Celts to the Creche: John O’Donohue of Ireland

 

 

 

 

John O'Donohue

Celts to the Crèche Day 16

November 30

John O’Donohue of Ireland

January 1, 1956-January 4, 2008

On this 16th day of journeying with the Celts to the Crèche, we join up with a modern day  Celt, John O’Donohue of Ireland. John was a renowned former priest, poet, philosopher, mystic, author, scholar, and a lover of his home territory of the Burren on the western coast of Ireland.

John  had a beautiful, Celtic wild soul with a mesmerizing Irish lilt to his voice.  He was known for being a gregarious, fun-loving companion, with an earthy sense of humor and joie de vivre, and was a mesmerising storyteller who also loved solitude. Rev. Mary Earle, an author, poet, creation lover, priest, and professor counted John as a dear friend. She described his contagious laughter as throwing back his head and laughing loudly with abandon. John, who was known to enjoy a good single malt or Jameson whiskey was able  to connect the worldly with the sacred — and see it all as holy. His writings speak deeply to our soul and remind us of the beauty, mystery, and wildness of creation. 

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

Discovering this Celtic Author: In the Fall of 2008, I was on a retreat at the incredibly beautiful St. John’s Abbey Guesthouse in Collegeville, Minnesota. Squeezed into a tight little corner of my mini carry-on suitcase was a new black and gold paperback  by an author I had never heard of, to read in the solitude of my peaceful, zen-like room overlooking the serene view of swaying trees and glassy pond. As I had recently discovered Celtic Christian spirituality, the title had intrigued me, so  Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue was my companion on this retreat. This book spoke to my soul profoundly.

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue

“Anam Cara” by John O’Donohue

To hear the news that John O’Donohue had just passed away within the year was very sad. Since that retreat, I have re-read Anam Cara numerous times and have devoured all his other books, listened to podcasts, and watched Youtube videos of this most unusual Celt who now resides on the other side of the veil. To read his books or to hear his engaging voice intonate one of his poems is to savor the gift of blessing that transforms into a deep knowing that the Presence of God is with us, within us, and surrounding our very being. His friends speak of his amazing huge deep joyous laugh and the twinkle in his eyes.

More information about John’s life can be found at www. johnodonohue.com. 

Grave of John O'Donohue, Creggagh Cemetery

Grave of John O’Donohue, Creggagh Cemetery

Following is a poem that John wrote that was published in his book To Bless the Space Within (Benedictus in Europe and UK) two months after he died.

‘May there be some beautiful surprise
Waiting for you inside death
Something you never knew or felt,
Which with one simple touch
Absolves you of all loneliness and loss,
As you quicken within the embrace
For which your soul was eternally made.

‘May your heart be speechless
At the sight of the truth
Of all your belief had hoped,
Your heart breathless
In the light and lightness
Where each and every thing
Is at last its true self
Within that serene belonging
That dwells beside us
On the other side
Of what we see.’

Meditation

Throughout the years as a pastor, I have read John O’ Donohue’s poignant poem, Beannacht (Blessing) at numerous graveside services. The currach (also known as a “coracle”) he mentions in this blessing is a small boat especially used in Celtic lands.  This currach (coracle) was and is often designed for an individual rider and is usually made of leather or wicker. John wrote this blessing for his mother Josie years before either of them passed away:

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

____________________

Some Resources:

John O’Donohue website. Information about John, a listing of all his books, videos, recordings, memorial, etc. Excellent website about John.

The Independent. John Skinner’s thoughts on John O’Donohue.

The Irish Times. Poet and Author John O’Donohue Laid to Rest. January 14, 2008.

The Irish Times. President at Funeral of Poet’s Mother. January 4, 2012.

Youtube. O’Donohue, John. On Ageing.                                                                                                            Youtube. On Being. An oral interview with John O’Donohue.Tippett, Krista. Beauty is an Edge of Becoming. 

______. An oral interview with John O’Donohue. Tippett, Krista. The Inner Landscape of Beauty. 

Sawyers, June Skinner. “John O’Donohue” in Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

© 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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Celts to the Creche: Abbess Ethelburga of Barking

 In this icon, there is in the lower part of the center a row of four female saints. The first on the left, wearing a monastic habit, facing somewhat to the right, is Hildelith, nun at Barking Monastery. To the right of Hildelith is St. Ethelburga, in a brown monastic cloak, facing forward. Icon by Mother Justina, Greek Old Calendarist Convent of St. Elizabeth, Etna, California

In this icon of the Saints of London, there is in the lower center part a row of four female saints. The first on the left is Hildelith, 2nd Abbess of Barking Monastery. To the right of Hildelith is St. Ethelburga, in a brown monastic cloak, facing forward.
Icon by Mother Justina, Greek Old Calendarist Convent of St. Elizabeth, Etna, California

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 15

November 29

Abbess Æthelburga

of Barking

7th c. AD

Icon of the Saints of Barking by the hand of Dimitrios Hakim

On this 15th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Æthelburga (Æthelburh, Ethelburga) who was the  first Abbess of the double monastery (meaning men and women live and worship on the same monastic grounds under an Abbess) of Barking on the outskirts of London that was founded about 660. This large and prominent Abbey was in existence for 900 years until it was dissolved during the Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

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

Bishop Erconwald of Lonon

Bishop Eorconwald of London, Brother of Abbess Ethelburga

Her early life and family: Æthelburga was born in Lindsey in Lincolnshire, likely of a royal family. She was the sister of Eorcenwald, Bishop of London, who supposedly converted King Sebbi (reigned 664-694) of Essex to Christianity.

Her brother Eorcenwald, Bishop of London:It is recorded that Bishop Eorcenwald with family money helped finance the building of two monasteries, Chertsey  on the Thames in the land of Surrey and Barking in Essex, now a suburb of London. Yet, it is interesting that there is an early charter believed genuine and drafted by Bishop Eorcenwald in the reign of King Sebbi of Essex, that records a grant of lands in Essex by a certain Æthelred to Æthelburh and Barking. This is dated to between 686 and 688. Eorcenwald was the Bishop of London  from 675- 693. He succeeded  Bishop Wine and he was the choice for Bishop of London by Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury. He died at Barking Abbey, but he was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

How we know about Æthelburga: The main source of information on Æthelburga’s life is Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People which recounts the foundation of Barking, the early miracles there, and Ethelburga’s death. Evidently a Life of Æthelburga was in circulation in Bede’s day as he refers to a book which was the source of his information on her.

Bede describes Æthelburga as “upright in life and constantly planning for the needs of her community”.  He also said that she “established an excellent form of monastic rule and discipline there.”  During her tenure, the plague was virulent and Bede has two stories of how Æthelburga and the Community of Barking dealt with the many members who died.

Stone statue of St. Ethelburga on the left. All Hallows Church, Barking

Stone statue of St. Ethelburga on the left. All Hallows Church, Barking. Notice her Abbess’ staff in her right hand and her Abbey in her left hand.

Place of Resurrection: Bede records a vision by a nun of Barking named Tortgyth (also known as Theorigitha) who was the mistress of the novices at the Abbey. She saw a body wrapped in a shroud being taking to heaven pulled up by golden cords. She sensed that it was someone from their Community. A few days later Æthelburga died (c686) and they realized that the vision was about their Abbess. She was buried at Barking. Interestingly, three years later, Tortgyth received a vision of Æthelburga and said, “I am so glad that you have come; you are most welcome.” Tortgyth learned from the vision that she was soon to die, and her death came only a day later.

A page from the manuscript of St. Ethelburga (it is not certain if this is Ethelburga of Barking as there are several Ethelburga's in early medieval history

A page from the manuscript BL MS Harley 2900 f.68v. of St. Ethelburga (it is not certain if this is Ethelburga of Barking as there are several Ethelburga’s in early medieval history)

Æthelburga’s Successor: Abbess Æthelburga was succeeded by Hildelith. It was to Hildelith and nine of her nuns that Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury dedicated his Latin prose work, De Virginitate, a lengthy treatise on the merits of the virgin life. Aldhelm praised the women at Barking for their education, but berated them for golden embroidered headbands. Aldhelm wrote in very highbrow Latin and he obviously knew that the nuns of Barking were well educated and could understand his letters.

A view of a foundation wall at the ruins of Barking Abbey, Sept. 2009

A view of a foundation wall at the ruins of Barking Abbey. I took this photo on my visit there in Sept. 2009.

Barking Abbey’s history: Barking was destroyed by the Vikings in 870, but was reestablished as a Benedictine nunnery in King Edgar’s reign 100 years later with Abbess Wulfhild, whom according to Goscelin, Edgar tried to seduce. In medieval times, it  became one of the richest and most influential abbeys in England. This Abbey was held in such esteem, that the Abbess of Barking Abbey held precedence over all the other Abbesses in England.

The Abbey suffered greatly after a flooding of the Thames River in 1377. The Abbey existed for almost 900 years until King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries closed it in 1539.  Today, one can visit the ruins of Barking that are located next door to the very active Sts. Mary and Ethelburga’s Church. I visited Barking in September 2009, had a delicious lunch in their tea room, and had an interesting time afterwards visiting the ruins.

Restored St. Ethelburga the Virgin Church that is now a center for reconciliation and peace

Restored St. Ethelburga the Virgin Church that is now a center for reconciliation and peace. photo from https://lostcityoflondon.co.uk/tag/st-ethelburga/

St. Ethelburga the Virgin Church in London: The church of St. Ethelburga the Virgin in the City of London is dedicated to her. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of WWII but was extensively damaged in an IRA attack in 1993; however, it has been restored and is now a center for international reconciliation.

