Born of good parentage in Northumbria. When serving in King Oswiu's court, he attracted the notice of the queen, Eanfled who, fostering his inclination for a religious life, placed him under the care of an old noble, Cudda, now a monk at Lindisfarne. Later on Eanfled enabled him to visit Rome in the company of Benedict Biscop. At Lyons Wilfrid's pleasing features and quick intelligence made Annemund, the archbishop, desire to adopt him and marry him to his niece. Resisting his offers, the youth went on to Rome, received the papal benediction, and then, in accordance with his promise, returned to Lyons, where he stayed for three years, till the murder of his patron, whose fate the executioners would not let him share. On his return home, Oswiu's son Alchfrith gave him a monastery at Ripon, and, before long, Agilbert, bishop of the Gewissae, or West Saxons, ordained him priest.
He was probably already regarded as the leading exponent of the Roman discipline in England when his speech at the council of Whitby determined the overthrow of the Celtic party (664). About a year later he was consecrated to the see of York, not, however, in Northumbria, since he refused consecration at the hands of the Celtic Church, but at Compiègne, Agilbert being now bishop of Paris. On his return journey he narrowly escaped the pagan wreckers of Sussex, and only reached his own country to find Ceadda (St Chad) installed in his see.
The rest of his life is largely a record of wandering and misfortune. For three years (665 - 668) he ruled his monastery at Ripon in peace, though acting as bishop in Mercia and Kent during vacancies in sees there. On the arrival of Theodore in 669, newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, he was restored to his see, and there spent nine years of ceaseless activity, especially in building churches.
In 677, Archbishop Theodore divided Wilfrid's diocese. Wilfrid appealed and went to Rome in 679. Pope Agatho held a synod (October, 679) where he ordered his restoration. Wilfrid must have been in Austrasia at this time, because according to his biographer Eddius Stephanus, Wilfrid left Austrasia after the death of Dagobert II, in mortal danger from the supporters of Duke Ebrion.
King Ecgfrith refused to obey the demand to restore Wilfrid and imprisoned him. After which he took refuge in Sussex. Wilfrid died in Mercia.