St. Ewald the Fair and St. Ewald the Dark (+695)
of Northumbria, Missionary Priests and Martyrs in Germany.
Martyrs in Old Saxony about 695. They were two priests and natives of
Northumbria, England. Both bore the same name, but were distinguished as
Ewald the Black and Ewald the Fair, from the difference in the colour of
their hair and complexions.
According to the example of many at that time, they spent several years
as students in the schools of Ireland. Ewald the Black was the more
learned of the two, but both were equally renowned for holiness of life.
They were apparently acquainted with St. Willibrord, the Apostle of
Friesland, and were animated with his zeal for the conversion of the
Germans. Indeed, by some they have been actually numbered among the
eleven companions of that saint, but it is more probable they did not
set out from England till after St. Willibrord's departure. They entered
upon their mission about 690. The scene of their labours was the country
of the ancient Saxons, now part of Westphalia.
At first the Ewalds took up their abode in the house of the steward of a
certain Saxon earl or ealdormen (satrapa). The Venerable Bede remarks
that "the old Saxons have no king, but they are governed by several
ealdormen [satrapas] who during war cast lots for leadership, but who in
time of peace are equal in power" (Hist. Eccl., V, 10). The steward
entertained his two guests for several days, and promised to conduct
them to the chieftain, as they affirmed they had a message of
considerable importance to deliver to him.
Meanwhile, the Ewalds omitted nothing of their religious exercises. They
prayed often, recited the canonical hours, and they carried with them
all that was necessary for the Holy Sacrifice. The pagan Saxons,
understanding from these things that they had Christian priests and
missionaries in their midst, began to suspect that their aim was to
convert their over-lord, and thus destroy their temples and their
religion. Inflamed with jealousy and anger, they resolved that the
Ewalds should die. Ewald the Fair they quickly despatched with the
sword, but Ewald the Black they subjected to torture, because he was the
spokesman and showed greater boldness. He was torn limb from limb, after
which the two bodies were cast into the Rhine. This is understood to
have happened on 3 October at a place called Aplerbeck, where a chapel
When the ealdorman heard of what had been done he was exceedingly angry,
and took vengeance by ordering the murderers to be put to death and
their village to be destroyed by fire. Meanwhile the martyred bodies
were miraculously carried against the stream up the Rhine, for the space
of forty miles, to the place in which the companions of the Ewalds were
residing. As they floated along, a heavenly light, like a column of
fire, was seen to shine above them. Even the murderers are said to have
witnessed the miraculous brightness. Moreover, one of the martyrs
appeared in vision to the monk Tilmon (a companion of the Ewalds), and
told him where the bodies would be found: "that the spot would be there
where he should see a pillar of light reaching from earth to heaven".
Tilmon arose and found the bodies, and interred them with the honours
due to martyrs. From that time onwards, the memory of the Ewalds was
annually celebrated in those parts. A spring of water is said to have
gushed forth in the place of the martyrdom.
Pepin, Duke of Austrasia, having heard of the wonders that had occurred,
caused the bodies to be translated to Cologne, where they were solemnly
enshrined in the collegiate church of St. Cunibert. The heads of the
martyrs were bestowed on Frederick, Bishop of Munster, by Archbishop
Anno of Cologne, at the opening of the shrine in 1074. These relics were
probably destroyed by the impious Anabaptists in 1534.
The two Ewalds are honoured as patron saints of Westphalia.
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Page last updated: 8 October 2008
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