Celts to the Creche: St. Winifred of Wales

Icon of St. Winifred of Wales, written by Aidan Hart

Celts to the Crèche

Day 9

November 23

St. Winifred of Wales

died about 660 AD

On this 9th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Winifred of Wales (Grenfrewi in Welsh meaning “radiant or holy Freda”). 

Her Early Life: According to legend, Winifred was the daughter of a Welsh nobleman, known as Tyfid ap Eiludd in the area of Flintshire, Wales. Her mother was Wenlo, a sister of the Welsh St. Bueno.  From early childhood she had been devout and felt called to devote her life to God. Her parents gave her permission to become a nun.

Legend of Losing Her Head: She has an unusual story! There are several versions of the legend of Winifred’s suitor. One says that Prince Caradoc was out hunting and stopped by Winefride’s home for a drink as he was thirsty. He was enraptured with her beauty and wanted to marry her. She refused his advances and he pursued her to the church where she fled. But before she could get into the church, Caradoc caught up with her and in a fit of rage chopped off her head with his sword. Immediately a well sprang forth from the earth where her severed head lay. St. Beuno, her mother’s brother who was priest of the church, picked up her head, and put it back on her body as he prayed over her. Seeing the murderer leaning on his sword with an insolent and defiant air, St. Beuno cursed Caradoc and he not only dropped dead, but the ground also opened and swallowed him.

Before St. Bueno left Holywell and returned to Caernarfon, legend says that he seated himself upon a stone, which now stands in the outer well pool, and there promised in the name of God “that whoever on that spot should ask three times for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winifred would obtain the grace they asked if it was for the good of their soul.”

Winifred as Abbess: Winifred established a convent at Holywell and was Abbess there for eight years. She then went on a pilgrimage to seek a place of rest. After several stops along the way, she ultimately entered the double monastery of men and women at Gwytherin in Wales near the source of the River Elwy. She later succeeded her mother’s aunt, St. Theonia as Abbess. Gwytherin’s current church is from the 19th c., but a Celtic grave slab inscribed with a cross is set into the chancel steps.

Gywtherin Parish Church, Clywd. Likely in the area where the double monastery was, where Winifred was Abbess

Place of Resurrection: Winifred died at Gwytherin and her relics were placed in a typically Celtic house-shaped wooden reliquary decorated with ornamental metalwork. Her relics were transferred to Shrewsbury in 1138 and the Legend of St. Winefride was written then also. The story of the Normans taking her relics to Shrewsbury Abbey has been incorporated into Ellis Peters’ first volume of her Caedfael Chronicles,  A Morbid Taste for Bones.

Her influence: Even though much of Winifred’s life was a legend, there seems to be some legitimacy to the story. It is said that Winifred had a scar around her neck her whole life and her brother Owain is said to have killed Caradoc as a revenge for a crime.

St. Winifrid’s Well, Holywell. Visited there September  2009

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages: Pilgrims come from all over the world to bathe in the waters of Holywell where many are said to find cures. At Holywell, an artesian spring gushes up with an estimated 24 tons of water welling up to the surface every minute. There is a little museum before one enters the well area that is filled with crutches that people have left behind when they exited the holy waters cured and whole.

Upon entering the waters, one is supposed to walk down three steps into the pool and walk across or be carried across the pool three times, likely part of a Celtic ritual of baptism by triple immersion.

Tents on edge of Holywell for changing into bathing suits to enter the holy waters

Holywell has been visited by numerous royalty throughout the years and is the only place in the U.K. of continuous pilgrimage since its inception over 1400 years ago. There is an official St. Winefride Pilgrimage Trail through The British Pilgrimage Trust that journeys from Shrewsbury to Holywell. 

St. Winifred’s Well house at Woolston, near Oswestry, Shropshire,  owned by the Landmark Trust. One can even stay in this Landmark Trust place, where it is thought that St. Winifred’s relics stopped along route from Gwytherin to Shrewsbury. 

 

She lost her head and I kissed her finger: When visiting Holywell in September of 2009, it was my first encounter with a relic being brought out to venerate and to kiss. The woman who is in charge of Holywell was insistent that I attend the veneration of St. Winifred’s finger. A suitcase was ceremoniously opened and a finger was brought forth to kiss. This was a first for this former Southern Baptist, now mainline Protestant, but yes, I did kiss the finger.

Meditation

Feast Day November 3

Mary C. Earle and Sylvia Maddox in their book, Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints, speak of St. Winifred’s neck scar as a sign of wounding and a sign of healing. That awesome thought brought to my mind Jesus’ poignant resurrection encounter with doubting Thomas. This disciple struggled with Jesus’ broken body coming back to life.

Thomas who shared his life 24/7 with Jesus for three years, swore he would not believe that the Lord was resurrected unless he touched the nail scarred hands and put his hand in the wound in his Rabbi’s side. Jesus walked through that locked up door into that room in Jerusalem filled with his huddled up and frightened  disciples. Jesus, who in his resurrected and glorified body was able to walk through locked up doors, still bore the wounds of crucifixion.

Sometimes, even though our soul may have found healing and new life over time, we often still bear the wounds of a painful experience in life as a reminder to not only ourselves but also as a testimony to others, that a battle was won. We were wounded, but we have been healed.

Prayer: As the Psalmist praised God, we too join in the chorus of saints, “O Lord my God, I cried out to you and you restored me to health…you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.” Thank you for mending, restoring, and for making me whole. I even thank You for the battle scars. Amen.

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© 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.

___________________

A Few Resources:

Astill, Rebecca. The shocking legend of St Winefride’s Well treasured for its ‘healing powers. Wales Online. August 3, 2021.

Basingwerk Abbey and St. Winifred’s/St. Winefride’s Well. Youtube, February 21, 2018. (St. Winifred’s Well begins at 8:00).

BBC Northwest Wales. The Truth and Legend of St. Winefride and Gwtherin.  Feb 1, 2010.

Earle, Mary C. and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2004.

Charles-Edwards, T. Saint Winefride and Her Well: The Historical Background. Printed by W.Williams & Son, Holywell, Wales, n.d.

David, Christopher. St. Winefride’s Well: a history & guide. Printed by Gomer Press, Llandysul, Ceredigion, Wales, new edition 2002.

Gregory, Donald. Country Churchyards in Wales. Gwynedd, Wales: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1991.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002.

Jones, Kathleen. Who are the Celtic Saints? Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2002.

Landmark Trusthttp://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/our-landmarks/properties/st-winifreds-well-1179

Iona. Meehan, Bridget Mary and Regina Madonna Oliver. Praying with Celtic Holy Women. Hampshire, UK: Redemptorist Publications, 2003.

The Life and Miracles of St. Wenefride, Virgin, Martyr, and Abbess. Dublin:Richard, Grace, and Sons, 1845.

Pennick, Nigel. The Celtic Saints. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1997.

Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.

___________. Celtic Saints in Their Landscape. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing, 2011.

 ___________. Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Saint Winefride’s Well. Youtube. (a good view of the church and well). May 17, 2018.

St. Winefride’s Well Shrine. http://www.stwinefrideswell.org.uk

St. Winefride’s Well: the story of a Saint.

Williams, Peter. The Sacred Wells of Wales: A Tour. No publisher info. 2001.

Woods, Richard J. The Spirituality of the Celtic Saints. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000

 

 

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St. Patrick of Ireland, guest post by Dr. Michelle P. Brown

St. Patrick and his companions stained glass by Dubin-based artist Harry Clarke, early 20th c.

Celts to the Crèche: Day 40  

Christmas Eve, December 24

ST. PATRICK OF IRELAND  

March 17, c.492

                (Guest Post by Dr. Michelle P. Brown)                     

Note: I am so honored and grateful to Dr. Michelle P. Brown for providing this St. Patrick of Ireland post that leads us on this final day of our 40 Day Advent pilgrimage into the Crèche in Bethlehem.

Dr. Michelle Brown is Professor Emerita, SAS, University of London; Visiting Professor, University College London; and Visiting Professor, Baylor University. Dr. Brown served as the former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library in London.

She is the highly respected scholar and author/editor of more than thirty books. She is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles on Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art, culture, and manuscripts. She is particularly known for her excellent and insightful research and writings on the Lindisfarne Gospels (see day 7, “Eadfrith” in Celts to the Crèche) housed in the British Library.

Dr. Brown has also done extensive work on early Biblical manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert. She is not only a brilliant  author and researcher, but also a person of devoted faith, service, and trust in God. She has served as a Lay Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and is currently a Lay Canon of Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.  

How appropriate that Dr. Brown and St. Patrick conclude our 40 Day Celtic Advent pilgrimage as they lead us into the Crèche!  

Michelle P. Brown’s Post on St. Patrick Begins 

I have always had a special devotion to St Patrick – partly because he is one of my name saints (the P. is for Patricia – I think I may have been supposed to be Michael Patrick and have helped my Irish father in his building business, but instead I build books and faith). My parents were wed on St Patrick’s Day too. Oh yes…he also became the ‘Apostle of Ireland’!

But it takes more than a reputation, however great, and a personal association, to command real love and devotion. That takes special qualities. So, what did Patrick do and what do we know of who he was?

Writings about and by Patrick: As the ‘Apostle of Ireland’, he has attracted tales of great deeds as his reputation has developed. It is thought by scholars that his hagiography incorporates material relating to other early missionaries – notably Palladius (also known as Patrick the Elder) who was sent from Rome in 431 by Pope Celestine I as bishop to those in southern Ireland who were already Christian. Opinion varies as to Patrick’s own dates, but the consensus is that his mission occurred during the second half of the fifth century.

Patrick is mentioned in the Irish annals, which record in 492/3 the death of “Patrick, the arch-apostle (or archbishop and apostle) of the Scoti”, on 17 March, at the age of 120; they seem in places to conflate or confuse him with Palladius. Amongst the lives of Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig; Welsh: Padrig; Cornish Petroc) are two early ones in the seventh century: the Collectanea by Tirechán and the Life of St Patrick by Muirchu, both based in part on a lost earlier seventh-century work by Ultan. Patriciana also feature in the Book of Armagh, which also contains the Gospels, which was written in Armagh around 807, perhaps as a ‘replacement’ for one of two books said to have been written by Patrick himself, which became important relics and for which replacements were made whenever earlier books were lost.

St. Patrick of Ireland by unknown writer

Writings attributed to the saint himself include two which scholars agree were actually by him. These are a letter / epistle to a British leader named Coroticus and his soldiers, who had been enslaving irish captives, and Patrick’s personal Confession / Declaration. The Letter to Coroticus implies that the Franks were still pagans at the time of writing and their conversion to Christianity is dated to the period 496–50. Together, these sources paint a picture of a young man brought up in a respectable Christian family (perhaps functioning as local government officials and priests) in the Roman Britain during the turbulent fifth century, when it was cut off (against the will of many of its people) from the western Roman Empire in Europe as the global super-power sank into decadent decay and fragmented. They may have been based in NW Britain, around the western end of the Roman frontier of Hadrian’s Wall (where as late as the 680s St Cuthbert was proudly shown the still-functioning Roman public fountains of Carlisle). Calpurnius, his father, was a decurion and deacon (married to his mother, Conchessa), his grandfather Potitus a priest, from Banna Venta Berniae, a location otherwise unknown, though identified in one tradition as Glannoventa, modern Ravenglass in Cumbria. Another suggested location is the Roman fort of Birdoswald, which was transformed into a post-Roman high-status settlement, later annexed by the Northumbrian Christian king Oswald.

Patrick as slave and missionary: When was about 16 Patrick is said to have been captured by piratical Irish raiders, enslaved and taken to serve as a shepherd or swineherd in NE Ireland. There he says, in the Confession, that he had time to pray and to accept Christ and after six years received a vision, in response to which he escaped and took ship 200 miles away (perhaps in Wicklow, to which he later returned). He may have gone home for a while, but went on to the Continent to Marmoutier, Tours and Auxerre where he was consecrated bishop by St Germanus. He also seems to have studied at the monastery of Lérins, off the southern coast of France, where the eastern desert father John Cassian had taught. This, coupled with the perpetuation of the ancient prehistoric trade routes which linked the Atlantic seaboard of Britain and Ireland to Iberia, N. Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, gave the early Church in post-Roman Britain and Ireland an eastern eremitic flavour, as well as the episcopal and communal monastic traditions of much of Europe, which stemmed from the time of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Rome in the 380s. Patrick received another vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish crying for his return and he duly sailed to Ireland to convert his captors and share the Gospel (Old English for ‘good news’).

St. Patrick’s Bell Shrine that housed the bell he would use to call people to hear him preach.

His mission spread from NE Ireland, with its focus upon the monastery he established at Armagh, into other parts of Ireland, which was ruled by a number of kings. He is said to have challenged one such pagan ruler, Loeguire (Leary), by lighting a Pascal fire at Slane as part of his conversion of the ancient high-kingship site of Tara, to replace those of earlier pagan springtime rituals. He was often strident in his dealings with paganism and reactionary rulers and is also credited with expelling snakes – a potent symbol of many early pagan religions, as the Genesis story of the serpent in the garden of Eden references when it makes it the symbol of evil. The serpents attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a high place. This recalls Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and also the account of the staffs of Moses and Aaron opposing Pharaoh’s sorcerers (Exodus 7:8–7:13).  Aaron’s staff turned into a serpent and prevailed and the raising of the brazen serpent in the wilderness was seen as a precursor, in Christian theology, to the raising of Christ on the Cross which defeated sin. One tale of St Patrick has his staff turn into a living tree (which would take root if the congregation took too long to react), referencing the Cross / Tree of Life. Pilgrimages take place to Station Island in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, where Patrick is said to have defeated a mighty serpent, and to this day, many pilgrims climb mighty Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, on the last Sunday in July. Some ascend in penance, going barefoot or on their knees across the sharp scree.

So, Patrick is credited with turfing out evil and reinterpreting old traditions by illuming them through the light of the new faith which he did so much to spread throughout Ireland and back into Britain. Brave deeds, and yet his own writings reveal that he suffered from friendly fire during his dangerous and demanding work. Fellow Christians in the hierarchy of the early British Church back home appear to have criticised him for not being learned enough for the role of primate of the emerging church in Ireland – with Armagh vying for primacy with St Columba’s monastic federation and St Brigid’s Kildare. Together this triumvirate are known as ‘the Saints of Ireland’. Their influence was widespread and some of their relics were early located at Glastonbury in SW Britain, where Irish missionaries were helping to strengthen the Christianity that had taken root there in Roman times.

His British clerical critics also levelled charges of simony at Patrick, accusing him of accepting gifts, especially from the royal and noble women he persuaded to convert and become nuns, although he expressly denies doing so in his Confession and may rather have been encouraging them to relinquish their wealth and lifestyle. He also seems to have urged the enslaved and the poor to enter monastic life, which speaks against any venal motives. His encouragement of female monastic vocation may have had something to do with the rise of the phenomenon of double houses of monks and nuns living in parallel, which are also encountered in early Anglo-Saxon England and areas of interaction in northern France.

Patrick’s travels around Ireland: Patrick tells us that he travelled around Ireland, baptising many thousands of people and ordaining priests. His ministry to the female relatives and sons of kings posed a threat to the status quo and may have fuelled high-level secular resistance from kings and the druids – a professional pagan priesthood. Murchiú’s Lifecontains a druidic prophecy:

Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,
his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.
He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;
all his people will answer: “so be it, so be it.”

Patrick’s preaching and poetry: Despite his detractors, Patrick’s Confession reveals a mature and empathetic Christian mind, which makes up in spirit what it may lack in literary style. His preaching style would have been clear and visual, if the tale of his explaining the concept of the indivisibility of the Trinity by likening it to the three-leaved shamrock plant is to be believed. This legend first appears in writing in an 18th-century source, but may be older. The whirling threefold spiral (triskele) featured in pre-Christian and Christian Celtic art and may have fuelled the analogy. The poetry of Celtic Britain and Ireland also sounded in his soul, if his famous Lorica (breastplate of prayer), also known as ‘the Deer’s Cry’ was actually composed by him. It is still sung in worship today, as Christian’s gird themselves with the power of the Trinity. A concern with Nature and the environment pervades it, stemming from an indigenous sense of the little place of self within the bigger picture of Creation.

Patrick’s Attributes and Patronage: In addition to being one of the three patron saints, and Apostle, of Ireland, Patrick’s patronage embraces Ireland, Nigeria, Montserrat, Archdiocese of New York,Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Boston, Rolla, Missouri, Loíza, Puerto Rico, Murcia(Spain), Clann Giolla Phádraig. He is patron saint of engineers,  paralegals, and of the Archdiocese of Melbourne; he is invoked against snakes and evil / sin.

It is claimed that among his many foundations, Patrick established a church at  Armagh, Co. Armagh, and proclaimed it to be the most holy church in Ireland. Armagh is today the primary seat of both the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland, and both cathedrals in the town are named after Patrick.

Four evangelists symbols page from the Book of Armagh, made at Armagh c. 807 (Dublin, Trinity College Library)

 Chi-Rho (abbreviated name of Christ in Greek) from the Book of Armagh c807 (Dublin, Trinity College Library)

Where Patrick is buried: Patrick is said to be buried, along with Sts Columba and Brigid, at Downpatrick, Co. Down (from Irish Dún Pádraig, meaning “Patrick’s stronghold”) in the grounds of Down Cathedral; some of their collective relics are also said to reside at Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset.

St. Patrick’s grave maker. Downpatrick, Ireland

The Deer’s Cry or St Patrick’s Lorica (Breastplate), 5thcentury,  from Early Irish Lyric Poetry, Translated by Kuno Meyer

Patrick sang this hymn when King Loeguire (Leary) pronounced that he might not evangelise Tara. It seemed to those lying in ambush that he and his monks were wild deer with a fawn.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise to day
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.

I summon to-day all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

The Rune of St Patrick

This translation of the “The Faedh Fiada” from The Book of Hymns (11th century) is by Charles Mangan.

At Tara to-day in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

 

MEDITATION

Feast Day, 17thMarch 

Patrick was eloquent on the unity of the Three in One and he recognized and rejoiced in the imminent wonder, glory and power of its Creation, Yet, as we take our final steps towards the creche we can join with Patrick, the shepherd, in the recognition that it is as the vulnerable Christ-child – God among us, at the mercy of miscreant mankind –that we encounter the ability to be reborn into reconciliation with our eternal Father / Mother. As Patrick, the free slave, chose in obedience to return to save his captors, so Christ took the form of a servant, even unto death on a cross (‘But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’Philippians 2.7-8), to effect that reconciliation and to restore the harmony of Creator and Creation. Like Patrick we can gird ourselves with the breastplate of faith in that wondrous truth and embrace lives of selfless service through love, at Christmas and always. Amen!

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© Brenda G. Warren, Dr. Michelle P. Brown, 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 or Dr. Michelle  P. Brown and http://www.saintsbridge.org (Celts to the Creche) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Bibliography

Cahill, Thomas(1995). How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Doubleday.

Charles-Edwards, T.M.(2000). Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dark, Ken(2000). Britain and the End of the Roman Empire. Stroud: Tempus.

De Paor, Liam (1993). Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Duffy, Seán, ed. (1997). Atlas of Irish History. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.

Dumville, David M. (1993). Saint Patrick, AD 493–1993. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.

Dumville, David(1994). “The Death Date of St. Patrick”. In Howlett, David. The Book of Letters of Saint Patrick the Bishop. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Flechner, Roy (2011). “Patrick’s Reasons for Leaving Britain”. In Russell, Edmonds. Tome: Studies in Medieval Celtic History and Law in Honour of Thomas Charles-Edwards. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Hood, A.B.E. (1978). St. Patrick: his Writings, and Muirchú’s Life. London and Chichester: Phillimore.

Hughes, Kathleen(1972). Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-16145-0.

Iannello, Fausto (2013), “Notes and Considerations on the Importance of St. Patrick’s Epistola ad Milites Corotici as a Source on the Origins of Celtic Christianity and Sub-Roman Britain”. Imago Temporis. Medium Aevum 7 2013: 97–137

McCaffrey, Carmel(2003). In Search of Ancient Ireland. Chicago: Ivan R Dee.

MacQuarrie, Alan (1997). The Saints of Scotland: Essays in Scottish Church History AD 450–1093. Edinburgh: John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-446-X.

Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí(1995). Early Medieval Ireland: 400–1200. London: Longman.

O’Loughlin, Thomas(1999). “Saint Patrick: The Man and his Works”. London: S.P.C.K.

O’Loughlin, Thomas (2005). “Discovering Saint Patrick”. New York: Orbis.

O’Loughlin, Thomas (2007). Nagy, J. F., ed. The Myth of Insularity and Nationality in Ireland. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 132–140.

O’Rahilly, T. F.(1942). The Two Patricks: A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-Century Ireland. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Stancliffe, Claire (2004). “Patrick (fl. 5th cent.)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Thomas, Charles(1981). Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500. London: Batsford.

Thompson, E.A. (1980). Caird, G.B.; Chadwick, Henry, eds. “St. Patrick and Coroticus”. The Journal of Theological Studies. 31: 12–27.

White, Newport J.D. (1920). St. Patrick, His Writings and Life. New York: Macmillan.

Wood, Ian (2001). The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe 400–1050. London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-31213-2.

Online Resources

Works by Saint Patrickat LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

Patrick’s Confession and Epistola online from the Royal Irish Academy

BBC: Religion & Ethics, Christianity: Saint Patrick (Incl. audio)

CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Corkincludes Patrick’s Confessioand Epistola, as well as various lives of Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick’s Confessio Hypertext Stack as published by the Royal Irish Academy Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS) freely providing digital scholarly editions of Saint Patrick’s writings as well as translations and digital facsimiles of all extant manuscript copies.

St. Patrick’s Pilgrimage. St. Patrick’s Centre.

History Hub.ie: Saint Patrick – Historical Man and Popular Myth by Elva Johnston (University College Dublin)

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Concluding thoughts on this 2022 Celtic Advent Pilgrimage. Thank you for journeying with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints throughout this Advent pilgrimage. It has been a joy to meet so many other pilgrims along the way who are also interested in these saints. It is my sincere hope and prayer that you have reacquainted  yourself with some saints you may have already known and in turn have made some new friends along the way that live on the other side of the thin, almost gossamer veil. I am touched that you have taken time each day to read Celts to the Crèche and to contemplate and pray during this Advent season. May we continue to grow in our life pilgrimage with the triune God of the Universe surrounded by the watch-care of the Angels and the cheering on by the Communion of Saints. 

May we all have a Merry Christmas and a very blessed New Year of 2021! May 2021 be better than this past year. May healing from COVID-19 come quickly. May the peace of Christ fill our world that has been in chaos in recent years, especially this past year. May the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints be with us as we continue to pilgrimage along the path of our life journey.

Again, thank you for being part of this pilgrimage. It has been an honor and a joy to pilgrimage with you. If you have pilgrimaged along with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints please drop me a quick note at revbrendagwarren@gmail.com and let me know if any one or two of the saints became a new soul friend to you.

Blessings,

Rev. Brenda G. Warren

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St. Buriana of Cornwall

St. Buriana’s Banner  in the St. Buryan Church, Cornwall. This is their newer banner. Visited this church in November 2018 and October 2019. Photo taken November 2018.

Celts to the Crèche: Day 39

December 23

St. Buriana of Cornwall

Mid-6th century

St. Buriana (Berriona, Beriana, Buryan, or Beryan) was a 6th-century Irish saint who was a missionary, healer, and anchoress in St Buryan, near Penzance and Land’s End in Cornwall in England. It is likely that she was the daughter of an Irish king  or chieftain and travelled to Cornwall from Ireland with a large group of missionaries led by St. Piran to help convert the local people to Christianity.

Bronze statue of St. Buriana in St. Buryan’s Church, Cornwall.

The Exeter Calendar of Martyrology states that St. Buriana was the daughter of a Munster chieftain. One legend tells how she cured the paralyzed son of King Geraint of Dumnonia (also known as Devon, close to Cornwall). There is a town and a church in Cornwall named for her, St. Buryan’s Church which is located on the B3283 in the West Penwith village in Cornwall. It is only 5 miles from Land’s End at the very tip of England. Cornwall in Southwest England is full of towns named after Cornish saints.

You may desire to continue reading about St. Buriana or scroll down to the Meditation below.

 

Legend of St. Buriana. There is a Cornish legend that says St. Buriana was desired for her beauty by King Geraint (Gereint) who carried her off by force to his Trevorgans stronghold. St. Piran of the area and some companions rushed to the castle to beg for her release. The king said the only way she would be released was if he would be awakened the next morning by the cuckoo calling in the snow. St. Piran and friends stood all night in prayer outside of the castle while the snow fell. In the morning the cuckoo could be heard within the castle walls. The terrified king begged for their pardon and handed over Buriana. As they left, the king hardened his heart and set out to recapture Buriana, but as he put out his hand to take her, she died. St. Pirian and friends prayed for her and she was restored to life. King Geraint was so impressed that he and his family came into the Christian faith. This is likely the same king whose son Buriana healed of paralysis.

St. Piran, an Irish Saint (perhaps known as Kieran of Saighir in Ireland) who came to Cornwall with a large contingent of evangelists likely including St. Buriana. photo from Wikipedia

Her Chapel (Oratory). St. Buriana ministered from a chapel on the site of the current parish church at St Buryan. She may have established a convent or monastery there on this round Celtic-style enclosure. A church has stood on the current site since about 930AD. There is nothing left of St. Buriana’s small 5thc. prayer oratory (chapel), but a 10thc. stone cross was erected on a monolithic granite base to mark where her chapel likely was inside this Celtic enclosure. The cross shows the crucifixion on one side and the reverse shows five hemispheres, a common symbol for the five wounds of Jesus on the cross.

Interestingly, Baring-Gould  in Virgin Saints and Martyrs purports a different idea of where St. Buriana’s oratory was.  He says that St. Buriana was known in Ireland as Bruseach the Slender before she came to Cornwall. Even though the St. Buryan Church is likely the place of St. Buriana’s oratory and King Athelstan’s church, Baring-Gould also states that St. Buriana’s oratory is about a mile southeast from the parish church that bears her name and that there are still some ruins there. The ruins are on Bosleven Farm by a rivulet. There are more extensive foundations there that Baring-Gould says may be where Athelstan set up his oratory. This place is called “Sentry” meaning “sanctuary.”  (Virgin Saints and Martyrs, p. 13-15)

10th c. Stone Cross placed upon the place where St. Burian’s 5th c. oratory/monastery/ hermitage was located in Cornwall  in the St. Buryan churchyard. Visited there in November 2018 and October 2019. Photo taken in 2018.

Original St. Athelstan Arches in St. Buryan’s Church. Photo from Orthodox Christians.

King Athelstan Builds a Church. In 930AD King Athelstan arrived in the area that would later be known as St. Buryan on his way to fight the Danes on the Isles of Scilly not far from Cornwall. Finding a Christian community there living a monastic life, he stopped to take communion and to pray at St. Buriana‘s little chapel. Athelstan vowed that if he won this battle, he would build and endow a church on the site of St. Buriana’s chapel (oratory).  Upon his triumphant return, having subdued Scilly, Athelstan endowed a church in honor of St. Buriana with a charter that established St. Buryan as one of the earliest monasteries in Cornwall.  Athelstan’s charter is confirmed by the Domesday Book of 1086 which states that the Canons of St. Berriona held Eglosberrie and it was free from the payment of geld.

St. Buryan’s Church, and graveyard. Cornwall. Photo from Martin Nicholson’s Cemetery Project.

11th C. Cross. Outside of the church gateway is a second St. Buryan Cross that may have been a market cross. This one is an  11th c. cross given to the church by Robert Edmund Tonkin who was the Lord of the Manor of St. Buryan. 

Athelstan’s Church is Enlarged and Dedicated to St. Buriana. Athelstan’s church structure was later enlarged and dedicated to St. Buriana in 1238 by Bishop William Brewer. The only part of Athelstan’s church left are the Romanesque arches on the north side of the sanctuary.

Current 15thc. Church and Village. The current beautifully cared-for and still active 15thc. church is the largest of the three churches in the Land’s End Benefice in Cornwall. It is a part of the Diocese of Truro.St Buryan is a village located within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of Cornwall’s Penwith peninsula. The village is in one of the most ancient parts of the country, and is surrounded by ancient sites including stone circles, standing stones, barrows dating back to the Neolithic period along with  holy wells, and crosses.

View from outside the enclosure of St. Buryan’s Church, Cornwall. Visited there November 2018 and October 2019. photo from wikipedia

This church boasts the heaviest peal of six bells in the world. All of the kneelers in the church have been hand-embroidered and designed by local villagers in memory of a loved one or commemorating a special event or a village way of life.  There is a both a recent machine-made banner of St. Buriana (seen at the top of this post) and an earlier 20th c. banner of her. In the banners she is cradling the church she formed in her arms.


~Many thanks to Dr. Michelle P. Brown who continues to touch and enrich my life and so many others with her gifts and graces,  introduced me to this saint and his written the final segment of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, St. Patrick of Ireland. 

Entry to St. Buryan’s Church, Cornwall. Photo taken in November 2018

Meditation

Feast Days May 1/14, June 14/17 

A Celtic Blessing to Send You on Your Way is found at the conclusion of the St. Buryan Church Illustrated Guidebook. What an appropriate blessing for the day before Christmas Eve as this pilgrimage with the Saints lead us very near to the entrance of the crèche. We are anxious to get a peek into this holy place that will be permeated with the sounds and smells of adoring animals and angels keeping watch all around. This crèche that transforms into a sanctuary where Jesus the Christ will soon be born to Mary and Joseph and also born anew in our lives.

May you lead your life in light-heartedness,

keep hopelessness far away,

May gloom not remain in you, 

but may God’s cheerfulness 

forever sing out merrily in your life.

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© 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

Baring-Gould, Sabine. A Book of Cornwall. Google Books.

_______________. Virgin Saints and Martyrs. Google Books.

Blight, John Thomas. Ancient Cross and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall. Google Books.

Blight’s Churches of West Cornwall. “St. Buryan.” 

Domesday Book Account of St. Buryan’s Church

Fish, Sarah. Female Saints of Cornwall. MA Celtic Studies Dissertation. University of Wales. Trinity St. David.  (Excellent information on the female saints of Cornwall)

Olson, Lynette. Early Monasteries in Cornwall. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1989.

Ormer, Nicholas. Cornwall and the Cross:Christianity 500-1560. London: Phillimore and University of London, 2007.

St. Buryan Church: An Illustrated Guidebook, 2018.

St. Buryan Church. West Penrith Resources.

St. Buryan ChurchYoutube video filmed by Lucas Nott. 2016. (a drive through the town)

St. Buryan, Cornwall.  Youtube video, March 2020. (a visit through the church) 

Women Saints of Cornwall. St. Buriana. OrthoChristian.com (a good resource)

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Celts to the Creche: Brendan of Birr, Muirchu, and Moneisen of Britain

Macregol carpet page of the opening of the Gospel of Matthew. Produced at Birr Monastery. https://medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/manuscript_431

Celts to the Crèche: Day 37 

December 21

St. Brendan of Birr, Muirchú of Ireland,

and 

Moneisen of Britain

On this 37th day of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we are getting very close to the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem. Today we journey with three lesser known Celtic saints of great faith and courage, St. Brendan of Birr, Muirchú and Moneisen. .

St. Brendan of Birr was the founder of Birr Monastery about 540AD  in central Ireland. He  was a friend of St. Columba (see day 4 of Celts to the Creche) and St. Brendan the Navigator (see day 20 of Celts to the Creche). All three of these saints were considered as part of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Muirchú was a 7th c. monk in Leinster that was a biographer of the great St. Patrick of Ireland.

Moneisen, was born about 400AD and was a Saxon. She was the daughter of a British king who persisted in her search for God until her parents brought her to Ireland to be baptized by St. Patrick. As soon as she met St. Patrick and was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, she immediately crossed over the threshold to the other side of the thin veil and was buried right there.

You may desire to continue reading more about Brendan of Birr, Muirchú, or Moneisen or  you can go directly to the  Meditation

Brendan of Birr, died 573 AD

St. Brendan of Birr. photo from Wikipedia

This Brendan was different than his friend, Brendan the Navigator (Brendan of Clonfert). Brendan of Birr studied with St. Finian at the famous Clonard Abbey.  Later, as the founder of the Birr Monastery, Brendan was also a friend and disciple of St. Columba. He represented him at the his trial at the Synod of Meltown in 561 AD concerning his  role in Battle of Cúl Dreimhne. Brendan’s defense of Columba resulted in his being exiled instead of excommunicated.  Brendan was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Old Birr Churchyard where the Birr Monastery established by Brendan may have been. Photo from the Birr Historical Society.

Later, an important Synod was held at Birr in 697/8 AD, in which Adomnan succeeded in promoting a law protecting women, children, and the clergy from having to go to battle. In attendance at this Synod of Birr was the famous Adomnan, Abbot of Iona who wrote the biography of St. Columba. Bishop Coeddi of Iona was also a participant in this Synod along with numerous kings. Brendan died in 573AD and it is that St. Columba in a vision saw the soul of his friend Brendan of Birr being carried by angels to heaven. He said a special Mass of requiem for Brendan on the isle of Iona.

McRegol Gospel. Matthew 1:19-20. Glossed with Old English by scribes in the 10thc. http://bodley30.bodley.ox.ac.uk:8180/luna/servlet/s/6cq24b

Brendan’s monastery later produced the McRegol Gospels These Gospels are also known as the Rushworth Gospels. McRegol, who was a  successor to St. Brendan, was a scribe, Abbot, and Bishop at Birr who died in 822 AD. According to a colophon on the final page of the gospel book, McRegol made a magnificent illuminated manuscript copy of the Four Gospels, the original of which is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. On the final page of the book there is wording: Macregol dipinxit hoc evangelium. Quicumque legerit et intellegerit istam narrationem orat pro Macreguil scriptori.’ (Macregol illuminated/colored this gospel. Whoever reads and understands the story, pray[s] for Macregol the scribe.)

The deaths of the Abbots of Birr were recorded in the Irish Annals including McRegol listed as dying in 822AD.

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Muirchú, Biographer of St. Patrick, 7th c.

Muirchú (“the Sea-Hound”) called himself Muirchú moccu Machthéni, that is, ‘Muirchú descendant of Machthéine’. He was a 7th c.monk in Leinster in eastern Ireland.  On the recommendation of Bishop Aedh of Slébte,  he recorded one of the first biographies of  the Irish St. Patrick entitled Vita sancti Patrici, ( The Life of Saint Patrick) and it became the basis for all the later Lives of Patrick.  He used Patrick’s Confessio and Epistola along with popular stories of his own time about PatrickMuirchú then dedicated this book to the Bishop Aedh of Slebte,  who not only encouraged the Life of Patrick to be written, but he was also the patron for the work. Muirchú, along with Bishop Aedh, are both recorded as having been among the ecclesiastics who attended the Synod of Birr in 697 or 698 A.D. This “Life of Patrick” by Muirchú and another “Life of Patrick” by Tírechán are both included with a variety of other texts in the Book of Armagh

Book of Armagh. Black tooled leather Book Bag with shoulder strap. This may not be the original book bag for the Book of Armagh as this bag could hold a larger book. Trinity College, Dublin.

Page from 807AD copy of the  Book of Armagh (Liber Ardmachanus) that is at Trinity College Library, Dublin. photo from Wikipedia

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Moneisen of Britain, mid 5th c.

St. Patrick of Ireland baptizing women.In Patrick’s Confession he wrote: But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most – and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.

This courageous young woman, Moneisen (Monesan), is only known to us by a chapter written about her in Muirchú’s Life of St. Patrick in the Book of Armagh. He entitled this Chapter 27: Of the Death of Moniesen, the Saxon Lady.

English translation of  Chapter 27 of Muirchú’s The Life of Patrick

Of the Death of Moniesen, the Saxon Lady

And so I shall endeavor, if the Lord will, to narrate a few [more] of the many miracles performed by Patrick, bishop and eminent teacher of all Ireland.

Once upon a time, when all Britain was numb with the chill of unbelief, there was a noble daughter of a certain king, and her name was Moneisen [Monesan]; and she was filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. When someone sought her in marriage, she did not consent; and, though bathed in tears, she could not be forced against her will to adopt what was the lower life. For she was wont — amidst blows and floods of tears — to ask her mother and her nurse to tell her who was the maker of the orb by which the whole world is lighted up; and she received an answer from which she ascertained that the maker of the sun is He whose seat is the heaven.

When she was constantly urged to join herself to a husband in the bond of matrimony, she used — illuminated by the brightest light of the Holy Spirit — to say, “I will on no account do this thing.” For she sought through nature the Maker of the whole creation; following in this respect the example of the patriarch Abraham.

Her parents, having taken advice given to them by God, heard of Patrick as a man who was visited by the everlasting God every seventh day; and they journeyed to Ireland with their daughter, looking for Patrick; and they found him after seeking for him with much toil. And he began to question them as if they were neophytes.

Then the travelers began to cry aloud and say, “We have had to come to thee, compelled on account of our daughter who is earnestly desirous to see God.” Then he, filled with the Holy Ghost, raised his voice and said to her, “Dost thou believe in God?” And she said, “I believe!” Then he washed her with the sacred laver of the Spirit and water. And almost immediately afterwards, falling on the ground, she yielded up her spirit into the hands of the angels. She was buried where she died.

Then Patrick prophesied that after twenty years her body would be reverently born from that spot to a church hard by. And this afterwards came to pass; the relics of this maiden from beyond the seas are venerated there to this very day.

MEDITATION

Feast Day of St. Brendan of Birr, November 29 (died 573AD)

Feast Day of Muirchu, June 8

St. Brendan of Birr is remembered as a Celtic saint who is considered to be the prophet of Ireland and one of the great Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Yet, most of us, like the faithful followers of Christ,  Moneisen and Muirchú will never experience sainthood, much less, be remembered by many except our family members and dearest friends. Yet, each of our lives is important.  We were conceived and born for a reason. We are God’s beloved children.

The congregations that I served celebrated the birth of their fellow members and church guests at the first of each month. We speak of what a great blessing and gift they were to their families when they were born and that the universe needed them. The whole congregation then reads a special blessing to each celebrant. Along with the blessing, each birthday celebrant receives a tealight candle resting in a seashell. The candle reminds them that they were born to be light in this darkened world. The seashell reminds them of their second birth when they were born again through baptism into new life. We too like Moneisen receive baptism, not from St. Patrick, but from a local pastor, elder, or priest. This newly baptized one, Moneisen died right at Patrick’s feet and was buried there. Her life and light still shines over the hundreds of years and so will ours.

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© 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:

Birr Historical Society. 

Bodleian Library. Luna. MacRegol or Rushworth Gospels.

The Book of Armagh. Original book is digitized and the pages may be turned. http://www.confessio.ie

The Book of Armagh. Full-text. archives.org at Cornell University.

Fouracre, Paul, ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History. Volume 1, c.500-c.700. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Heimann, Jean. St. Brendan of Birr, Abbot and “Prophet of Ireland.” Catholic Fire. November 29, 2103, updated December 12, 2016.

Medieval Sourcebook. Fordham University. Adamnan: Life of St. Columba.

“Muirchu.” Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 39.

Muirchú. Life of St. Patrick. 

The Northumbrian Gloss of the Gospels. (information on the 10th c. Anglo-Saxon gloss addition to the MacRegol/Rushworth Gospels).

Richter, Michael. Medieval Ireland:The Enduring Tradition. Dublin, Ireland: Gill & Macmillan, 2005.

Sellner, Edward C. “Monesan” in Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bogwalk Press, 2006.

Sharpe, Richard. Adomnán of Iona: Life of St Columba. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.

Undiscovered Scotland. Adomnán of Iona: Biography

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Celts to the Crèche: St. Gertrude of Nivelles

 

Studious Gertrude with mice on her Abbess’ staff. console oudegracht_321. photo from KATTENKRUID VIA WIKIMEDIA // CC BY 3.0

Celts to the Crèche: Day 38

December 22

St. Gertrude of Nivelles

About 626-March 17, 659

On this 38th day of our pilgrimage to the crèche, we meet St. Gertrude (Gertrudis) of Nivelles. She and her mother Itta established the famous double monastery (men and women under the rule of an Abbess) in modern-day Belgium named Nivelles. Her mother was the first Abbess and Gertrude became the second. 

Gertrude was instrumental in aiding the work of the Irish missionaries in that area, especially St. Fursey (see day 10 of Celts to the Crèche) and his brothers. Her monastery was said to be more Irish in it’s ways than Roman-based. Gertrude built churches and along with preaching, she cared for the orphans, captives, widows, and pilgrims. In recent years, she has become the patron saint of cats, travelers, and the mentally ill.

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

Gertrude’s Early Life. She was the daughter of Pepin of Landen, the powerful mayor of the Austrasia palace and his wife Itta (Ida) of Metz. Pepin was an ancestor of the great Carolingian dynasty through his daughter Begga who was married to Ansegisel, the younger son of Bishop Arnulf of Metz. She too became a saint. Gertrude also had a brother named Grimoald I. (The Elder)

She turns down an engagement:  Gertrude must have an inherited some strong-minded DNA. It is said that when Gertrude was about 10 years old her father Pepin invited King Dagobert I, King of Austrasia, King of all the Franks, and king of Neustria and Burgundy to a gathering at his home. A young man who was the son of the Duke of Austrasia was at the dinner and he asked the King to grant him Gertrude’s hand in marriage. When Pippin asked his daughter if she agreed to this engagement, she angrily rejected the proposal and with an oath said that she would neither have him nor any other earthly spouse, only Christ. Gertrude became the second abbess of the Nivelles Monastery in Belgium.

Shrine of St. Amandus. From “Treasures of Heaven” website. Columbia University

Mother Itta Builds a Monastery at Nivelles, Belgium. At the death of Gertrude’s father Pepin about 640 AD, her mother Itta built a monastery in the ancient Sonian Forest at Nivelles for nuns that later became a double monastery of monks and nuns in modern-day Belgium.  Gertrude’s biographer wrote that a visit by Bishop Amandus prompted this mother and daughter to go about investing in this monastic endeavor. Itta served as the first Abbess. As Itta approached her death at about age 60 in 652AD she appointed her daughter Gertrude as Abbess of Nivelles. It is even said that Itta gave a tonsure (a monk’s haircut) to her daughter Gertrude. This tonsure may have been in the Celtic form since there were numerous connections to the Irish missionaries. (see article by Susan Wade listed below in Some Resources ).

Roman tonsure on the left and Celtic tonsure on the right. Sometimes, the Celtic tonsure could also have a Roman crown toward the front of the head with a space then the long hair begins towards the back of the head

Connections to the Irish Missionaries. It was said that Nivelles was a curiously Irish monastery. Gertrude sent messengers not only to Rome, but also to Ireland to procure manuscripts for the monastic library. Gertrude and her mother had further ties with the Irish through St. Fursey (see day 10 of Celts to the Creche) who had become a missionary from Ireland to East Anglia in England. Fursey then later traveled to France where he established the famous monasteries of Lagny-on-the-Marne east of Paris; Mézerolles in the Sommes; Péronne; and likely Fontanelle. Fursey  had two brothers Foillan and Ultan who had also served with him in his monastery in East Anglia and later joined him in France.

Abbatiale Notre-Dame-des-Ardents-et-Saint-Pierre – Lagny-sur-Marne, France. Likely built upon the original Lagny abbey church of St. Fursey. Photo from Wikipedia

Because of the volatile politics in East Anglia at the time, Foillon and Ultan knew they needed to leave England, so they likely quickly escaped bringing their monastery’s treasured manuscripts and relics.

Drawing of Fursey and his brothers Foillan and Ultan. from orthodoxaustin.org

Those two Irish brothers and  their companions were well received at Péronne in France by Erchinoald, Mayor of the Palace, who with King Clovis II (see Bathilde, day 19 of Celts to the Creche) had previously befriended Fursey. But for some reason, Erchinoald turned against Foillan and his companions, expelling them from Péronne. They were invited to come to the Nivelles Monastery by Abbess Itta and her daughter  Gertrude to teach psalmnody to their nuns and monks. Foillan and Ultan also brought with them those treasures from  their East Anglia monastery to Nivelles.

While Ultan remained as a chaplain at Nivelles, Itta and perhaps also Mayor of the Palace Erchinoald provided the funding for Foillan to build a monastery at Fosses-la-Ville, not far from Nivelles, near Liege in the province of Namur.

After the death of Itta in 652, Foillan was invited back  to Nivelles by Gertrude for a visit on the eve of the feast of St. Quentin. The ceremony being finished, he and his three  companions resumed their journey into the Sonian Forest. They  fell into a trap set by bandits who inhabited the dense forest. They were slain, stripped, and their bodies concealed. It is said that Foillan’s head was still speaking prayers when it was thrown into a nearby pigsty.  Brother Ultan  learned of his brother’s death by a vision of a dove flying with blood-stained wings towards heaven. The bodies were recovered by Gertrude and she kept some relics of the Irish saint Foillan whom she and her mother were so fond. Gertrude had his body taken to his Fosses-la-Ville monastery  where he was buried about 655.

Gertrude passes on her Abbess responsibilities. Gertrude soon began to assign her abbess tasks to others so that she could  spend more time in spiritual tasks, in prayer, in reading, and in scholarly study. She began to build and to support numerous churches that she dedicated to the saints and she ministered to orphans, widows, captives, and pilgrims. Her vita (the biography of her life) says:

“she did not cease to speak in constant praying, in exhorting herself, and in preaching the word of God to her people. Rejoicing in hope, bearing up in tribulation, devoted in her heart, and calm in her appearance, she longed for her last day to be present, the day of her heavenly journey.”

Gertrude of Nivelles in an illuminated manuscript holding a book and her staff with mice at her feet. The Hague, KB, 134 C 47 (31-35 of 41) for (is Part of all “134 C 47”). National Library of the Netherlands

St. Gertrude of Nivelles. Manuscript in The Netherlands National Library.

Gertrude of Nivelles in an illuminated manuscript. Notice her bishop’s staff, book, and the mice. The Netherlands National Library.

Even though she was only 33 years old,  Gertrude became fatigued and ill from extensive caring for others. She then appointed her niece Wulftrude (the daughter of her brother Grimoald I) as Abbess in 659. Even Gertrude’s sister Begga later became the founding Abbess of the Andenne monastic foundation.

Gertrude’s death and afterlife. Gertrude asked a pilgrim (likely Ultan) from Fosses Monastery when she would die and he prophesied that she would die the very next day on March 17, 659 on Irish St. Patrick’s feast day. He also said that Patrick along with the angels would greet her and she did die. She was only 33 years old when she died.

Gertrude instructed her nuns to bury her in an old veil that a pilgrim nun had left at Nivelles along with a hair shirt. Her vita says that at her death there was a most pleasant odor, “as if a burning mixture of scents, and it perfumed that little cell where the holy body lay. And we, having gone out from there, still sensed the sweetness of that wonderful scent in our nostrils.” A later Abbess,  Elizabeth de Bierbais, opened Gertrude’s tomb on July 8, 1293. The saint was found incorrupt (with the exception of three teeth which had been removed earlier as relics), but as Elizabeth died soon after, it was rumored that her death was caused by the saint’s anger, and the reliquary was not opened again until 1848.

Statue of Gertrude and a modern 1982 stainless, bronze, and silver  shrine in the Collegiate Church of Sainte Gertrude. Nivelles. Photo from Crow Canyon Journal

After her death, it is claimed that St. Gertrude performed a number of miracles. Gertrude and her mother Itta were both buried in the Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude.

Replica of Gertrude of Nivelle’s shrine in the Pushkin Museum. The 1940 WWII bombing of the church broke the original shrine into over 300 pieces. It was later restored. photo from Wikipedia

The Nivelles Abbey Church. The Nivelles abbey church which became the Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude was devastated by the Vikings and rebuilt in the 11th and 13th centuries. This church  was destroyed by aerial bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe in May 1940 during the Battle of Belgium, but it was restored to its 11th and 13th centuries form after World War II. The basement of the restored abbey church displays archaeological artifacts and is open to the public. The adjoining Romanesque-Gothic cloister dates from the 13th century. A procession is held every year on the Sunday after Michaelmas.

Rebuilt Collegiate Church of Gertrude, Nivelles, Belgium. photo from Wikipedia

Gertrude becomes the patron saint of cats. Interestingly, it wasn’t until  the 1980’s that  St. Gertrude of Nivelles became the patron saint of cats. No one is sure why she has been given this designation, except there were some medieval depictions of her with mice. She is also considered the patron saint of gardeners, travelers, and those with mental illness.

St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats. Icon by Jennifer Richard-Morrow

MEDITATION

Feast Day March 17 

Her vita said: “she did not cease to speak in constant praying, in exhorting herself, and in preaching the word of God to her people. Rejoicing in hope, bearing up in tribulation, devoted in her heart, and calm in her appearance, she longed for her last day to be present, the day of her heavenly journey.”

Even though a royal, Gertrude followed in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ in helping relieve the suffering of others.  It was her calling that she fulfilled well on earth. It was recorded that even after her short life of 33 years on earth, that she continued her charisma of caring for the suffering of others from the other side of the thin veil. Gertrude’s compassionate care from the heavenlies included saving lives at sea; stopping a fire in a monastery; curing a girl of her blindness; helping a young boy escape kidnappers; rescuing a man in chains; resuscitating a servant boy; along with many other good works.

And Jesus said, “when you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.”  

Well done, good and faithful servant St. Gertrude of Nivelles.

Gertrude of Nivelles with her Bible or book and her Abbess’ staff with a mouse crawling up her left leg. Nivelles, Belgium

________________________

© 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. Transitus Sancti Fursei: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. HE III.19

The Bulletin (Belgium). Part of Sonian Forest Awarded Unesco Heritage Status. July 9, 2017.

Colgrave, B.  and R. A. B. Mynors (Eds). Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1969.

Crook, John. English Medieval Shrines. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011.

Crow Canyon Journal. Touring the Collegiate Church of Sainte Gertrude in Nivelles. June 5, 2013.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World. PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1965.

Fouracre, Paul and Richard A. Gerberding. Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640-720. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Fox, Yankee. Power and Religion in Merovingian Gaul: Columban Monasticism and the Frankish Elites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany: the Creation  and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 1988.

“Gertrude of Nivelles.”  FamPeople.com.

Gratten Flood, William H. A History of Irish Music. Dublin, 1906.

Harrison, Dick. The Age of Abbesses and Queens: Gender and Political Culture in Early Medieval Europe. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 1998.

McNamara, Jo Ann and John E. Halbord with E. Gordon Whatley. “Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles(628-658)” in Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992.

Rackham, Oliver, tr. Transitus Beati Fursei: a translation of an 8th century manuscript Life of St. Fursey. Norwich, UK: Fursey Pilgrims, 2007.

Vita Sanctae Geretrudis (The Life of St. Gertrud) and the Additamentum Nivialense de Fuilano (the Nivelles Supplement to the Vita Fursei concerning Foillan) in Fouracre, Paul and Richard A. Gerberding. Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640-720. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Wade, Susan W. “Gertrude’s tonsure: an examination of hair as a symbol of gender, family and authority in the seventh-century Vita of Gertrude of Nivelles.” Journal of Medieval History 39 (2013): 129 – 145.

Warren, Brenda G. St. Gertrude of Nivelles, March 17, 2019. Godspacelight.

Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500-900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Wood, Ian N. The Merovingian Kingdoms: 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

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Celts to the Creche: Benedict Biscop of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow

 

Benedict Biscop stained glass window in St. Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth

Celts to the Crèche

Day 34

December 18

Benedict Biscop

of  

Monkwearmouth and Jarrow

628-January 12, 690

Benedict Biscop was the founding Abbot of the famous Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Monasteries in Northeast England in the late 7th century where The Venerable Bede (see day 23 of Celts to the Creche) was brought as a seven year old child. Biscop did much to bring education, libraries filled with hand-written books, beauty, and faith to the people of Northumbria. We know about Biscop mainly from Bede’s writings on the Lives of the Holy Abbots of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. 

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

His Name and Early Life: His name is abit unusual, his original name was likely Biscop and it is thought that the Benedict part was derived from the name he took when he became a monk. Eddius Stephanus (Stephen of Ripon) called him by his secular name, Biscop Baducing.

Biscop was born in 628 to a noble Anglo-Saxon family in Northeast England. Bede tells us that as a lad Biscop was a like a man in a child’s body with the mind of an adult. In young adulthood, Biscop had an official position in the royal household of King Oswy and while serving in this position, Biscop was given land to support himself.

Biscop becomes a pilgrim: Yet, there was something deeply spiritual stirring in this young man’s soul. So, in 652 or 653 he left his family, his royal position,  and wealth to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. He desperately wanted to worship at the shrine of the Holy Apostles of which he seemed to have some spiritual connection.

Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles built over the original 6th c. shrine that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1348. Photo from Wikipedia

 Heading south on his way to Rome, this 25 year old stopped by Canterbury where he met 19 year old Wilfrid (who would later become a Bishop). Wilfrid had spent much of his life on Lindisfarne and he too was visiting the King of Kent, Erconbert. Those two hit if off and they decided to travel together to Rome. When the two pilgrims got as far as Lyon, France the Archbishop encouraged Wilfrid to stay there awhile.

San Gregorio in Rome built on the monastic lands of St. Andrew on the Caelian Hill. This hill was part of Pope Gregory’s family’s lands. Photo from Wikipedia

With Wilfrid staying in Lyon, Biscop pressed on towards Rome by himself arriving in 654 finding lodging at the St. Andrew on the Caelian Hill monastery where Pope Gregory had been Abbot.

Biscop at Lerins Monastery. From artwork at Jarrow Hall

Over the next 11 years Bede says that Biscop visited 17 monasteries in France (Gaul) and Italy where he studied their ways of worship and polity. He stayed at the famous Lérins monastery on a Mediterranean  island for two years from 665-667 where he was tonsured and took the vow of the monk.  It must have been the Roman crown of thorns tonsure instead of the Celtic  Druid-like tonsure.

Roman Tonsure on the left and Celtic Tonsure on the right.

In 667, Biscop made another pilgrimage to Rome and he was commissioned by Pope Valerian to accompany the newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus as his interpreter and guide. Along their journey to Canterbury, they visited with Agilbert who was the Bishop of Paris and formerly Bishop of Wessex and coincidentally was at the Synod of Whitby in 664.

The foot end of Bishop Agilbert’s sarcophagus. Jouarre Abbey. I saw this in 2009.

Agilbert was the  brother of Abbess Theodechilde of Jouarre (see day 36 of Celts to the Creche).  While in France, Biscop took the opportunity to visit the Merovingian abbeys of Jouarre, Faremoutiers, and Chelles that had significant connections to East Anglia. Former Queen Hereswith (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche), sister of St. Hilda of Whitby (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) was at either Faremoutiers or Chelles or both.

 

Biscop finally made it to Canterbury with the new Archbishop Theodore and he became a sort of interim caretaker of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Monastery, later called St. Augustine’s Monastery until the African monk Hadrian could come take over as Abbot.

Ruins of St. Augustine’s Monastery in Canterbury.Photo from English Heritage.

After a two year sojourn in Canterbury, Biscop made his fourth pilgrimage to Rome specifically to collect manuscripts (books) and then continued onto Vienne to satisfy his desire for even more books. These must have been for his own personal use, perhaps using funds from his royal connections since he was not even contemplating starting a monastery at this point in his life.

The Spirit changes Biscop’s plans: It’s funny how the Spirit often works to change our plans! Biscop went back to England once again to become part of the court of his friend, the King of the West Saxons, Cenwalh, but the king died unexpectedly. So, Bishop headed back to his Northumbrian home where King Ecgfrith gave him land to begin a monastery that became the first of the twin monasteries, Monkwearmouth.

Bede makes a point in one of his Homilies on the Gospels 1.13 that this monastery was established on royal lands and not on property taken from “lesser persons.” Ian Wood states that perhaps the Wearmouth lands had once been the site of the double monastery led by Hilda, who was known to have had a small monastery for a short time on the north bank of the Wear.

Stained Glass of Benedict Biscop at Norwich Cathedral, UK

Biscop builds his monasteries: In 673 or 674, Biscop laid the foundation for St. Peter’s Monastery in Monkwearmouth on the River Wear that he likely based upon what he had seen and experienced in Merovingian France. He asked his friend Abbot Torthelm of France to send him stonemasons to build his new monastery as the Irish and Anglo-Saxons mainly built of wood. He wanted something more substantial like he had seen on his travels in France and Italy.

7 inch window of Jarrow Church with original pieces of stained glass discovered by archaeologist Dr. Rosemary Cramp in 1973-4 on the site of Jarrow Abbey.

Biscop also had glaziers from Europe who came and installed glass and stained glass in his monastic churches. He wanted to ensure that all who entered his churches would be surrounded with the sense of the magnificence  and beauty of God. Biscop also desired that all who entered his churches, whether or not they could read would be able to get a grasp of the stories of the Bible. To accomplish this he brought sacred pictures from France and Italy that filled the sanctuary wall-to-wall. Sacred vessels and vestments were also purchased and brought to the churches.

With the great success of the Monkwearmouth monastery, King Ecgfrith decided to establish another monastery, Jarrow that was founded in 681 or 682. These became twin monasteries about 8 miles apart.

Biscop was anxious for the monks in his new monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow to learn the correct way to chant the Psalms in Gregorian plainsong.  To make this happen, Biscop brought over John the Arch-Cantor from the famous St. Peter’s Church in Rome, who was also the Abbot of St. Martin’s monastery.

Each of the twin monasteries not only had extensive libraries that were filled with Biscop’s  many books he had collected on his four pilgrimages to Rome. These books of various topics included patristic texts, commentaries, theology, music, musical scripts, monastic practice, and numerous sacramentaries which contained the various prayers for the preparation and sharing of the sacraments. He also had purchased secular works that were also available in the libraries.

With all his extensive travels to procure these items for his monasteries, he appointed an Abbot under him in each monastery with Eosterwine at Wearmouth and Ceolfrith at Jarrow.

Interestingly, the oldest existing copy of the Rule of St. Benedict was made at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow from a copy brought by Biscop from Europe. The new Abbot of Jarrow, Ceolfrith enlarged Biscop’s original library with buying jaunts to Italy and France, so Bede had quite an extensive  library  in the north of England from which to study  and teach from  and perhaps copy.

 

The huge Codex Amiatinus produced at Wearmouth or Jarrow and is now housed in Florence, Italy..image courtesy of Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

The massive  2,060 page Codex Amiatinus was one of three complete Bibles (each in a single volume called a pandect) produced at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow while Ceolfrith was Abbot. It now resides in Florence, Italy, but it will be brought back to England for the first time in 1300 years for an exhibition, “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms” from  October 19, 2018 through mid-February, 2019  at The British Library.

Also, the small red leather St. Cuthbert’s Gospel was likely produced at Monkwearmouth or Jarrow. It is housed at The British Library. Seeing the Codex Amiatinus, the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel, and the Lindisfarne Gospels all placed next to each other at the British Library’s exhibition, “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms” in early November brought tears streaming down my face. What a holy and sacred moment.  I since have heard of others with the same reaction to this once in a generation exhibition.

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of St. John found inside his sarcophagus. Photo from The British Library

Bede comes to Monkwearmouth and Jarrow: The 7 year old child Bede showed up in 680 to Biscop’s new monastery at Monkwearmouth likely brought by his parents. By this time, Biscop was no longer a young, agile monk, but was in his early 50’s.

Biscop welcomes the child Bede to Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. Picture from artwork at Jarrow Hall.

It is likely that soon after Bede came to Monkwearmouth that he was transferred to the newly founded twin monastery of St. Paul’s Jarrow where Ceolfrith became the Abbot. Bede says that the plague killed everyone in Jarrow except Ceolfrith and a young boy, which was likely Bede himself. Bede was 17 years old when Biscop died at age 62 after  three years of a paralyzing illness.

 

St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow  on the monastic lands where Bede lived most of his life. It is amazing to be inside this church where Bede worshipped along with his Abbot Ceolfrith. It is most likely that Benedict Biscop worshipped there occasionally also. I visited there in 2007,  2014, 2017.

Biscop’s last words: Biscop was a Benedictine monk with a kind, obedient personality who loved his books, sacred surroundings, and scholarly endeavors. According to Bede, Biscop’s last words were: “all I have found best in the life of the seventeen monasteries I visited during my long and frequent pilgrimages, I stored up in my mind and have handed them on to you, to be steadfastly adhered to for your own good.” His last words also admonished the monks to accept St. Benedict’s advice that anyone following in his footsteps as Abbot should not be chosen by the status of his birth or relationship to the founding Abbot, but be chosen from among the community itself. The person should also be virtuous and wise in doctrine.

Benedict Biscop in St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church. Picture from Wikipedia

Jarrow Hall: Jarrow Hall (formerly known as Bede’s World) is located on the monastic lands of Jarrow that includes the St. Paul’s Jarrow Church. It is a must visit for those who are interested in Biscop and Bede.

The life of Benedict Biscop at Jarrow Hall. Photo taken on a visit there in October 2017.

MEDITATION

Feast Day (Resurrection Day)  January 12

The Spirit often works in surprising ways! I imagine that many of us have experienced this at sometime in our  life. We are going in one direction in life and a door is closed or we find ourselves on an unexplained new path in life.  Then as we look back at these unplanned and often unwanted detours in our life, we often can see God’s hand in these  paths and we simply say, “thank you.”

St. Paul  along with his companions Silas and Timothy also experienced this when they were heading to Asia and the Spirit closed the door. They next tried to go into Bythinia and that door was closed also. They tried once again and ended up in the seaport of Troas where Paul during the night had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). After Paul had seen the vision, they left at once for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Jeremiah the prophet spoke these words from God in the letter that he sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and also to the priests, the prophets and all the other people after Nebuchadnezzar had carried them into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “for I have plans to help you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.”

Changed plans, closed doors, painful heartbreaks often lead us to new places beyond what we can dream or imagine.

________________________

© 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:

The Anonymous History of Abbot Ceolfrith  in The Age of Bede. trans. by J.F. Webb and edited by D.H. Farmer.London: Penguin Books, 1983 revision.

Bede. Medieval Sourcebook: Lives of the Holy Abbots of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow.

Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. London, Cambridge University Press, 1990.

The British Library. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms Exhibition to Open in 2018. November 17, 2017.

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland.Oxford, UK: Lion Books, 2006.

____________. Manuscripts From The Anglo-Saxon Age. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2007.

Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. The Art of the Codex Amiatinus. Jarrow Lecture, 1967.

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. and trans. The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927

Cramp, Rosemary. Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites, Book I . English Heritage, 2005.

Deanesly, Margaret. The Pre-Conquest Church in England. London: 1961.

Eddius Stephanus (Stephen of Ripon). The Life of Bishop Wilfrid in The Age of Bede.trans. by J.F. Webb and edited by D.H. Farmer. London: Penguin Books, 1983 revision.

Fletcher, Eric. Benedict Biscop. Jarrow Lecture, 1981.

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c600-900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Higham, Nicholas J and Martin J. Ryan. The Anglo-Saxon World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

Jarrow Hall. (formerly Bede’s World).

Lapidge, Michael. “Benedict Biscop” in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Lapidge, John Blaire, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Nash, David. Early British Kingdoms. Benedict Biscop. 

St. Paul’s Monastery, Jarrow. English Heritage.

St. Peter’s Church, Wearmouth. (website)

Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Wood, Ian. “The foundation of Bede’s Wearmouth-Jarrow” in The Cambridge Companion to Bede, ed. by Scott deGregorio. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Wormald, Patrick. “Bede and Benedict Biscop” in Famulus Christi, Gerald Bonner, ed. London: 1976.

 

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Celts to the Creche: Bishop Eadfrith of Lindisfarne

Eadfrith’s illumination of the Gospel writer Matthew in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Photo from The British Library

Celts to the Crèche

Day 7

November 21

Bishop Eadfrith

of Lindisfarne

died 721 AD

On this 7th day of our journey towards Bethlehem with the Celts to the Crèche, we ecounter Eadfrith who was a Bishop of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumbria. He was a Bishop in the Celtic tradition from 698-721.

The historian Symeon of Durham recorded that Eadfrith was a pious and worthy Bishop who was particularly fond of his predecessor St. Cuthbert  (see Celts to the Crèche, day 6).

Bishop Eadfrith is best known as being the scribe and illuminator of the gorgeous Lindisfarne Gospels that he lovingly and painstakingly produced in honor of Cuthbert.

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

Bishop Eadfrith was the scribe and illuminator of the Lindisfarne Gospels. This Gospel is in the British Library. Photo from The British Library

Eadfrith as Scribe and Illuminator of the Lindisfarne Gospels: In the famous Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS. Nero, D. iv.) there occurs a note at the end of the Gospel of St. John (f. 258) and translated by Mr. Skeat:

‘Eadfrith, Bishop of the Lindisfarne church, was he who at the first wrote this book in honour of God and St. Cuthbert and all the saints in common that are in the island. And Ethilwaed, Bishop of the people of the Lindisfarne island, made it firm on the outside, and covered it as well as he could. And Billfrith, the anchorite, he wrought in smith’s work the ornaments on the outside. And Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, glossed it above in English.’

At the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel (f. 88 b) is a shorter entry:

‘Thou living God, be mindful of Eadfrid, and Ædilwald, and Billfrid, and Aldred, sinners; these four, with God’s help, were employed upon this book.’

This notice, though written in the 10th century by Aldred the glossator, is very strong evidence that the foundation work of this remarkable manuscript is due to Eadfrith. These Gospels were beautifully written in half-uncial letters on vellum using Jerome’s translation of scripture. Eadfrith likely produced the Lindisfarne Gospels between 715-720 AD.

Colophon page in which Aldred later adds the various ones who were part of the the Lindisfarne Gospels production. Photo from The British Library

Eadfrith Memorializes St. Cuthbert: Eadfrith played a major part in establishing Cuthbert’s cult after his relics had been moved to the altar of the monastery church on Lindisfarne on March 20, 698, on the eleventh anniversary of Cuthbert’s death. It is possible that this transfer of his relics was done as part of Eadfrith’s installation as Bishop of Lindisfarne.

After Cuthbert’s death in 687, Eadfrith had one (or perhaps several) of the Lindisfarne monks compose the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert in about 705 AD or some scholars say in the year after Cuthbert’s death.  A bit later, the historian and scribe The Venerable Bede (see Celts to the Crèche, day 23) of Jarrow Abbey was  commissioned by Eadfrith to rework the Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert. It is quite likely that Eadfrith supplied further information to Bede about Cuthbert. This revision was a short poem. Later Eadfrith then commissioned Bede to write a prose version of Cuthbert’s life.

Bede’s verse life of St. Cuthbert, copied about 995 AD. Photo from  The British Library

While serving as Bishop, Eadfrith not only produced by hand the Lindisfarne Gospels  to honor the memory of Cuthbert, he also restored Cuthbert’s hermitage chapel on the island of the Inner Farne. Eadfrith was a very industrious Bishop who beautifully and magnificently honored his predecessor.

Eadfrith and Cuthbert’s Relics Go Traveling: At Eadfrith’s death in 721, he was succeeded by by Æthelwald, who had been the Abbot and priest of Melrose Abbey where Cuthbert began as a monk. When Lindisfarne was abandoned in the late ninth century, Eadfrith’s remains along with Cuthbert’s in his wooden coffin were among those taken on the community’s long wanderings throughout Northumbria. These remains eventually found a new home at Chester-le-Street, (pronounced “Chesley Street”) where they remained for a century.

St. Mary and St. Cuthbert’s Church, Chester-le-Street where Eadfrith’s and Cuthbert’s remains resided for a century. photo from Wikipedia

In 995 the relics of both Cuthbert and Eadfrith  were translated to Ripon Monastery for a short visit and then onto Durham Cathedral where the magnificent Treasures of St. Cuthbert are housed.  Cuthbert’s wooden coffin and some of the original relics can still be seen.

Cuthbert’s Coffin and other items that were in the coffin can be viewed in the magnificent “Treasures of St. Cuthbert” exhibit at Durham Cathedral.  Photo from Durham Cathedral World Heritage Site.

Interestingly, through December 3, 2022, The Lindisfarne Gospels will be on on loan from The British Library for a  display at the Laing Art Galleries in Newcastle upon Tyne. Joining the  Lindisfarne Gospels one can view other treasures including the St. Cuthbert Gospel, the Trumpington Cross, and the  Irish Pocket Gospels.

Rescuing the Lindisfarne Gospels from the Sea:  Following is an interesting description of the relics’ circuitous pilgrimage and the saving of the Lindisfarne Gospels from the sea: (From the Dictionary of National Biography):

“on his death in 721 Eadfrid’s bones were placed in the shrine where the uncorrupted body of St. Cuthberht lay, and shared the wanderings of the greater saint, and finally rested with his relics at Durham, where they were discovered on the translation of Cuthberht’s remains to the new cathedral erected by Ranulf Flambard in 1104. The ‘Book of St. Cuthberht,’ as the Lindisfarne gospels were commonly called, shared in the same vicissitudes. It was believed at Durham that when in 875 Bishop Eardulf carried the shrine of Cuthberht all over Northumberland to save it from Halfdene and his Danes, the precious manuscript accompanied the flight. In attempting to cross over to Ireland it was lost overboard, and when recovered three days afterwards, on the coast off Whithern, miraculously retained its original freshness and beauty. It was from the eleventh or twelfth century preserved at Durham, where it was described in inventories as ‘the Book of St. Cuthberht which had been sunk in the sea.’ It was ultimately acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, and is now in the British Museum. But though some have detected in the few faint stains on the vellum the marks of sea water, they are so slight that nothing less than a miracle could have saved the book if the tradition above related be true.”

Dr. Michelle P. Brown with a copy of the facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels for which she wrote the commentary (M.P. Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe. British Library, 2003). photo by Harvey Warren, November, 2019.

 

Meditation

Translation of Eadfrith’s relics to Durham Cathedral, June 4

Sometimes we discover a “bee in our bonnet” in which we realize that we really need to get something done and get it done quickly and correctly. Perhaps this is how deeply spiritual Bishop Eadfrith felt about his need to preserve and honor Cuthbert’s legacy at Lindisfarne. We are grateful to this Bishop for not letting the time lapse by and lose to history this precious information about Cuthbert. This Bishop was not only a historian, but also an amazing scribe and illuminator/artist who left us with this immeasurable treasure that has survived over 1300 years.

Do you have a “bee in your bonnet” to get something done? Perhaps that is the gentle, yet persistent Spirit prodding and commissioning you to do something that only you can do on planet earth.

Be listening.

Be looking.  

Be ready to follow-through.

Your gifts and graces are needed to make a difference here on earth and on the other side of the thin veil.

Prayer: O Spirit of God, open my eyes that I may see…illumine me, Spirit Divine.

________________________

© 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:

Backhouse, Janet. The Lindisfarne Gospels. Phaidon Press, 1994.

BBC Anglo-Saxon Portraits. Eadfrith with Richard Gameson. Available on BBC Iplayer Radio.

BBC. Tyne: Lindisfarne Gospels, Monks at Work, Making the Gospels. October 29, 2014.

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People with Bede’s Letter to Egbert and Cuthbert’s Letter on the Death of Bede., Trans. by Leo Sherley -Price, rev. by R. E. Latham, Translatio of the minor works and new Introduction and Notes by D.H. Farmer. London: Penguin Books, 1955, 1990 rev.

____. Medieval Sourcebook. The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne. 

Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Blair, Peter Hunter.  Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Bonner, Stancliffe, and Rollason, David. St. Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to 1200. Woodbridge,UK: The Boydell Press, 1989.

Brown, Michelle P. The Book and the Transformation of Britain c550-1050. London: The British Library, 2011.

_____________How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland.Oxford, UK: Lion Book, 2006.

__________. Lindisfarne Gospels. The British Library. Youtube. A podcast. 2011.

 ____________The Lindisfarne Gospels and the Early Medieval World.  London: The British Library, 2011.

_____________The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality & The Scribe. Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 2003.

_____________Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2007.

_____________Painted Labyrinth: The world of the Lindisfarne Gospels. London: The British Library, 2004.

Colgrave, Bertram, trans. Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1940, 1985.

Deanesly, Margaret. The Pre-Conquest Church in England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Duckett, Eleanor Shipley. Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars. New York: Macmillan, 1947.

Durham Cathedral. The Treasures of St. Cuthbert.

Eadfrid in Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 16.

Gameson, Richard. From Holy Island to Durham: The Contexts and Meaning of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Third Millennium Publishing, 2014.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. 

Hull, Derek. Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Art Geometric Aspects. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2003.

An Illustrated Walk of Lindisfarne Island.

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.

Lindisfarne Heritage Centre. Marygate, Lindisfarne (Holy Island).

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1991.

Medieval Sourcebook.  Bede: The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, 721.

Treeve, Michelle (Michelle P. Brown). Eadfrith: Scribe of Lindisfarne. Tempe, Arizona: Bagwyn Books, 2014.  (a historical novel by the preeminent Lindisfarne Gospels’ scholar and former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at The British Library). 

Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1998, 2001 reprint.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Canaire of Ireland

 

St. Cannera of Inis Cathaig. Image from Orthodox Christianity Then and Now.

Celts to the Crèche

Day 35

December 19

St. Canaire of Ireland

Died about 530 AD

On our 35th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet a very strong-minded woman of prayer, St. Canaire. Toward the end of her life, she sensed that her day of resurrection would soon arrive. While in prayer she had a vision that this place of resurrection would be Inish Cathaig (Scattery Island) in the Shannon River in Ireland. After a long journey to this place, the Abbot Senan (also spelled Sennen, Sennan) would not allow a woman on his monastic island. Her response was: Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men.  No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.

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

Map of Bantry Bay where St. Canaire was born and where she was a hermit

Bantry Bay. Photo from wikipedia

Early Life: St. Canaire was born in Bantry Bay, in modern day County Cork in Southern Ireland and she may have been the daughter of her father Cruthnechan and her mother Cummenia. She was a hermit or anchorite for many years.

St. Conaire’s Church, Carrigerry, Ireland

St. Canaire’s Call to her Resurrection Place. One day, perhaps while in prayer, Canaire in her old age saw pillars of fire all over Ireland, but a pillar of fire on an island known then as Inish Cathaig in the Shannon River caught her attention. This particular pillar of fire was the tallest and straightest of all. Inish Cathaig, on the western side of Ireland in the Shannon River estuary was later renamed Scattery Island. It likely received it’s new name from the Vikings who plundered it. “Scatty” is a a derivation of the Norse word for “treasure.” It is also thought by some that the name for this island came from the name of the mythical monster who resided there. 

Ancient Church and Round Tower on Scattery Island

St. Senan was the Abbot of this austere monastery he founded on Inish Cathaig (Scattery Island) and is one of the revered Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Interestingly, St. Aidan (see day 1 of Celts to the Creche) was once part of this monastery on Scattery Island before going to Lindisfarne as it’s first abbot.  On this island there are the ruins of six churches and one of the tallest Round Towers in Ireland. This round tower is 120 ft. tall! Scattery Island is on the northern bank of the Shannon Estuary.

Statue of St. Senan on Scattery Island

Aged St. Canaire Travels to Inish Cathaig.  Canaire sensing that Inish Cathaig was to be her place of resurrection,  she immediately began her 182 km arduous journey walking north towards Inish Cathaig.  It is said that she completed this journey by walking across the water. Some say that she was carried by an angel to the river from Bantry Bay and that she then walked across the water to the island.  Perhaps she even sailed part of the way from Bantry Bay to Inish Cathaig. After her long and treacherous journey, she was greeted on the shoreline by St. Senan himself, who may have been her brother, who informed her that only men were allowed on Inish Cathaig and that he would not allow her to be on the island. He tried to give her some consolation by saying that she could stay with a kinswoman of his in the area.

St. Canaire’s Reaction to St. Senan’s Not Allowing Her on His All Male Island: This strong-willed woman of faith who having lived as a hermit for many years, was not fearful of or put off by Senan. She boldly told him that Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men.  No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.

St. Senan’s Well, Scattery Island

St. Senan, who later may have gone to Cornwall and started a church in 520AD (according to Medieval historian, Dr. Michelle P. Brown and may have been known there as St. Sennen), likely was taken aback at this forthrightness of this courageous woman. Realizing that she spoke scriptural truth, gave her Communion from his hand and a place for her to rest on the edge of the island, still not allowing her to go further inland. As soon as she received Communion, she crossed over to the other side of the thin veil, dying on the beach of this island. She was buried on the edge of Inish Cathaig and her grave is marked by a flag on Scattery Island.

St. Canaire is the patron saint of fisherman and seafarers and is greatly admired by feminists in Ireland. It is interesting that even today, ships will stop at Scattery Island to fetch a pebble to carry in honor of her on their journey as protection. The monastery on Scattery Island is still for men only, yet it is said that St. Senan shared Feenish Island with St. Bridget, he having a monastery for men and she having a monastery for women.

Note: There are several versions of St. Canaire’s life, some saying that she was a sister of St. Senan’s, so that is why she came to Inish Cathaig so she could be buried by her brother. There are also several versions of her name including: St. Cannera of Inis Cathaig, Cainder, Conaire, Canir, and Kinnera.  They are likely all the same saint.  She is listed in several Irish calendars and is venerated in Killcullane in County Limerick and in Kilcullen in County Kildare.

 

.Meditation

Feast Day, January 28

Have you ever been rejected by another religious person because of your race, your nation of birth, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ministry calling, or numerous other human-made rules or certain interpretations of Holy Scripture? If so, you are in good company with St. Canaire who was rejected because of her gender even though she sensed her call from the Spirit of God to her place of resurrection.

She would tell us today to be courageous and to stand up for what you believe from Holy Scripture, to stand up for what you sense is your personal calling. She would tell us, “do not be afraid.”

May St. Canaire’s words spoken 1500 years ago, be impressed upon our minds and hearts  in the 21st century: Christ came to redeem women no less than to redeem men.  No less did he suffer for the sake of women than for the sake of men. No less than men, women enter into the heavenly kingdom.

_______________________

© 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:

Celtic Saints.org. 

Darcy, M. R. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church, Ireland 450-1150. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Low, Mary. “Canaire (?-530): 28 January,” in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book One. The Northumbria Community Trust, 2015, p. 228,.

Lapa, Dimitry. Saint Senan, Abbot of Scattery in Ireland. (Inish Cathaigh) at Orthodox Christianity.com.

Life of St. Senan, Bishop, Patron Saint of County Clare. County Clare Library. Ireland.

Matthews, John. “The Friend of Angels: Senan of Scattery” in Drinking From the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

The Northumbria Community. “Canaire-in celebration of woman.” in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two: Farther Up and Farther In. p. 1106. London: William Collins, 2015 with liturgy for womanhood.

Orthodox Christianity Then and Now. Saint Cannera of Inis Cathaig. 

Pridemore, Lizze. Canaire at Soundcloud.com. Gorgeous song composed for Janette’s ordination, June, 2019 about crossing boundaries. More information at Lizzie Pridemore.com

Ryan, Gerrard. Pre-Reformation Church and Monastic Sites in in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, c. 550 A.D .to 1500 A.D. 

Scattery Island Centre. Heritage Ireland.

St Conaires National School. Annual Pilgrimage to St. Conaire’s Church, Carrygerry and Kilconry Graveyard.

St. Sennen’s Church. Cornwall. website with historical information.

Stokes, Margaret, ed. Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language, Vol. 2.

Wandering Celt. Canaire. March 11, 2014. 

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Celts to the Creche: Abbess Ælfflæd of Whitby

Abbess Aelflaed is cured by St. Cuthbert's linen girdle. From the Life of St. Cuthbert, originally produced at Durham, late 12th c. Image from the British Library

Abbess Ælfflæd is cured by St. Cuthbert’s linen girdle. From the Life of St. Cuthbert, originally produced at Durham, late 12th c. Image from the British Library

Celts to the Crèche

Day 29

December 13

Abbess Ælfflæd of Whitby

About 655 or 656-February 8, 713 AD

On this 29th day of our journey to the crèche where Christ was born, we meet Ælfflæd who was the second or third Abbess of Whitby following the death in 680 of her Mother’s first cousin St. Hilda of Whitby  (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche). Like Hilda, Ælfflæd led the Whitby Abbey for 33 years and also established churches.

It was recorded by the biographer of Wilfrid that Abbess Ælfflæd was “always the source of consolation for the entire kingdom, and the best of advisers.”  She was a friend of St. Cuthbert (see day 6 of Celts to the Crèche) and her “inspired words” and education led her to be part of at least one synod and other Bishops’ meetings.

The ruins of the later Whitby Abbey probably built upon St. Hilda's original monastery of Streonsahalh where Aelflaed was the next Abbess

The ruins of the later Whitby Abbey probably built upon St. Hilda’s original monastery of Streonsahalh where Ælfflæd was the next Abbess

We mainly know about Ælfflæd from the writings of Bede (see day 23 of Celts to the Crèche) his Ecclesiastical History of the English People and The Life of St. Cuthbert; and also in Eddius Stephanus‘ (Stephen of Ripon) Life of St. Wilfridand the Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert. 

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

Early Life and Familial Relationships: Ælfflæd had quite a pedigree! She was born into the Northumbrian royal family of King Oswiu (Oswy) and his wife, Queen Eanflæd who was the daughter of King Edwin.

King Oswiu (Oswy) with Benedict Biscop of Jarrow Abbey

King Oswiu (Oswy) with Benedict Biscop of Jarrow Abbey. Unknown writer of this icon

On her maternal side, Ælfflæd was the granddaughter of the King of Deira, Edwin and his wife Queen Æthelburg  and the great-granddaughter of  King Æthelberht of Kent and his wife Queen Bertha (see day 11 of Celts to the Crèche). On Ælfflæd’s paternal side she was the granddaughter of King Æthelfrith and Queen Acha of Deira and the great-granddaughter of King Ælle. The much-loved King Oswald was her uncle. Yes, she was well-connected!

When Ælfflæd’s parents, Oswiu and his second wife, Eanflæd married in 643, this union joined the two Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Ælfflæd had a sister Osthryth  who became the Queen of Mercia. She also had at least three brothers that we know of, Eahlfrith, Ecgfrith, and Ælfwine, and a half-brother Aldfrith who was born out of wedlock to an an Irish princess named Fin. This illegitimate son Aldfrith was raised on the isle of Iona and was considered by both Bede and Alcuin to be a most learned and wise man. It is thought by some that Oswiu’s first wife may have been a princess of Rheged named Rieinmellt according to the Anglo-Saxon genealogies in the Historia Brittonium.

Hilda Receives Land for Whitby: Ælfflæd’s father, King Oswiu  gave 12 parcels of land of 10 hides each to establish 12 monasteries as a thank offering for his win at the Battle of Winwaed  over the Mercian King Penda on November 15, 654 or 655. One of those parcels of land was at Streanaeshalch, later called Whitby. As part of that gift of thanksgiving, Bede tells us that Oswiu offered his infant daughter Ælfflæd who was scarcely a year old, “in perpetual virginity” to the monastery at Hartlepool under the guidance of the Abbess Hilda.

Icon of St. Hilda of Whitby by Ellen Francis, OSH

Icon of St. Hilda of Whitby by Ellen Francis, OSH

St. Hilda's Church, Hartlepool. Built over the original abbey founded by Hieu. Hilda became the second Abbess

St. Hilda’s Church, Hartlepool.
Built over the original abbey founded by Hieu. Hilda became the second Abbess. The infant Ælfflæd was given to Hilda to care for at Hartlepool before they moved to Whitby. I visited in 2007 and Sept. 2014

Two years later, in 657, Whitby was established and Hilda and toddler Ælfflæd together moved to this new abbey from Hartlepool. So it is likely that Ælfflæd was born about 655 or 656. It is interesting that her father  King Oswiu is the one who convened the Synod of Whitby in 664 to resolve the Easter controversy and which chose the Roman way over the Celtic form of worship and life.

Synod of Whitby Mural by Juliet MacMichael in the St. Hilda Room St. Hilda's Priory, Sneaton Castle, Whitby, Yorks. Sept. 2014. Notice King Oswiu at the table

Synod of Whitby Mural by Juliet MacMichael in the St. Hilda Room
St. Hilda’s Priory, Sneaton Castle, Whitby, Yorks. I visited Sept. 2014. Notice King Oswiu at the table

 

Years as Abbess of Whitby: Even though Abbess Hilda never liked or trusted Wilfrid, Ælfflæd’s mother Eanflæd who was raised with a Roman-based faith in East Anglia, was a supporter of the Roman favoring Wilfrid. Yet, many others of this family did not care for Wilfrid at all. Ælfflæd, raised with the Celtic ethos of Hilda and  as a trusted friend of both the very Celtic Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne (see day 6 of Celts to the Crèche) she became a bridge between the Roman and Celtic way of life in early medieval England.

Friendship with St. Cuthbert of  Lindisfarne: One day Ælfflæd was very ill almost to the point of death. She could not stand upright, was only able to move on all fours, and had much internal pain. Her  dear friend Cuthbert came to her mind and she wished she had something belonging to him, for she was certain that would help her.

A gift of friendship and healing from Cuthbert. Soon afterwards a messenger arrived with the gift of a linen girdle from Cuthbert. Ælfflæd was  thrilled with the gift and  realized that her wishes had been made known to him by heavenly means. She put this girdle on and the next morning she was able to stand up straight. Within three days she was restored to health. A few days later, one of the Whitby nuns came to her with a terrible headache, so Ælfflæd bound up her head with Cuthbert’s girdle  and her headache was gone that day. The nun took it off and hid it in her locker. When the Abbess returned to retrieve it, it was gone. Bede says that it was a “God-thing” that it disappeared otherwise it would have become a sacred item of healing to which  people would have flocked.

Another time, in 684, Ælfflæd persuaded Cuthbert to leave his hermitage on Farne Island and meet her at Coquet Island, halfway between Lindisfarne and Whitby. It was at that meeting, that Ælfflæd asked Cuthbert three questions: 1. How long would her brother King Ecgfrith live? 2. Who would succeed Ecgfrith? 3. Would Cuthbert himself become a Bishop?  In response, Cuthbert prophesied of the imminent death of her brother Ecgfrith and the coming to the throne of her half-brother Aldfrith. Cuthbert did become a reluctant Bishop.

Cuthbert meeting Abbess AElfflaed of Whitby at Coquet Isle.

Cuthbert meeting Abbess Ælfflæd of Whitby at Coquet Isle. From The Life of Cuthbert. From the British Library

Cuthbert even met Ælfflæd once again at Osingadun, where there was a newly established cell of Whitby with a church that Cuthbert was dedicating. Some believe that Osingdun may be modern-day Kirkdale as the church has Saxon work. It is also interesting that the church is dedicated to St. Gregory whom the anonymous monk of Whitby wrote about.

Another time, Ælfflæd hosted a dinner for Cuthbert in which he had a vision while at the dinner table of someone who had died.  Ælfflæd asked who it was and he replied that it was someone from her monastery. The next day she learned that Hadwald, one of the monks of Whitby who may have also been a shepherd fell from a tree and died at the exact time that Cuthbert “saw” it in his vision.

St. Gregory's Minster of 11th c. built over original Anglo-Saxon church. It is similar to St. Hilda's Church at Ellerburn.

11th c. St. Gregory’s Minster in Kirkdale  built over original Anglo-Saxon church that was a cell of Whitby that Cuthbert dedicated. It is similar to St. Hilda’s Church at Ellerburn. photo from wikipedia

Friendship with Wilfrid. Ælfflæd continued to be friendly with Wilfrid, even though her predecessor Hilda, who raised her could not abide him. According to Ælfflæd, it was the dying wish of her half-brother Aldfrith who had become King, that his successor should come to terms with Bishop Wilfrid.

Bishop Wilfrid. icon from CatholicIreland.net

Bishop Wilfrid. icon from CatholicIreland.net

 

 

 

Trumwine, Bishop to the Picts Moves to Whitby: Bede records that the Bishop  Trumwine, chose to live out his retirement at Whitby and he was buried there. He  helped Ælfflæd administer this large and prestigious double monastery and was also a comfort to her. Bede relates that Trumwine was a good source of information about Cuthbert as he wrote about this saint of Lindisfarne.

King Edwin’s Body Translated to Whitby: Even though King Edwin, who was Eanflæd’s father and Ælfflæd’s grandfather, had died on October 12, 632/3, his body was translated to Whitby almost 50 years later.This was done as it is thought that Ælfflæd and her mother wanted Whitby to become a place of pilgrimage much like King Oswald’s relics had done for the Bardney Abbey in Lindsey.

Interestingly, later Oswald’s relics were later moved to Durham Cathedral, where he was buried with Cuthbert. Bede goes into detail to describe how Edwin’s body was rediscovered and the process of the translation  of his body to Whitby. It seems that Whitby became a sort of mausoleum, as other abbeys were, for this royal family. Not only  was Edwin buried there, but  also Hilda, Ælfflæd,  Eanflæd, and Oswiu. Some say that these relics, especially of Hilda’s and maybe the others were taken to Glastonbury when the Vikings began invading northeast England and they began their horrific plundering of the monasteries and churches.

Stained Glass depiction of King Edwin of Northumbria. St. Mary's Sledmere, Yorkshire. from wikipedia

Stained Glass depiction of King Edwin of Northumbria. St. Mary’s Sledmere, Yorkshire. from wikipedia

Further Reflections on Ælfflæd:  Not only did Eddius Stephanus (Stephen of Ripon) in his Life of Wilfrid describe Ælfflæd as “always the comforter and the best counselor of the whole kingdom, ” but also the great writer and historian Bede thought very highly of her.  He says of her in his Life of St. Cuthbert, she had “increased the nobility of a royal pedigree by the much more potent nobility of the greatest virtues.”  Abbess Ælfflæd must have been a very strong, courageous, compassionate, and wise leader of this double monastery. Hilda raised her well!

When Aldfrith, King of Northumbria was dying at Driffield in 705, he summoned to his bedside, several leaders including Ælfflæd, Abbess of Whitby, and Œedilburga, Abbess of Hackness. He gave to them his last will and testament.

Abbess Ælfflæd was considered one of the religious leaders of Northumbria. Eddius Stephanus further wrote in his Life of Wilfrid  concerning Ælfflæd that she was among the gathered Bishops during the Synod of Nidd in 706 and boldly spoke “inspired words.” This synod dealt with the Pope’s directive to make peace with Wilfrid and to return the monasteries of Hexham and Ripon and their revenues to him.

She was also included in the Bishops’ special confab near the conclusion of the synod in which the Archbishop gave his advice and Abbess Ælfflæd gave them hers. In the Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert, it refers to a church being consecrated by a Bishop that Ælfflæd established on one of her estates outside of Whitby.

There is a letter written about 700 that some think that well-educated Ælfflæd wrote in a very florid and “high-brow” Latin letter addressed to the Abbess Adolana of Pfalzel near Treves. In this letter, Ælfflæd was commending one of  friends, another Abbess who was staying at Whitby who was very ready to begin her journey back home. Even, the anonymous Life of St. Gregory was written at Whitby while Ælfflæd was abbess.

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, likely built upon the original Whitby Abbey. photo from the dailymail.co.uk

Excavations in the 1920s at Whitby by Radford and Peers found several building foundations and two inscribed memorial stones believed to record the deaths of Ælfflaed, Abbess of Whitby, and Cyneburgh, Queen of King Oswald.

Likely part of Abbess Aelfflaeda's gravestone. On loan to the English Heritage Whitby Abbey Museum from the Whitby Town Museum.

Likely part of Abbess Ælfflæd’s gravestone at Whitby . On loan to the English Heritage Whitby Abbey Museum from the Whitby Town Museum. I saw this in 2007, 2009, and October, 2017.photo from English Heritage.

 

Meditation

Feast Day February 8

As we continue on our Advent journey with the Celts, we may be discovering that we need to cross a bridge of some kind to reach the crèche where Christ is born anew in our lives.  Sometimes we may even need to be a “bridge.” A bridge between two people or two sides of a disagreement.

Abbess Ælfflæd knew about this as she was a bridge. A bridge between two strong religious leaders of varying theological opinions, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne and Wilfrid of Hexham. Even her life experiences of being in a family of both the more Roman East Anglians and the more Celtic Northumbrians influenced her ability to be a bridge.

It’s not easy being a bridge as people often think you are not taking sides with them or that you cannot make up your own mind and you are wishy-washy. Yet, some people like Ælfflæd seem to have an inner gift of being able to see both sides of an issue, of being able to see the good in people with whom they do not necessarily agree.

St. Peter seemed to have the gift of “bridging.” In Acts chapter 10 and 11, we read about Peter’s  vision of the sheet coming down from heaven filled with all kinds of unclean animals and reptiles of which this good kosher Jew was told to “kill and eat.” This vision allowed him to reach out in full welcome to Cornelius the Roman Centurion who was searching for God. He also courageously told of this vision to the Jerusalem Council who believed his words and from that point on non-Jews were readily accepted into the Christian fold.

Jesus the Christ was an incarnational bridge between the divinity of God and humanity. Sometimes we have to be bold and courageous to be a “bridge” and sometimes being a “bridge” requires that  we be quiet and fully listen with our hearts and souls.

This world needs some human, yet very deeply spiritual bridges with open minds. Do you know a “bridge” person? What makes them a “bridge?” How might we become more open to be a “bridge?”

_______________________

© 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:

“Ælfflæd”  by Michael Lapidge in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

An Anonymous Monk of Whitby. The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great. Text, Translation, and Notes by Bertram Colgrave. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. ii. 9, 20;  iii. 24, 25; iv. 26. Medieval Sourcebook. Fordham University.

_____. Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne. Medieval Sourcebook. Fordham University.

Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1990.

Bonner, Gerald, David Rollason, Clare Stancliffe, eds. St. Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD1200. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1989.

Breay, Claire and Bernard Meehan, eds. The St. Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular  Manuscript of the Gospel of John. London: British Library, 2015.

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Stephanus Eddius.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985 online version, January, 2010. 

__________________. Two Lives of St. Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life. Cambridge,  UK: Cambridge University Press, 1940, 1985 ed.

David W. Rollason, David Rollason, A. J. Piper, Margaret Harvey, eds. The Durham Liber Vitae and Its Context. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2004.

Harrison, Dick. The Age of Abbesses and Queens: Gender and Political Culture in Early Medieval Europe. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 1998.

Hudson, Allison. “Lives of St. Cuthbert Now Online” March 20, 2016 .British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Online.  

Karaove, Katherine E. The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England: Basic Readings. available at googlebooks.

 Kirby, D. P. Bede, Eddius Stephanus and the Life of Wilfrid in The English Historical Review. Vol. 98, No. 386 (January, 1983), pp. 101-114. (This article may be purchased at JSTOR.org.)

D. P. The Earliest English Kings. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Nennius. Historia Brittonum. Edited by St. Mark the Hermit and Rev. W. Gunn. London: 1819. Available at googlebooks.

 Stephen of Rippon (Eddius). The Life of Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus. Text, Translation and Notes by Bertram Colgrave. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Webb, J. F., tr. and D. H. Farmer, ed. “Eddius Stephanus: Life of Wilfrid” in The Age of Bede. London: Penguin, 1965.

Whitby Abbey. English Heritage website.

Yorke, Barbara. Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses. London: Continuum, 2003. (note: I love this book as it is chock full of information on the nunneries and double monasteries led by women).

Ziegler, Michelle. “Anglian Whitby” in The Heroic Age, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter, 1999.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Ninian of Whithorn

Icon of Ninian

Icon of Ninian by unknown writer

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 30

December 14

St. Ninian of Whithorn

c362-c432 AD (or perhaps later)

On this 30th Day of Celts to the Crèche, we join on this pilgrimage to Bethlehem with the fifth century British Bishop St. Ninian (Ninias) of Whithorn. He is considered to be the first apostle to Scotland.

Settlements (with red dots) in Scotland in early medieval ages with Pictish names. Map from Wikipedia.

Ninian, also known as Ringan and Tyrnnian, was a very industrious apostle, missionary, and Bishop, to say the least! He evangelized not only the southern Picts who lived in western Scotland, but he also preached throughout southern Scotland, south of the Grampian Mountains, and  conducted preaching missions among the Picts, as far north as the Moray Firth. He is said that he preached in the Solway Plains and the Lake District of England.

It is appropriate that Ninian would join us on this journey to Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity as Whithorn is considered by some to be the cradle of Scottish Christianity. Ninian’s monastery, Whithorn, on the west coast of Scotland may have been named Candida Casa as in Latin it means, “white or shining house.” In Old English this was translated  as whit æurn from which was derived Whithorn. It is said that Whithorn was built of stone painted a gleaming white which was reminiscent of the Roman churches cloaked in marble. 

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

Early Life: Ninian was born in the area of northwest Great Britain now known as Cumbria, perhaps near Carlisle and the area near the Roman Hadrian’s Wall. His father was either a priest or the chief of  a tribe that held land on both sides of the Solway Firth.

Drawing of St. Ninian's Bell. from Prehistoric Annals of Scotland. v.iip. 468

Drawing of St. Ninian’s Bell. From “Prehistoric Annals of Scotland”. v.iip. 468. Most Celtic evangelists had a bell that they rang to call people to hear them preach the Gospel.

Ninan was instructed as a teenager and young adult in Rome and must have spent some time in France as he was a great admirer of St Martin of Tours who had greatly influenced his life.  When he returned to his homeland of Scotland, Ninian brought back two French stone masons with him who would have the knowledge of building stone churches.

His Monastery at Whithorn: Ninian may have been ordained as  bishop by Pope Siricius in 394.  As bishop, Ninian built churches, ordained priests, consecrated other bishops, and divided the land into parishes.  Many Irish monks came to Whithorn to study including St. Finnian of Moville who later returned to Ireland and did great ministry there. Interestingly though, some scholars believe that Finnian and Ninian are the same person.  He paved the way for the later gospel work of St. Columba (see day Four of Celts to the Crèche) and St. Kentigern (also known as St. Mungo) in Scotland. 

It seems that Ninian must have been a lover of nature as the later St. Francis of Assisi was. It is said that Ninian would visit the shepherds and their flocks surrounding his monastery. He would gather them all together in one place where he would raise his hand in prayer and with his staff draw an imaginary circle around the sheep and pray over the sheep asking for God’s divine protection.

How We Know About Ninian: We know of St. Ninian mainly from three sources, firstly, in chapter 3, book four of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede writing 400 years after Ninian says that he knew of Ninian from hearsay and called Ninian “a most holy man.” Some think that the first Saxon Bishop of Whithorn named Pechthelm may have relayed the information about Ninian to Bede.

This stained glass window of Ninian in the Whithorn Story Exhibition by Richard LeClerk is a copy of a Douglas Strachan window in St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle.

This stained glass window of Ninian in the Whithorn Story Exhibition by Richard LeClerk is a copy of a Douglas Strachan window in St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle.

Another source about Ninian, the  8th century poem, The Miracles of Bishop Ninian was written at the monastery at Whithorn. A copy of this poem was sent to Alcuin at Charlemagne’s court. Alcuin thanked the Whithorn sender and in return, sent a silk veil for Ninian’s shrine.  The third source, The Life of St. Ninian, was a hagiography written in the 12th century by the Cistercian Abbot Ailred of Rievaulx who was raised in the court of King David I of Scotland. Ailred said that he has used a  Life of St. Ninian that had been written in “barbarous language” (meaning the Celtic  language instead of Latin).

Place of Resurrection: Ninian died about 432 AD and was buried in the Church of Blessed Martin at his monastery at Whithorn. His body was placed in a stone sarcophagus near the altar of the church. It is said that the clergy and congregation sang hymns and sobbed over the loss of their spiritual leader.

Pilgrims Flock to Whithorn: Pilgrims immediately began to come to Ninian’s tomb where it is said that the sick were cured, the lepers were cleansed, and the blind received their sight. King James of Scotland had an arm bone of Ninian encased in silver which was kept at Whithorn until the Reformation when it was taken to France and lost during the French Revolution. Even King James IV walked barefoot to Whithorn when his wife, Margaret Tudor was thought to be dying. She was miraculously cured and they returned together on horseback to give thanks to Ninian. Their son James V and their granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots also made a pilgrimage to Whithorn.

Ninian in the 14th c. Book of Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian. photo from Wikipedia

Ninian in the 14th c. Book of Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian. University of Edinburgh Library. photo from Wikipedia

There is also a cave about 5 miles southwest of Whithorn that is known as Ninian’s Cave that was probably Ninian’s hermitage where he went on retreat to pray. Inside the cave were numerous stones carved with crosses and even some Pictish-style graffiti. The crosses have been transferred to the Whithorn Museum and Priory. Modern day pilgrims often travel to the cave to pray and seek the presence of God.

Entrance to Ninian's Cave

Entrance to Ninian’s Cave. photo from Wikimedia.

About 13 miles from Whithorn is St. Ninian’s Chapel which marked the place where pilgrims first landed on their way to Whithorn.

St. Ninian is venerated in Galloway and the Orkney Islands.

Ninian's Chapel on the Isle of Whithorn

Ruins of Medieval Ninian’s Chapel at Whithorn. photo from unknown source.

There are churches, place-names, and legends throughout Scotland that bear Ninian’s name in some form.

Map of Dedications to Ninian

Map of Dedications to Ninian. photo from Wikimedia.

Whithorn Today: The Whithorn Priory and Museum provides not only a exhibition and an audio-visual program, but also guided tours of the site.  At the center is the 5th c. Latinus Stone that is believed to be the oldest Christian memorial in Scotland.

Latinus Stone in Whitburn Museum and Priory. Latinus is the first Christian in Scotland whose name we know, and his stone is clear evidence of the existence of a group of Christians at Whithorn as early as AD 450.

Latinus Stone in Whitburn Museum and Priory. Latinus is the first Christian in Scotland whose name we know, and his stone is clear evidence of the existence of a group of Christians at Whithorn as early as AD 450.photo from https://canmore.org.uk/collection/442734

In the 1990’s, an archaeological excavation led by Peter Hill was done at Whithorn. This  dig found the outline of a circular Celtic monastery with a number of Christian graves. Other artefacts were also discovered including fragments of eight Mediterranean, Spanish, or Roman glass bowls; Mediterranean, African, and French pottery shards; and a pile of builder’s stones of gray lime coated with a thick skin of calcium carbonate. These stones would have made a gleaming white hut when wet, which would be often near the sea. Also, a wall built of those white stones was located.

There is a 149 mile (239 km) long distance trail to Whithorn called the Whithorn Way that has been walked over the centuries by countless pilgrims.

The Treasure of St. Ninian’s Isle: In the Scientific American of November, 1960, there is an interesting article by R. L. S. Bruce-Mitford about an archaeological excavation on St. Ninian’s Isle, a tiny isle off the northern tip of Scotland in the Shetland Islands group. On July 4, 1958, archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen were digging under the floor of a 9th century church that was buried under a 12th century church. In the nave area was a slab with a lightly incised cross. The slab was carefully moved by a teenager named Justin Coutts and underneath it was a tightly packed treasure trove of 28 greenish objects in a wooden box. These items were silver mixed with a copper alloy and dated between 750-825AD. Interestingly, in this treasure trove was also a fragment of a porpoise’s jawbone. These treasures are now in the National Museum of Scotland. It is the only treasure trove of metalwork of this date ever found in Scotland. These treasure items fall into three groups: items connected with feasting, weapons and jewelry.

Note: It is the thought by some recent scholars that Ninian may not have existed, that he was a composite of several saints. There is an excellent scholarly discussion of this in Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages by Tom Turpie listed in the Resources below.

Archaeological Excavation of Whithorn, 1990's

Archaeological Excavation of Whithorn, 1990’s. photo from Wikimedia.

Meditation

Feast Day August 26/September 16

Sellner in his Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, records the story of St. Ninian and his prayer of encirclement.  St. Ninian liked to visit his flocks and the huts of his shepherds. He wanted the flocks of sheep to also be partakers of the blessings like humans were. When the animals were gathered together in one place at the end of the day, Ninian raised up his hand and prayed that they would all be protected by God. Then he went around the flock and with his staff, drew a circle around them, praying that all within that circle would be protected by God. Then, Ninian himself would go and rest.

As we are only 10 days until we reach the crèche of Christ and most of us are in the crazy fun, not fun times of the Christmas season, perhaps we too need to draw a circle around ourselves or someone we know that is being overwhelmed by the secularization of this holy season.  Pastors, priests, church leaders, parents, grandparents, and store clerks along with medical personnel and hospitals are particularly overwhelmed with all the extra services that they provide during this quarantine/holiday time, so include them also in your prayer of encirclement.

_______________________

© 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’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Book 3.iv.  From Fordham.edu.

Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland. Oxford, UK: Lion Book, 2006.

Browne, G. F. The Importance of Women in Anglo-Saxon Times: The Cultus of St. Peter and St. Paul; and other Addresses. New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Bruce-Mitford, R. L. S. “The Treasure of St. Ninian’s.” Scientific American. Vol 203, No. 5. November, 1960, p. 154-170.

Earle, Mary C. and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2004.

Duckett, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. New York: Norton Press, 1959.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002.

McGrigor, Mary. Paths of the Pilgrims and Lives of the Early Saints in Scotland. Dalkeith, Scotland: Scottish Cultural Press, 2006.

National Museum of Scotland. St. Ninian’s Isle Hoard.  Video.

Rees, Elizabeth. Celtic Saints Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

___________. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. New York: Burns and Oates, 2003.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. & expanded ed. St. Paul, MN: Bogwalk Press, 2006.

St. Ninian’s Cave. 

Stanford, Peter. If These Stone Could Talk: The History of Christianity in Britain and Ireland Through Twenty Buildings. (in 4th Century chapter, he discusses Ninian of Whithorn). Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 2021.

Turpie, Tom. Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages. Brill Academic Publishers: 2015.

Undiscovered Scotland. Whithorn Priory.

Warren, Brenda Griffin. St. Ninian of Whithorn: Encircling Prayer. Godspace Light, August 26, 2021.

Whithorn.com

Whithorn Priory and Museum. 

Whithorn Way. St. Ninian’s Cave to St. Ninian’s Chapel.

Woods, Richard J. The Spirituality of the Celtic Saints. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000.

Yorke, Barbara . The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain, 600–800, Religion, Politics and Society in Britain. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 1970.

Ziegler, Michelle. Candida and the White House. Hefenfelthblog.

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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. http://www.ecclesiarum.wordpress.com

 

Healaugh Priory. Maybe built over the original monastery/hermitage. from geograph.org.uk

Healaugh 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

 

Meditation

Feast Day  March 12

Sometimes like Heiu we are moved to places that we did 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.  

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.

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.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Colman of Lindisfarne

Icon of St. Colman of Lindisfarne by an unknown writer

Celts to the Crèche

Day 25

December 9

St. Colman

3rd Bishop of Lindisfarne

 (c. 605 – February 18, 675 or August 8, 674)

On this 25th day of our Advent journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we discover that our Irish traveling companion, St. Colman had a very popular name in his day.  Some say that there are at least three hundred Celtic saints with a derivation of the name Colman (like Columba, Columbanus), meaning “little dove.”  It is said that one day a group of monks were working beside a stream when their leader shouted, “Colman, get into the water!” and twelve men jumped in. We learn about Colman of Lindisfarne mainly from the writings of The Venerable Bede (see Day 22 of Crèche) in his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (People).

This Colman was a native of the west of Ireland, likely born in Connacht. He received his education on the famous isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland. To travel across Ireland, then take a small boat or coracle to Iona on the untamed sea must have been quite an adventure for a young man in the early 7th century. Then later to be sent across the British Isle to the Scottish/English border to Lindisfarne would have been another feat of endurance. Colman must have been sure of his commissioning and calling.

Following in the footsteps of the first two Bishops of Lindisfarne being from Iona: Aidan and Finan, Colman became the third Bishop of Lindisfarne. While at Lindisfarne, he was at the Synod of Whitby in 664 that dramatically changed the Celtic ethos towards the Roman way of being Church. He was greatly disappointed in the outcome of the Synod of Whitby and soon left Lindisfarne, whether of his own volition or made to leave because he would not accept the Roman way of doing and being church, no one is for sure. Colman then established a monastery on Inishbofin off the coast of Ireland and later he established the famous Mayo Abbey on the mainland of Ireland.

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

A view of the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne. Colman was the third Abbot of Lindisfarne.

Synod of Whitby: Colman as Bishop of Lindisfarne was an active participant in the famous Synod of Whitby held at the large double monastery of St. Hilda (see day 2 of  Celts to the Crèche)  on the coast of Northumbria in 664 AD.

Synod of Whitby Mural by Juliet MacMichael in the St. Hilda Room
St. Hilda’s Priory, Sneaton Castle, Whitby, Yorks. I took this photo of the painting in Sept. 2014.

Colman represented the Celtic way of calculating Easter and the Celtic tonsure while Wilfrid represented the Roman calculation of Easter and the Roman crown of thorns tonsure. There was much discussion between these two over which was the correct way of being and doing church.

Roman Crown of Thorns Tonsure on the left and Celtic Tonsure on the right that some think came from the Druids

Very disappointed Colman resigned the Bishopric of Lindisfarne when King Oswiu of Northumbria  at the conclusion of the Synod of Whitby decided that Northumbria  would follow the Roman way. In the Life of Wilfrid,  by Eddius Stephanus  (Stephen of Ripon), there is alittle different twist to Bede’s recounting of the Synod. Eddius wrote that  Colman was told that he must retire and leave his see if he could not accept the Roman tonsure and method of keeping Easter.  Eddius even suggests that Colman had been the Metropolitan Bishop of York, so that the immediate consequence of the Synod of Whitby was Wilfrid’s election as Bishop of York in place of the departing Colman.

Leaving Lindisfarne: Before Colman departed Lindisfarne, he asked King Oswiu if he would allow Eata, the Bishop of Melrose to succeed him as Abbot. The king agreed and Eata, who had been brought up  as one of the twelve English boys at Lindisfarne under Aidan (see day 1 of Celts to the Crèche),  returned with Cuthbert serving as his Prior. With his resignation as Bishop of Lindisfarne, Colman took not only thirty English monks, but also all the Irish monks of  Lindisfarne with him back to Iona.  Colman also transported some of the treasured relics of Lindisfarne including some of the bones of St. Aidan and perhaps a tiny piece of the true cross. These relics  were brought to  Iona and then must have been divided once again as they were also reported to be in Mayo (Magh Eó)Abbey until the Reformation in 1537 when the piece of the true cross vanished.

Iona Abbey with high Celtic cross in front. Photo taken by the author, Brenda Warren, 2015

Founding of Monastery on the Isle of Inishbofin: Colman and his fellow Lindisfarne monks and perhaps others who joined him from Iona all sailed for Ireland. Upon arrival in Ireland, this hardy and devout group trekked across the mainland to the far western shores where they settled on the small island of Inis Bó Finne, also known as Inishbofin (“Island of the White Heifer”). It was on this isle seven miles off the western coast of Connemara, Galway, Ireland that Colman established his monastery. 

Remains of an early 14th c. church on Inishbofin that may built over or near a much earlier church. photo from Inishboffin.com

Stone cross fragments near Colman’s church on Inishbofin. photos from MegalithicIreland.com

Monkish Mayhem Leads to Mayo Abbey: The Saxon monks were industrious, and during the Spring and Summer they tilled the land on Inishbofin and grew the corn necessary for the survival of the community. Meanwhile, the Irish monks went on an extended vacation to visit their relatives on the mainland of Ireland. When they returned to Inishbofin in Winter, these Irish monks ate up the fruits of the Saxons’ labors. This situation inevitably led to unpleasantness within the monastery, to say the least. (reminds us of the Little Red Hen story we heard as children).

Ruins of 14thc Mayo Abbey built over the original 7thc Abbey. Photo by J. Demetrescu, 2009.

In Book IV, Chapter IV of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he tells of the disputes arose between the Saxon and Irish monks after a short time. Colman intervened and brought his ambitious Saxon monks onto the mainland of Ireland where he came upon a small tract of land which he bought from a nobleman, who made it a condition of sale that the monks who settled there would pray for him. Colman founded a monastery in 668AD for them at “Magh Eó,” meaning  the “Plain of Yew Trees” that later became known as the famous “Mayo of the Saxons.” Mayo Abbey was about sixteen kilometres south-east of the present town of Castlebar.

Colman appointed Garailt (Gerald), as the first Abbot of the newly established Mayo monastery. It is thought that he  likely came with Colman from Lindisfarne. Even though some think he was the son of  Northumbrian royalty, his name seems more Irish than Saxon. The monastery flourished under Gerald and became known throughout Christian Europe as “Mayo of the Saxons.”

Icon of St. Gerald of Mayo by unknown writer

By the year 700 A.D. more than one hundred monks lived and taught at Mayo Abbey. It became a famous seat of learning which attracted many thousands of students from various parts of Britain, including many sons of the nobility. Interestingly, Alcuin the famous English translator to Charlemagne thought so highly of the monks at Mayo that he sought their advice  on the ecclesiastical reforms of the 770’s.

An interior view of the destroyed Mayo Abbey. photo from Wikipedia

Founding of Churches in Scotland/Pictland: Later tradition states that between the years 665 and 667,  St. Colman may have founded several churches in Scotland, but there are no existing seventh-century records of such activity by him. Yet, there are Pictish centers and churches possibly named for him including the St. Colmoc’s Church at Portmahomack, Scotland in the Moray Firth.  Archaeological excavations between 1994 and 2007 led by Martin Carver revealed a mid 6th c. monastery that was burned in the 800’s possibly by Vikings. This excavation uncovered an important monastery with numerous high-quality sculptures incorporating Pictish, Irish, and Northumbrian influences and vellum making needed for manuscripts. According to Michelle Brown,  former Curator of the Medieval Manuscripts Division at the British Library and Anglo-Saxon book scholar, there is evidence of book production in this area of Scotland. Perhaps Colman settled here for a short while while evangelizing this area before trekking back to Iona.

Church at Tarbet where a monastery set up by Colman may have been. https://www.britainexpress.com/scotland/Highlands/churches/tarbat.htm. Photo from Britain Express

Colman’s Resurrection Day: Colman’s last earthly days were spent on Inishbofin where The Annals  of Ulster state that he served as the Bishop of Inishbofin.  He experienced resurrection on that peaceful isle on August 8, 674 or February 18, 675.

Meditation

Feast Day celebrated on August 8 or February 18

Thwarted plans: who has not experienced those before? Colman likely never dreamed that the Synod of Whitby would turn his world upside down. After that Synod in which he was terribly disappointed in the outcome, he resigned his Bishopric of Lindisfarne.

This began a not-planned-for peregrinatio (leaving one’s homeland and wandering for the love of God) back to Iona, via a  likely sojourn among the “uncivilized” Picts and then onto a tiny island off the coast of Ireland to begin his new monastery. Then because of mayhem among his monks, it seemed prudent to start another new monastery back in mainland Ireland.

Yet, Colman trusted God to be the captain of his coracles and the leader and guide of his journeys, helping him to make judicious decisions, to be fair, and to be a good leader and visionary. Yes, Colman’s plans were definitely thwarted by human beings and maybe even by his own temperament, but God the master-transformer turned them into good. Colman helped evangelize much more of the Celtic world than if he had comfortably stayed at  Lindisfarne.

St. Paul also had his plans on his various missionary tours thwarted and ended up in places he never dreamed or imagined. He wrote of this: “and I know that all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes.” Romans 8:28.

_______________________

© 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: 

Annals of Ulster. 668.3

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, book 4 chapter 4.

Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Brett, Joe. The Monastic Settlement of Mayo of the Saxons. Mayo, Ireland website.

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland. Oxford, UK: Lion Books, 2006.

Colgrave, Bertram, tr. The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Darcy, M. R. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Deanesley, Margaret. The Pre-Conquest Church in England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Duckette, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. New York: The Norton Library, 1959.

Goffart, Walter. The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005.

Harris, Sylvia Mundahl. St. Hilda and Her Times. Whitby: UK: Caedmon of Whitby, 1997.

Inishbofin.com,

Inishbofin. Megalithic Ireland.com.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002.

Jones, Kathleen. Who are the Celtic Saints? Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2001.

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.

Mayo Abbey website

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, Pa: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England: St. Colman of Lindisfarne

Rees, Elizabeth. Celtic Saints, Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Richter, Michael. Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition, rev. ed. (New Gill History of Ireland I). Dublin: Gill& Macmillan, 2005.

Rollason, David. Saints and Relics in Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Simpson, Ray. Hilda of Whitby: A Spirituality for Now. Abingdon, UK: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 2014.

Thacker, Alan, “Wilfrid, St.” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, eds.

Toulson, Shirley. Celtic Journeys in Scotland and the North of England. London: Fount, 1995.

Tristram, Kate. The Story of Holy Island: An Illustrated History. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2009.

Wallace, Martin. Celtic Saints. San Francisco, Ca.: Chronicle Books, 1995.

Ward, Benedicta. High King of Heaven:Aspects of Early English Spirituality. London: Mowbray, 1999.

Woods, Richard J. The Spirituality of the Celtic Saints. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Bega of Bees

Stained Glass of St. Bega in St. Bee's Priory

Stained Glass of St. Bega in St. Bee’s Priory showing  her arrival from Ireland to St. Bees, Cumbria. photo from wikipedia

Celts to the Crèche

Day 26

December 10

St. Bega of Bees

c. 850

On this 26th day of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche we join with St. Bega of Bees on this pilgrimage to the manger in Bethlehem.

The legend of St. Bega of Bees opens with a princess in Ireland who is the daughter of a powerful king in Ireland. As a child, Bega was way beyond her years in spiritual maturity  being virtuous, intelligent, and desiring to serve God. On top of that she loved to do handicrafts! When she comes of age to be married, many suitors come to their abode hoping to gain her hand in marriage but she wants no part of any of them. She only desires to be betrothed to God. An angel is sent to Bega with an arm-ring with a cross etched on it that seals this divine betrothal between she and God.

St. Bega of Bees Arm Ring (what it possibly looked like). This arm ring used in the St. Bega video

St. Bega of Bees Arm Ring (what it possibly looked like). This arm ring used in the St. Bega video. photo by marysdowryproductions.org

The son of the King of Norway hears about her and sends an envoy to ask for her hand in marriage. We can only imagine that Bega’s father quickly agrees on this marriage proposal and hopes that this will afford his kingdom peace and fame for himself. A huge and lavish party is provided for the Irish and Viking guests who arrive for this important wedding.

Bega’s father must have recognized her reluctance to enter this marriage, so he locks all the doors in the palace and the strongest men of the area guard the entrances and exits. These most serious gatekeepers have daggers on their thighs, a spear in their hand, a double-edged ax over their shoulder.  Bega’s father was going to ensure that this royal marriage was going to happen!

While the wedding guests are wildly partying, Bega was furtively praying.  In response to her prayer, a voice tells her to run for it while everyone is drunk and that a boat is waiting at the shore for her.

Altar in Chapel of St. Bega's Priory. Statue of Bega praying on the right

Altar in Chapel of St. Bega’s Priory. Statue of Bega praying on the right. Work is entitled “The Vision of Bega” 1955by renowned sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos,(1905-2006). photo taken by Harvey Warren, 2012.

Bega crosses the sea in this boat and lands at St. Bees in western England where she lived for several years in the thick forests of Cumbria as a hermitess. She performs at least nine miracles while living there. Overtime, she begins to fear pirates who are landing in the area, so she quickly flees the area leaving her sacred arm-band behind on purpose so that miracles can continue in this place that sheltered her.

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

Was Bega a Real Person or a Legend? Bega is somewhat of a mystery. We know about Bega from the Life of St. Bega that was part of a 13th century collection of English saints’ lives that was held at Holmcultram (Holme Cultram)Abbey in Cumbria. The Life of Bega continues with Bega fleeing the pirates to Northumbria where she founds Hartlepool Abbey and later becomes a nun at Hackness. The last part of Bega’s life story is likely not true, as the founder of Hartlepool in the 640’s was Hieu (see day 24 of Celts to the Crèche) and the Begu in the story of Hackness occurred in 680 AD at St. Hilda of Whitby’s (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche ) death, not in the mid-800’s as the story of Bega likely happens.

Yet, I find it very interesting that Holmcultram Abbey in Cumbria would have a story like this in their collection, as this later founded Abbey was connected to the mother house of of the Celtic Whitby Abbey founded by St. Hilda. So, perhaps Holmcultram wanted to ensure this saintly connection with the famous Whitby Abbey and had Bega be the saintly emissary (whether real or imagined) between the Cumbrian abbey and the Northumbrian Whitby Abbey. Perhaps Holmcultram had a hagiographical Life of Bega commissioned that included a true story of a saint with some “extras” added to fit the need. I have never seen this theory in writing or heard it mentioned, it just sort of makes sense to me.

Legend of St. Bega

Legend of St. Bega. photo taken by Harvey Warren, 2012.

So, we do not know if Bega was a real person, a mixture of several saints, or if a cult grew up around her arm-ring that was still at St. Bee’s Priory as late as the 16th century. I tend to think that Bega was a real person who was sent to Cumbria from Ireland to begin an Irish style monastery that was well-loved in the northern part of England. She very well may have been of royal lineage as often those who began monasteries in the early medieval times were most often of noble heritage. But, I do not know how the arm-ring made it’s way from Ireland to St. Bee’s Priory!

 

Statue of St. Bega by Colin Telfer

Statue of St. Bega coming to Cumbria in her little boat by Colin Telfer. Statue is in the Beck Edge garden by the train station in St. Bee’s. photo taken by Harvey Warren, 2012.

St. Bee’s Priory: Today, one may visit the Norman church of St. Bee’s Priory on the Cumbrian coast. I visited there in 2012 and was touched by the beautiful early crosses in the graveyard and by the devotion to Bega for over 1,200 years, this one who reminds us to be have our heart set on God.

St. Bee's Priory nave

St. Bee’s Priory nave. Photo from Wikimedia.

Cross shaft in Graveyard at St. Bee's Priory

10thc. Cross shaft in Graveyard at St. Bee’s Priory. photo from Wikipedia

Red sandstone cross under Dragon stone (likely St. Michael fighting off the dragon). Near entry to St. Bee's Priory. Saw this in 2012

Red sandstone cross under Dragon stone (likely St. Michael fighting off the dragon). Near entry to St. Bee’s Priory. photo taken by Harvey Warren, 2012.

The town of St. Bees derives her name from Kirkeby Becok, meaning “church town of Bega.”

St. Bee's Priory

St. Bee’s Priory. photo from Priory website

West entry to St. Bee's Priory

West entry to St. Bee’s Priory. Photo from Priory website

St Bega’s Way self guided walking holiday. http://www.wanderingaengustreks.com

Bega’s Way: There is a St. Bega’s Way, a 36 mile walk through rural west Cumbria. This path connects St. Bees Priory, Ennerdale Bridge, Borrowdale, Derwentwater, and Lake Bassenthwaite. There is a  10th century St. Bee’s Church at Bassenthwaite that may have been built upon an earlier foundation.

St. Bee's Church, Bassenthwaite

St. Bee’s Church, Bassenthwaite. Isn’t the location gorgeous!

Meditation

Feast Day November 7 or October 31

St. Bega’s whole desire was to be betrothed to Christ, to be united to this one that she loved with all her heart. As a young virgin, her devotion to Christ demanded that she leave her family home in Ireland and sail across the Irish Sea to western England. That’s scary for a young woman, likely a teenager!

What is our devotion to Christ calling us to do? Do we need to leave behind some old habits, some old grudges, some old belief systems, some toxic people to discover a new way of thinking about our life in Christ?

Prayer: O Christ, may our hearts and our minds be like Bega’s centered upon You. As we are getting closer the conclusion of our pilgrimage to the Crèche, may we be ready to have you born again in our lives. Amen.

Icon of St. Bega of Bees in Cumbria and St. Kentigern of Glasgow, Scotland

Icon of St. Bega of Bees in Cumbria and St. Kentigern of Glasgow, Scotland. Unknown writer.

_______________________

© 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:

Bega. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 4

Bragg, Melvin. Credo (in U.S. entitled: The Sword and the Miracle). New York: Random House, 1997. A novel based on the life of St. Bega.

Darcy, M. R. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Downham, Claire. “St. Bega-Myth, Maiden, or Bracelet, Journal of Medieval History 33(2007):33-42. available from academia.edu.

Holmcultram Abbey. https://www.visitcumbria.com/wc/holme-cultram-abbey/

Jones, Kathleen. Who Are the Celtic Saints? Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press 2002.

Langstone, Alex. Spirit Chaser: the Quest for Bega. Spirit of Albion Books, July 13, 2013.

Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. New York: Burns and Oates, 2003.

“St. Bees” at VisitCumbria.com.

St. Bees Priory at VisitCumbria.com

St. Bega: the Irish princess, nun, or pagan relic? Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History & Folklore. June 6, 2013.

St. Bega of Bees,  a film of her life. Marysdowryproductions.org.  August 10, 2014. instant download. 28 minutes long. 

St. Bega’s Way. Cumbria

Todd, John M. “St Bega: Cult, Fact and Legend,” Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 80 (1980).

Todd, John M. “The Pre-Conquest Church at St. Bees: a possible minster?” Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (2003).

 

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Frideswide of Oxford

Icon of St. Frideswide

Icon of St. Frideswide, unknown writer

Celts to the Crèche

Day 33

December 17

St. Frideswide,

Abbess of Oxford

c665-October 19, 727 or 735

On this 33rd day of our Advent pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche we journey with Frideswide (also known as Frithuswith) whose name in Anglo-Saxon means “strong peace.” She is the patron saint of Oxford University and of the town of Oxford in England.

She lived near the Thames-Cherwell confluence overlooking the “ox-ford” which carried long distance travel from central Mercia to Southampton, hence the name Oxford. Frideswide built a monastery/convent upon that land that later became Oxford University.

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

Stained Glass of the Abbess Frideswide with her staff and the Bible in Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford (with Christ Church cathedral behind her)

Stained Glass of the Abbess Frideswide with her Abbess’ staff and the Bible in Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford
(with Christ Church cathedral behind her)

Early Life: Frideswide was born about 665 to Didan (Dydda) possibly a minor King of North and West Berkshire, and his wife Safride. As a child, Frideswide’s parents committed her to the care of a holy woman named, Ælfgith, but, after her mother’s death, Frideswide returned to live with her father. According to legend, she grew up with great piety  wearing a scratchy hair shirt and only eating barley bread, a few vegetables, and water. It is said that she would always lay prostrate when she prayed on the bare ground and that her father was grateful that she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Life: Frideswide persuaded her father to build her a church at the gates of Oxford where she took the veil by the consecration of Bishop Orgar of Lincoln along with twelve young women of nobility. Her father gave a third of the town of Oxford along with several villages and estates to the community of nuns to provide food for them. He also assigned religious men to look after the nuns’ needs. This convent was where Christ Church now stands. Oxford was founded largely around her abbey and church.

There seems to be an almost formulaic story in the lives of Celtic/Anglo-Saxon nuns and abbesses, in which the female saint  has to fend off the advances of  an aristocrat who tries to harm them when they don’t fall for their unmerciful advances. We see this same story- line in the life of Frideswide who was saved from the pursuit of a Mercian aristocrat, Ælfgar, Earl of Leicester, by fleeing Oxford. A mysterious white-robed stranger, who was said to be a disguised angel, led Frideswide to a place of refuge perhaps near Frilsham (some say Binsey, others say Bampton), where a holy well appeared near a pigsty she converted into a chapel.

St. Frideswide's Church, Frilsham likely built over the pigsty/chapel where she hid

St. Frideswide’s Church, Frilsham likely built over the pigsty/chapel where she hid from Aelfgar for 3 years

When Frideswide returned to Oxford after three years, Ælfgar who was not one to have his  advances thrawted  continued his pursuit of her and beseiged the city. Yet, just at the point of victory he was struck blind. Not long after that, Frideswide felt compassion for him and while in Binsey she prayed to St. Margaret of Antioch and St. Catherine of Alexandria (some say St. Catherine and St. Cecilia), who instructed her to tap the ground with her Abbess’s staff and a well sprang forth.  Ælfgar repented of his pursuing Frideswide and was cured of his blindness  with water from the well. Frideswide then gathered around her both nuns and monks that developed into a double monastery where she became the Abbess.

St. Frideswide's Well at St. Margaret's Church, Binsey

St. Frideswide’s Well (Treacle Well) at St. Margaret of Antioch Church, Binsey

There is a story that one day as Frideswide was on the way back to her monastery at Oxford, she met a leper and she shrank back at horror. The leper asked her to kiss him in the name of Jesus the Christ.  Trying to overcome her fear, she kissed him on the lips and the leprosy immediately left him.

We know of Frideswide mainly from three sources. John Blair who is an expert on Frideswide believes those three sources are from: the English historian William of Malmsbury; Robert of Cricklade, the Prior of St. Frideswide’s Priory; and another unknown biographer.  It is likely that all those 12c. biographers drew on an earlier 8th century Life of St. Frideswide that has been lost over the centuries.

Place of Resurrection: Frideswide was well known in her lifetime for effecting miraculous cures. A holy well at Binsey where she later retired as a hermitess became known as a place of healing. She dedicated this well to the Christian martyr, St. Margaret of Antioch. She even predicted her own death on October 19 and so she had her grave dug on a Saturday so that no one had to work on Sunday.

Just as she predicted, she passed away at Binsey on October 19, 727 or 735. It is said that at her death, she asked for her last Communion and then St. Catherine and St. Cecilia whom she had a special reverence for appeared to her. Some who were with her at her death, heard Frideswide say, “I come my Ladies I come.”  Then the whole house was filled with heavenly light and a sweet odor filled not only the house, but also the whole town. On the way to her grave a paralyzed man with crutches called out for her help and he was healed. Frideswide was buried in her monastery at Oxford or at St. Mary’s Church on the south side of the Thames River.

St. Margaret of Antioch Church, Binsey. 12th century church likely built over place where Frideswide died

St. Margaret of Antioch Church, Binsey. 12th century church likely built over place where Frideswide died

Frideswide’s Legacy Continues: In 1002 a fire destroyed most of the records of her monastery. In 1122, an Augustinian priory  was refounded on the lands of St. Frideswide’s monastery that followed the Rule of St. Augustine.  The monks excavated her grave and and rediscovered her relics which in turn revived her cult. In a great public ceremony in 1180 the Archibishop of Canterbury translated her relics to a rebuilt shrine in the church. Many miracles followed and  pilgrims flocked to her shrine until the 16th century’s English Reformation. Even Catherine of Aragon, one of Henry VIII’s numerous wives visited Frideswide’s shrine in 1518.

Frideswide's Shrine at Christ Church Cathedral. photo from Ashmolean.org

Frideswide’s rebuilt Shrine at Christ Church Cathedral. photo from Ashmolean.org

Christ Church College, Oxford was originally founded by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal’s College when he took over the site of St. Frideswide’s Monastery in 1524. When Wolsey fell from power in 1532, the College became the property of King Henry VIII. In 1538, the reformers destroyed her shrine and desecrated her relics by mixing them with those of others that are still buried together in Christ Church Cathedral. Henry re-founded the College in 1546 and appointed the old monastery church as the cathedral of the new diocese of Oxford.

Frideswide’s shrine was partly reconstructed in the 19th century. On the floor of Christ Church there is a black marble slab placed in the vicinity of Frideswide’s tomb imprinted with a single word, “Frideswide.” In the Latin Chapel of Christ Church, the major events in Frideswide’s  life are portrayed in stained glass windows designed  by E. Burne Jones in the 1850’s. They portray her as a healer, teacher, mystic, benefactor of the poor, and as the leader of a monastic family and community.

Each year on Frideswide’s Feast Day of October 19 there is a procession and liturgical celebration in Christ Church Cathedral. In 1972 and 1985 there were excavations in the Tom Quad and the cloisters of Christ Church revealing an 8th and 9th century cemetery.

Christ Church, Oxford. Likely built upon Frideswide's Priory that was built upon her original Anglo-Sa xon monastery

Christ Church, Oxford. Likely built upon Frideswide’s Priory that was built upon her original Anglo-Saxon double monastery.photo from Ashmolean.org

St. Frideswide Pilgrimage: There is a St. Frideswide pilgrimage to Binsey that begins  at her shrine in Christ Church Cathedral and continues by walking out of Tom Quad, up St. Aldates to Queen’s Street, and along Queen’s Street and Park End Street. Go past the station and down Botley Road until you come to Binsey Lane on the right. Then go down Binsey Lane and continue past the village until you come to St. Margaret of Antioch Church.

Meditation

Feast Day October 19

St. Frideswide praying at the pigsty turned into a chapel. Stained glass at Christ Church, Oxford

St. Frideswide praying at the pigsty turned into a chapel. Stained glass at Christ Church, Oxford. Photo from Christ Church, Oxford

It is captivating to consider how the Spirit of our living and loving God can turn the pigsty’s in our life into chapels with wells of living water as was done for St. Frideswide.  It reminds us of how a dirty, smelly, noisy  stable in Bethlehem became a crèche for the birth of the King of the world. The Spirit is in the business of transforming the ugly, stinky, dirty places of our life into sweet soul sanctuaries for Christ to be born anew in our lives. Oh Spirit, come and remold and remake my life into a sanctuary for Christ to live and work.

This hymn to St. Frideswide is sung to Handel’s March from Judas MaccabeusHail the Conquering Hero Comes.

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.
Child of royal parents, courted by a king,
Sought a crown of glory, spurned a wedding ring.

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.

Powerful and peaceful, vowed to God alone,
Frideswide chose a heavenly, not an earthly throne.
Prayer and meditation raised her soul above
All this world’s attraction; Jesus held herlove.

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.

Algar of Leicester planned to do her wrong,
Sent his men to seize her, Frideswide’s faith was strong –
In an instant blinded then his sight restored,
They knew both the wrath and mercy of the Lord.

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.

Wonders of healing Frideswide’s prayers obtained –
Crooked limbs were straightened, speech the dumb regained.
Through her intercession may the grace be ours
For God’s use to offer all our gifts and powers

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.

Light filled the city as she passed away
Journeyed through death’s shadow into endless day,
There we hope to join her, by the truth set free,
Where we have our treasure, there our hearts shall be.

Frideswide our patron, clear our clouded sight;
Help dissolve our darkness, bring us God’s own light.

_______________________

© 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:

Blair, John, ed., trans. Saint Frideswide, Patron of Oxford: The Earliest Texts. Oxford, UK: Perpetua Press, 1988.

Christ Church, Oxford.

A Clerk of Oxford. The Feast of St. Frideswide. October 19, 2012.

____________. Walking to St. Frideswide’s Well. October 19, 2104.

Curran, Jane. St. Frideswide: Oxford’s Patron Saint. BBC. December 9, 2009.

Davies, Mark. The Women of Oxford’s Waterways. BBC. June 3, 2010.

Eckenstein, Lina. Women Under Monasticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Frideswide in Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 20.

Horstmann, C. The Lives of Women Saints of Our Country of England. London: Early English Text Society, N. Trübner  & Co.1886. reprint by Kessinger Publishing Legacy Reprints.

 “The Legend of Frideswide of Oxford, an Anglo-Saxon Royal Abbess” in Reames,  Sherry L. ed. Middle English  Legends of Women Saints. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 2003.

Lyse, Laura. St. Frideswide: Patron Saint of Oxford. Museum of Oxford. July 26, 2021.

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

Rader, Rosemary. “St. Frideswide: Monastic Founder of Oxford” in Medieval Women Monastics: Wisdom’s Wellsprings by Miriam Schmitt and Linda Kulzer, eds. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996.

“St. Frideswide” at David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History. 

St. Margaret of Antioch Church, Binsey, Oxfordshire, England.

The Shorter South English Legendary Life of St. Frideswide,” in Reames, SherryL. ed. Middle English  Legends of Women Saints. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 2003.

Yorke, Barbara. Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses. London: Continuum, 2003.

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Celts to the Creche: St. John of Beverley

Icon of St. John of Beverley by unknown writer

Icon of St. John of Beverley by unknown writer. St. George Orthodox Information Service.

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 12

November 26

St. John of Beverley

 died May 7, 721

On day 12 of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we journey with St. John of Beverley who was not only the scholarly and erudite Bishop of Hexham and York, but he was also known as a great preacher, evangelist, teacher, and miracle worker. He took an active interest in teaching and among his many pupils were the Venerable Bede. He founded the monastery of Beverley and in 718 he retired there. He ordained The Venerable Bede as a deacon and later as a priest. The mystic Julian of Norwich had a devotion to this St. John.

West Front of Beverley Minster. photo from wikipedia

West Front of Beverley Minster. photo from wikipedia

What we know about St. John of Beverley, derives mostly from Bede (see day 23 of Celts to the Creche) who was a contemporary of John of Beverly.  Bede wrote about John in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. John’s life is not only recorded in Bede’s work, but also in later  more embellished biographies/hagiographies by Folcard,  John Leland, and William of Malmsebury among others who partially based their works upon Bede’s earlier work.

Folcard's Life of St. John of Beverley. British Library

Folcard’s Life of St. John of Beverley. as canonised in 1037, perhaps within the lifetime of Folcard, an 11th-century monk of Canterbury, who also acted as abbot of Thorney. This manuscript of Folcard’s account of St. John’s life was owned by Beverley Minster in the Middle Ages.
This initial ‘U’ introduces a section about St. Bercthun, one of St. John’s pupils, who became the first abbot of Beverley.photo from The British Library’s Online Gallery

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

Life and Education: John was likely born to a noble family in Harpham in East Riding  of Yorkshire just a few miles north of Beverley, but we do not know the exact year or even the decade when he was born.  Bede says that John lived to be a very old man and that he died in 721. So,  it is likely that John was born in the first half of the 600’s.

Stained glass at St. John of Beverley Church, Beverley, UK.

Stained glass of St. John of Beverley  at Beverley Minster, UK. photo from Beverley Minster

John trained first under St. Hilda (see day 2 of Celts to the Creche) at her double monastery at Whitby and likely later studied under Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury. Since the famous monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Hexham, Bede who was a monk at the Jarrow Monastery,  recorded that he was ordained by St. John of Beverley, first  as a deacon when he was 19 years old and later as a priest when he was 30.  Both of these ordinations were carried out under the direction of Bede’s Abbot, Ceolfrith at Jarrow. Surely, Bede had great affection and admiration for John of Beverley who ordained him two times.

St. John of Beverley with ST. Benedict and The Venerable Bede. from geograph.org.uk

St. John of Beverley with St. Benedict and The Venerable Bede. From geograph.org.uk

I conjecture that perhaps John is the one who told Bede much about St. Hilda since he personally studied with her. Bede wrote that St. Hilda’s monastery at Whitby trained five Bishops of England: John of Beverley; Bosa of York; Offtor of Worcester; Wilfrid II; and Ætla of Dorchester.

John became the Bishop of Hexham when the former Prior of Lindisfarne, Eata, who later became Bishop of Hexham, died about 687. John served at Hexham for 33 years and was succeeded by Wilfrid.

John was then consecrated as Bishop of York in 705. He was preceded as Bishop by  Bosa of York. When John left Beverley, he was succeeded by Wilfrid II.  It is interesting that Hilda as Abbess of Whitby not only trained John, but also Bosa and Wilfrid II.

John built a monastery and church at Beverley. Today, the church that has been rebuilt over time is called Beverley Minster.

Miracle Worker: John was not only a Bishop, but also a miracle worker.  Bede states that the Abbot Berthun of Beverley recounted to him many of the miracles of John. Some of these miracles include the healing of the nun Cwenburgh who was the daughter of the Abbess Hereburg of the small nunnery of Watton near Beverly;  the healing of the wife of a wealthy man named Puch with holy water consecrated in the church; the healing of a servant of a wealthy man named Æddi; and the healing of the Abbot  of the monastery at Tynemouth who had fallen off his horse and cracked his skull.

One of the more intriguing miracles was of a young man who was not able to hear nor speak and whose head was so covered in scabs that no hair would grow on his head. John not only prayed over the boy and placed the sign of the cross on his tongue, but he also worked with him to teach him to speak the letters of the alphabet and to be able to say “yes” and “no.” This young man was later able to speak in syllables and then in words. So, this was an incarnational miracle: human and divine working together.  Many more miracles are credited to John, not only in life, but also in his death.

St. John of Beverley from the Harley manuscript 2332 in the British Library

St. John of Beverley with the cross and miter.  Harley manuscript 2332 f.v5 in the British Library

Death and Place of Burial: Three years before John died at a ripe old age, he resigned as Bishop of York and he consecrated his successor, Wilfrid II as the new Bishop. John retired to the monastery he had founded in a secluded spot called by Bede, Inderawuda, meaning ‘in the wood of Deira’. This Inderawuda is considered to be Beverley, as at that time this little village was very wooded and was an island in the middle of a lake. The name “Beverley” likely means “beaver stream/lake.”

Bede says that John died in 721 and we get the exact date of his death from Folcard as May 7, 721. He was buried at his monastery church in Beverley and almost immediately after his death, Beverley became a place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims from the early Middle Ages all the way until the Reformation flocked to his shrine to see his relics and pray for miracle. He was canonized in 1037.

As part of Henry VIII’s English Reformation, sadly John’s shrine was destroyed  in 1541. The contents of the shrine disappeared from the records, but in 1664, workmen discovered a vault under the floor of the Minster’s nave at Beverley. Made of stone, the shrine was 15 ft long  and 2 ft wide  at the head and 1 ft wide at the base. It was encased in lead and inside were found ashes, six beads, three great brass pins and four large iron nails. The lead had the following inscription:

In the year from the incarnation of our Lord, 1188, this church was burnt in the month of September, the night after the feast of St Matthew the Apostle and in the year 1197, the 6th of the ides of March, there was an inquisition made of the relics of the Blessed John in this place, and these bones were found in the east part of this sepulchre, and redeposited; dust mixed with mortar was found likewise and re-interred.

In 1738, when the present Minster floor was laid, the same relics were once again dug up and replaced in the same position with an arched brick vault over them. This was covered by a marble slab, similar to others in the nave. The inscription on the tomb now reads:

HERE LIES
THE BODY OF SAINT JOHN OF BEVERLEY
FOUNDER OF THIS CHURCH
BISHOP OF HEXHAM AD 687–705
BISHOP OF YORK A.D. 705–718
HE WAS BORN AT HARPHAM
AND DIED AT BEVERLEY
AD 721

The plaque marking John's burial place in the Beverley Minster

The plaque marking John’s burial place in the Beverley Minster

 

His Influence: John was canonized by the Pope in 1037. Because of the popularity of pilgrimage to Beverley, by 1377, this little village in the woods and marsh land became one of the largest twelve cities in England.

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century anchoress and mystic was a devotee of St. John of Beverley and she described him as “a kind neighbor of pure knowing.” The famous scholar Alcuin had a very strong devotion to St. John of Beverley. In his poem on the saints of York, Alcuin wrote of the numerous miracles of John. (from verse 1085 to 12150.)

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich had a devotion for St. John of Beverley. photo from Norwich Cathedral

King Edward I and King Henry V were also followers of St. John of Beverley. Henry V attributed his win at the Battle of Agincourt in the 15th century to the help from John. It is said that on the day of the battle, that blood and oil flowed from John’s tomb.

Just as St. Francis is associated with animals and creation and St. Joseph as the patron saint of carpenters, John is closely associated with criminals and fugitives because the church at Beverley had special sanctuary rights which were likely more extensive than those of other churches. He is the patron saint of the deaf.

John likely left behind numerous writings that have been lost over time. Robert Bale who died in 1503, recorded that several of  John of Beverley’s writings were in Queen’s College in Oxford. It seems, that these works have been lost over time.

Currently, the feast of St. John is celebrated on the Thursday nearest  May 7, when the choir and members of the congregation of Beverley Minster go the church at Harpham and in a procession walk to the flower festooned well of St. John. After singing an anthem and praying, the congreation returns to the church for choral evensong.

On the Sunday nearest May 7,  the dignitaries of the city dressed in full regalia led by mace bearers process to the West Door of the Beverley Minster.  After the service, the children from Harpham place primroses that they have gathered from the woods on John’s tomb.

Beverley Minster

Beverley Minster. photo from humber.tv

 

Meditation 

Feast Day May 7

St. John of Beverley exhorts us to remember those who are in need of healing whether from a physical disability, a debilitating physical or mental illness, or struggling in soul and spirit. We live in a broken and fragmented world, desperately in need of the Good News that the God of the universe who loves us,  also has  compassion on us. May we be Christ’s heart, hands, feet, and mind bringing hope, healing, and renewal to those in need of wholeness.

Jesus the Christ said that when you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me. Matthew 25:40.

Prayer:  O God of healing and compassion, may our spiritual eyes be open to those who need a word of encouragement and blessing, a kind smile, a tender touch, a hug, a meal. Help us to do unto others as we would have them do to us. Amen.

_______________________

© 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. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book V.

Beverley Minster. official website of the Minster.

Blair, John. An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

________.The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Bonner, Gerald, David Rollason, and Clare Stancliffe, eds, St. Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD 1200. Woodbridge, UK: Woodbridge Press, 1989.

Crook, John. English Medieval Shrines. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2011.

Deansley, Margaret. The Pre-Conquest Church in England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Early British Kingdoms. St. John of Beverley, Bishop of York. 

Enacademic.com. John of Beverley. 

Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.

Goffart, Walter. The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005, 2009 reprint.

“John of Beverley” in Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 29.

Kennedy-Jones, Neil and Geraldine and Andrew M. Seddon. Walking with the Celtic Saints: A Devotional. New York: Crossroad, 2004.

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.

Ridyard, Susan J. The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study of West Saxon  East Anglian Cults. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

St. John’s Well Blessing Beverley and Harpham. Youtube Video.

Stenton, F.M. Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Presss, 1989.

Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Wilson, Susan E. King Athelstan and St. John of Beverley. Northern History, July 19, 2013. vol. 40, no. 1. 

______________. The Life and After-Life of St. John of Beverley: The Evolution of the Cult of an Anglo-Saxon Saint. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2006. (the author did her dissertation on St. John of Beverley and this book is the most complete study on this saint)

Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms in Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 1997.

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Celts to the Creche: King Aldwulf of East Anglia

Celts to the Crèche

Day 17

December 1

King Aldwulf

of

East Anglia

c635-713

On this 17th day with the Celts to the Creche, we journey with Aldwulf (Ealdwulf). He was king of East Anglia from 663 to around 713. During his long reign of 49 years, East Anglia experienced an extended period of stability and growth, including the expansion of the commercial center at Gipeswic (Ipswich). He was the son of Queen Hereswith,  (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche), the nephew of Abbess Hilda of Whitby, (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche), and the grandnephew of King Raedwald, likely of the Sutton Hoo and Treasures fame. 

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

Ipswich ware found at West Stowe. Beginning about 700 AD, this pottery began to be produced in Ipswich in factories using a pottery wheel.Ipswich ware found at West Stowe. Beginning about 700 AD, this pottery began to be produced in Ipswich in factories using a pottery wheel. photo from stedmundsburychronicle.com

The territory that King Aldwulf ruled comprises modern day Norfolk and Suffolk and perhaps part of the Cambridgeshire Fens. It was during the latter part of his reign that the famous Ipswich Ware began to be produced. It is likely that Aldwulf ruled from the area around modern day Rendlesham. St. Gregory’s Church at Rendlesham is a possibility to consider as the place where the Wuffing royal hall may have stood or the royal settlement may have been further north near Naunton Hall.

St. Gregory's Church, Rendlesham where the royal castle may have been. I visited here 2012.photo from geograph.org.ukSt. Gregory’s Church, Rendlesham where the royal castle may have been. I visited here in 2012. photo from geograph.org.uk

Bede tells us in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, III, 22 that the East Saxon King Swiðhelm was baptized near modern day Rendlesham by St Cedd,(see Day 14 Celts to the Crèche) with Rædwald’s nephew King Æþelwald standing as his godfather, around the year 660. 

East Anglia in Anglo-Saxon times. from wikipediaEast Anglia in Anglo-Saxon times. from wikipedia

Familial Heritage: We know of Aldwulf and his lineage from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Anglian Collection, and the Historia Brittonum. Aldwulf  was of the Wuffinga lineage. He was the son of Æthilric and his wife Hereswith and a grandson of Hereric and Breguswith. It is quite likely that Aldwulf’s father Æthilric may have been the same person as Ecgric. Ætherlric/Ecgric died around 636 along with King Sigiberht as they were trying to defend their  kingdom against an attack by King Penda of Mercia. Aldwulf’s aunt was the great founding abbess, St. Hilda of Whitby (see Day 2 of Celts to the Crèche). His maternal grandparents were Hereric and Breguswith of the royal Bernician Northumbrian family.

East Anglian tally from the Textus Roffensis of the Anglian Collection. (photo from wikipedia.com)East Anglian tally from the Textus Roffensis of the Anglian Collection. photo from wikipedia.com

The Wuffingas ruled from Suffolk in the southeast coastal area called the Wicklaw Hundreds which consisted of Sutton Hoo, Snape, Rendlesham, Ipswich, Burrow Hill, and Iken.

Aldwulf was the great-nephew of Rædwald of the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial treasure. Bede tells us that as a young child Aldwulf saw firsthand the temple containing both Christian and pagan altars that Rædwald of East Anglia had maintained.

Sutton Hoo helmet-replica. Original in British Museum. WikipediaSutton Hoo helmet-replica. Original pieces of the helmet are in the British Museum. photo from Wikipedia

We do not know if Aldwulf went with his widowed mother Hereswith to France to live in a double monastery either at Faremoutiers or Chelles, or whether he stayed with family in East Anglia. 

Bede also tells his readers that Aldwulf established the second East Anglian episcopal see at North Elmham in 672/673.

Saxon ruins of North Elham Cathedral established during Aldwulf's reignSaxon ruins of North Elham Cathedral established during Aldwulf’s reign. photo from wikipedia

Children: We do not know the name of Aldwulf’s wife, but we do know the names of at least two of his children, Ælfwald who succeeded his father as king and a daughter Ecburga who was an Abbess at Repton Abbey in Derbyshire and also likely served as an Abbess at Ely.  It is very possible that Ecburga is the Œdilburga that is listed on the cross shaft as an Abbess at the Hackness Monastery, since Hackness was a daughter house to St. Hilda’s Whitby (Hilda would have been Ecburga’s great aunt).

The shaft of an Anglo-Saxon cross in the church in Hackness which is likely located on the foundations of St. Hilda's convent at Hackness. The cross bears the names of later Abbesses including those of Hilda's great nieces (Hereswith's granddaughters). Author saw this in April 2012.The shaft of an Anglo-Saxon cross in the church in Hackness which is likely located on the foundations of St. Hilda’s convent at Hackness. The cross bears the names of later Abbesses including those of Hilda’s great nieces (Hereswith’s granddaughters). Author saw this in April 2012 and Sept. 2014. photo by Harvey Warren

Ælfwald, the son of Aldwulf, commissioned a monk named Felix to write The Life of Guthlac. Felix’s prologue to the work began with this dedication to Ælfwald “beloved by me beyond any other of royal rank.” Ælfwald was a literate and devoutly Christian king. In Ælfwald’s letter of about 747 written to Boniface who was the great English missionary to the Germans, he mentions that there are seven monasteries in his kingdom.

It becomes obvious that likely beginning with Grandmother Hereswith and Great-Aunt Hilda that this was a deeply devoted Christian family greatly influenced by these two amazing women of faith, strength, and courage.  It is interesting that Abbess Ecburga had given Guthlac a lead sarcophagus and a linen shroud to be used when he died. Guthlac died young at 40, worn out from work and too much fasting. Before he died, Ecburga also asked Guthlac who would succeed him at Crowland. He was buried in the oratory close to his hermitage.

A detail of an illustration from 'The life of Saint Guthlac' (Manuscript from the 12th century, British Museum Library Board) H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 142, Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-8289-0321-5. from wikipediaA detail of an illustration from ‘The life of Saint Guthlac’ (Manuscript from the 12th century, British Museum Library Board) H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 142, Bechtermünz Verlag, ISBN 3-8289-0321-5. from wikipedia

Resurrection Day: After a successful 49 year reign which was a very long reign in the Anglo-Saxon period, Aldwulf died in 713 likely in Rendlesham and was succeeded by his son Ælfwald who also had a long reign of 36 years.

Meditation

Followers of Celtic spiritual practices are fond of Encircling prayers. “Practicing the encircling prayer is simple. Pause and then take a moment to draw a holy circle around yourself or imaginatively, around a loved one. Use your index finger as a way of inscribing the circle around you.”  from:  Blog on Encircling Prayer by Bruce Epperly. AnamCara Books.

A Celtic Encircling Prayer for Advent and Christmas

Circle us, Lord
Circle us with the light of your presence, bright within this dark world
Enable us to be overcomers of fear and temptation
Enable us to be victors over sin and despair
Enable us to become that which you would desire
(Silent prayer)

Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle us with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle our family within the shelter of your outstretched arms
Protect them in each moment of their daily lives
Protect them in the decisions that they face
Protect their homes and relationships
(Silent prayer)

Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our families with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle this nation with Advent love and hope
Create a desire to listen to the Advent message
Create a willingness to understand and respond
Create a need to reach out to the Christ Child
(Silent prayer)

Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our nation with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle this world with the joy of your Salvation
Where there is sickness and disease bring healing
Where there is hunger and despair bring hope
Where there is torture and oppression bring release
(Silent prayer)

Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle this world with the light of your presence. Amen. 

Prayer from: http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Christmas.htm#ixzz4RyTaEKiW
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution
Follow us: @faithandworship on Twitter and faithandworship on Facebook

_______________________

© 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:

Archaeology. Possible Anglo-Saxon Palace Discovered at Rendlesham. September 20, 2016.

BBC News. Anglo-Saxon’Palace’ Found at Rendlesham near Sutton Hoo Site. September 20, 2016.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 2, XVFordham University. Medieval Sourcebook.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 4, XXIII. Fordham University. Medieval Sourcebook.

Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

British Museum. Room 41: Sutton Hoo and Europe AD300-1100. The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery. 

___________. The Anglo-Saxon Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo. 

Felix. Goodwin, Charles Wycliffe, ed. and tr. The Anglo-Saxon version of the life of St. Guthlac, hermit of Crowland.

Gallyon, Margaret. The Early Church in Eastern England. Lavenham, UK: Terence Dalton Limited,1973.

Hoggett, Richard. The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2010.

Jones, Trefor. The English Saints: East Anglia. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 1999.

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

National Trust. Sutton Hoo. 

Nennius. Historia Brittonum in J. A. Giles. Old English Chronicles. London: George Bell, 1906.

Newton, Sam. Rendlesham: Site of the Hall of the Wuffings. 

_________. Wuffings’ Website. (excellent resource for this familial line)

Pestell, Tim. Landscapes of Monastic Foundation: The Establishment of Religious Houses in East Anglia, c.650-1200. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2004.

Plunkett, Steven. Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times. Stroud, UK: Tempus, 2005.

St. Gregory’s Church, Rendlesham: A brief history and guide. 2nd ed. June, 1992.

Secret Suffolk. King Raedwald’s Altars. 

Stenton, Frank Merry. Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England: Being the Collected Papers of Frank Merry Stenton, ed. by Doris Mary Stenton. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1970, 2000 reprint. (note: this works out the issue of Aldwulf being the son of Hereswith and Æthelric and not of Æthelhere and Ælfwald being Adlwulf’s son and not his brother)

Walker, Veronica. “The Ghostly Treasure Ship of Sutton Hoo.” National Geographic History Magazine, January/February 2017.

Warner, Peter. The Origins of Suffolk. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England.  New York: Routledge, 2002.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Deiniol of Wales

St. Deiniol icon by unknown writer

St. Deiniol icon by unknown writer

Celts to the Crèche

Day 28

December 12

St. Deiniol of Wales

died 584 AD

On this 28th day of the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Deiniol of Wales (St. Daniel).  It seems appropriate that he would be on this journey with us to the manger stall where Christ was born as he visited Bethlehem while he was Bishop and Abbot of Bangor in the kingdom of Gwynedd, Wales. 

St. Deiniol founded a monastery on the Menai Strait that he named Bangor, after the wattle fence that surrounded it. His church became a cathedral and it grew into a large diocese. This monastery was founded under the patronage of Maelgwn Gwynedd who endowed it with lands and privileges, later raising it to the rank of the official seat of a bishop, sharing a common boundary with the principality of Gwynedd. Deiniol spent the remainder of his days here as Abbot and Bishop.

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

Life of St. Deiniol: We know about St. Deiniol from a Latin Life of Deiniol, preserved in Peniarth MS226 and transcribed in 1602 by Sir Thomas Williams of Trefriw. There was also a poem written in 1527 by Sir David Trevor, parson of Llanallgo, which gives a few extra details of the saint’s life.

Martyrology of Tallaght

Martyrology of Tallaght. Part of manuscript separated from the Book of Leinster and housed in the University College, Dublin. photo from wikipedia

The first mention of Deiniol comes from the 9th century Irish Martyrology of Tallaght where he is one of only three Welsh saints to be included showing the importance of his foundations in the pre-Viking period.

He may have been the son of Abbot Dunod Fawr (Dunawd), son of King Pabo Post Prydain, who lost a battle with the king of the Picts. With the defeat, the family lost their land in Southwest Scotland  but were welcomed and given land by the king of Powys, Cyngen ap Cadell. This friendship was sealed when King Pabo’s daughter married a son of King Cyngen.

Deiniol’s possible father, Abbot Dunod Fawr was the founder of the famous Bangor-is-y-coed Monastery (Bangor below the woods) on the River Dee about four miles southeast of Wrexham. It was known to the English as Bancornaburg.  This large monastery was likely located between the present village and the racetrack. Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People spoke of this monastery saying that it was so large that it was divided into seven groups each with their own superior. Bede also records an interesting showdown about 604 at Bangor-is-y-coed between St. Augustine of Canterbury and seven British bishops.

Holy Well of St. Deiniol in Penally, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Holy Well of St. Deiniol in Penally, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. Deiniol’s Calling as Bishop of BangorDeiniol is said to have studied at his father’s monastery and also under the famous teacher Cadoc of Llancarfan. He spent  his early life as a hermit in Pembrokeshire, yet was called to be a bishop despite deficiencies in his formal education. When the bishoporic of Bangor became open, after praying, the people were led by the Spirit to Deiniol who was living in the wilderness. 

Following is the wonderful story of Deiniol’s calling as Bishop of Bangor from the Life of Deiniol:

In course of time, the Cathedral Church of Bangor becoming vacant through the death of its Bishop, those to whom the election or provision of a Bishop in that Church pertained met; the grace of the Holy Spirit was invoked, and it was revealed from heaven that they should send without delay into Pembroke, and choose a certain eremite dwelling on a mountain in the southern part of Pembroke, to be Bishop and pastor of their Church, and it was added that he was named Daniel.

They at once sent messengers to the aforesaid part. The messengers, coming there, found the eremite in the place we named before, and, having first greeted, him, ask him, “What is thy name?” He humbly replied, “I am called Daniel, but am no prophet.” Then the messengers rejoiced with great joy, and told him in detail the object of their journey and arrival there. But he, being incredibly astonished, says, ” How can this be, that you claim me as Bishop-elect, since I have hardly the elements of learning nor any knowledge of letters?” In reply they said, ” It is the will of God that it should be so.” And he, being overcome by their insistence, and wishing to obey the Divine call, left all that he had, and followed them in the name of the Saviour, until they arrived at the entrance of the city of Bangor.

And at once all the bells of the city were rung without the hand of man. But when the people who were in the city heard the sound of the bells they went into the Church, and, finding no one ringing the bells, said to one another that it was a miracle which the Lord had wrought; and immediately, lo, the messengers with Daniel now stood at the Church doors. Then the clergy of that Church, conducting Daniel to the High Altar of the Church, and singing with the utmost fervour the “Te Deum Laudamus,” praised the Saviour’s mercy. And when S. Daniel arose from prayer he was so endowed with all ecclesiastical knowledge that no one in Britain seemed then like him in knowledge and letters.

St. Deiniol attended the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, Wales c. 545 or 560 with St. David of Wales when the subject of rules for penance was being discussed. It is also thought to be the synod in which Pelagius (see day 18 of Celts to the Crèche) was declared a heretic postmortem. It was said that the young abbot David spoke so eloquently at this synod that Bishop Dubricius immediately retired and made David the Bishop. Then the first thing David did as a newly consecrated Bishop was to consecrate Deiniol as Bishop of Bangor.

St. Deiniol had a son named St. Deiniol the Younger who succeeded him as Abbot of Bangor. The village of Llanddaniel Fab in Anglesley, eight miles southwest of Bangor is named after St. Deiniol’s son.

Bardsey Island. A view of the ruins of St. Mary's Church

Bardsey Island. St. Deiniol was likely buried here. A view of the ruins of St. Mary’s Church

Day of Resurrection and Influence: According to the Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales), Deiniol died in 584 and was buried on Bardsey Island.

St. Deiniol’s Bangor Monastery was destroyed by the Vikings in 1073. All that remains are some geometric carvings on a few stone slabs that can be viewed in the cathedral. But the 14th c. Bangor Cathedral was built upon the church there and became one of Britain’s earliest dioceses.

Bangor Cathedral. View from East

Bangor Cathedral. View from East

Prime Minister William E. Gladstone dedicated his library in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales to St. Deiniol. Until recently, the magnificent residential library that was established by Gladstone for “divine learning” was called St. Deiniol’s Library. Today it is called Gladstone’s Library.

Gladstone's Library, formerly known as St. Deiniol's Library. I stayed there for 3 weeks studying in Sept. 2009

Gladstone’s Library, formerly known as St. Deiniol’s Library. I stayed there for 3 weeks studying in Sept. 2009

On a personal note, I was blessed to receive the Canon Symonds Scholarship to live at Gladstone’s Library and study in her incredible library while on sabbatical from my church in September 2009. For a pastor and former theological library director who loves church history to live in this library, to eat daily gourmet meals, and to be able to use this library at any time day or night was beyond my wildest dreams or imaginations. I am so very grateful to the Warden, Rev. Dr. Peter Francis for allowing me this amazing privilege. It was during this stay that I studied the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints that significantly aided in the preparation of this series of Celts to the Crèche: A Celtic 40 Days of Advent Devotional.

Inside the Library of Gladstone's Library. Picture taken Sept. 2009

Inside the Library of Gladstone’s Library. Isn’t it stunning? Picture taken Sept. 2009

The Hawarden church next door to the library is dedicated to St. Deiniol. I worshipped there when I was in residence at Gladstone’s Library. Prime Minister Gladstone and his wife Catherine are buried inside the church.

St. Deiniol's Church, Hawarden. I worshipped in this church when I stayed at Gladstone's Library which is next door. Sept. 2009

St. Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden. I worshipped in this church when I stayed at Gladstone’s Library which is next door. Sept. 2009

Besides Bangor Cathedral there are other churches in Wales and in Brittany, France dedicated to St. Deiniol. There are numerous miracle stories connected to St. Deiniol including one in which he did not have any oxen to plow his fields. A pair of sturdy stags came out of the forest and he put the yoke on them and they plowed his field and then returned to the woods.

Meditation

Feast Day is September 11

The Nativity at St. Deiniol's Church, Hawarden. Stained glass by Edward B Jones before he died. photo by

The Nativity at St. Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden. Stained glass by Edward Burne- Jones before he died. photo by Rosie Miles

The Spirit often works in ways we cannot dream or imagine. The hermit Deiniol never dreamed of being a Bishop of a Cathedral, but like Mary he followed the call upon his life. Deiniol even uttered the same words as Mary, “how can this be?” When God calls us to a place of service in life, may we like Mary and Deiniol answer in the affirmative…it might just be life and history changing.

________________________

© 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:

Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales). at Medieval Sourcebook.

Baring-Gould, S.and John Fisher. The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales and Cornwall and Such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain. from Archive.org.

Bede, The Venerable. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Book 2

Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970, 1993 reprint.

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Wales.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland.

Live in a Library Blog. Gladstone’s Library.  Youtube. April 6, 2017.

The Life of St. Deiniol. Peniarth MS. 225 (1602), p. 155. In the “Celtic Literature Collective website.”

Martyrology of Tallaght. available online at googlebooks.

Peters, Jane. St. Deiniol at Stories of the Saints website.

Rees, Elizabeth. Celtic Saints in Their Landscape. Sutton Publishing, 2000.

___________. Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

___________. Celtic Sites and Their Saints: A Guidebook. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.

St. Deiniol. September 11. National Calendar of Wales.

St. Deiniol’s Church, Hawarden. Historic Wales Guide.

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Celts to the Creche: Abbesses Beatrice and Anna of Iona Nunnery

Grave slab on Abbess Anna McLean, d. 1543 at Iona Nunnery. The bottom half of the slab is broken off, but has the Virgin Mary on it

Grave slab of Abbess Anna McLean, d. 1543 at Iona Nunnery. The top half of the slab is of Abbess Anna and the bottom half of the slab is broken off, but has the Virgin Mary on it. Latin inscription on the grave slab, partly lost: Here lies lady Anna, daughter of Donald, son of Charles, sometime Prioress of Iona who died in the year 1543. We commend her soul to the All-Highest…..photo from ionahistory.org.uk

Celts to the Crèche

Day 22

December 6

Abbesses

Beatrice (Bethóc)

and

Anna of

Iona Nunnery

 

On this 22nd day of our 40 day journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet two influential and courageous Abbesses of Iona. Often, pilgrims and tourists who pilgrimage to Iona to visit the historic Abbey do not realize that not only is the historic Iona Abbey on this holy isle that was established for monks, there is also the ruins of the ancient Iona Nunnery. Let’s meet these two early 13th century Abbesses, (Prioress) Beatrice (Beatrix), the first Abbess of the Iona Nunnery and secondly, the life of late 15th century Abbess Anna McLean.

Abbess Beatrice (Bethóc): Reginald, son of Somerled, Lord of the Isles (Raghnall mac Somhairle) founded Iona Nunnery in 1207/8 and installed his sister, Beatrice (Bethoc), as its first Abbess. She was likely born about 1180 probably in the western Highlands of Scotland.

According to the Book of Clanranald, Bethóc (Beatrice) was a “black nun,” (likely Augustinian nun) while the History of the MacDonalds and Lords of the Isles states that she was Prioress of Iona. There is a stone that was  inscribed on Iona that Martin Martin in 1695 described the Gaelic inscription to have read “Behag nijn Sorle vic Ilvrid priorissa” (“Prioress Bethóc, daughter of Somairle, son of Gilla Brigte”). The transcription was still legible in the 19th century.

Beatrice may have been the original owner of the Iona Psalter, housed in the National Library of Scotland. The Iona Psalter was probably written in Oxford between 1180 and 1220. The calendar and litany include a number of Iona saints, which suggests that the psalter was intended for Beatrice. The psalter may also have been illuminated in Oxford, in the 13th century. It is unknown whether the psalter ever made it to Iona.

In the Story of Iona by Rev. Edward Craig Trenholme in 1909, there is an interesting tidbit about Abbess Beatrice:

 “she seems to have been active in spiritual works,  for the same writer goes on to say that she built the church called Teampull Chairines, in the island of Uist…Martin, an observant traveller who made a tour of the Hebrides at the end of the seventeenth century, records an inscription which he read on a gravestone in Iona Nunnery: ‘BEHAG NIGN SORLE VIC IL VRID PRIORESSA’; Beatrice, daughter of Somerledt the son of Gilbride, prioress.”

 

Abbess Anna McLean: Anna was likely born in the late 15thc. into the McLean clan, the daughter of Donald, the son of Charles McLean. Little is known of the nuns who lived at the Iona Nunnery except we can assume that they followed a strict life of prayer and contemplation.

A few clues have been left which shed light on aspects of the nuns’ lives including the tombstone of Abbess Anna Maclean which is so detailed in its carving as to give a clear depiction of her dress. She is shown with a rochet, an overgarment which covered the head and part of the body, made up of white or black linen (likely black since they were probably Augustinian) with long sleeves which fit close to the arms and ended at the hand. Her grave slab also depicts her with a mirror and a comb, with towers, and with two small dogs. The top part is of Anna and the bottom image is of the Virgin Mary with the sun and moon. The carving is attributed to the Augustinian Oronsay School of Carvers . From her grave slab, we know Anna’s Resurrection day was in 1543.

A drawing of what the gravestone looked like before it broke

A drawing of what the gravestone looked like before it broke. picture from ionahistory.org.uk.

Tiree: Abbess Anna’s patronage extended to the church of Soroby on the island of Tiree which was held by the nunnery. In St. Columba’s (see Day 4 of Celts to the Crèche) time, Tiree was the place where grain was grown for the Abbey and Columba likely established a daughter abbey there. Sculptured stones found in the vicinity show that Soroby was likely the site of Maigh Luinge,  a monastic settlement created on Tiree around 565AD. It was established by the second Abbot of Iona, Baithene who was a first cousin of St. Columba and an ardent disciple of him. Some say the purpose of this monastery was for the rehabilitation for wayward monks.

Short McLean’s Cross on Tiree. Photo from Echoes of the Past blog.

Chiefs of the Clan MacLean were buried in the graveyard, at the southern end of the beach, during the period they ruled Tiree (1390-1680). There was also a parish church here from the 13th to 19th centuries of which nothing remains.

Anna dedicated a large Celtic cross to the Soroby church. The shaft of the cross was dedicated to the Archangel Michael by Anna, Prioress of Iona.  St. Michael is depicted on the cross with a dragon and the image of a nun being led away by death. St. Michael was known as the collector of good souls, so perhaps Abbess Anna was hoping that St. Michael would carry her to heaven.

Celtic cross at church at Soroby on island of Tiree. photo from http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk

Celtic cross at church at Soroby on island of Tiree. photo from scotlands  places.gov.uk

You may desire to continue reading more about  the McLean’s Cross and the Iona Nunnery or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

McLean’s Cross: The McLean’s Cross, a Celtic High Cross on Iona, was carved from a single slab of stone about 1500. It was produced by the stone carvers of the famous Iona School. It was placed on the road between Iona Abbey and Iona Nunnery and stands about 120 yards north of the Nunnery. It is 10’4” tall. Perhaps this fine cross was commissioned by Abbess Anna’s father Donald or her grandfather Charles.

15th c. McLean's Cross between Iona Abbey and Iona Nunnery

15th c. McLean’s Cross between Iona Abbey and Iona Nunnery

Iona Nunnery: Some say that the nunnery was Benedictine, but it is more likely that they were one of only two Augustinian Orders in Scotland, the other being in Perth. It is one of the best preserved medieval nunneries in all of Britain.

The nunnery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary or St. Oran and earned itself the name ‘An Eaglais Dhubh’, the black church, after the color of the nuns’ robes. They followed the teachings of Augustine of Hippo in Egypt.  Even though the nunnery was Augustinian, the construction of the buildings was in the typical Irish style, revealing the continued  influence of St. Columba who came from Ireland and established this island.

The nunnery became a popular place for retired women of nobility of western Scotland and a place of burial. A graveslab in Ronan’s Chapel (Teampull Rònain) bears the inscription: ‘Here lie Finnguala and Mariota MacInolly, sometime nuns of Iona’. 

Unlike the rest of the Iona Abbey buildings, the nunnery has not been fully restored since being made derelict during or sometime after the Reformation. The pink granite walls that remain are considered to be some of  the best examples of a medieval nunnery left in Britain. Some restoration work was done on the nunnery in 1922/1923 and 1993. In 1923, the  cloister garth was planted as a memorial garden and there are numerous early sculptured stones  preserved in the convent.

 

Iona Nunnery. Sept. 2014

Second Pilgrimage to Iona and the Iona Nunnery.        Sept. 2014

Sacristy of Iona Nunnery. Photo taken Sept. 2014

Sacristy of Iona Nunnery. Photo taken Sept. 2014

Iona Nunnery. Photo taken on my trip to Iona in Sept. 2009.

Iona Nunnery. Photo taken on my first pilgrimage to Iona in Sept. 2009.

Poignant line of women's graves outside the Iona Nunnery, Sept. 2014

Poignant line of women’s graves outside the Iona Nunnery. Photo taken Sept. 2014

In the National Museums of Scotland are four silver and gilt spoons and a broken gold fillet found during preservation work in December 1922 at the base of the south respond of the chancel arch. There were indications that they had been deposited, wrapped in linen, in the 13th century.

Silver gilt spoon found at Nunnery. Photo from the National Museum of Scotland

Silver gilt spoon found at Nunnery. Photo from the National Museum of Scotland

Ronan’s Chapel: About 30 feet north of the west end of the nunnery is Ronan’s chapel which was built about the same time as the nunnery and served as the parish church for the medieval inhabitants of the only village on Iona, called Baile Mòr.  The size of the church is about 37’x16′. It was named for St. Ronan whose feast day is February 7 in the Scottish calendars. He is listed in the Annals of Ulster as having died in 737.

The church was dissolved during the Protestant Reformation of 1560. But, it is interesting that King James IV, during the Reformation, did not close down the monasteries, instead he put a hefty tax on them each year to pay. Often, the monasteries could not pay the tax and would have to let the foundation go.

Excavations beneath the floor of the chapel  in 1992 revealed traces of an earlier chapel, possibly dating from the 8th century, with a possible burial ground under the 8thc. foundation that relates closely to the beginning of St. Columba’s time.  The chapel now houses architectural fragments and graveslabs found at the nunnery.

Inside Ronan’s Chapel on Iona by the Nunnery. Photo taken on my first pilgrimage to Iona, September 2009.

In 1574 the last Abbess Marian McLean passed the convent and the lands to Hector McLean of Duart.

John Philip Newell in his book, The Rebirthing of God magnificently describes the Iona Nunnery that has often been overlooked by those who choose to go straight to the Abbey without noticing the strange beauty of this place that is both ruinous and gorgeous. He describes the stillness and sacredness of praying in this  nunnery abbey that is like a roofless cathedral, open to the sights, sounds, and smells of sky and nature.  He believes that this nunnery has often been bypassed because of our neglect of the feminine. Philip boldly states:

“Our religion, like much of Western culture, has suffered a tragic imbalance. The neglect and exploitation of the earth have gone hand in hand with a subordination and abuse of the feminine. This has often included a fear of the feminine and its deep birthing energies. Praying in the Nunnery is part of the growing desire in us to bring back into relationship again so-called opposites that have been torn apart, the masculine and the feminine, as well as the life of humanity and the life of the earth.” (p. 2-3.)

Meditation

These two Abbesses of noble families would likely tell us to simply “be faithful.” Be faithful to God, be faithful to family, be faithful to neighbor, be faithful to God’s magnificent creation. Be faithful to stay on the path of pilgrimage to the crèche, to the place of new birth and renewed hope. Like Mary whose faith must have been truly tested, we too are pregnant with Jesus the Christ, waiting in labor this Advent season for the Messiah to be born anew in our lives.

Prayer: O God, help me to be faithful to continue my journey of new life and fresh new starts. Send angels to accompany and encourage me. Send shepherds and shepherdesses to lead, feed, and protect me. Send a star to guide me along the path of light. Send wise men and women to bring gifts for this new life of faith, hope, and love. Amen.

_______________________

© 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:

Bethóc, Prioress of Iona. Youtube.

The Book of Clanranald.

Canmore Historic Environment Scotland. Iona Nunnery and MacLean’s Cross.

Cochrane, Robert, ed. Report of the Excursion of the Cambrian Archaeological Association in Connexion with the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland to the Western Islands of Scotland, Orkney, and Caithness, June 1899.

Echoes of the Past. McClean’s Cross, Isle of Tiree. June 13, 2016.

Exploring Scotland’s History. Augustinian Nunnery, St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona. March 3o, 2021. Youtube.

Goodrich-Freer, Ada. Outer Isles.

Historic Scotland. Iona Abbey and Nunnery. 

History of the McDonald’s and Lords of the Isles. National Library of Scotland.

The Iona Community: A Christian Ecumenical Community.

Isle of Tiree. 

The Journal of Antiquities. St. Mary’s Nunnery, Island of Iona, Argyll and Jute, Scotland. December 14, 2015.

MacArthur, E. Mairi. Columba’s Island: Iona From Past to Present. Edinburgh: University Press, 1995, 2007 reprint with corrections.

_____________. Iona. Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland: Colin Baxter Photography, Ltd., 1999.

Millar, Peter W. Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2007.

Mull Historical and Archaeological Society. Iona Nunnery. 

National Library of Scotland. The Iona Psalter: Acquired in 1960. 

Newell, John Phillip. The Rebirthing of God. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014.

Power, Rosemary. “Dating Iona’s Nunnery” in Scottish Historical Review. Vol. C, 253. August 2021: 277-281.

____________. “Iona’s Sheila-na-gig and Its Visual Context” in Folklore 123(December 2012:330-354. (link to abstract of article)

Ritchie, Anna and Ian Fisher. Historic Scotland. Iona Abbey and Nunnery. rev. ed. 2004.

 Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland. Iona and Iona Nunnery.

Saints and Stones.net  Iona Nunnery. Argyle and Bute (Iona), Scotland.

Soroby Church. Tiree. (map)

Trenholme, Edward Craig. The Story of Iona. 1909. (from archive.org)

Undiscovered Scotland. Iona Nunnery.