On our long awaited, first trip to England in 1993, my husband and I had just gotten off the airplane on April 24 and we were taking the double decker tour bus around the City of London. All of a sudden there was a huge and frightening explosion that rocked the streets that we heard and could feel. The tour bus we were on was redirected away from the center of London as the police quickly shut that area down. We soon learned that it was an IRA attack that had destroyed the ancient church of St. Ethelburga the Virgin.

Gate into St. Mary's Church and the ruins of Barking Abbey

Gate into grounds of  Sts. Mary  and Ethelburga and the ruins of Barking Abbey. On my visit there, I ate a delicious lunch in the church’s tearoom. I took this photo on my Sept. 2009 visit there.

Recent excavations of Barking Abbey have found timber building footings, evidence of weaving and a glass-working furnace, and a range of objects including gold thread, pins, manicure sets, style (used to write on wax tablets), and coins.

Stephanie Hollis writes that “Barking Abbey is the only English convent whose extant documentation points to the existence of a flourishing literary culture and exercise of literary patronage from the time of its foundation as a double monastery (c. 666) until the late Middle Ages. Also unique is the relatively well‐documented presence at Barking throughout its long history of a number of female authors, both named and anonymous. Of particular note is their early adoption of Anglo‐Norman as a literary language and their creation of liturgical and dramatic texts from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.”

Meditation

Feast Day, October 11

She died about 675 AD or after 686AD

A prayer from St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation 

St Ethelburga’s prayer for an end to violence

God of life,

Every act of violence in our world, between myself and another, destroys a part of your creation.

Stir in my heart a renewed sense of reverence for all life.

Give me the vision to recognise your spirit in every human being, however they behave towards me.

Make possible the impossible by cultivating in me the fertile seed of healing love.

May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence by realising that peace begins with me.

 

Stained glass of St. Ethelburga of Barking. Photo from St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace website, stetheburgas.org

 

________________________

© 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:

A Clerk of Oxford. St Ethelburga and the Nuns of Barking. October 11, 2013.

Archaeology Southeast. Fresh medieval discoveries from archaeological site near Barking Abbey. 11 September 2020.

“Barking” by John Blair. Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg.  The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford:Blackwell, 1999.

Barnes, Teresa L. A Nun’s Life: Barking Abbey in the Late-Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Master’s Thesis, 2004. Portland State University.(tnote: this is an excellent work on Barking Abbey).

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book IV, chapters 6-10.

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

British Library. Cotton MS Augustus II29.2nd half of the 8th century, Hodilredus (Æthelred or Œthelred), kinsman of King Sebbi of the East Saxons, grants 40 hides (manentes) at Ricingahaam, Budinhaam

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

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c. 600-900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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

Haig, Margaret. The Saints of Barking. March 12, 2018.

Hollis, Stephanie. Barking Abbey.  Abstract. August 3, 2017. 

Horstmann, C. The Lives of Women Saints of Our Contrie of England. London. Early English Text Society by N. Trubner & Co., 1836, reprint.

“Houses of Benedictine nuns: Abbey of Barking.” A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Eds. William Page, and J Horace Round. London: Victoria County History, 1907. 115-122. British History Online. Web. 29 November 2020. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122.

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

Lucas, Angela M. Women in the Middle Ages: Religion, Marriage, and Letters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983.

Monastic Matrix. “Barking.” 

Orthodox Wisdom. The Lives of St. Earconwald, Bishop of London & St. Ethelburga, Abbess of Barking. Youtube. July 8, 2018. (a reading)

St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconcilation and Peace.  London.

Schoenbechler, Roger. “Anglo-Saxon Monastic Women,” Magistra. Vol 1. No. 1

Treasure found on Barking Building Site. November 3, 2020.

Valence House. History of Barking Abbey

Watt, Diane. Lost Books: Abbess Hildelith and the Literary Culture of Barking Abbey. Philological Quarterly, Vol. 91, No. 1., Winter, 2012. 

Weston, Lisa M.C. The Saintly Body and the Landscape of Body in Anglo-Saxon Barking. University of Iowa, 2007.

Whitelock, Dorothy. Anglo-Saxon Wills, no. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930.

Wilson, David M., ed. The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 1990, 1992 reprint.

__________. Nunneries and the Anglo-Saxon Royal Houses. London, UK: Continuum, 2003.

 

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Celts to the Creche: A Band of Brothers, Cedd, Chad, Cynibil, and Caelin

St. Cedd of Lastingham

St. Cedd of Lastingham. icon from orthodoxengland.org. uk

St. Chad of Lichfield

St. Chad of Lichfield from orthodoxengland.org.uk

Celts to the Crèche

Day 14

November 28

A Band of Brothers:

Sts. Cedd, Chad, Cynibil, and Caelin

7th c.

On the 14th day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet the band of brothers from England, all ordained priests: Cedd, Chad (Celtic name is Cædda), Cynibil, and Cælin. These four brothers, all educated by St. Aidan on Lindisfarne (see day 1 of Celts to the Creche) through their diligent and faithful work in Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria helped transform the 7th century Celts and Anglo-Saxons from pagans to Christians. Most of what we know about these priestly brothers comes from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book III and through archaeology. 

From the life of these brothers we see that when it seems like we receive a calling, even if it is postponed or triangulated in some way, that the Spirit has a way of working around those human-made changes/bumps/detours along our path.

You may desire to continue reading more about  these brothers Cedd, Chad, Cynibil, and Caelin or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

Cynibil and Cælin: Let us begin first with the lesser known two of the four brothers, Cynibil and Cælin. Bede portrays Cælin as a priest and a chaplain of King Oswald’s son, Ethelwald, who ruled the coastal area of Deira, the southern part of Northumbria.

It was on the initiative of Cælin that King Ethelwald donated land about 654AD for the building of a monastery that was also to serve as a royal mausoleum. From what Bede implies we get the idea that the place that Cedd chose, at Lastingham in the North Yorkshire Moors, 18 miles west of modern day Scarborough was a bit of a surprise. The place chosen was not in the wealthy farmlands of Yorkshire, but in a rather wild, unlawful place that needed to be cleansed both physically and spiritually before it could be used for God. To purify the site, Cedd undertook a forty-day fast of only a little milk and bread, and an egg at Lent, but for some reason, Cedd needed to relinquish the fast and his brother Cynibil, who was also a priest took over the fast on the thirtieth day.

Lastingham Church

Lastingham Church likely built in 1078 AD over the original church built by St. Cedd. photo from wikipedia

Cedd’s Life: In 653, Cedd began preaching the Gospel in Mercia when Paeda, son of King Penda of Mercia became a Christian and allowed monks from Lindisfarne to evangelize among his people. Cedd was consecrated at Lindisfarne in 654.

Later, Cedd was made Bishop to the East Saxons in East Anglia when Sigibert II, the King of the East Saxons (Essex) had been baptized recently. Cedd was the founder of monasteries at Tilbury on the Thames estuary and at Bradwell-on-Sea located on the north shore of the River Blackwater, ten miles south of Colchester. There is nothing left of Tilbury, but the chapel of Bradwell-on-Sea still stands and is being used today.

St. Peter on the Wall, Bradwell on Sea, Essex.  photo from Wikimedia.org

Bradwell-on-Sea was a shore fort in Roman times originally known as Othona. St. Cedd, as a majority of the early Celtic/Anglo-Saxon monastic founders did, used an abandoned Roman fort to establish their monastery. It made sense to reuse these forts since they were usually established along Roman Roads where there was access to water and they were able to get food and supplies quicker and easier. The forts were so sturdily constructed that the monastery could build inside the still standing walls or on top of almost indestructible  Roman foundations. The already cut stone could be used to construct other buildings. 

St. Cedd established his monastery that he called Ythancaestir within the old Othona Roman fort walls in 653AD, which survives today as the restored chapel of St. Peter-on-the-Wall, one of the oldest churches in Britain. Cedd’s Cathedral was constructed where the gatehouse of the fort had been, so it was literally built on the wall of the fort. Hence the name, “Saint Peter-on-the-Wall.” There is also an annual Pilgrimage to Bradwell.

Inside of St. Peter's Church, Bradwell-on-Sea

Inside of St. Peter’s Church on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea. photo from bradwellchapel.org

When King Sigeberht II consorted with a thegn whom Cedd had excommunicated for an irregular marriage, Cedd’s reproach and rebuke were believed to be the cause of Sigeberht II’s murder by his own family c.660AD. Cedd baptized the successor, Swithhelm, at Rendlesham, the manor of the East Anglian kings, very close to Sutton Hoo (where the amazing hoard of late 6th c. Anglo-Saxon treasure was found in a ship burial).

Cedd’s Place of Resurrection: Cedd was Bishop of the East Saxons from 654 AD until 664AD, when Cedd was struck with the plague after being a translator at the famous Synod of Whitby that was presided over by St. Hilda (see day 2 of Celts to the Creche). The Venerable Bede wrote in his famous Ecclesiastical History of the English People that although Cedd followed Celtic customs rather than those of Rome, “he was in that council a most careful interpreter for both parties.”

Before his death, Cedd sent for his younger brother Chad to come replace him as Abbot at Lastingham. Sadly, Chad ended up burying thirty of the monks who also died from the plague, including his two brothers, Cedd and either Cælin or Cynibil. Cedd was buried outside the first church at Lastingham and his remains were translated to the right of the high altar upon the building of a new stone church.

St. Cedd's Well at Lastingham

St. Cedd’s Well at Lastingham. photo from http://www.nicholasrhea.co.uk/author/archives/00000029.html

Crypt at Lastingham

Crypt at Lastingham, sometimes called St. Cedd’s Crypt, even though he was probably never buried there. It was begun in 1078 by Stephen, the first Abbot of St. Mary’s in York. photo from britainexpress.com

There are two holy wells at Lastingham in honor of  Cedd and his younger brother Chad.

