Signs Of The Apocalypse

History also records another major event in England in A.D. 664: an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which seems to have come soon after the eclipse. Not only that, but there were other matters of concern. Frequent auroras had been observed, reflecting strong solar activity, also making sense of reports that the sky seemed like fire during the eclipse: extreme solar prominences would fit in with this picture. To people like Oswy, recently converted to Christianity and told by missionaries and the Bible what to expect as signs of the Last Days, it must have seemed that the Apocalypse was at hand, God displaying his anger and demanding that they should change their ways. Let us imagine how Oswy might have reacted.

What could have brought God's wrath down upon them? Oswy would have made hasty inquiries and found that the pitch darkness of the total eclipse occurred only within a band occupied by his own monastic establishments following the Celtic Church. At the southern limit to the path of totality was the ancient monastery of York. Along with Christian centers to the south, York had long since converted to the Roman Church. To Oswy, the message was clear: God was telling him that the Celtic Church was the wrong sect to follow.

The apparent sequence of terrifying eclipse, auroras, pestilence, and then the synod seems too unlikely to have occurred by chance. That is, in the atmosphere of dread following the eclipse, it appears that Oswy hurriedly called the Synod of Whitby in an effort to assuage the vengeance of God. Oswy must have thought that his own establishment of several new monasteries under the "false doctrine" of the Celtic Church had provoked divine anger. Under such circumstances the outcome of the synod would have been preordained, and the accounts of the proceedings largely a charade to provide a covering story.

Why was the synod held at Whitby, a brand-new abbey, rather than one of the older, established monasteries like Lindisfarne? Because Whitby was right at the center of the path of totality, perhaps singled out in Oswy's mind as a place indicated by God. Oswy's discomfort in this respect would have been heightened by the fact that his daughter had been installed at Whitby as a novice under the tutelage of the Abbess Hilda.

The role of the eclipse in this connection, the fact that it must have predated the synod, and its involvement in provoking Oswy's transfer of allegiance, are confirmed by a letter to King Oswy from Pope Vitalian in 665, in which the Pontiff wrote: ". . . we know how you have been converted to the true and Apostolic Faith by the shielding right hand of God." The conversion in question was not from heathenism to Christianity, but from the Celtic Church to that of Rome. The "shielding right hand of God" here is the Moon, which had obscured the Sun in a swathe passing across Oswy's new monasteries. The story is complete; but there is a fly in the ointment.

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