St. Hilda of Whitby: Text, Icon, Medal and Mold

by Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

Our only literary source for Saint Hilda of Whitby (614-680) is A History of the English Church and People (public library) by the Venerable Bede, the only English Doctor of the Church.  Chapter twenty-three of the fourth book of his history is entitled "The life and death of Abbess Hilda."

Hilda shared her wisdom broadly, both geographically and in terms of levels of society.  Bede explains that Hilda was known for the wisdom she offered to those in high positions as well as to the lowly:

So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk, but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it.  Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works, to such effect that many were found fitted for Holy Orders and the service of God's altar.

Hilda guided the men and women of her own double monastery and those from far away:

Christ's servant Abbess Hilda, whom all her acquaintances called Mother because of her wonderful devotion and grace, was not only an example of holy life to members of her own community; for she also brought about the amendment and salvation of many living at a distance, who heard the inspiring story of her industry and goodness.

Cademon, the first English poet, was also encouraged by Hilda to use his God-given gift of verse and song:

The abbess was delighted that God had given such grace to the man, and advised him to abandon secular life and adopt the monastic state.  And when she had admitted him to the Community as a brother, she ordered him to be instructed in the events of sacred history.  So Caedmon stored up in his memory all that he learned, and like one of the clean animals chewing the cud, turned it into such melodious verse that his delightful renderings turned his instructors into auditors.

After my perpetual monastic profession, I received an icon, a small diptych, of Saint Hilda, written through the hand of Joanne Clay, an oblate of Queen of Angels Monastery and a student of the Iconographic Arts Institute.  She used Bede's history to understand how Saint Hilda embodied a life in Christ.  In the icon, Hilda's staff indicates she served as the leader of her monastery:


Two small Benedictine crosses are included in the opposite panel:


Several years later, Claudia Coose, an instructor for the Institute, taught the intermediate and advanced iconography students how to make molds from small medals, such as my medal of Saint Hilda:



With the mold, Claudia cast a tiny icon of Saint Hilda: