Celts to the Creche: Heiu of Tadcaster

Celts to the Crèche

Day 24

December 8

Abbess Heiu (Hieu)

of Tadcaster

7th century

On our 24th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet Abbess Heiu (also spelled Hieu) 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 also 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. chapter 23.

You may desire to continue reading more about Heiu or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

First Abbess of Hartlepool. Bede records that Aidan (see Day 1 of Celts to the Crèche ), Bishop of Lindisfarne appointed Heiu as Abbess of Hartlepool (originally called Heretu) Abbey about 640. Double monasteries were of the Irish/Celtic 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 developed. 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 Heiu. Hilda became the second Abbess. I was there in 2007 and 2014.

Bede says that Heiu, “fixed her dwelling” which could mean she retired or started a new smaller monastery. Hilda (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) was then appointed as the second Abbess of Hartlepool by Aidan of Lindisfarne. Heiu retired to an area ten miles southwest of York called Calcaria by the Romans  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 may have originally been Heiusleg, meaning “Heiu’s territory.” As often happened, during the Norman times, a priory was built at Healaugh, likely over Heiu’s original 7th c. abbey.

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

Recent Archaeology.  In August, 2018, it was reported that an archaeological excavation was done prior to building new homes at Manor Park, Hart Village near the Hartlepool church.  Between 50 and 100 skeletons of adults and infants were discovered that date between 700-800 AD, likely of Christian origin.

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 Heiu’s monastery/hermitage. photo from Stephen G. Hipperson, 2014. https://ecclesiarum.wordpress.com/yorkshire/healaugh-st-john-the-baptist/


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



Feast Day  March 12

Sometimes like Heiu we are moved to places that we did not ask for, much less desire. 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 not 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.

Prayer: O God, help us to sense Your presence surrounding us during times of change, some planned and often unplanned. Send your Spirit as Good Shepherd to guide, comfort, and help us to make wise decisions in the midst of sometimes scary new destinations. Amen.

“In Tadcaster’s Monastery, O Abbess Hieu (Heiu), 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  St. Hieu from Saints online)


© Brenda G. Warren and http://www.saintsbridge.org, 2018-2029. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenda G. Warren and http://www.saintsbridge.org (Celts to the Creche) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Some Resources:

Bede, The Venerable. Hieu.  (under: Book 4, chapter 23)

British History Online. Hartlepool.

British History Online. The Priory at Healaugh Park.

Daniels, R. ‘The Development of Medieval Hartlepool: Excavations at Church Close, 1984-1985.”Archaeological Journal, 147:1; p. 337-410.  

Dig Ventures. Hartlepool and the Northeast. Namestones.

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.

Hartlepool Mail. Secrets of Ancient Burial Ground Uncovered on New Housing Site. July 18, 2018.

Hartlepool Mail. Workmen Uncover Hartlepool Anglo-Saxon Site While Rebuilding a Wall. January 28, 2017.

Lapidge, Michael and Helmut Gnuess. Learning and Literature in Anglo-Saxon England: Studies Presented to Peter Clemoes on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, August, 1985. 

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

The Parish Church of St. Hilda of Whitby, Teeside. A Virtual Tour.

Tees Archaeology. An Anglo-Saxon Monastery at Hartlepool.

___________. Anglo-Saxon Teeside, Archaeological Booklet. No.1

Teeside Live. Scores of skeletons found on site where new houses are to be built. August 8, 2018.

Time Team. Hartlepool. Season 7, Episode 12. Youtube, first aired March 19, 2000.

Webber, Chris. Burial Evidence at Hartlepool Archaeology Dig  in The Northern Echo, July 30, 2013.

About Brenda

Rev. Warren is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) retired Pastor, that still does some preaching. I am married to a wonderful guy with two grown awesome sons; an equally awesome daughter-in-love; adorable grandchildren; and a very large, much-adored Maine Coon cat. I love reading, writing, travel, mountains, and beachcombing. As a former public and theological Library Director, I love doing research that has helped me in composing this Advent devotional, “Celts to the Creche” at www.saintsbridge.org. My research has been enriched by libraries, way too many books and journals purchased, and numerous pilgrimages to the places where these saints lived and worked and had their being. I cannot even begin to express what a great gift it has been to meet like-minded friends along the path who have generously and kindly shared their scholarship, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints. I often wonder if the saints have in some way been instrumental in introducing me to their friends on both sides of the thin veil.
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