hold close to us the profound yet Public domain the simplicity of the Celtic way.