Oswald was born at the beginning of the 7th century. He was the youngest son of the pagan Ethelfrid, first king of a united Northumbria. After his father’s death in battle, the young Oswald fled to Iona for safety and there he was baptised and became a Christian. In 633 Oswald returned to Northumbria to regain his father’s kingdom.
It was said that he set up a wooden cross as his standard and dedicated himself and his people to God’s protection before engaging in battle with the occupying Welsh king, Cadwallon, not far from Hexham.
The Battle of Heavenfield AD635
Heavenfield is in the Northumbrian countryside just north of Hexham and on the Roman Wall. Today at the spot where the two forces met there is a wooden cross commemorating the ancient battle.
A church dedicated to St. Oswald has been built on the site where King Oswald erected his cross.
Before the battle Oswald ordered his men to make up a wooden cross. He held the cross upright in a hole while his soldiers heaped soil around it. Then they all knelt down and prayed for God to help them defeat Cadwalllon. It is said that St. Columba appeared to Oswald and told him to be strong and to be of good courage.
Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon and at once invited monks from Iona to begin the work of evangelisation of his kingdom which extended from the Forth to the Humber.
Sadly the reign of Oswald lasted only eight years. On 5 August 642 he was killed in battle by Penda, king of the Mercians at Maserfield, now Oswestry, in Shropshire.