 
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Celts to the Creche: St. Bathilde of Chelles

St. Bathilde of France. icon from The Orthodox Pages.www.christopherklitou.com

Celts to the Crèche

Day 19

December 3

St. Bathilde (Balthilde)

of Chelles

626/7-January 30, 680/687

On this 19th day of our journey with Celts to the Creche, we encounter St. Bathilde of Chelles, also known as Queen Balthilde, Queen Bathild, and Baldechildis of France. She was born in Anglo-Saxon England likely into royalty. She became a slave to a Merovingian noble family and later married a King of France. She established or patronized numerous monasteries including Corbie and was likely the founder of Chelles Abbey. Bathilde spent much of her fortune on ransoming slaves. She also endowed the basilicas of Paris and even the basilicas of Peter and Paul in Rome and gave gifts to the poor in Rome.

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

Wenceslas Hollar - St Bathilde

Wenceslas Hollar – St Bathilde (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Note that the inscription says that she died in 669 on January 26  instead of the usual dating of her death  as Jan. 30, 687

Born in England and Sold into Slavery in France: We do not know exactly how Bathilde, an Anglo-Saxon in England became a slave in Merovingian France, but we do know that there was a slave trade in which Anglo-Saxons were taken captive in raids and were sold to those in France and Italy. She was purchased for the household of Erchinoald,  the mayor of an area of France called Neustria. He was a relative of King Dagobert’s mother, Altetrude.

Becomes a Queen: In the Life of Bathilde that was likely written at her monastery of Chelles by one of her nuns soon after her death, it states that Erchinoald’s wife had died and he was smitten with this beautiful blonde woman who was clever and courageous and wanted to marry her. He probably realized that she was well-bred, that she had likely been royalty in England. She did not want to marry him and hid until he had found someone else to marry. Somehow she ended up catching the eye of Clovis II, king of Neustria and Burgundy and became his Queen. Bathilde had three sons with him, Clothar III, Childeric, and Theuderic.  Her husband died when their children were young and Bathilde took up the regency for her six year old son, Clothar III who became king.

St. Bathilde statue at Luxembourg Garden

St. Bathilde marble statue at Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.  by V. Therese. 

In the Life of Wilfrid, who was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop, the writer accused Queen Bathilde of having ordered the deaths of nine bishops, but no one knows whether this was true. We do know that the leaders of the Celtic monasteries including St. Hilda of Whitby (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) did not care for Wilfrid.

Uses Her Wealth for Good: Bathilde used the royal treasury to fund the establishment of several monasteries like Chelles and Corbie. She also patronized those that were already established including St. Denis, Luxeuil, and Jouarre. As Queen, she required reformation in the church and worked to stop simony; to ensure the adoption of rules in monasteries; the redemption of slaves; the prohibition against enslaving Christians; and the punishment for infanticide.

Chelles_chalice.st. eligius. jpg

The Chelles Chalice, lost at the time of the French Revolution, said to have been made by Saint Eloi (St. Eligius) who was a Bishop and a metalworker. photo from wikipedia

Her monastery at Chelles, founded between 657 and 660 was east of Paris, near modern-day EuroDisney. Some think that St. Clothilde first opened Chelles Monastery and later Bathilde took it over and enlarged it. The first Abbess of Chelles under Bathilde was Bertilla (Bertille) whom she brought over along with some nuns from the monastery of Jouarre when Theodechilde was Abbess (see day 21 of Celts to the Crèche). Balthilde entered Chelles about 664 AD as a nun. Chelles likely followed the Celtic Rule of St. Columbanus (see day 8 of Celts to the Crèche) that was moderated later.

Bede (see day 23 of Celts to the Crèche) in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People wrote that Queen Hereswith (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche) entered Chelles Monastery when she went (perhaps was exiled) to France from East Anglia. I think Bede is incorrect as at the time Hereswith entered a monastery, Chelles had not even been established yet. I believe that Hereswith went to the already established Faremoutiers and perhaps later in life, transferred to Chelles. It was heartening to discover that the Merovingian scholar, J.M. Wallace-Hadrill also agrees with this assessment, he wrote “Chelles, was not founded, or possibly refounded, by Balthildis until 660, and even then the foundation may not have been complete….For the same reason it is unlikely that in 647 Hild could have intended to enter Chelles and that her sister Hereswith should have already been a nun there, as implied by Bede in IV. 21.”1

Corbie Monastery located in the Picardy region of France was also founded by Bathilde along with her son Clotaire III. She arranged for monks from Luxueil Monastery, founded by Irish Columbanus  to come help set up this new monastic foundation. So, Corbie had a strong Celtic inspiration.

Corbie Abbey in France. photo from Wikipedia

Bathilde's shirt with embroidery that looks like jewelry. Musee Alfred Bonno, Chelles.

Bathilde’s shirt (linen chemise) with silk embroidery that looks like jewelry. It is in the storage area of the now closed Musee Alfred Bonno, Chelles. 680 AD. There are several close-ups of this chemise at http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/TunicBalthild.html

Her Place of Resurrection: Bathilde died on January 30, 680 or 687 (some say she died on January 26) and was buried at Chelles. It is said that near her death she had a vision of a ladder reaching from the altar to heaven, and she climbed up this  into the company of angels. She was buried in a red semicircular cloak with yellow fringes.2 Along with the cloak was a shirt/tunic/chausable which bore an embroidered necklace. It is thought that the shirt is in too good a shape to have been burial clothes and was likely cared for by the nuns throughout the years.3 These burial clothes were on display at the Musée Alfred Bonno in Chelles before they temporarily closed for two-three years. The museum’s contents that are still being cared for there will be transferred to another location according to a February 1, 2019 email conversationwith Dr. Christian Charamond, Directeur du Musée et du Service Archéologique de Chelles.

The first Abbess of Chelles Abbey, Bertille’s cape (chasable). It was in the Musee Alfred Bonno, Chelles before they temporarily closed. 

Interestingly, items of clothing were found in 1983 when historian Jean-Pierre LaPorte had the reliquaries at the parish church of Chelles opened. This hoard of treasures had parchment tags from about the 7th-9th centuries attached to each item telling about whom the item belonged.4  

(On a sidenote, in September 2009, my spouse and I circled around and around and around the bustling town of Chelles for two hours and sadly, could never locate the Bonno museum that I so desperately wanted to visit.) Chelles Monastery survived until the French Revolution when it was destroyed and its’ treasures taken away including the manuscripts produced by the nuns in the well-known scriptorium. It is recorded that the Abbess Ermentrude of Jouarre in the 9th century, owned a number of relics including relics of St. Bathilde.5

In 1999, a metal detectorist found a gold seal matrix in a field in Postwick, 4.5 miles east of Norwich, England. At one time the seal had been attached to a ring. One side shows a woman’s face and her name Baldahildis  in Frankish lettering. The other side portrays two naked figures, a man and a woman, embracing one another beneath a cross. No one is sure how it got from France to England, but perhaps one of her Anglo-Saxon relatives brought it back to her home area.

Bathilde's gold seal matrix found in Norfolk area.

Reverse side of Bathilde’s gold seal matrix found in the Norfolk area. It is displayed in the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. photo from wikipedia

At Sutton Hoo, the famous ship burial filled with treasure in East Anglia, England, there were  numerous gold Merovingian coins. We know that there was much travel back and forth between those two countries that had familial connections. It is interesting to me that Bathilde’s name even has the name “Hild” in it.

Français : Une chapelle de la cathédrale Saint...

A chapel of Saint-Etienne de Meaux cathedral: the painting represents Saint Bathilde at the feet of Saint Eloi who died and was painted in 1648 by Jean Senelle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditation

Feast Day January 30

Often we see saints such as Bathilde, in whom the Spirit has taken something so very awful and horrible in our life and turned it to good, transformed it into blessing. May we trust the Spirit to take those tender, bruised, broken, shattered places of our life and remold and remake them into something that is beautiful and whole.  The Hebrew people used the term “shalom” for the peace of God, but it had a deeper meaning for them than just peace. Shalom meant the fullness of peace: wholeness, good health, reconciliation, justice, and goodwill.

___________________

Footnotes:

1 Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary, p. 232.

2 Effros, Caring for Body & Soul, p. 21.

3 Ibid, p. 160.

4 Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Essays on Medieval Europe in Honor of Daniel F. Callahan, ed. by Michael Frassetto, John Hosler, Matthew Gabriele, p. 156.

5Chaussy. L’Abbaye Royale Notre-Dame de Jouarre, p.  76-77 and Schulenberg, “Women’s Monasteries and Sacred Space”, in Gender & Christianity in Medieval Europe: New Perspectives, p. 72.

© 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:

Bathilde Seal Matrix. Norfolk Museum Collections.

Baring-Gould,. Lives of the Saints. Volume 1. January. Saint Bathilde.

Bede.Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Book III, Chapter 8.

BBC: A History of the World. Personal Seal Matrix of Queen Bathild

Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2015.

Chaussy, Yves. L’Abbaye Royale Notre-Dame de Jouarre. Paris: G. Victor, 1961.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body & Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World. University Park, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Chemise of St. Balthild. Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index. 

Crook, John. English Medieval Shrines. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2011.

Fouracre, Paul and Richard A. Gerberding. “Vita Domnae Balthildis (The Life of Lady Balthild, Queen of the Franks).” Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640-720. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Fox, Yaniv. Power and Religion in Merovingian Gaul: Columban Monasticism and the Frankish Elites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.T

Geary, Patrick. Before France & Germany: The Creation & Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Harrison, Dick. The Age of Abbesses and Queens: Gender and Political Culture in Early Medieval Europe. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 1998.

Hilder, Marie. “a post concerning the textiles in Chelles and Balthilde.” British Medieval History on Facebook, March 24, 2018.

Jones, Trefor. The English Saints: East Anglia. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 1999.

Kornbluth, Genevra. è Kornbluth Photography, Historical Archive. This photographer has taken excellent photos of numerous historical objects including those of Balthilde. (www.kornbluthphoto.com)

Laporte, Jean-Pierre. Trésors de Chelles: Sepultures et Reliques de la Reine Bathilde et de L’Abbesse Bertille.  Organisée au Musée Alfred Bonno. Ville de Chelles, France: Societe Archeologique et Historique Les Amis Du Musee, 1991.

“Life of Bathilde” in Jo Ann McNamara, ed and trans. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

Musée Alfred Bonno. Chelles, France. NOTE: this museum has temporarily closed, but Bathilde’s items are still there being cared for until the museum is transferred to another location. (some of Bathilde’s clothes and even her blonde braided hair are housed in this museum along with relics from Chelle’s first Abbess Bertille who was sent from the Jouarre Abbey)

Nelson, Janet. “Queens as Jezebels: the careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian History, ” in Baker, Derek, ed. Medieval Women. Oxford: Basil Blackwell for The Ecclesiastical History Society, 1978, 1985 reprint.

Our Orthodox Life. Vitae Sanctae Bathildis. 

Ranft, Patricia. Women and the Religious Life in Premodern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, 1997.

Schoelzke, Micky. Galon de Bathilde de Chelles. January, 2013. (Fascinating article in French and English concerning a woven band of cloth found in Bathilde’s reliquary.)

Schoenbechler, Roger. “Merovingian Monastic Women,” in Magistra: A Journal of Women’s Spirituality  in History. Vol. 1, No. 2.

Schulenburg, Jane Tibbets. Forgetful of their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500–1100. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

_____________. “Women’s Monasteries and Sacred Space” in Gender & Christianity in Medieval Europe: New Perspectives ed. by Lisa M. Bitel and Felice Lifshitz, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2008.

Siglindesart’s Blog: interesting account about a visit to the Musée Alfred Bonno to see Bathilde’s clothing. February 16, 2013. (she has some photos of Bathilde’s clothing.)

Stephanus, Eddius. The Life of Wilfrid.

Suvia’s Letters: A blog dedicated to the Merovingian World and Material Culture . (an interesting and excellent blog concerning the clothes/hairstyles of the Merovingian women. There are photos of Bathilde’s long hair that was wound with ribbons found in her sarcophagus). Also more information at alfalfa press/Suvia.

Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Chemise de Sainte Balthilde. 

Tissages, Mickey. Galon de Bathilde de Chelles.

Torchet, Charles. Histoire de L’Abbaye Royale de Notre-Dame De Chelles, V. 1. Paris: Retaux-Bray, Libraire-Éditeur, 1889, reprint.

“Vita Domnae Balthidlis” (The Life of Lady Balthild, Queen of the Franks) in Fouracre, Paul and Richard A. Gerberding. Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography 640-720. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. “Female Spirituality and Mysticism in Frankish Monasteries: Radegund, Balthild and Aldegund,” in Peaceweavers: Vol. 2, ed. by Lillian Thomas Shank and John A. Nichols. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1987.

__________. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and Cloister 500-900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1981.

Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Essays on Medieval Europe in Honor of Daniel F. Callahan, ed. by Michael Frassetto, John Hosler, Matthew Gabriele,  Brill, 2014.

Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

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Celts to the Creche: The Venerable Bede

Modern day mosaic of Bede at the underpass near the bus station in Jarrow, just a few yards from where Bede lived

Modern day mosaic of Bede at the underpass near the bus station in Jarrow, just a few yards from where Bede lived

Celts to the Crèche

Day 23

December 7

The Venerable Bede

672/673-May 25, 735 AD

Icon of Bede. Writer of the icon is unknown

Icon of Bede. Writer of the icon is unknown

On this 23rd  day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet Bede who was a historian, theologian, monk, scholar, writer, scribe, and a person of deep faith in Christ who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which is his best known work. We know very little about his personal life except what he wrote  in the last chapter of his Ecclesiastical History that was completed about 731.

He lived most of his life at the Wearmouth-Jarrow Monasteries in Northeast England. If it were not for Bede’s works, we would know very little of the early history of the English nation.   You may desire to continue reading more about Bede or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

His Life: Bede implies that he was in his fifty-ninth year in 731, which would give a likely birth date of about 672–673. He said that he was born “on the lands of this monastery,” referring to the two twin monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, but there is also a tradition saying that he was born at Monkton, two miles from the monastery at Jarrow. Bede says nothing about his parents, but he was likely from a Christian family of nobility from the area of Lindsey (Lincolnshire) that later was dissolved into Northumbria and sometimes into Mercia. Bede’s first abbot was Benedict Biscop,(see day 34 of Celts to the Crèche) and the names “Biscop” and “Beda” both appear in the Anglian Collection of Genealogies, which is a list of the early kings of Lindsey further suggesting that Bede came from a noble family. The name “Bede” was not a common one at the time.

Bede's World. photo taken Sept. 2014

Jarrow Hall (Bede Museum) formerly Bede’s World. photo taken Sept. 2014 (note: Update: Bede’s World that closed on Feb. 12, 2016 reopened in late 2016 as “Jarrow Hall Anglo Saxon Farm Village and Bede Museum”). Revisited October 2017

Early Life: At the tender age of seven, Bede was sent to the monastery of Monkwearmouth by his family to be educated by Benedict Biscop and later by Ceolfrith.

Worshipped at St. Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth, October 2017. The tower on the front of the church likely dates to the time of Bede.

Monkwearmouth’s sister monastery at Jarrow was founded by Ceolfrith in 682, and Bede probably transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith that year. Bede would have been surrounded by the finest manuscripts, pictures, relics, Roman furniture, and religious vestments as Benedict Biscop would often travel to Rome to choose the the very best items he could for his monastery and for it’s library. Interestingly, Bishop Ceolfrith commissioned three copies of the Bible to be written. Only one full copy remains and it is now known as the Codex Amiatinus. I saw this fantastic Bible in 2018 when it left it’s Italy home and was brought to the British Library for a short visit. It was overwhelming to see this Bible in person! 

Jarrow Church: The dedication stone for the church has survived to the present day; it is dated 23 April 685, and as Bede would have been required to assist with menial tasks in his day-to-day life, it is possible that he helped in building the original church. It is wonderful to be in the Jarrow church in which Bede likely helped build, where he worshipped, and where he lived and wrote.

St. Paul's Church, Jarrow

St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow, visited 2007,  Sept. 2014, and October 2017

Bede records that Benedict Biscop only wanted stone churches and buildings like those he saw in Rome versus the wooden churches of the Anglo-Saxons. To make that happen, Benedict brought over from Italy the finest Roman stonemasons and from Mainz, Germany the best glass artists for his new monastery. Benedict also brought over one of the finest cantors, Abbot John of the Roman monastery of St. Martin’s to teach his monks to sing and how to read outloud. The south wall of the Jarrow church was filled with pictures or figurines of the Gospels while pictures or figurines from the Revelation of John were displayed along the north wall. Bede said that the church was so filled with pictures and scenes from the life of Christ that even if one was unable to read, that they could understand the Gospel message.

Dedication stone of St. Paul's Church, Jarrow. "Dedicatio basilicae sci Pauli VIIII KL Mai Anno XV Ecfridi Reg Ceolfrdi Abb eiusdem Q eccles do auctore conditoris Anno IIII." The dedication of the church of St. Paul on the 9th of the Kalends of May in the fifteenth year of King Egfrith and the fourth year of Ceolfrith, abbot, and with God's help, founder of this church.

Photo taken Oct. 2014. Copy of Dedication stone of St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow. The original stone is right above this, built high into the stone wall. 
The dedication of the church of St. Paul on the 9th of the Kalends of May in the fifteenth year of King Egfrith and the fourth year of Ceolfrith, abbot, and with God’s help, founder of this church.

Stained Glass of St. Ceolfrith in St. Peter's Church, Wearmouth

Stained Glass of St. Ceolfrith in St. Peter’s Church, Wearmouth. I worshipped with this congregation in October 2017

Plague: The very next year, in 686, plague broke out at Jarrow. The Life of Ceolfrith, written in about 710, records that only two surviving monks were capable of singing the full offices; one was Ceolfrith and the other a young boy, who according to the anonymous writer had been taught by Ceolfrith. The two managed to do the entire service of the liturgy until others could be trained. The young boy was almost certainly Bede, who would have been about 14.

Scriptorium: There must have been a large scriptorium at Jarrow as the famous 75 lb. Codex Amiantinus that was to be a gift for Pope Gregory II was likely produced there or at Wearmouth Abbey by St. Ceolfrith.

Codex Amiantinus that was produced by Ceolfrith while at Wearmouth or Jarrow. This is a page from the Bible that was based on the Vulgate Bible of Ezra the scribe.

Codex Amiantinus that was produced by Ceolfrith while at Wearmouth or Jarrow. This is a page from the Bible that was based on the Vulgate Bible of Ezra the scribe. The only full sized reproduction was brought back to England and displayed at Bede’s World (now Jarrow Hall) in the Summer and Fall of 2014. The original Codex Amiatinus returned to England after 1300 years in October 2018  for an Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library that continued through February 19, 2019. It was a magnificent and breath-taking display. 

This Bible was handwritten from a copy of the Vulgate Bible. It is possible that the Jarrow scriptorium is where Bede did  his writing also.

Ordination: In about 692, when Bede was 19, he was ordained a deacon by his diocesan bishop, John of Beverly (see Celts to the Creche day 12) who was Bishop of Hexham, and was later Bishop of York. Bishop John was trained in St. Hilda of Whitby’s monastery (see Celts to the Creche day 2), so Bede had this great Celtic influence. The canonical age for the ordination of a deacon was 25 so Bede’s early ordination may mean that his abilities were considered exceptional or that the minimum age requirement was waived after the monastery was decimated by the plague.  In Bede’s thirtieth year (about 702), he became a priest, with the ordination again performed by Bishop John of Hexham.

Bede as a Writer: Bede was a prolific writer, penning over 60 books, most of which have survived.  He was very concerned for the welfare of the English and wanted them to know how to read and write Latin to aid in their conversion to Christianity.

With a huge wooden carved statue of Bede at Jarrow Hall (formerly Bede’s World) in Jarrow. October 2017

In order to make the scripture accessible to his people, Bede worked at translating Latin works into English such as the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Besides his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he also wrote the Lives of Saints such as Cuthbert and Felix; a book on martyrology; and many biblical works such as commentaries and exegesis on Samuel, Genesis, Ezra, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Acts, Luke, Mark, Epistles and Revelations. He even wrote sermons and poems. Bede is also credited with being one of the first to use the dating system of Anno Domini (A.D.) that was developed by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 A.D.Both Dionysius and Bede considered Anno Domini as commencing at the incarnation of Christ.

Bede in the Nuremburg Chronicle

Bede in the Nuremburg Chronicle

Bede who lived his entire life at the monastery, rarely left it even to travel, but in 733, he  took a trip to York to visit Ecgbert, the Bishop of York and he also went to the monastery of Lindisfarne where Æthelwald was Abbot then. At  some point he visited the unknown monastery of a monk named Wicthed, that he mentioned in a letter to that monk.

There must have been a large library at Jarrow for Bede to use for his research, that aided his writings. Bede also said that his research included personal interviews with religious leaders of his time that he knew. One of these interviews was likely with Adomnán, the 9th Abbot of Iona who was the biographer of St. Columba and who visited Ceolfrith when Bede was a youth. Another person who likely shared information with Bede was St. John of Beverley (also of Hexham and York) who had ordained Bede both as a deacon and a priest. St. John of Beverly would have been able to give firsthand information on St. Hilda of Whitby since he was trained by her. We are grateful that Bede included information on this great Abbess Hilda as otherwise her life might have been lost to history.  Also, we only know about the shepherd Caedmon and his song about creation and how Hilda discovered him from Bede’s work.

The complete listing of Bede’s works can be found on Wikipedia: List of Bede’s Writings.

The Moore Bede is regarded by many as the earliest surviving manuscript of the "Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum"

The Moore Bede is regarded by many as the earliest surviving manuscript of the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. In the Cambridge University Library, Kk.5.16. Photo from Bedenet.com

Place of Resurrection: Bede died at about 62 years of age on Thursday,  May 25/26, 735AD and was buried at Jarrow. Cuthbert (different than St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne), a disciple of Bede’s and later was the Abbot of Wearmouth Abbey wrote a letter to Cuthwin, describing Bede’s last days and his death. According to Abbot Cuthbert, Bede fell ill, “with frequent attacks of breathlessness but almost without pain,” before Easter. On Tuesday, two days before Bede died, his breathing became worse and his feet swelled.

He continued to dictate to a scribe, however, and despite spending the night awake in prayer he dictated again the following day. At three o’clock, according to Cuthbert, he asked for a box of his to be brought, and distributed among the priests of the monastery “a few treasures” of his: “some pepper, and napkins, and some incense.” That night he dictated a final sentence to the scribe, a boy named Wilberht, and died soon afterwards. Cuthbert’s letter also relates a five-line poem in the vernacular that Bede supposedly composed on his deathbed, known as “Bede’s Death Song“.

Bede's Tomb at Durham Cathedral

Bede’s Tomb at Durham Cathedral in the Galilee Chapel, 2009, October 2017 and October 2019

Bede was buried at Jarrow, but his body was ‘translated’ (his relics were moved) from Jarrow to Durham Cathedral around 1020, where his body was placed in the same tomb with St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Later Bede’s remains were moved to a shrine in the Galilee Chapel at Durham Cathedral in 1370. The shrine was destroyed during the English Reformation, but his bones were reburied in the chapel. In 1831 his bones were dug up, and then reburied in a new tomb, which is still there.

It is interesting that during that opening of Bede’s tomb, that three casts were made of his skull. All three disappeared over time, but one has been discovered by Professor Jo Story, of the University of Leicester. She found it in 2015 among the collections of the Duckworth Laboratory in the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge.

If not too morbid, a photo of a cast of Bede's skull made in 1831 and found at Cambridge University in 2015.

If not too morbid, a photo of a cast of Bede’s skull made in 1831 and found at Cambridge University in 2015.

Cast of back of skull with Bede's name.

Cast of back of skull with Bede’s name.

Jarrow Hall, formerly called Bede’s World in in the town of Jarrow is a must visit for anyone interested in Bede and that time period in history. It is an interactive museum filled with items about Bede and the two monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. It is next door to the ancient and historical Jarrow Church where each May the church brings in Anglo-Saxon scholars for the Jarrow Lecture to share about this fascinating period of history. Also Wearmouth has begun a lecture series with Anglo-Saxon scholars each year in August. The archaeologist for Jarrow was the famous Dr. Rosemary Cramp who often speaks at the Jarrow Lectures.

Bede’s Way. There is a 12 mile pilgrimage walk between Wearmouth and Jarrow represents an old pilgrims way between the two twin 7th century monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Every year there is the Bede’s Way Annual Pilgrimage on a Saturday at the end of June nearest Petertide beginning and ending with a short pilgrims’ prayer service.

Stained Glass of Bede at Bede's World

Stained Glass of Bede at Jarrow Hall (formerly known as Bede’s World)

Meditation

Feast Day May 25 (even though his death date is May 26)

As we are a little over half-way through our Advent journey, we discover that we too are like a multitude of Mary’s, pregnant with the Christ child, anxiously awaiting the birth of this Messiah anew in our lives. It is our prayer during this pilgrimage that Jesus the Christ will be born anew into our world and into our lives. May the light and love of Christ so penetrate our souls and our very lives that we become lighthouses wherever we continue our life pilgrimage.

May we like Bede be both deeply spiritual and also studious, using our mind and our heart to be a manger for Christ to be born.

What an incredible experience to get to stand behind the Communion Table at the Jarrow Church where Bede worshipped.

As an ordained minister, what an incredible experience  to stand behind the Communion Table at St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow where Bede and Abbot Ceolfrith worshipped. Sept. 2014 and 2017.

Sitting on the Bishop's Throne Chair in St. Peter and Paul's Church, Jarrow. Oct. 2014

I am sitting on the Bishop’s Chair in St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow. Sept. 2014 and was able to sit in this chair again in October 2017

Standing in the Chancel Area, St. Peter and Paul's Church, Jarrow, Oct. 2014

Standing near the Chancel Area, St. Paul’s Church, Jarrow, Sept. 2014, visited again 2017

________________________

© 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:

Annual Wearmouth Lecture  information on St. Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth Facebook page.

Bede’s Lost Skull Cast’ rediscovered. BBC. 5 September 2015.

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Website from Fordham University.

Bede. The Holy Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow. Fordham University. Medieval Sourcebook.

“Bede,” by Roger Ray in Lapidge, Blaire, Keynes, & Scragg, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Bede’s Way Walk.This is a 12 mile pilgrimage between the twin St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s churches. 

Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Blair, Peter Hunter. An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

_____________.The World of Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Bragg, Melvin with guests Michelle Brown, Sarah Foot, and Richard Gameson. BBC: In Our Time: The Venerable Bede.  Audio only on Youtube. November 24, 2005. (scholars discuss Bede’s life and work)

The British Library. Anglo-Saxons Kingdoms Exhibition to Open in 2018. (Codex Amiatinus  returned to England in October 2018 at the British Library for the first time in 1300 years along with an exhibition of StCuthbert’s Gospel.) It was an excellent exhibit! 

__________. Bede. 

British Library. The First Voyage of the Codex Amiatinus. June 4, 2018

__________. Tiberius Bede. (very early manuscript held in the British Library of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History)

Brown, Michelle P. “Bede’s life in context” in The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

_____________. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland. Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2006.

chronicaminora.wordpress.com/category/bede/ (a blog of a Ph.D. student who is working on Bede for their dissertation)

Codex Amiatinus Bible Returns to Its Home in Jarrow. BBC. 15 May 2014.

Colgrave, Bertram. The Venerable Bede and His Times. Jarrow Lecture, 1958.

____________, trans.  Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1940, 1985.

Cramp, Rosemary. Meet the Archaeologist: Rosemary Cramp. July 4, 2014. 

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co., 1997.

DeGregorio, Scott, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

De Hamel, Christopher. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. New York: Penguin Random House, 2016. (there is a great chapter on the Codex Amiatinus).

Duckett, Eleanor S. Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars. New York: McMillan, 1947.

Durham Cathedral. The Book of Bede with Richard Gameson. February 10, 2011. YouTube.

Durham World Heritage Site. The Venerable Bede.

Fletcher, Eric. Benedict Biscop. Jarrow Lecture, 1981.

Foot, Sarah. Bede’s Church. Jarrow Lecture, 2012.

________. “Church and monastery in Bede’s Northumbria” in The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Goffart, Walter. The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D.550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Benedict Biscopin blog: Heavenfield. by Michelle Ziegler,  August 2010.

Higham, Nicholas J. and Martin J. Ryan. The Anglo-Saxon World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013. (Article in the book by Martin J. Ryan on “The Venerable Bede” in Sources and Issues 3A is insightful.)

Historic UK. The Venerable Bede. 

Hume, Basil. Footprints of the Northern Saints. London, UK: Darton, Longman, & Todd, Ltd., 1996.

Huntley, Dana. “The Venerable Bed-England’s First Great Historian.” British Heritage Travel. October 29, 2020 (originally published June 2006).

Jarrow Hall Anglo Saxon Farm Village and Bede Museum. (Note: formerly “Bede’s World”) t

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd ed. 1991.

O’Brien. Conor. The Venerable Bede: recent research. November 23, 2108. Historical Association.

McClure, Judith. “Bede and the Life of Ceolfrid, ” Peritia, Vol. 30. 1984, p. 71-84.

Parkes, M. B. The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Jarrow Lecture, 1982.

Rollason, David. “The cult of Bede” in  The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

___________. Saints and Relics in Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK. Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Smart, Ian Hunter, Mavis Dry, and Geoff Green. The Royal Ancient &  Monastic Parish Church of St. Paul, Jarrow. UK: Temprint. nd.

“St. Bede” by Dom Alberic Stacpoole in Benedict’s Disciples, edited by D. H. Farmer. Leominster, UK: Fowler Wright Books Ltd, 1980.

St. Peter’s Church, Wearmouth, UK.

Stenton, F. M. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 1971, 2001 reissue.

Sunfm 103.4. Historic Project Finished at Sunderland Church. 04/11/17 (new stained glass honoring Bede installed in Bede’s Bakehouse and Cafe, St.Peter’s Church, Sunderland) where first stained glass was installed in England in 674AD).

