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Synod of Whitby, 663/4

The turning point in the ecclesiastical history of England, the Synod of Whitby, convoked in September/October, 663/64, settled the dispute about calculating the date of Easter that had divided the Christians of northern England, whom the Celts had evangelized, from the Christians of southern England, whom the Romans had evangelized. The issue had become especially pressing to King Oswiu of Northumbria, who followed the Celtic rule while his wife, Queen Eanfleda, followed the Roman.

Citing the authority of St. John the Evangelist, St. Colmán and St. Cedd presented the case for the Celtic practice. Appealing to the authority of St. Peter and of the Council of Nicea, St. Wilfrid and St. Agilbert presented the case for the Roman usage. When Colman assented to the truth of Wilfrid's statements about Peter, Oswui decided to follow St. Peter, the keeper of the keys. Although some Christians kept Celtic customs after Whitby, the first Anglo-Saxon council, ended, Roman practice soon dominated the English church.

A secondary issue discussed at Whitby ws the proper tonsure. No written record of the outcome of this debate exists, but since the Celtic ear-to-ear tonsure soon disappeared, most infer the triumph of the Roman bowl-like tonsure.

Karen Rae Keck


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