Chad’s Life: After being born in Northumbria, Chad was taught at Lindisfarne by Aidan. He was later sent to Ireland for further study and he established the Rath Melsigi Monastery in Southeast Ireland. One of Bede’s teachers was Trumberht who had been taught by Chad at Rath Melsigi.  Trumberht along with the Lastingham monks gave Bede much information about Chad for  his history book.

Chad succeeded Cedd as the Abbot of Lastingham, but soon King Oswy (Oswiu)of Northumbria sent him south to Canterbury to be consecrated as the bishop of York. When Chad arrived about 668, he found that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Deusdedit had died of the plague and a replacement had not been installed. So Chad travelled onto Wessex where he was consecrated by Bishop Wine.  Wilfrid, a supporter of the Roman way instead of the Celtic way personally ousted Chad from York as he said that Chad’s consecration was noncanonical, not a true one since he was not installed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Wilfrid was not popular with the Celtic leadership, especially not with the Lindisfarne community and St. Hilda of Whitby).

Chad becomes Bishop of Mercia: Probably dancing and rejoicing with relief at not having the huge extra responsibilities of serving as a Bishop, Chad returned to his beloved Lastingham. But soon the King of Mercia asked for a bishop and the newly installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus appointed Chad as the Bishop of Mercia. Seems like when we get a calling, even if it is postponed or triangulated in some way, that the Spirit has a way of working around those human-made changes/bumps/detours along our path.

Even though this was a huge territory, Chad began traveling on foot through his sparsely populated diocese, as his Celtic teacher and mentor St. Aidan of Lindisfarne had done. When the Archbishop of Canterbury Theodore saw Chad on foot, he was horrified and gave him a horse. Chad refused to mount the horse and the Archbishop had him forcibly placed on the saddle.

Chad made his Mercian diocese headquarters at Lichfield near Tamworth on an ancient holy site. There is a huge stone buried beneath the high altar that appears to be the altar stone of a temple dating from 1000 BC. It is thought that there was a church there even before Chad’s time and he built a monastery nearby.

Near the monastery was a pool or well where Chad baptized converts and it is said that he stood naked in the freezing water to pray and to mortify his flesh. Bede recorded that Chad built himself a house near the church where he used to retire privately with seven or eight brethren in order to pray or study whenever his work and preaching permitted.

St. Chad's Well at Lichfield

St. Chad’s Well at Lichfield. Supposedly the same well that Chad stood in. photo from wikimedia.com

Chad’s Place of Resurrection: After only three years as Bishop of Mercia, Chad like his brothers died of the plague on March 2, 672 at Lichfield. Bede recorded that Chad heard angelic spirits singing seven days before he died and he was told that meant that he would die in seven days and he did. He was buried outside of the church of St. Mary. Thirty years later, his bones were moved to the church of St. Peter where a small timber cathedral was built over his tomb that contained Chad’s Celtic house-shaped shrine. Bede described it this way:

“a wooden monument, made like a little house covered, having a hole in the wall, through which those that go thither for devotion usually put in their hand and take out some dust, which they put into water and give to sick cattle or men to taste, upon which they are presently eased of their infirmity and restored to health.”

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, various ones preserved and passed down the relics of St. Chad. Some of his bones are believed to lie today  in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Birmingham.

A carpet page of the Lichfield Gospels

A carpet page of the Lichfield Gospels

Lichfield Gospels: Chad’s Gospels (also known as the Lichfield Gospels) is a magnificent illuminated manuscript likely produced in the 8th century by a scribe who may have studied the beautifully decorated Lindisfarne Gospels. Some think that the Lichfield Gospels may have been made in memory of St. Chad. This gospel book can be seen in Lichfield Cathedral.

21st c. Discoveries at Lichfield: In 2003, a remarkable archaeological discovery was made while trying to install a retractable platform in the nave of the Lichfield Cathedral that were dedicated to Sts. Chad and Mary.  It had been thought that the original church of Chad had been located west of the Church of St. Mary which is now incorporated into the Lichfield Cathedral.

Evidence of the original Anglo-Saxon Cathedral and the second Norman nave was found. Even several burials were uncovered. At the east end of the site a sunken chamber was discovered with the embellishment of a canopy marking its honor and reverence. Such a structure suggested a shrine or grave and the position accorded with the description by Bede. This leads the archaeologists to believe that this is the original position of the shrine of St. Chad, built by Hedda early in the 8th Century.

Lichfield Angel

Lichfield Angel. photo from hefenfelth.wordpress.com

Lichfield Angel: Also recovered from the excavation were three fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured limestone panel. The pieces together form a half of one side of a hollowed limestone block. The stone carving depicts an angel, quite likely to be Gabriel with his right hand raised in blessing and the left bearing a foliate sceptre.

The figure of the angel is covered with Anglo-Saxon red pigment and the feathered wings are red with white tips. The background seems to be pure white. It is speculated that this is one half of an Annunciation scene – with the angel Gabriel and the other part, possibly still beneath the floor, being the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The carved limestone panel, which is dated to around 800 A.D., comprises three separate fragments which are thought to have formed the corner of a shrine chest, possibly that of St. Chad.

Another discovery was made in 2011 while pulling up some of Lichfield’s stone floor to lay cabling for lighted cabinets to display some pieces of the newly discovered Staffordshire Hoard. Three skeletons were uncovered, two of them were likely Saxon burials and one was an infant of a later period. So, new discoveries continue to be made at this historic and sacred place.

The Lichfield Angel was part of the Anglo-Saxon Exhibition at the British Library from October 19, 2018-February 19, 2018. I saw this in person and it was magnificent. I could hardly believe I was seeing this beautiful angelic piece with such a magnificent history in person.

Meditation

Feast Day of St. Cedd, October 26, 664

Feast Day of St. Chad, March 2, 672

 A Collect of  St. Chad

Almighty God,
from the fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ,
you called your servant Chad
to be an evangelist and bishop of his people:
give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature,
humble spirit and prayerful life,
that we may truly commend to others
the faith which we ourselves profess;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

________________________

© 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. III

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

Bradwell-on-Sea Chapel.

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

Cave, Diana. Saint Cedd: Seventh-Century Celtic Saint. London: PublishNation, 2015.

“Chad, St” by R. C. Love in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg, eds. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England.

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

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge, James Clarke & Co., 1997.

DeGregorio, Scott, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Bede. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Eddius Stephanus. “Life of Wilfrid,” Chapter 14, in The Age of Bede, trans. by J. F. Webb and edited by D.H. Farmer. London: Penguin Books, reprinted 2004.

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.

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. London: Routledge Press, 1991, 1994 reprint.

“Lastingham” at Great English Churches website. 

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

The Lichfield Angel. 

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

Parker, Eleanor. The Musical Death of Chad of Mercia. A Clerk of Oxford.blogspot.com. March 2, 2014.

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

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

St. Mary’ Lastingham: Ancient Crypt Church. Lastingham, UK: Lastingham Parochial Church Council. 1997.St. Chad’s Gospels. 

St. Mary’s Church, Lastingham.

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

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Ita of Ireland

Icon of St. Ita of Ireland

Icon of St. Ita of Killeedy, Ireland by unknown writer

Celts to the Crèche

Day 13

November 27

St. Ita of Killeedy, Ireland

c 480-c570 AD

On this 13th day of the Celts to the Crèche we meet ST. ITA OF KILLEEDY, IRELAND (St. Íte).  St. Ita is considered to be the foster mother of the saints of Ireland; the patron saint of Munster; a prophetess; and the founding Abbess of Killeedy, which is the first known monastery in western Ireland.

Her monastery and school were guided by the simple Celtic (Druidic) type triad dictum:

True faith in God with purity of heart

Simplicity of life with religion

Generosity with love.

St. Brendan the Navigator (see Day 20 of Celts to the Crèche) was one of her pupils who kept up with her in between his travels.

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

Early Life: Ita, was born about 480 and raised in the present day Drum in County Waterford.  She was a daughter of the legendary Faelan (Cennfoelad), King of the Déisi people and her mother was Necta.  Her sister was Nessa, the mother of St.Mo Chaemmoc. She was baptized as “Deirdre,” but was given the nickname, Itha meaning “thirst” because of her thirst for God. Óengus, considered to be the first King of Scotland called her “the white sun of the women of Munster.”

Stained Glass of St. Ita in St. Kieran's Church, Bally lobby

Stained Glass of St. Ita in St. Kieran’s Church, Ballylooby, Ireland. photo from Wikipedia

Her Calling: Ita was said to embody the six virtues of Irish womanhood – wisdom, purity, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills. She is also reported to have rejected a prestigious marriage for a life as a nun. One night in a dream, an angel appeared to Ita and she sought the meaning of the dream. The angel said that the stones in her dream symbolized the gifts of the Trinity and that these gifts would guide her throughout her life.

Abbess: At the age of sixteen Ita moved to Cluain Credhail (meaning Holy Meadow) in Limerick where she set up the monastery, Killeedy (“Church of Ita”).  She also set up another foundation called Kilmeedy (“Mo Ita”). Bishop Declan of Ardmore conferred the veil on her.

Legend has it that Ita was led to Killeedy by three heavenly lights. The first was at the top of the Galtee mountains, the second on the Mullaghareirk mountains and the third at Cluain Creadhail, which is nowadays Killeedy. Her sister Fiona also went to Killeedy with her and became a member of the community. Ita and her community spent their time praying, teaching the young and caring for the sick, the poor and the elderly. The community also had a dairy farm at Boolaveeda near Mountcollins, which was run by St. Ita.

