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03/18/2004 Archived Entry: "Lilla Cross"

YorkMinster&LillaCross (13k image)


When Aethelric, king of Bernicia, one of the two Northumbrian kingdoms, conquered Deira, the second Northumbrian kingdom, Edwin, son of King Aelle of Deira, fled into exile. However, when Aethelric's son, Ethelfrith, was killed in 616, Edwin returned and was installed on the Northumbrian throne. Edwin, though not a Christian, married a Christian princess, Ethelburga, of Kent. He promised he would do nothing against her faith and when Ethelburga came north to begin her new life, a priest called Paulinus accompanied her. He tried to convert Edwin, but his efforts failed: Edwin prayed to his own gods while allowing Ethelburga to worship in the Christian fashion. Encouraged by Paulinus, (later canonised as St Paulinus), she prayed that Edwin would be converted, but it was an incident in 616 on Fylingdales moor, close to the site of the Ballistic Missile Warning Station, that changed his mind.

An assassin was sent by the king of the West Saxons to murder Edwin; he was to do so with a poisoned sword. Edwin's chief, minister, a Christian called Lilla, was with the King at the time and as the blow was struck, Lilla leapt between his King and the sword, and died instead of his sovereign.

Edwin was so impressed by the selfless devotion of his minister that he buried Lilla along, with some gold and silver artefacts, at the place which now bears his name, Lilla Howe. It also supports a famous stone memorial cross called Lilla Cross.* One of our oldest Christian relics, it stands literally within the shadows of the 20th century Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station - a remarkable contrast between the ancient and the modern.

That incident led to the foundation of one of Europe's most impressive churches. Edwin allowed his baby daughter and eleven members of his household to be baptized into the Church at Easter 616 and a year later adopted the same faith. He was baptized by Paulinus at York, on the eve of Easter 617. A small wooden church was used for the occasion, but Edwin decided to replace it with a fine stone one. It was the first of several on that site, the current one being York Minster. (From Portrait of the North York Moors by Peter N . Walker, pub. Robt.Hale 1985)

*A plaque on Lilla Cross now records that it was moved from its original site to Sil Howe near Goathland in 1952 when the area was starting to be used for military training. However, in 1962 the cross was returned to Lilla Howe at the instigation of Graham Leach, Engineer and Surveyor with Whitby Rural District Council, with a little help from 508 Field Squadron.

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