It was founded at Gilling in what is currently Yorkshire by Queen Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu of Northumbria, who persuaded her husband to found it at the site where Oswiu had killed a rival and kinsman, King Oswine of Deira. Oswine died around 651 or 652. Eanflæd forced her husband to found the monastery in order to atone for Oswine's death, since Eanflæd was Oswine's second cousin. Under the laws of the time, the only way Eanflæd could take revenge for her cousin's death was to kill her husband or accept a substantial gift known as a weregild. The abbey was built on that weregild. Eanflæd also requested that the first abbot be a kinsman of Oswine. By founding the monastery shortly after Oswine's death, Oswiu and Eanflæd avoided the creation of a feud.
The monastery promoted Oswine as a saint, one of a number of murdered Anglo-Saxon kings that were considered saints.
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