Ita’s Character Traits: Ita was said to be a prophetess with a strongly individualistic character and a penchant for the austere life. When she decided to settle in Killeedy, a chieftain offered her a large grant of land to support the convent. But Ita would accept only four acres, which she cultivated intensively. This individualistic character must  have been a family trait as Ita’s nephew Dagan, became the Bishop of Wexford. He upheld his family’s Celtic traditions in the face of pressure from the Roman community at Canterbury. Bishop Dagan refused to sit down and eat with Archbishop Laurentius who succeeded Augustine as Bishop of Canterbury.

St. Brendan the Navigator from a German manuscript

St. Brendan the Navigator, as a student of St. Ita. From a German manuscript

Ita’s Influence on Brendan the Navigator: The Killeedy double monastery had a school for boys and girls and one of Ita’s pupils was St. Brendan the Navigator whom Bishop Erc gave to Ita to care for when he was a year old. Brendan stayed at Killeedy until he was six years old and he continued to stay in contact with Ita throughout his life and visited her between his voyages and always deferred to her counsel.

Like the Druids, Ita taught in triads. Brendan is believed to have asked her what three things God loved best and she answered: Faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and 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.

Her Influence: Numerous miracles are recorded of her. She is also said to be the originator of an Irish “Lullaby for the Infant Jesus” that is preserved in a 9thc. manuscript. An English version  was set for voice and piano by the American composer Samuel Barber. She influenced many of Ireland’s saints so she is often called the foster mother of Irish saints.

St. Ita's 20th c. shrine considered to be over the place of her burial

St. Ita’s 20th c. shrine considered to be over the place of her burial. Ballagh, County Limerick.

Her Resurrection Day: Ita probably died of cancer, though contemporary chroniclers describe how her side was consumed by a beetle that eventually grew to the size of a pig. When she felt her end approaching she sent for her community of nuns, and invoked the blessing of heaven on the clergy and laity of the district around Kileedy. Ita died sometime around 570. Her grave, frequently decorated with flowers, is in the ruins of Cill Ide, a Romanesque church at Killeedy where her monastery once stood.

Ita’s Holy Wells: A holy well near Killeedy, almost invisible now, was known for centuries for curing smallpox in children and other diseases as well.

St. Ita's Well

St. Ita’s Well near Killeedy, known to cure smallpox in children and other diseases. photo from https://holywellscorkandkerry.com/tag/piseog/

In recent times, the water in the well was said to cure warts and children from the local school, who were suffering from warts, have gone to the well during school hours, to wash the afflicted part and having said the following words: “Bubble up, bubble up, Blessed Well!” three times, have been cured.

St Ita's well Tobar na Molt

St Ita’s Well, Tobar na Molt (Wethers Well) and chapel in Tubrid, Ardfert, Kerry where it is said that St. Brendan was baptized by Bishop Erc. photo from Megalithic Ireland

Killeedy Church: The original church that was built within the grounds of the double monastery was built about 546. In 845 the Vikings burned Killeedy. A church was rebuilt on the monastic site after 845. However, Killeedy was raided again in 857 and 916. There are only ruins of this great church.

St. Ita and Donkeys. There is an interesting set of tales around St. Ita and donkeys that the reader might enjoy reading. See “Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland” in the “Some Resources” below.

Meditation

Feast Day January 15

Oh Triune God, three in One, help me to  follow St. Ita’s words as I journey through this often too busy and hectic Advent season:

“Faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and generosity with love.” Amen.

St. It's Church at Killeedy in ruins.

Site of St. Ita’s Church at Killeedy.Photo from Limerick Heritage Diocese.org

___________________________________

© 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:

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.

Ellis, Peter B. Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

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

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

“Killeedy.” Early Christian Sites in Ireland. 

Ó’Ríordáin, John J. Early Irish Saints. Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004.

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland. Holy Cow. The Miraculous Animals of the Irish Saints: Part Four St. Ita and Her Donkey. 

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

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

St. Ita of Killeedy, Ireland. Youtube. August 11, 2016. (note: great video of her life, but music is loud).

“Tobar na Molt, Wethers Well” at Megalithic Ireland.com.

Vita Sanctae Ite (Life of St. Ita). translated by Dorothy Africa. Monastic Matrix

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

 

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Celts to the Crèche: St. Brigid of Kildare

St. Brigid of Kildare

Icon writer unknown

Celts to the Crèche

Day 5

November 19

St. Brigid of Kildare

c 452-523/525 AD

On this 5th day of Advent on our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet Saint Brigid/Brigit, Bridget, Bride, an early Irish saint who was one of Ireland’s three patron saints along with St. Patrick (see day 40 of Celts to the Crèche) and St. Columba (see day four of Celts to the Crèche). It is said that St. Brigid and St. Patrick were friends and that she was an ardent preacher that went throughout Ireland on a chariot evangelizing the people. Brigid was the  founder of several monasteries including Kildare (Cill Dara meaning “Church of the Oak Tree”), which was a double monastery of men and women serving equally together under the rule of an Abbess. She also may have been ordained as a Bishop.

She is famous for saying, “A person without an anam cara (soul friend) is like a body without a head.”  St. Brigid’s feast day was likely chosen as February 1 since Imbolc, one of the four Celtic feasts begins on this date.

Columba, Patrick, and Brigid, the three patron saints of Ireland

Columba, Patrick, and Brigid, the three patron saints of Ireland

You may desire to continue reading more about Brigid or scroll on down to the Meditation towards the end of this page.

Kildare Cathedral likely on foundation of original church or nearby

Kildare Cathedral likely built in 1223 upon the foundation of the original monastery or nearby. photo from http://www.kildare.ie

Kildare Cathedral and Monastery: Kildare was built beside an ancient holy tree which survived until the 10th century.But, according to some scholars, the reason it was called Kildare (Church of the Oak Tree) is because it was built of oak.2   Since the Druids and Celts had a great love for trees and often worshipped in oak groves, it would make sense that her church and monastery took the Celtic and Druidic customs and transformed them into Christian rituals and places.

Kildare Round Tower, lower part of tower likely from Brigid's era

Kildare Round Tower, lower part of tower likely from Brigid’s era

Brigid’s fame was taken across Western Europe by traveling Irish monks. She was even described by Oengus, the poet-chronicler, as “Brigid, excellent woman, golden flame.” Brigid has often been called the Mary of the Gaels and a common salutation in the Irish language expresses the hope that Brigid and Mary be with you. Even today, the tradition still thrives that Brigid was a companion and trusted friend of the Holy Family and was privileged to be the midwife and nursemaid at the birth of Jesus.3

Her Early Life: There are numerous Brigid’s in history and legend that often get tangled up with St. Brigid of Kildare, including many folktales that became interwoven with Druidic mythology as well as Christian traditions. There are at least six  separate Lives of Brigid, the first perhaps composed by Aileran the Wise of Clonard (died 665) and the second by Cogitosus about 650.4

According to tradition, this Brigid was born in Faughart on February 1st near the border of south Louth and north of Armagh. Her father, Dubthach was a major landowner of royal blood, but not a king.  Her mother Brocessa was a concubine and likely a slave. There are several stories of Brigid’s birth. One of which sadly states that Dubthach sold her mother  and kept the daughter. Another says that Dubthac sold Brocessa to a poet who then in turn sold her to a Druid.There is even another story that says that Dubthach’s primary wife was jealous of Brocessa, so Dubthach banished her to Fochard-Muirthemhne in the Dundalk area even before Brigid was born. Some modern scholarship favors the territory of Fotharta Airbrech near Croghan Hill on the Offaly-Kildaire border as the birthplace of Brigid so this might corroborate this record of her birth.6 Some legends say that Brigid was a Ban-Druí, a Druid  before she became a Christian when St. Patrick baptized her.7 It is also interesting that some believe from studies of early writings that St. Patrick endorsed women as head of churches. 8

Her Call and Ordination as a Nun and a Bishop: When Brigid gave away her father’s sword to a leper he was so angry that he tried to sell Brigid to the king, but the king would not bargain for her because “her merit was higher before God than before men.”9 Her father gave her freedom but still tried to marry her off, but she refused to be accept any proposal. Eventually Dubthach agreed to let his daughter go see the aged Bishop Mel in Ardagh who had been a disciple and possibly a nephew of St. Patrick.

In the Hymn to Brigid written at the beginning of the 7th c. by St. Broccan Cloen at the request of Ultan of Armagh, there is a reference that goes on to say “hence Brigid’s successor is always entitled to have episcopal orders and the honor due a bishop.” This hymn states that Mel accepted her along with seven  other women  who went to him to receive the order of penance and to be dedicated to the religious life. Bishop Mel ordained her as a nun and some say that he also by mistake read the wrong prayers which ordained her as a bishop. When he ordained her as a bishop, a brilliant flame ascended from her head.10 Afterwards, Mel was asked why he had read the incorrect prayers making her a bishop. He replied that the Holy Spirit had taken the matter out of his hands.11 (I so love how the Spirit works in ways we cannot dream or imagine!!!) Others say that Bishop Ibor ordained her as a bishop.12

Orthodox Icon of St. Brigid written by Georgi Chimevi. Notice her bishop’s crozier, rush cross, and flame. artbychimevi.com

Brigid had a reputation for generosity and Kildare became known as “the city of the poor.” There is a table blessing attributed to Brigid which reflects her compassion and inclusivity that everyone is welcome at the table. “I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children. I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy. Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, the sick dance with the angels.” 13  She was also known as a friend of animals because of her love and protection of God’s creation.

St. Brigid of Kildaire by Betsy Hayes. Contact pastorpilgrim about information on this artist.

St. Brigid of Kildaire by Betsy Hayes, Celtic saint art artist. 

