Celts to the Creche: Heiu of Tadcaster

Celts to the Creche: Day 24

Abbess Heiu of Tadcaster

7th century

On our 24th day of our journey with the Celts to the Creche, we meet Abbess Heiu that might be a new saint to some of us. Heiu was a 7th-century  abbess who  was the founder of abbeys at Hartlepool and likely  at Healaugh in North Yorkshire in England.  She is the  first known abbess of a double monastery (men and women in the same monastery) in England and the first woman in Northumbria to receive the nun’s habit. She is sometimes mixed up with Bega of St. Bees in Cumbria and Begu the nun at Hackness, but it is most likely that they are three different women.

Nothing is known of Heiu’s early life. We do not know if she was from Ireland or had been raised in England. We learn of her from Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, iv.23.

Abbess of Hartlepool. Bede records that Aidan (see Day 1 of Celts to the Creche ) of Lindisfarne appointed Heiu as Abbess of Hartlepool (originally called Heretu) Abbey about 640.  Double monasteries were of the Irish tradition, so likely this monastery had that heritage. In all probability when the double monastery was founded, the peninsula of Hartlepool was uninhabited and covered with thick forest, but here as elsewhere the presence of a monastery would cause a settlement to be made. The location on a promontory overlooking a bay would be advantageous not only for trade, but also for fishing.

Hereteu means “Stags island,” but it also could have been named after Heiu. The name Hartlepool means “Stags by the sea.”

St. Hilda's Church, Hartlepool. Built over the original abbey founded by Hieu. Hilda became the second Abbess. I was there in 2007 and 2014.

St. Hilda’s Church, Hartlepool.Built over the original abbey founded by Hieu. Hilda became the second Abbess. I was there in 2007 and 2014.

Bede says that Heiu retired and that Hilda (see day 2 of Celts to the Creche) was then appointed by Aidan as the second Abbess of Hartlepool. Heiu retired to an area 10 miles southwest of York called Calcaria in Latin and Bede also relays the information  that the English call it Kaelcacaestir. Calcaria means lime, so there must have been limestone mining there.  This is likely the town of Tadcaster.

Abbess of Healaugh. Some believe that Heiu was also the founding abbess of a monastery or hermitage three miles northeast of Tadcaster, at Healaugh.  The name likely originally was Heiusleg, meaning “Heiu’s territory.” As often happened, during the Norman times, a priory was built at Healaugh, likely over the original 7th c. abbey.

Heiu probably died at Healaugh on March 12th in the later 7th century.

St. John the Baptist Church at Helaugh. Likely built over or near Hieu's monastery/hermitage.

St. John the Baptist Church at Healaugh. Possibly built over or near Hieu’s monastery/hermitage. photo from Stephen G. Hipperson, 2014. www.ecclesiarum.wordpress.com


Healaugh Priory. Maybe built over the original monastery/hermitage. from geograph.org.uk

Healaugh Priory established in 1218 as an Augustinian priory or hermitage. It may have been built over the original monastery/hermitage. photo from geograph.org.uk



Feast Day  March 12

“In Tadcaster’s Monastery, O Abbess Hieu, thou didst shine with the virtues of asceticism and humility. Pray that we also may follow the example of thy great teacher, the Hierarch Aidan, and live lives of spiritual struggle that our souls may be saved.” – troparion of Saint Hieu (from Saints online)

Sometimes like Heiu we are moved to places that we did not desire much less ask for. In those times we trust that the Spirit is watching out for our best and needs us to serve in another place. Or perhaps the Spirit is letting us know that our body, mind, and soul must  take a rest that often we are just too busy and too harried to even notice that we needed. We may know why on this side of the thin veil why we were moved or sidelined for awhile, until we crossover and have a clear and unfiltered view of our life.

Some Resources:

British History Online. Hartlepool.

British History Online. The Priory at Healaugh Park.

Eckenstein, Lena. Women Under Monasticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

English Heritage. Healaugh Priory. 

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c. 600-900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Ford, David Nash. Hieu in Early British Kingdoms.

“Hartlepool” by John Blair in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. ed. by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2001.

Monks of Ramsgate. “Hieu.”Book of Saints,” 1921.

Parbury, Kathleen. Women of Grace. Boston: Oriel Press, 1985.

 Per Einar Odden. Heiu of Hartlepool.  (in Norwegian).

About pastorpilgrim

Pastor Pilgrim is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor. I am married with two grown sons, a soon-to-be daughter-in-love and two Maine Coons. My interests include illuminated manuscripts, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints, pilgrimage, Franciscan and Celtic spirituality, Shakers, Anglo-Saxon and Merovingian abbesses and their double monasteries, comfy cute shoes, Native American spirituality, and genealogy. I am a "Dancing Monk" with the online Abbey of the Arts (known as the Disorder of Dancing Monks!). Join me as we pilgrimage with the Celtic/Anglo-Saxon saints in my 40 Day Celtic Advent Devotional entitled, "Celts to the Creche" at www.saintsbridge.org.
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