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Review by Bryony Taylor of ‘Hilda of Whitby – A Spirituality For Now’


I have known Bryony Taylor online for three years and am proud to call her my friend. (How online relationships can develop into a friendship is an interesting phenomenon, and one I have found to be 1237607_263938527117624_1016119992_ntrue). She tweets as @vahva and is a fellow digidisciple. I have also met her at CNMAC conferences, where she has lectured on a variety of topics. She is studying at Cranmer Hall and is to be ordained deacon this Petertide. Her home page says she is ‘on a journey sharing my passion for love, life, faith’ which neatly encapsulates some of the things we have in common and which, if you do not already know her, I hope you will come to share too.

Here is her review of this book by Ray Simpson, which she has kindly shared with us. Thank-you Bryony!


I have been fascinated by Hilda of Whitby for some years now and so when this new book was published I ordered it immediately. What we know of Hilda is rather like the equivalent of the ruined Abbey of Whitby (we have a few foundations from Bede but not much else) – we have to use our imagination to fill in the gaps. Here, Ray Simpson, therefore, attempts to create an ‘artist’s impression’ of the figure of Hilda.


I enjoyed the overview of the historical context into which Hilda was born, the tour through the different places in which she lived and the characters who influenced her faith such as Paulinus and Aidan. I was often irritated, however, by some rather audacious inferences taken from the text of Bede, such as “his description of her as a ‘woman of energy’ was perhaps a hint that she loved the boundless and natural forces of God”(p.46). The constant assumptions and ‘what ifs’ did spoil my enjoyment of what is otherwise a fascinating book and made it feel a less scholarly work.


Interspersed in the text are some biblical reflections and meditations which would lend themselves well to a small group reading the book together. I would have preferred to see these as a separate section at the back of the book – I found they interrupted the flow of the story somewhat.


There is reference to the different spirituality encouraged by the Irish saints from Lindisfarne in comparison with the faith brought by evangelists such as Paulinus from Rome – there is no doubt which the author prefers! I was interested to read about the Christian communities founded by Hilda which were unusually for the time for both men and women – there perhaps could have been more connections made between this and new monasticism. There is a fun chapter at the end that looks at connections between the fascination with vampires in Whitby and Hilda’s battle with evil (Hilda’s name means ‘struggle’ or ‘battle’).


The focus of this book is not to provide a historically accurate depiction of Hilda but rather to inspire the reader to explore the spirituality suggested by Hilda’s life. I suspect I would have enjoyed the book more if I had realised this from the outset.


Overall, the figure of Hilda truly does shine like a jewel through the pages of this book – she really was a remarkable woman, an English saint we can all look to and whose ability to hold together people of very differing opinions makes her very much a saint for today.


Published by BRF: 21 Mar 2014
Hilda of Whitby – a spirituality for now, priced £7.99, ISBN 978 1 84101 728 0, pb, 160 pages. Download a free sample chapter.
Hilda was born into a pagan, Anglo-Saxon family in the province of Deira (land to the north of the Humber) in 614, and her early life was to witness much of the brutality and darkness for which that period has become most famous. Her own father was poisoned in the continuing battle for power between ruling claimants. Her first encounter with Christianity happens after her uncle Edwin wins power, encountering a vision of Christ which leads to the family’s baptism. But victory is short term and Hilda is forced into exile in the Christian kingdom of the East Angles, holding on to her new-found faith while others cast it aside. Hilda returns north after power passes to the Christian ruler Oswald, who now sets out to reconvert the people of the area, inviting Aidan of Ireland to lead the work. Hilda had only known Christianity with Roman roots. She now comes into direct contact with Celtic Christianity for the first time and discovers a stark difference in terms of lifestyle, approaches to mission, models of church and the requirements of soul friends to assist personal faith development. She was planning to become a nun and depart overseas but Aidan convinces Hilda to stay and sets her on the path of her life’s work of pioneering monasteries and establishing learning for men and women. The Celtic church has no qualms over women leadership, unlike the Roman church. Having set the scene, Ray goes on to unfold the story of Hilda’s work at Hartlepool and Whitby, drawing out key lessons for our own age from her life, work and legacy, and through questions for reflection, encourages personal application. Just before Hilda’s birth, Hilda’s mother had a vision of light cast across Britain from a necklace – a vision that St Bede, writing in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed 731AD), regarded as being fulfilled through Hilda. This light Ray Simpson now projects into our own age. Published to coincide with the 1400th anniversary of the birth of Hilda.

rayAbout the Author

Ray Simpson is a founder of the international new monastic movement known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda and is principal tutor of its Celtic Christian Studies programmes. He has written some thirty books on spirituality and lives on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where many Christian leaders come to the Community’s Retreat House and Library and for consultation. He tweets a daily prayer @whitehouseviews and writes a weekly blog on

Ray is ordained an Anglican priest and as a church planter has been recognised as a Methodist and as a United Reformed minister, as a minister to Baptists, as a Quaker adherent and he was commissioned by a Catholic Diocese to ‘build one family of Christians’.

He says this about the book:

The author unfolds the story of Hilda’s work at Hartlepool and Whitby and each of nine chapters explores nine facets of Hilda’s life and how her spirituality can transform us:
1. Spirituality in a hard place – How God can use visions and dreams to speak to anyone who seeks to do what is right.
2. Spirituality of exile – the unfamiliar need not be feared but can be embraced as an opportunity to learn from new faces and so to broaden and deepen life.
3. A spirituality of human warmth –she meets Aidan’s gentle Irish approach and inspires people through relationship.
4. Wholeness – training apprentices and nurturing vocations by helping people re-connect with God in the soil and the streets, the scriptures and the Spirit, the soul friends and the silence.
5. Unity in diversity – seeking unity from a position of love even at stage-managed church synod.
6. Awakening the song in every heart (Caedmon) – releasing the divine creativity within each of us.
7. Struggle, praise and holy dying –visualising sufferings as birth pains, bringing Christ to birth as a seed that is buried gives birth to new shoots.
8. Wisdom and the role of women – the importance to community of spiritual mothering.
9. Fruits, vampires and victory…. vampire fans discover a divine blood transfusion pouring out of Hilda’s legacy.
An appendix outlines pilgrimage routes associated with Saint Hilda. A Kindle edition is available on



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