Life of Brigid by Cogitosus: Around 650AD, about 100 years after her death, Cogitosus, a monk at Kildare wrote a Life of Brigid. He told about the large double monastery in which men and women lived and worked as equals with Brigid as the Abbess. Cogitosus claimed that Kildare in the 7th c. was “head of almost all the Irish churches with supremacy over  all the monasteries of the Irish and a paruchia which extended over the entire island of Ireland.14

Cogitosus also described Brigid as on the move, a traveller, preaching the gospel and caring for those whom she met. He recorded the story of how Brigid travelled in a chariot and her driver was a priest who would baptize the converts as they travelled from place to place. Cogitosus said that she was kind and compassionate, a saint of the people.

He also wrote in great detail about a wooden church that contained the relics of Brigid and Conleth, who was a hermit and metal worker whom Brigid invited to Kildare to make church vessels and to be pastor of the local people surrounding the monastery. Brigid also founded a school of art, that included metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. Carol Neuman De Vegvar in The Cross Goes North discusses Cogitosus’ fascinating record of Brigid’s church at Kildare. We can only imagine the magnificent Irish/Celtic artwork that came from Kildare.

Gerald of Wales recording his great adventure through Ireland and Wales

Gerald of Wales recording his great adventure through Ireland and Wales. photo from goodreads.com

Gerald of Wales Writes about Brigid: The Kildare Monastery’s scriptorium produced the  illuminated Book of Kildare, which elicited high praise from Gerald of Wales when he travelled to Ireland in the 12th c., but which has disappeared since the Reformation. According to Gerald, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colors left the impression that “all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill.”15

Tending the Flame and the Brigidine Sisters: The name Brigid comes from a Celtic goddess of fire and light and Brigid of Kildare likely carried some of these attributes. When Gerald of Wales visited her monastery he saw a fire which 19 of her nuns carefully tended for 19 days and on the 20th day, it is said she would return to tend the flame. It never died out.

The communal hearth was a central feature of ancient rural communities and was held to be holy and sacred. Brigid’s fire was extinguished during the Norman invasion of 1220, but was rekindled and kept lit until her monastery was destroyed during the 16th c. Reformation when Kildare was taken over by the English crown. In 1992, Sister Mary Minehan and Sister Phil O’Shea of the Brigidine Sisters that was founded in 1807 came to Kildare which led to the relighting of Brigid’s flame in 1993 in the Market Square, Kildare, by Sister Mary Teresa Cullen, then congregational leader of the Brigidine Sisters.16

Brigid's Perpetual Flame in Kildare

Brigid’s Perpetual Flame in Kildare. photo from http://www.kildare.ie

Kildare County Council commissioned a sculpture to house the flame in Kildare Town Square in 2005. The President of Ireland at that time, Mary McAleese, presided at the lighting of the Perpetual Flame in the Town Square on St. Brigid’s Day 2006.17 The flame was lit from the flame tended by the Brigidine Sisters in Solas Bhríde, a Christian community centre for Celtic spirituality. The Brigid Light is still guarded and tended in Solas Bhríde as it was in Kildare many centuries ago by the Sisters of St Brigid. The flame burns as a beacon of hope, justice and peace for Ireland and our world.

Solas Bhríde believes that Brigid is still relevant for today. They teach that her life continues to inspire those who desire full equality of men and women in the church and society and who desire to work for the protection of the earth and bring peace, justice, and reconciliation. 18

Brigid’s Rush Cross (Cosog Brigde):

A St. Brigid's Rush Cross

St. Brigid’s Rush Cross

One of the stories of her life surrounds her cross made of rushes. She was called to the deathbed of a dying pagan chieftain of Ireland whom some think may have been her father. As she sat beside him, she picked up some rushes from the the floor and wove them into a cross and explained the story of the crucifixion of Christ to him.19 The cross is believed to protect houses from burning down.

Place of Resurrection and Relics: St.Brigid died about 523/5 on February 1 after receiving Holy Communion from St. Ninnidh of Inismacsaint, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who had his monastery on a small island about a half mile off the western shore of Lower Lough Erne adjacent to Derrygonnelly.20

In the National Museum in Dublin, there is a shrine of silver and brass set with jewels containing a relic of Brigid’s shoe. Her mantle is in a Bruges cathedral that is said to have been brought there by King Harold of England’s sister after the Norman invasion. It is a small square of red wool cloth with curly tufts, such shag-rug mantles were woven from Bronze Age times until the 16th c.21

Brigid was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a magnificent tomb was erected over her mentioned earlier. Cogitosus  in his Life of Brigid admired the ornate tombs of Brigid and Conleth on either side of the altar that were covered with gems and precious metals. Crowns of gold and silver hung above them, and carved statues and paintings adorned the church. Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1.

About the year 878, owing to the Viking raids, Brigid’s relics were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of the other Irish patron saints Patrick and Columba, the founder of Iona.

Place where the saints Patrick, Brigid, and Columba are believed to be buried. Downpatrick, Ireland

Place where the saints Patrick, Brigid, and Columba are believed to be buried. Downpatrick, Ireland. photo from Wikimedia.

The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185 and on June 9 of the following year were reinterred in Down Cathedral.

Throughout Ireland there are Brigid’s wells where pilgrims come to pray, reflect, and seek healing.

Brigid Pilgrimages in Kildare: There are 5 important pilgrimages associated with St. Brigid and Kildare: Going to her wells, to St. Brigid’s Cathedral, to the Fire Temple, to the Peace Pole, and to the Labyrinth.22

St. Brigid's Well, Kildare

St. Brigid’s Well, Kildare.There are at least 15 Brigid Wells in Ireland. These wells were used to baptize the “pagan”s who became followers of Christ.  photo from-ireland.net

 Meditation

Feast Day February 1

May the Perpetual Light of St. Brigid illuminate the way to the Crèche for us.

St. Brigid’s Blessing from the Brigidine Sisters

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.23

_________________________

Footnotes:

Christina Harrington. Women in a Celtic Church, p. 66.

2 Ibid.

3 Mary Earle and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions, p. 21.

Michelle Brown. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland, p. 92.

Edward Sellner. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, p. 78.

John J. Ó’Ríordáin. Early Irish Saints, p. 22.

Brown, p. 92.

Harrington, p. 57.

Sellner, p. 79.

10 Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna Oliver. Praying with Celtic Holy Women, p. 22.

11 Ó’Ríordáin, p. 22.

12 Brown, p. 93.

13 Meehan, p. 34.

14 Connolly p. 5

15 Eoghan Corry. Whatever Happened to the Book of Kildare?

16 Meehan, p. 24.

17 http://solasbhride.ie/the-perpetual-flame/

18 Andrew Jones. Early Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland, p. 159.

19 Meehan, p. 27.

20 Ó’Ríordáin, p. 54.

21 Lisa Bitel. Landscape with Two Saints, p. 198.

22 Jones, p. 160.

23 Meehan, p. 26.

_______________________


© 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:

Ana St.Paul. Saint of the Day. St. Brigid of Ireland. February 1, 2019.

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.

Bethu Brigte.

Big Green Art. How to Make a Brigid’s Cross from Rushes. Youtube. 2016.

Bitel. Lisa M. Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

_________. Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

“Brigid: The Second Patron Saint of Ireland.” The Wild Geese. January 30, 2015.

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

Catholic Online. St. Brigid of Ireland. youtube. video. March 3, 2021.

Cogitosus. Life of Brigit.   Sean andJ.-M. Picard. “Cogitosus’s ‘Life of St Brigit’ Content and Value.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 117 (1987): 5–27. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508920.Connolly, Sean. “Cogitosus’ Life of Brigit Content and Value.” JRSAI, vol. 117, 1987.

Corry, Eogan. Whatever Happened to the Book of Kildare? Kildare Voice, September 27, 2007.

D’Arcy, Mary Ryan. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: The Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Davies, Oliver, ed. “The Life of St. Brigit the Virgin by Cogitosus,” in Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

De Blacam, Hugh. “Saint Brigid: The Mary Of The Gael”, The Saints of Ireland: The Life-Stories of SS. Brigid and Columcille, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee

De Vegvar, Carol Neuman. “Romanitas and Realpolitik in Cogitosus’ Description of the Church of St. Brigit, Kildare” in Carver, Martin, ed. The Cross Goes North. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2003.

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

Ellis, Peter B. Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

EWTN. Honoring St. Brigid. Youtube. February 1, 2013.

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

The Historical Works of Gerald of Wales.  from Archive. 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, 2002.

Kildare Town Tourist Office & Heritage Centre.

Meehan, Bridget Mary and Regina Madonna Oliver. “Saint Bridget of Kildare” in Praying with Celtic Holy Women. Hampshire, UK: Redemptorist Publications, 2003.

Megalithic Ireland. com. Kildare Round Tower. (image)

Matthews, John. “All the Bright Blessings: Brighid of Kildare” in Drinking from the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

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

Minehan, Rita. Rekindling the Flame: a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Brigid. Solas Bridhe.

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

Newell, John Philip. “Sacred Feminine, Brigid of Kildare” in Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening To What Our Souls Know and Healing the World. New York: Harper One, 2021.

Ní Mheara (O’Mara),  Róisín. In Search of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1994.

O’Hannon, John. Life of St. Brigid, Virgin. Dublin: Joseph Dollard, 1887.

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.

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

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Solas Bhríde Centre and Pilgrimages

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

Warren, Brenda Griffin.  St. Brigit of Kildare as a Bishop? February 17, 2017. Godspacelight.

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

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Celts to the Creche: St. Columbanus

St. Columbanus by Susanne Iles. http://www.susanneiles.com/columbanus.html

Icon of St. Columbanus written by Susanne Iles. It is said that Columbanus had a personal retreat in a bear’s den.

