King Oswald was a Christian king of Northumbria who died in battle in 642, and was soon recognised as a saint. He was slain by the Mercian king Penda, who cut off Oswald's head and impaled it on a stake on the battlefield as a sign of his victory. By the end of the Middle Ages 4 different religious foundations claimed possession of Saint Oswald’s head. Durham, in Oswald’s native Northumbria, had the best claim to possess the authentic relic, but communities in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland also claimed the king’s head. This talk explores the life and afterlife of a Northumbrian king, who became a cult figure not only in his native north-east of England, but also, and more surprisingly, across medieval Europe.
Dr Johanna Dale is a British Academy postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at University College London. She works at the intersection of political and cultural history in the Middle Ages, with a particular focus on medieval England and German-speaking lands. Her first book, Inauguration and Liturgical Kingship in the Long Twelfth-Century was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society’s 2020 Whitfield Prize. Her current research project investigates the influential cult of St Oswald of Northumbria and the role of liturgy within it.