Turner, Sam, Sarah Semple, and Alex Turner. Wearmouth & Jarrow: Northumbrian monasteries in an historic landscape. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2013.

Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Warren, Brenda G. The Venerable Bede: Delighting in our  Giftedness.  July 5, 2018. 

Wilson, David M., ed. The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Wood, Ian. “The foundation of Bede’s Wearmouth-Jarrow” in The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Wormald, Patrick. “Bede and Benedict Biscop” in Famulus Christi:Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede. G. Bonner, ed., London, 1976.

____________. Bede and the Conversion of England: The Charter Evidence. Jarrow Lecture, 1984.

Yorke, Barbara. Rex Doctissimus: Bede and King Aldfrith of Northumbria. Jarrow Lecture, 2009.

__________. The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain  c.600–800. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006.

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Celts to the Creche: Abbess Burgundofara of Faremoutiers

st. burgundofara. stained glassLa Celle-sur-Morin Saint-Sulpice. photo by G Freihalter

Abbess Burgundofara with her staff representing the leadership of her monastery and Abbey. Stained Glass at Celle-sur-Morin Saint Sulpice. photo by G Freihalter.https://queenofangelschicago.typepad.com/files/stfara-burgundofara.pdf

Celts to the Crèche

Day 21

December 5

Abbess Burgundofara

of Faremoutiers

c595-c657AD

On this 21st day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we encounter St. Burgundofara (also known as St. Fara, St. Fare), the founding Abbess of the famous Faremoutiers  double monastery, in France, east of Paris, near modern-day Euro Disney. As a child she was blessed and dedicated to God by St. Columbanus (see day 9 of Celts to the Crèche) while he was visiting in her childhood home. She was a strong Abbess who was not afraid to speak her mind. She was both tender and tough. As a young woman, it is said that she spoke boldly to her father about becoming a nun. St. Burgundofara said to her father: “To lose my life for the sake of virtue, and fidelity to the promise I have made to God, would be a great happiness.”

In fact, it is recorded that a monk from one of Columbanus’ monasteries “felt called”  to mansplain Burgundofara about his thoughts on how she was using the Rule of Columbanus in her monastery. Well, let’s just politely say…he met tough. (read more about this encounter under “Tender and Tough” below.)

The original name of Faremoutiers was Brige, then later it was changed to Evoriacum. The name of Faremoutiers came after Burgundofara died and her monastery was renamed after her meaning “Fara’s Monastery”.

Several well-known Queens and Princesses of East Anglian royalty from England were sent to Faremoutiers to become nuns or to live in exile.

Burgundonfara is venerated for curing eye diseases. 

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

Her family: She was born at the villa of Pipimisiac, near Meaux, France. She was the daughter of Chagneric, who was  friend and an important official in the court of King Theudebert II. Her Mother was Leudegund. Burgundofara’s siblings were equally admired and held high positions in the religious and political realms: St. Chagnoald, who was a companion of St. Columbanus and a Bishop of Laon;  Faro who was the Bishop of Meaux; a sister Agnetrude; and another brother Chagnulf  who was the Count of Meaux who was murdered in 641.

We know about Burgundofara through her will and the writing of Jonas of Bobbio who wrote the life of the Irish monk St. Columbanus (see day 8 of Celts to the Crèche):

Then Columban went to the city of Meaux. There he was received with great joy by a nobleman Hagneric (Chagneric, father of Burgundofara), who was a friend of Theudebert [King Theudebert II], a wise man, and a counsellor grateful to the king, and was fortified by nobility and wisdom. … Columban blessed his house and consecrated to the Lord his daughter Burgundofara, who was still a child, and of whom we shall speak later.”

Statue of St. Columbanus at Luxeuil, one of the monasteries he founded in France

Statue of St. Columbanus at Luxeuil, one of the monasteries he founded in France

Columbanus dedicates Burgundofara to God: Burgundofara’s childhood blessing and dedication to God by the Celtic Columbanus left such a deep  mark upon her soul that she resisted her parents’ attempts to force her to marry a few years later.

Probably through her brother Chagnoald, who was at that time a monk at Luxeuil (founded by Columbanus), she appealed to Eustachius, who was the Abbot of Luxeuil.  He came to her personally and then brought her to Meaux, where she took the veil and was consecrated with the approval of Bishop Gundoald of Meaux.

Building Faremoutiers: Eustachius then assigned two monks to help her build a nunnery named Evoriacum (after her death the name was changed to Faremoutiers in her honor) on some of her father’s vast holding of lands between the Grand Morin and Alba Rivers. These monks were also to instruct this newly established community in the rules of religious life. A short while later, a second house for men was added for the monks and Burgundofara was then Abbess over this double monastery of men and women. Faremoutiers was probably the first double monastery in France. Even though it was in Merovingian France, it held closer to the Celtic way since it used the Rule of St. Columbanus for the life of the monastery. Her will states that this monastery was built in honor of Mary, Lady and Saint, and of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles.

One of the buildings of Faremoutiers, France. I was there in September 2009. I tried to visit with the current Abbess, but she only spoke French and I speak very little French.

One of the buildings of Faremoutiers, France. I was there in September 2009. I tried to visit with the very kind current Abbess, but she only spoke French. I can read French fairly well, but do not speak it very well. photo by Harvey Warren, 2009

About 630 AD Bishop Faro of Meaux, the brother of Burgundofara asked one of the nuns of Faremoutiers named Theodechilde (see day 36 of Celts to the Crèche) to become the first Abbess of the updated Jouarre Monastery.

Tender and Tough: There is an interesting story of Abbess Burgundofara who “really gave it to” Agrestius, a former monk of Luxeuil who criticized the harshness of the Rule of St. Columbanus at Luxeuil at the Council of Macon in 626. His complaints were rejected by the Bishops at this Council. But, he was still determined that he was right, so, he promoted his modifications to the Rule of Columbanus at another convent. Agrestius then went to Burgundofara to try to insinuate (or as we would say in the 21st c., he was mansplaining her) that she was not a good Abbess for using the Rule of Columbanus at Faremoutiers and this is what Jonas of Bobbio records of this confrontation:

“Agrestius then made his way to Burgundofara to try if he might defile her with his insinuations. But the virgin of Christ confounded him, not in a feminine manner, but with a virile response: “Why have you come here, you confuter of truth, inventor of new tales, pouring out your honey-sweetened poison to change healthy food into deadly bitterness? You slander those whose virtues I have experienced. From them I received the doctrine of salvation. Their erudition has opened the way to the kingdom of Heaven for many. Recall the words of Isaiah: ‘Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil.’ Hurry and turn wholly away from this insanity.”

Burgundofara was known for not only her personal courage and strength, but also her care, counsel, and devotion for those at Faremoutiers.

A most beautiful Bridge in the village of Faremoutiers that was probably part of the original lands of the double monastery of Faremoutiers. I took this photo in September 2009.

A most beautiful bridge in the village of Faremoutiers that was probably part of the original lands of the double monastery of Faremoutiers. I took this photo in September 2009. I think it looks like a bridge to heaven! Photo by Brenda Warren, 2009

Anglo-Saxon Royalty at Faremoutiers: It is my belief that Queen Hereswith of East Anglia (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche),  the older sister of St. Hilda of Whitby (see day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) was a nun at Faremoutiers, not Chelles as Bede states or she was later transferred to Chelles when this new Abbey was founded by Bathilde.

Two other Anglo-Saxons also went to Faremoutiers and became the Abbesses after Burgundofara died:  St. Æthelburga, the natural daughter of King Anna of East Anglia succeeded Burgundofara. St. Sæthryth, the step-daughter of King Anna became the third Abbess, yet some researchers say that Sæthryth was the Abbess following Burgundofara with Æthelburga being the third Abbess.These were likely nieces of St. Hereswith. Eorcengota, daughter of King Eorcenberht of Kent became the fourth Abbess.  There were some significant connections between Merovingian France and East Anglia and Kent in England. 

Place of Resurrection: According to her will (Testamentum) dated October 6, 633/4  Burgundofara left all her lands to Faremoutiers, except for a share in a villa of Louvres (an area in the Val-d’Oise that now holds the Roissy-Charles-De-Gaulle International Airport) that she gave to her siblings in exchange for their agreement not to interfere with her bequest.  Burgundofara likely died at Faremoutiers after serving as Abbess for 37 years. Jonas wrote that Burgundofara had a fever and “died.” She came back to life after visiting the heavenlies and was told she had to make restitution with three nuns whom she had hurt. She received their forgiveness, lived six more months, and then prophesied of her date and  time of death. When she died, her body smelled of balsam. A solemn mass was held 30 days after her resurrection. Her will confirmed that all the servants she had freed in her lifetime would continue to be free.

After her death: While Abbess Burgundofara’s relics were being transferred, it was reported that some miracles occurred, which gave rise to a renewed interest in her. She is not only venerated in France for curing eye diseases, but also Sicily and Italy.

The French Revolution destroyed the monastic buildings and then Faremoutiers’ monastic lands served as a stone quarry. In 1931, a group of Benedictine nuns came to reoccupy a building on the very spot of the ruins of the old abbey. According to the Diocese of Meaux, there are currently eight nuns at Faremoutiers. Her monastery has been on the same piece of property for over 1400 years!

Meditation

Feast Day April 3,
but celebrated on December 7 in France

Just as St. Columbanus showed up at the home of Chagneric and Leudegund and prayed a blessing and prayer of dedication over the little girl Burgundofara that marked her life, one person can make an important and lasting impression on our own life. Our lives can be forever touched by  a person’s words or blessing.  Who has been that one in your life who has brought blessing, encouragement, or counsel that has effected your calling,  your life’s work, your personal ministry?

Prayer: Thank you God for people who are sent our way to bring us good counsel, recognize our gifts, and give us hope for the future. Amen.

________________________

© 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:

Abbaye de Faremoutiers. Saint Fare et Faremoutiers. Deuxieme Partie.

Abbaye de Faremoutiers. Sainte Fare et Faremoutiers: Treize Siècles de Vie Monastique.

Ames Saintes du Grand Siècle: Abbesses et Religieuses de Faremoutiers. 

Benedictine Abbey of Faremoutiers. Benedictine Abbey Notre-Dame et Saint-Pierre.

Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2015.

Diocese of Meaux, France. Benedictine Abbey of Faremoutiers.   Benedictine Abbaye Notre-Dame et Saint-Pierre.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body & Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World. University Park, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

__________ and Isabel Moreira, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Faremoutiers Abbey

Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. Los Angeles: University of California, 1997.

Fox, Yaniv. Power and Religion in Merovingian Gaul: Columban Monasticism and the Frankish Elites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Geary, Patrick J. Before France & Germany: The Creation & Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Harrison, Dick. The Age of Abbesses and Queens: Gender and Political Culture in Early Medieval Europe. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 1998.

Jonas of Bobbio. Life of Columbanus.

___________. Iona Vitae Sanctorum Columbani. Vedastis, Johannis. Recognivit Bruno Krusch. (note: 34 mentions of Burgundofara). Digitized 2011 by Internet Archive with funding from the University of Toronto.

Lebeuf, Jean. Histoire de la ville et de tout le diocese de Paris, vol. 2. 

Les saints moines et moniales. “St. Fare, abbesse de Faremoutiers.”

McDermott, William C, ed. and trans. Peters, Edward, ed. Monks, Bishops, and Pagans. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975.

McNamara, Jo Ann. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

“Testamentum Burgundofarae” in Sainte Fare et Faremoutiers: Trieze Siècles de Vie Monastique.

Warren, Brenda G. Abbess Burgundofara of Faremoutiers; Tough and Tender. April 2, 2022. Godspacelight. 

Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister 500-900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1981.

The Will of Burgundofara, Will written in Latin at Faremoutiers, 633/4.David Lambert, Cult of Saints, E07793 – 

Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Yorke, Barbara. Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses. UK:Bloomsbury Academic, T&T Clark, 2003.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Brendan the Navigator

 

St. Brendan and his disciples letting the Spirit blow them to their place of resurrectionSt. Brendan and his disciples letting the Spirit blow them to their place of resurrection. Icon writer unknown.

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 20

December 4

St. Brendan the Navigator

c484-578 AD

On this 20th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we encounter the Irish St. Brendan the Navigator, also known as St. Brendan of Clonfert who with numerous other Celtic saints, past and present that seem to be possessed with the DNA for wanderlust. It is recorded that he and his disciples would construct a coracle which is a boat with a basket-like frame of wood, covered with hides softened with butter, and covered in pitch. Then these voyagers would fast and pray, clamber into their little handmade boat with St. Brendan saying as they set sail: “Is not the Lord our captain and helmsman? Then leave it to Him to  direct us where He wills.”

Coracle photo from the BBC-A History of the World  (it must have been a much larger coracle to carry Brendan and his disciples).

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

Birth: Brendan was born about 484 AD to Christian parents, Findlug and Ciara in southwestern Ireland at Ciarraighe Luachra near Tralee. Before he was born, his mother had a vision that the child in her womb was filled with the Spirit. On the day of his birth, Bishop Erc, who was baptized by St. Patrick (see Day 40 of Celts to the Crèche), saw Brendan’s birthplace aglow with an angelic presence surrounding that place and immediately he went there to hold this very special baby. This little one was named “Mobi,” but when a fair drop fell from the heavens on him, his name was changed to Braenfiend (Brendan) meaning “fair drop or white mist.”

Education: Brendan was baptized by Bishop Erc (who saw Brendan’s birthplace aglow with an angelic presence)  near Tubrid at Ardfert and then given to Abbess Ita (see day 13 of Celts to the Crèche) of the convent of Kileedy in County Limerick to be trained and educated for about six years. Like the Druids, St. Ita taught in triads.

Brendan is believed to have asked Abbess Ita what three things God loved best and she answered:

1. “Faith in God with a pure heart

2. A simple life with a religious spirit

3. Generosity with love.”

She also told him the three things God most detested were a scowling face, obstinacy in wrongdoing, and too great a confidence in the power of money.

St Ita's well Tobar na Molt where St. Brendan was baptized by Erc.St Ita’s well Tobar na Molt in Ardfert where St. Brendan may have been baptized by Bishop Erc (this is one of several wells that claims to be St. Ita’s well). photo from Megalithic Ireland

Brendan’s parents then gave him to the care of Bishop Erc to continue his education.  He later studied with the well-known teacher St. Enda at his monastery on the isle of Aran. Bishop Erc was a great mentor to him and taught Brendan Latin, Hebrew, and the Old and New Testaments. Brendan became one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who were pupils of Finnian of Clonard. It is even said that St. Patrick prophesied that St. Brendan would be a great Patriarch. St. Enda and St. Finnian are considered to be the founders of monasticism in Ireland, so Brendan studied with the best.

Journeys: Brendan had an urge within him, that Celtic need for travel and to explore, so Bishop Erc gave him permission to do so, but Brendan had to promise to return to Erc so that he could ordain him.

St. Brendan Voyage window at Feint Church in Tralee, Co.Kerry in Ireland. It was installed in November 2012. The window, which is over the main door was created by Artist/Sculptor Tighe O’Donoghue.

On that first journey, Brendan travelled to Skellig Michael, Aran, Strathclyde, Cumbria, and maybe even Wales.

St. Brendan's Well on Valentia Island, near Skellig Michael. It is said that St. Brendan baptized two people there. St. Brendan’s Well on Valentia Island, near Skellig Michael. It is said that St. Brendan baptized two people there. It is poignant to see all the prayer gifts surrounding this well. It is not easy to get to this well, so we were surprised to see that so many people had pilgrimaged to this holy place. My husband and I visited the well in Sept. 2014. photo by Brenda Warren

Brendan then set up his famous monastery at Clonfert (meaning “meadow of the miracles”) in 559 in which it is said that at one time there were 3,000 monks there. He later founded other monasteries including Ardfert in Kerry, Inishdadroum in Clare, and Annaghdown in Galway where his sister Brig was the Abbess.

Aardvert where Brendan was baptized by Bishop Erc12th/13th century Ardfert Cathedral built upon the ground of Brendan’s 6thc. monastery. County Kerry. photo from Megalithic Ireland

He yearned to find the Promised Land of the Saints, the Celtic Tir na nOg.  On his further travels, he visited St. Enda of Aran, who may have established the first Irish monastery on the isle of Innish. Brendan also visited St. Finnian of Clonard who is considered to be the founder of Irish of monasticism. Adomnan says that Brendan also visited St. Columba of Iona  (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche.) on the island of Hinba. He also visited St. Malo who was a Welsh monk who had fled to Brittany and became the first bishop of Saint-Servan. Brendan also travelled to France and to the Orkney and Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, On his voyage to the Promised Land he encountered all kinds of interesting sea creatures and scary sea monsters. Brendan and his fellow voyagers celebrated Easter on what they thought was an island, but it was a whale!

St. Brendan and crew celebrate Easter on a whale. Whales: Anonymous after Hendrick Goltzius, Stranded Whale at Zandvoort, 1594. Harvard Art Museum, Light Outerbridge Collection, Richard Norton Memorial Fund; British Library Manuscripts Harley 3244 & 4751.St. Brendan and crew celebrate Easter on a whale.
Whales: Anonymous after Hendrick Goltzius, Stranded Whale at Zandvoort, 1594. Harvard Art Museum, Light Outerbridge Collection, Richard Norton Memorial Fund; British Library Manuscripts Harley 3244 & 4751.

They even came upon something they had never seen before, an iceberg. These Celts with a great love for God’s magnificent creation were so amazed by this gigantic ice island that they spent a whole day inspecting and measuring this phenomenon. Brendan declared, “let us inspect the wonders of God, our Maker.”

It was on this journey, that it is thought by some that Brendan and his crew even travelled to Iceland and North America, discovering it long  before the Vikings or Christopher Columbus.

Tim Severin's coracle in which he sailed the Atlantic in the late 1970's, from Ireland to North AmericaTim Severin’s coracle in which he sailed the Atlantic in the late 1970’s, from Ireland to North America. photo from  www.arcgis.com

In 1976-1977 in County Cork,  explorer and noted author Tim Severin  built a 36 ft., two masted, ash and oak, leather coracle made of 49 hides that he and is crew travelled the Atlantic from Ireland to the Hebrides, to Scotland, and then to Peckford Island, Newfoundland.https://player.vimeo.com/video/40225298

Journeys of Return and Resurrection: It is said that Brendan and his crew found the Promised Land, the island of Paradise, but were told not to stay there because they would only spoil it! Brendan returned to Limerick and visited his sister Abbess Brig at her monastery,  Annaghdown in Galway.

Annaghdown where Brendan's sister, Brig was AbbessAnnaghdown where Brendan’s sister, Brig was Abbess. Photo from Wikipedia.

In 578, after  almost 93 years of journeys, of founding monasteries, and of miraculous healings he knew it was time for him to cross over to the other side.  When he had received communion at Mass on Sunday he said, “God is calling me to the eternal kingdom. My body must be taken to Clonfert, for angels will be in attendance there and there is my place of resurrection. Make a small chariot, and let one of you go with it to convey my body.”  Then he blessed his sister Brig and all his followers. Upon reaching the threshold of the church  he said, “into your hands, O Lord.”  The next day, his monks did as he instructed, one brother accompanied his body to Conflert where he was buried with great honor and reverence.

Romanesque arch over doorway of Clonfert where Brendan was buriedRomanesque arch over doorway of 12th c.  St. Brendan’s Cathedral at Clonfert. Likely built over the place where Brendan was buried. photo from Megalithic Ireland

Much of what we know about Brendan is from a romance written about 780, The Voyage of St. Brendan and several lives of this saint written at various times during the medieval period.

Meditation

Feast Day May 16

Statue of Brendan and disciples rowing their coracle. Cahircveen, County KerryStatue of Brendan and disciples rowing their coracle. Cahirciveen, County Kerry. Visited Sept. 2014. photo by Harvey Warren

O Lord,  like St. Brendan, I too want to climb into my little coracle and ask the Spirit to blow me to places I never dreamed or imagined! Blow Spirit Blow! Amen.

________________________

© 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:

Baring-Gould, S. and John Fisher. The Lives of the British Saints; The Saints of Wales, Cornwall, and Such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain, Part One. Kessinger Reprints.

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland.  Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2006.

D’Arcy, Mary Ryan. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: The Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Earle, Mary C. and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2004.

Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church: Ireland 450-1150. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Klein, Christopher. Did an Irish Monk Discover America? History.com, March 17, 2014, updated March 14, 2019.

Lehane, Brendan. Early Celtic Christianity. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005.

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

Ó’Ríordáin, John J. Early Irish Saints. Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004.

Pennick, Nigel. The Celtic Saints. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1997.

Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.

___________. Celtic Saints in Their Landscape. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing, 2011.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Severin, Tim. The Brendan Voyage: Across the Atlantic in a Leather Boat. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2005.

The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot.  

Wallace, Martin. Celtic Saints. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1995.

Warren, Brenda G. St. Brendan the Navigator: Feast Day. May 16, 2017. Godspacelight.

Wooding, Jonathan M. “The Medieval and Early Modern Cult of St. Brendan,” in Saints’ Cults in the Celtic World, ed. by Boardman, Davies, and Williamson. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2009.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Bertha of Kent

 

 

Queen Bertha and her daughter Queen Ethelburga of Kent who married Edwin the King of Northumbria, as his second wife. St. Martin's Church, Canterbury

Queen Bertha and her daughter Queen Ethelburga of Kent who married Edwin the King of Northumbria, as his second wife.         St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury

Celts to the Crèche

Day 11

November 25

St. Bertha of Kent

c539-c612

On this 11th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Bertha, who was a Frankish princess with a devoted faith in Christ. She married the pagan Anglo-Saxon King of Kent, Æthelberht.  As Queen, she was one who prepared the way for Christianity to enter Anglo-Saxon England.You may desire to continue reading more about Bertha or scroll on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

Stained Glass of St. Bertha of Kent at St Martin’s Church, Canterbury. Photo taken by Clerk of Oxford. nobility.org.

King AEthelbert of Kent, husband of Bertha. Stained glass at All Souls College Chapel, Oxford

King AEthelbert of Kent, husband of Bertha. Stained glass at All Souls College Chapel, Oxford. photo from wikimedia.org

 

Her early life: Bertha was a Frankish princess with quite a royal pedigree. She was the daughter of Charibert I, the Merovingian King of Paris and his 1st wife Ingoberga. She was also the great-granddaughter of Clovis, the first king of the Merovingian dynasty and his wife Clothilde who helped convert him to faith in Christ.

Bertha was born about 539 and her father Charibert died in 567, and her mother in 589. We learn about Bertha from The Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and from the Decem Libri Historiarum of  Gregory of Tours who was a contemporary witness and who may have met  Bertha.

Preparing the Way for England’s Conversion to Christianity: Bertha had been brought up near Tours, France. Her marriage to  King Æthelberht of Kent was likely brokered by King Chilperic of Merovingian France who would have used the daughter of his deceased half-brother to extend his influence across the Channel.1 Her marriage was conditioned on her being allowed to practice her faith in Christ. To ensure that this stipulation was met, she brought her chaplain, Bishop Liudhard with her to England.

Bertha restored a Christian church in Canterbury which dated from the Roman occupation, dedicating it to St. Martin of Tours. It became her private chapel even before Augustine arrived from Rome. The present St. Martin’s Church of Canterbury continues in the same building. It is  the oldest church in the English-speaking world and is part of the Canterbury World Heritage site.

St. Martin's Church, Canterbury. This was St. Bertha's private chapel

St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury. This was St. Bertha’s private chapel and likely where her husband King AEthelbert of Kent was baptized by Augustine. It is the oldest church in the English-speaking world. photo from google.com

Pope Gregory I (the Great) and Bertha.  Gregory, before he became pope, happened to see some Anglo-Saxon slaves for sale in a Roman marketplace. He asked about the race of the remarkable blond men and was told they were “Anglos.” “Not Anglos, but angels,” he was said to reply. As a result, it is said, Gregory was later inspired to send missionaries to England. Much of the favorable reception that Augustine received for his mission when he was sent by Pope Gregory I to preach the gospel to pagan Anglo-Saxon England in 597, is owed to the influence of Bertha

Pope Gregory wrote to the Eastern Church’s Patriarch of Alexandria, Eulogius, reporting that by Christmas 597, more than 10,000 English had been baptized in just a few short months.  In 601, Pope Gregory addressed a letter to Bertha, in which he compliments her highly on her faith and knowledge of letters.

Bertha’s family and influence: Anglo-Saxon records indicate that Bertha and Æthelbert had two children: Eadbald who later became King of Kent and Æthelburga of Kent who married King Edwin of Deira (later part of Northumbria). King Edwin’s conversion to Christianity was linked to his marriage to Æthelburga who brought her chaplain, Paulinus with her to Northumbria. Paulinus baptized Edwin and all of his family including the young Hilda, the future St. Hilda of Whitby (see Day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) and her sister Hereswith (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche) at the hastily built minster in York on Easter Sunday, 627 AD.

St. Bertha’s granddaughter (by her daughter Æthelburga and husband Edwin) was Eanflæd who married King Oswiu of Northumbria. Eanflæd and Oswiu’s daughter, (Bertha’s great-granddaughter) was Ælfflæd (see day 29 of Celts to the Crèche) who was given to St. Hilda to be raised first at Hartlepool Abbey and then later at Whitby Abbey. At St. Hilda’s death in 680AD, Queen Eanflæd, who was now a widow and her daughter Ælfflæd became joint Abbesses of Whitby. Ælfflæd was a good friend to St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

Bede wrote that Bertha’s grandson King Eorcenbert (whose father was Eadbald) destroyed all the idols in England and instituted the season of Lent into the Christian calendar in England. In 655, Eorcenbert also appointed Deusdedit as Archbishop of Canterbury, making him the first Anglo-Saxon Archbishop in England. Eorcenbert married Princess Seaxburh,(Seaxburga) the daughter of the much-loved Christian King Anna. After Eorcenbert’s death, his wife Seaxburh became the Abbess of the famous Ely Monastery (about 14 miles northeast of Cambridge University) and then their daughter Eormenhild also became the Abbess of Ely. Their other daughter Eorcengeta became a nun and later Abbess of the well-respected Faremoutiers Monastery (see day 21 of Celts to the Crèche concerning Faremoutiers) in central France where Seaxburgh’s half-sister Sæthryth was Abbess when Eorcengeta arrived. The great spiritual legacy of Bertha continued to live on long after her death. 

Statue of St. Bertha at Lady Wooton's Gardens, Kent

Statue of St. Bertha at Lady Wooton’s Gardens, Kent

The Bertha Trail (Queen Bertha’s Walk) in honor of St. Bertha of Kent consists of 14 bronze plaques set in pavement that includes St. Martin’s Church, Canterbury Cathedral, and St. Augustine’s Abbey. It is about a two hour walk.

Queen Bertha's Walk Plaque. About a two hour walk.

Queen Bertha’s Walk Plaque

Meditation

Feast Day May 1

Aren’t we thankful for those who prepare the way for us? Jesus had his cousin John the Baptist who walked ahead of him and prepared the way by plowing the hard hearts of the people and allowing the seeds planted by Jesus to grow, to flourish, and to come to fruition. Bertha prepared the way for Anglo-Saxon England to receive the Gospel. Who has prepared the way for you to find God, to find a mate in life, to succeed in school, to find a job or ministry?

Prayer: Thank you God for sending those ahead of us to prepare the way for us to do the work you have sent us to do. These soul preparers are a sacred and holy gift from the Spirit and we thank you. Amen.

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Footnote: 

1 Higham, Anglo-Saxon England, 148.

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© 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.

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Some Resources:

At the Edge of the World, Episode 11-Augustine arrives in Kent. January 24, 2015. Youtube. (note: This is a good video to give the background of the history of this time period. note: The narrator’s outfit is abit blingy, but definitely worthy of watching).

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England. Book I. Fordham University.

Bing, Harold F. St. Augustine of Canterbury and the Saxon Church in Kent. Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. 62: 1949 .

Blair, Peter Hunter.  An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England (Third ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

The Canterbury Historical and Archaelogical Society . “Queen Bertha.”

Canterbury-St. Martin’s Hoard. 

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Book 1, Chapters. XXIII-XXX. (Project Gutenberg Ebook).

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great: by an Anonymous Monk of Whitby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968, 2007 reprint from University of Kansas.

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1997.

Fleming, Robin. Britain After Rome: The Fall and the Rise, 400-1070. London, UK: Allen Lane, 2010.

Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.

Geary, Patrick J. Before France & Germany. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Gregory of Tours (539-594), History of the Franks, Book 4

Higham, Nicholas J. The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Higham, Nicholas J. and Martin J. Ryan. The Anglo-Saxon World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

The History Blog. Elite Anglo-Saxon Burial Found in Canterbury. November 22, 2019.

Jones, Trefor. The English Saints: East Anglia. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1999.

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. London: Routledge: 1991, 1994 reprint.

Leyser, Henrietta. Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head Zeus, 2015.

Lucas, Angela M. Women in the Middle Ages: Religion, Marriage, and Letters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1972, 1991 reprint.

Queen Bertha’s Walk (this Walk links the 3 World Heritage sites of Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church)

Saint Bertha Queen of Kent. Film clip of the full DVD. Youtube. St. Mary’s Dowrey Productions, 2014.

Thorpe, Lewis. History of the Franks. (a translation of Gregory of Tours’ Decem Libri Historiarum), Penguin Classics reprint, 1976.

Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Warren, Brenda G. Queen Bertha of Kent, A Preparer of the Way. May 1, 2017. www.godspacelight.com

Whitehead, Annie. Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword History, 2020.

Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 3rd ed. 1991.

Yorke, Barbara. The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain c. 600–800. London: Pearson/Longman, 2006. 

_____________. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 1990, 1992 reprint.