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 8

November 22

St. Columbanus

c543 AD-November 21, 615 AD

On this 8th day of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, let us visit with St. Columbanus, one of the early Irish monks who helped evangelize, educate, and transform pagan Western Europe. He did this beginning at about the age of 45 when he was not a young man! He founded several famous monasteries in France including Annegray and Luxueil along with Bobbio in Italy and Bregenz in Austria.

He was no wimp! It is said Columbanus had his retreat in a bear’s den. He fearlessly took on the wicked Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia and lived to tell it. His in-their-face tactic with the Merovingian royals kept them “in a tizzy” at times. Columbanus was also a prolific writer and several of his letters are still in existence. He devised his own very strict Rule of Columbanus that was followed by his monasteries and also by others.

His love for God’s magnificent creation was a direct line of influence upon St. Francis of Assisi who lived for awhile as a monk at the Bobbio Monastery in Italy. Columbanus is known for saying: “Christians must live in perpetual pilgrimage, as ‘guests of the world’ (hospitus mundi).’

You may want to continue reading more about Columbanus or you may prefer to go ahead down the page and read the Meditation.

Early Life and EducationSt. Columbanus (Columban) was an Irish monk who was born about 543 AD in County Meath, now known as Leinster. While his mother was pregnant with him, she dreamed of a great light that spread throughout the world. She knew that her baby would be a servant of Christ.

It was written soon after his death that “Columbanus’ fine figure, his splendid color, and his noble manliness made him beloved by all.” He also had a great sense of humor and loved puns. We know about Columbanus from the writings of The Venerable Bede in the fifth chapter of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People and from Jonas, a monk  of Bobbio who wrote about Columbanus three years after he died.

As a young man, Columbanus was afraid he was on the brink of giving in to the vain “lusts of the world,” so he sought the guidance of a local female hermit or Abbess. She advised this handsome young man: “Away, O youth, away!”  “Flee from corruption, into which, as you know, many have fallen.” Hearing those words of admonition, he was shaken so much that he left home over his Mother’s loud protest as she lay prostrate on the threshold of their home, begging him not to leave to study under a monk named Sinell on Cleenish Island in Lough Erne.

He later entered the famous Irish monastery of Bangor and studied with the renowned St. Comgall (a friend and student of St. Columba of Iona). While there he codified two Rules for living in community, one for the community and one for individual monks. When Columbanus was about 45 years old, Comgall finally gave him permission to go to Europe with twelve companions in about 589.

Likely where Columbanus landed near St. Malo, France at Guimoraie on the beach of Guesclin. photo from flicker

Likely where Columbanus and his companions landed near St. Malo, France at Guimoraie on the beach of Guesclin. photo from flicker

They landed first in Saint Malo, Brittany in France and then Columbanus set up a monastery at Annegray in the Vosges Mountains on an old Roman fort in Burgundy.

Established Monasteries. St. Columbanus founded numerous monasteries throughout Europe, most notably Annegray and Luxeuil in  France and Bobbio in Italy. At Luxeuil, his largest monastery in France, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul stands on the site of Columbanus’ first church.

Annegray Monastery, France founded by Columbanus. photo from Wikipedia

Ruins of Annegray Monastery, France founded by Columbanus. photo from Wikipedia

Luxeuil Abbey

Luxeuil Abbey founded by Columbanus on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium

It is even said that he had his own personal retreat in a bear’s den!  Columbanus was very well educated and became quite popular with the French royalty. St. Burgundofara (see Day 21 of Celts to the Crèche), the first Abbess of Faremoutiers,  was blessed as a child by Columbanus when he visited in their home.

All of Columbanus’ monasteries that he established and/or influenced followed Celtic customs and the Celtic calendar. His strict and severe Rule of Columbanus that was based on the Celtic way of monastic living and penitentials was later moderated by a mix with the kinder, gentler Rule of St. Benedict. 

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

Speaking His Mind with the French Royals: When King Theuderic II of Burgundy, France began living with a mistress and having illegitimate children, Columbanus  boldly objected, earning the displeasure of the king’s grandmother, Brunhilda.  Angered by the saint’s moral stand, Brunhilda stirred up the bishops and nobles to find fault with Columbanus’ monastic rules.

When Theuderic II finally confronted Columbanus at Luxeuil, ordering him to conform to the country’s conventions, the saint refused and was then taken prisoner to Besancon. Columbanus managed to escape his captors and returned to his monastery at Luxeuil. When the King and his grandmother Brunhilda found out, they sent armed soldiers to Nantes to deport  him back to Ireland by force.

Exile that Turned for Good. His ship of deportation was prevented from setting sail as a storm came up, so Columbanus rowed up the Rhine River desiring to settle at Lake Constance, but there was opposition to him there also. His companion, St. Gall who had come with him from Bangor, Ireland remained in Switzerland and it seems they may have gotten “sideways” with each other. St. Gall stayed in Switzerland as a hermit and a large monastery and community grew up in that area bearing his name, St. Gall. Many Irish came to the monastery at St. Gall and it accumulated a large collection of early manuscripts, some with Irish poetry scribbled in the margins.

Columbanus ended up in northern Italy where in 613, he established the famous monastery of Bobbio on the site of a ruined church in the foothills of the Apennines. Bobbio became famous for its scriptorium and its vast library of manuscripts.

St. Columbanus Basilica at Bobbio, Italy

St. Columbanus Basilica at Bobbio, Italy. photo from Wikipedia

Bobbio, Italy

Bobbio, Italy

His Place of Resurrection: Columbanus’ last years were spent copying manuscripts and writing sermons. This wanderer for Christ, Columbanus died at Bobbio on November 21, 615 AD. On his deathbed, he sent his abbot’s staff as a token of forgiveness and reconciliation to one of his former twelve companions, St. Gall whom he had a falling out with earlier.

St. Columbanus' Sarcophagus in the Crypt of Bobbio

St. Columbanus’ Sarcophagus in the Crypt of Bobbio. photo from Wikipedia

The sacristy at Bobbio possesses some of Columbanus’ relics. These relics include a portion of his skull, his knife, wooden cup, bell, and an ancient water vessel formerly containing sacred relics and said to have been given to him by Pope Gregory I.

Influence: Columbanus’ Celtic love of nature and God’s creation influenced St. Francis  of Assisi who lived for awhile at Bobbio Monastery.  As Columbanus walked in the woods, it was not uncommon for birds to land on his shoulders to be caressed, or for squirrels to run down from the trees and nestle in the folds of his cowl. He is often shown with a bear because of two stories. One is that the monks at Luxueil Abbey found themselves shorthanded at planting time. Columbanus went into the woods, rounded up a bear, and yoked him to the plough. Another time later in his life, Columbanus wanted a quiet hermitage away from everything. He found a nice den in a mountain but discovered it had a bear in it, so he persuaded the bear to leave and let him have it. He wrote that nature is a second revelation, to be “read” alongside scripture and that nature and scripture allow us to know God in a deeper way. It seems that the writings of Columbanus and St. Francis’ stay at Bobbio had a significant influence on  him.

Only three years after Columbanus death on November 21, 615, one of the monks of Bobbio, Jonas, penned the Life of Columbanus revealing that he was a scholar, poet, and a mystic. He founded or influenced the establishment of sixty monasteries in Ireland and Western Europe. His Rule of Columbanus was the rule that many Irish and European monasteries followed for many years that was later moderated by the less severe Rule of St. Benedict. 

Early 8th c. Bobbio Missal held at the National Library of France. photo from the World Digital Library.

Six letters of his survive including correspondence with Pope Gregory I and Pope Boniface IV. At least thirteen sermons and five poems of Columbanus have also survived throughout the ages. Online links to Columbanus’ sermons, letters, autobiography, and the Rule of Columbanus are listed in the “Resources” section below.

Gallican Lectionary likely made at the Luxeuil Abbey between 650-750 AD. At the National Library of France. photo from the World Digital Library

There is a Columban Way (Turos Columbanus) in which a pilgrim may trace the route of Columbanus from Ireland to France and Bobbio, Italy. It is quite appropriate that there is a pilgrimage way of   Columbanus as he said, “Christians must live in perpetual pilgrimage, as ‘guests of the world’ (hospitus mundi).’

The Columban Way (Truros Columbanus). Map from thecolumbanway.eu

Meditation

 Feast Day November 23

With St. Columbanus’ life, like many other saints’ lives including those of the Apostles, we see that closed doors, deportation, unplanned peregrinatio, and other unpleasant situations can be transformed into blessings beyond what we can dream or imagination by the Spirit.

Columbanus thought of life as a highway, saying:

“our whole life is like the journey of a single day. Our first duty is to love nothing here; but let us place our affections above, our desires above, our wisdom above, and above all let us seek our home; for the fatherland is where our Father is.”

The Celtic Saints were known as peregrinatio, meaning they were pilgrims or travelers for Christ.  Let us join St. Columbanus and the other Celtic saints as we pilgrimage together to the Crèche of Christ where we are also born anew.

Fresco of St. Columbanus at Brugnato Cathedra, Italy

Fresco of St. Columbanus at Brugnato Cathedral, Italy. from wikipedia

_______________________

© 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. 5. ii.xix.   CCEL: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Bitel, Lisa. Isle of the Saints: Monastic Settlement and Christian Community in Early Ireland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Bobbio Abbey. by Enacademic.

Bobbio Missal at the World Digital Library.

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

Chorpenning, Hal. Peregrinus: Annegray, Columbanus’s First Monastery. September 25, 2017. A sabbatical pilgrimage to the places of Columbanus. 

Columbanus’ Life. From MonasticIreland.com

Columbanus’ Places of Ministry. From MonasticIreland.com

D’Arcy, Mary Ryan. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: The Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Dillon, Miles and Nora Chadwick. The Celtic Realms. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2006.

Duckett, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1959.

Dunn, Marilyn. Belief and Religion in Barbarian Europe c.350-700. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

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

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

Gallican Lectionary from the Luxeuil Abbey. World Digital Library. Video by Pietro Pecco,

Hen, Yitzhak and Rob Meens, eds. The Bobbio Missal: Liturgy and Religious Culture in Merovingian Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Herren, Michael W. and Shirley Ann Brown. Christ in Celtic Christianity. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2012.

Jonas of Bobbio. Life of Columban.  From Fordham University. (note: Book I is about Columbanus and Book II is about his disciples).

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.

Lack, Katherine. The Eagle and the Dove: The Spirituality of the Celtic Saint Columbanus. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Triangle Press, 2000.

Lapidge, Michael, ed. Columbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK. The Boydell Press, 1997.

Letters of Columbanus.(from CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts)

Marron, Emmett. “The Communities of St Columbanus: Irish Monasteries on the Continent?” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, vol. 118C, 2018, pp. 95–122. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3318/priac.2018.118.06. September, 2018. Accessed 2 Nov. 2020. (available at researchgate.net)

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

The Monastery and Library at Luxeuil. at the History of Information.com

The Monastery of St. Columbanus at Bobbio. Youtube. Video by Pietro Pecco. October 23, 2020.

Moore, David. The Accidental Pilgrim: Travels with a Celtic Saint.T Dublin: Hodder, 2004. (a bicyclist on a pilgrimage to the places of Columanbus-a great read!)

Ní Mheara, Róisín. In Search of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1994.

O’Fiaich, Tomás. Columbanus in His Own Words. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1990.

O’Fiach, Tomás. Columbanus in His Own Words. Catholic Ireland. net. (online)

Ó’Ríordáin, John J. Early Irish Saints. Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004.

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

Peters, Edwards, ed. “Jonias of Bobbio. Life of Columban” in Monks, Bishops, and Pagans: Christian Culture in Gaul and Italy, 500-700. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975.

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

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

Richter, Michael. Bobbio in the Early Middle Ages. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008.

The Rule of Columbanus. (from CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts)

The Rule of Columbanus (from Scroll Publishing)

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Sermons of Columbanus.

Tristram, Kate. Columbanus: The Earliest Voice of Christian Ireland. Dublin: The Columba Press, 2010.

Truros Columbanus. A pilgrimage that traces the journey of  Columbanus, through Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy from his birth place in the shadow of Mount Leinster on the Carlow-Wexford border to his resting place in Bobbio, south of Milan in northern Italy. It is promoted and supported  by the Friends of Columbanus. 

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

Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751. London: Routledge, 1993.

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

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Fursey

St. Fursey icon

St. Fursey icon by an unknown writer

Celts to the Crèche

Day 10

November 24

St. Fursey

c597-January 16, 649 AD

On our 10th day of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Fursey (Fursa, Fursei, Furseus) who was the first recorded Irish missionary to Anglo-Saxon England. He arrived  in East Anglia in 633 AD with his younger brothers Foillan and Ultan, two years before St. Aidan (see Day 1 of Celts to the Crèche) established his famous monastery on Lindisfarne. This former Irish monk brought a renewed Christianity to East Anglia and established monasteries in both East Anglia and France.  He is particularly famous for his horrific and very descriptive visions of Hell that he wrote down and which influenced Dante’s Inferno.

Fursey’s name, “Fursa” in Old Irish means “model of virtue” which seems to agree with The Venerable Bede, the author of the well-known Ecclesiastical History of the English People  who described Fursey as, “inspired by the example of his goodness and the effectiveness of his teaching, many unbelievers were drawn to Christ, and those who already believed were drawn to greater love and faith in him.”

You may desire to continue reading more about Fursey or go on to the Meditation towards the end of this post before the footnotes and “Some Resources.”

Meeting St.Fursey: I encountered St. Fursey through researching the life of Queen Hereswith (see day three of Celts to the Crèche), the sister of St. Hilda of Whitby. Even with his scary visions of hell, I found his peripatetic life to be intriguing and charming. A true Celtic wanderer who journeyed from Ireland to East Anglia and onto France setting up monasteries along the way. He has become a friend and my second  Maine Coon Cat is even named for him. For Christmas 2016, my son commissioned an icon of Fursey for my gift. (I hope the real St. Fursey has a sense of humor and is even honored…well, at least a bit!).

St. Fursey Icon my son had commissioned for my Christmas gift, 2017

St. Fursey Icon my son had commissioned for my Christmas gift, 2016

How we know about Fursey: What we know about Fursey mostly comes from an anonymous biography, likely written by someone who knew him and some even propose that it was written for the translation of his body to a permanent shrine in 653.1 Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People quotes from this early penned Life of Fursey which he called, “a little book on his life.” The earliest manuscript we have of this early life is in the British Library, Harley, MS 5041 ff.79-98. It was likely copied in northern France.2 A second life of Fursey was composed in Europe in the 11th or 12th century and there was an Irish version also.

Early Life: Fursey was born in Ireland to noble parents, probably on an island in Lough Corrib, Co. Galway. He was baptized by St. Brendan the Navigator (his great uncle), (see day 20 of Celts to the Crèche),  raised in County Kerry, and studied sacred scripture on the island of Inisquin in Lough Corrib, under the abbot St. Meldan called his ‘soul-friend.’

Fursey’s name, “Fursa” in Old Irish means “model of virtue” which seems to agree with Bede’s description of him, “inspired by the example of his goodness and the effectiveness of his teaching, many unbelievers were drawn to Christ, and those who already believed were drawn to greater love and faith in him.” 4

Killursa Church. Likely the location of Rathmat Monastery. photo from Megalitic Ireland

Killursa Church. Likely the location of Rathmat Monastery. photo from Megalithic Ireland

Fursey’s first monastery was  at a place called Rathmat, which is likely Killursa (Fursa’s Church), in the north-west part of county Galway on the banks of Lough Corrib, still considered today as one of the best fishing lakes in Europe. Because of Fursey’s popular and charismatic style of preaching, he was overwhelmed with the crowds of Irish who wanted to follow him.

While in Ireland, Fursey became very ill and had three visions, what we might call “near-death experiences” in which he saw purgatory and hell. He was told by Irishmen that he must return to his earthly life to preach and save humanity from the ravages of sin. When he awoke, he was healed, but his life dramatically changed. He also had three other visions of angels who took him  on tours of of the next world.

Mission to East Anglia, England: After establishing the monastery at Rathmat in his home country of Ireland, Fursey set sail with a few companions including his brothers for East Anglia in England in 630.

St. Fursey. Stained glass in Burgh Castle church

St. Fursey. Stained glass in Burgh Castle church in the south wall of the nave.  Visited in April,  2012.

This little mission band of peregrini were welcomed by the deeply devoted follower of Christ, King Sigibert who gave them the old Roman fortress of Cnobheresburg, thought to be the former shore fort of Burgh Castle  near Great Yarmouth.  The monastery was established in the northeast corner of the Cnobheresburg fort. This was the first recorded Irish mission to Southern England or may have been the first Irish mission to the entirety of England. While Fursey was in East Anglia he had further visions that became part of oral tradition that Bede records in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Begins his journey to France: About 641/644, St. Fursey left East Anglia to travel to Rome or maybe even Romania and then onto wherever the Spirit led him.  In battle in either 635 or 641, King Penda of Mercia in England had killed Fursey’s great East Anglian supporters King Sigibert and Egric (likely Æthelric) who were joint kings.  Æthelric was the husband of  St. Hereswith (see day 3 of Celts to the Crèche).  Fursey’s brother Ultan who had become a hermit in the area and his other brother Foillan and the priests Gobban and Dicull were left in charge of Cnobheresburg in East Anglia as Fursey continued his peregrinatio (voluntary exile for Christ).

In the Annales Laubienses, it recounts Fursey’s journey to France and to the later arrival of his brothers in 649.  It is thought that about 641, Fursey  likely landed first in Brittany where he preached in Mayoc. Then he continued his pilgrimage at Mézerolles near the Sommes estuary where he was invited to stay by Duke Haimor of Ponthieu.  The Duke’s son became ill very quickly and Fursey was able to save the young man. Erchinoald, the Merovingian mayor of the royal palace in Péronne heard about this miracle and invited Fursey to come to Péronne. Fursey declined the mayor’s invitation to stay at Péronne, but left some relics of St. Patrick  and St. Meldan that he had brought with him from Ireland.

Monasteries Fursey Established:  St. Fursey not only established a monastery in Ireland called Rathmat, but also founded another one in East Anglia at Burgh Castle. He also established  Irish style monasteries in France including Lagny east of Paris; Péronne; Mézerolles in the Somme; and likely another monastery at Fontanelle. Fursey’s influence was felt at the Fosses Monastery in Belgium founded by his brother Foillan. According to the Vita  Fursei Abbatis Latiniacensis, the Duke of Ponthieu and Erchinoald of Péronne vied for Fursey to set up a monastery on their lands and even tried to give Fursey lands and money to get him to settle in their territory. The monastery at Péronne did grow up there very quickly, likely built up around the influence of Fursey and those relics of St. Patrick and St. Meldan. Fursey even prophesied that his own body would someday be buried there in Péronne.

Lagny and Fontanelle Monasteries: Erchinoald along with King Clovis II and his wife, a former slave brought over from England, Queen Bathilde (see day 19 of Celts to the Crèche), gave the land for the Lagny Monastery. 

The monastery at Lagny was east of Paris on the Marne River, not far from Queen Bathilde’s later monastery at Chelles and also not far from the monastery of St. Burgundafara at Faremoutiers (see day 21 of Celts to the Crèche). Lagny was also near modern-day EuroDisney. Lagny was originally a Roman place called Latiniacum. According to legend, when Fursey chose Latiniacum, he drove his staff into the ground and a great spring bubbled out which not only furnished water to the monastery, but also served as a place of healing for all types of illness. Fursey also set up a small monastery at Mézerolles in the Somme region.

Chapel of St. Fursey on grounds of the former Lagny Abbey. photo from Wikipedia.

Erchinoald also gave the lands of Wandregisel to Fursey, where he established another monastery, Fontanelle. It is an interesting note that Erchinoald had purchased Bathilde from the slave market and desired her to be his wife, but she declined by hiding so he could not find her, later marrying King Clovis II.  Erchinoald thought so highly of  Fursey that he asked him to be his son’s godfather.

Fursey’s Place of Resurrection Decided by a Pair of Oxen: The Annals of Ulster record that in 649 that Fursey died.  His death likely occurring following a trip to visit some Irish monks to his monastery of Mézerolles.  It is recorded when St. Fursey died, that the Duke of Ponthieu and Erchinoald each claimed Fursey’s body for burial. To solve this peacefully, a pair of oxen was attached to his casket and sent wandering off to determine God’s will as to where Fursey’s burial place would be. The oxen took the road to Péronne and that is why Fursey is often depicted with oxen at his feet. Just as he prophesied, Fursey was buried at Péronne at the chapel on the land of  Erchinaold and his wife Leutsinda.

Fursey on his deathbed, his soul received by two angels, from a late 13thc. “Legenda aurea”(San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, Ms. HM 3027, fol. 133r) photo from https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=medieval-religion;8ebb33e9.1001

Some say that St. Eligius (Eloi), who was not only the Bishop of Noyon and advisor to Queen Bathilde (See day 19 of Celts to the Crèche), but also an esteemed metalworker, painstakingly designed and built the reliquary of St. Fursey. It is likely that the shrine was probably a large version of the Celtic house-shaped reliquaries. The text known as the Virtues Sancti Furseii describes his reliquary as a “little house” (domuncula). Eligius also designed the sepulchers of of St. Martin of Tours and the mausoleum of St. Denis of Paris. His sepulcher may have been larger than we expect for “a little house” and may have had a large, tall roof on it.

Fursey’s shrine became a place of pilgrimage because his body was found to be incorrupt each time his casket was moved and it was said that it looked like he had just left his body. Irish pilgrims on the way to Rome flocked to St. Fursey’s shrine in Péronne in northern France to pray. Péronne’s Abbey was sold and then demolished during the French Revolution and part of that sacred site is now covered by the Palais de Justice.

Péronne - Palais de Justice

Palais De Justice in Péronne, likely built over where the Péronne Abbey was in which St. Fursey’s shrine was visited by pilgrims. photo from geanet.org

 

Fursey’s Brothers and Their Influence: Upon Fursey’s death in about 649, his brothers Foillan and Ultan left East Anglia and travelled (more likely escaped) to France. After King Penda of Mercia destroyed East Anglia, the two brothers salvaged all the treasured, handwritten manuscripts they could carry with them and crossed over the channel between England and France.

Drawing of Fursey and his brothers. from orthodoxaustin.org

Drawing of Fursey and his brothers. from orthodoxaustin.org

Fursey’s  brothers were received by King Clovis II of France and then they went on their way to preach in the lower Rhineland and Belgium where they founded a monastery at Fosses on land given to them by St. Itta (Ida, Iduberga).  Itta was the widow of Pepin of Landen, who had been the the mayor of the palace of Austrasia under the Merovingian kings Dagobert I and later Sigibert III. Pepin was the founder of the dynasty that would later become known as the Carolingian dynasty.  Not only was Itta influential in establishing the Fosses Monasterynow known as St. Maur Abbey in a Southeast area of Paris also founded the great double monastery of Nivelles and assigned her daughter Gertrude  (later known as as St. Gertrude of Nivelles) (see Day 38 of Celts to the Crèche) as the first abbess. It is said that Nivelles was a “peculiarly” Irish monastery.At first, Ultan was the chaplain at Nivelles where some believe he taught the monks to chant. Later, Ultan became the first abbot of  the monastery at Saint-Quentin and then succeeded Foillan at Péronne.

Gertrude of Nivelles Church, Nivelle.

Fore-part and southern door of Gertrude of Nivelles Church, Nivelles. photo from Wikipedia.

As Foillan and three companions were returning from visiting Ultan in 655, the four were attacked and killed by bandits in the forest of Sneffe (Seneffe), where their bodies were hidden by the perpetrators. Ultan learned of his brother Foillan’s violent death by receiving a vision of a dove flying with blood-stained wings toward heaven. The Abbess Gertrude of Nivelles went to the place where Foillan was murdered and she retrieved his incorrupt body and returned with his remains to Nivelles. As a former Irishman, Foillan had a fondness for the earlier St. Bridget and introduced her to Belgium. Ultan died a natural death at the monastery in Péronne in 686, but was buried at Fosses Monastery.

Fursey’s Continued Influence: The Vikings destroyed much of Lagny in the 880’s. Lagny was rebuilt over the years and during the French Revolution, a vast amount of Lagny’s art objects were stolen or destroyed including Fursey’s bust-reliquary which was melted down. It’s contents and part of Fursey’s head were salvaged and along with some relics from Péronne are now likely kept in the St. John the Baptist Church in Peronnne  in a bronze, neo-Gothic reliquary from 1902.

Church of St. John the Baptist in Peronne, France where St. Fursey’s head and relics may be kept. photo by Michael Krier

There are numerous churches and also holy wells with healing powers across France and Belgium named after St. Fursey.  Throughout French history, there have been claims that St. Fursey protected them during times of war including King Louis IX who attributed his victory over English  invaders in 1256.

Bede’s quite graphic account of Fursey’s visions of the musical angels of heaven and the devils of hell were mesmerizing to the medieval mind. Some scholars contend that Dante’s Inferno was influenced by Fursey’s accounts of the fires of hell. Fursey is also attributed with many miracles during his lifetime and even posthumously.

Fursey Pilgrims annual pilgrimage to Burgh Castle (Cnobheresburg) that can be seen in the background

Fursey Pilgrims annual pilgrimage to Burgh Castle (Cnobheresburg) that can be seen in the background. Photo from Fursey Pilgrims.co.uk. org. I visited the remains of Burgh Castle in April, 2012.

Each October (except in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic), the Fursey Pilgrims gather at Burgh Castle for a pilgrimage to Fursey’s East Anglia monastic site and each January, they sponsor a lecture on some aspect of Fursey and his times.

Fursey and a monk from 14th. century manuscript.

Fursey and a monk from 14th century collection of French-language saint’s lives (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 185, fol. 218r). photo from wikiwand.com 

 

Meditation

Feast Day January 16

The Lorica of St. Fursey (prayer attributed to St. Fursey)

Let us pray this beautiful Celtic prayer of St. Fursey as we pilgrimage together to that place of new life, the creche at Bethlehem.

The arms of God be around my shoulders,

the touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,

the sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,

the sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,

the fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,

the vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,

the conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,

the work of God’s church in my hands, the service of God and the neighbor in my feet,

a home for God in my heart, and to God, the father of all, my entire being. Amen.

The Fursey Lorica from: Fursey Pilgrims.co.uk

The British Library reference to the original text of the Lorica is: Add MS 30512 folio.35v

This Lorica translation is quoted by John Ó Ríordáin in his book: The Music of What Happens. 1996. pp.46-47. The Columba Press. Dublin.

___________________

Footnotes:

1 Brown, Michelle, “The Life of St. Fursey, Foreword,” in Rackham. Transitus Beati, Fursei,” p. iii.

2 Brown. The Life of St. Fursey, p. 16.

3 Brown. “The Life of St. Fursey”, Foreword. Rackham, p. iv.

4 Bede, III.19.

___________________

© 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:

“Abbess Gertrude of Nivelles,” in McNamara, Jo Ann. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, NC: Duke University, 1992.

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.

Annales Laubienses. Brepolis Latin. Library of Latin Texts. Centre Tradition Litterarum Occidentalium, 2010.

Annals of Ulster

Atkinson, Sarah  Gaynor. St. Fursey’s Life and Visions and Other Essays.
M.H. Gill, Ltd: Dublin, Ireland, 1907.    

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People (III: 19).

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

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 Hudson, 2006.

_______.  The Life of St. Fursey: What We Know; Why it Matters. Fursey Occasional Papers, No. 1. Norwich, UK: Diocese of Norwich, 2001.

Casey, Aine. The Vita Fursei and Its Use by Bede and Aelfric. Fursey Pilgrims, 2010. 

CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts. The Life of Fursa

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

Cronin, Anthony. ‘The Historical Saint Fursey: The Achievements and Legacy of Haggardstown’s Patron Saint,  Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society. Vol. 27, No. 4(2012), p. 536-552. County Louth Archaeological and History Society. 

Dahl, L. H. The Roman Camp and the Irish Saint at Burgh Castle with Local History. London: Jarrold and Sons, 1913.

Desmay, Jacques. La Vie de S. Fursy, patron de la ville de Peronne, 1715. (google books)

Dillon, Miles and Nora Chadwick. The Celtic Realms. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2006.

Duckett, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1959.

Dunn, Marilyn. The Vision of St. Fursey and the Development of Purgatory. (Fursey Occasional Paper Number 2). Norwich, UK:Fursey Pilgrims. 2007.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and Afterlife in the Merovingian World. University Park, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

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

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

“Fursa, ” by Michael Lapidge. Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg.  The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford:Blackwell, 1999.

Fursey Pilgrims. www.furseypilgrims.co.uk.

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

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

Higham, Nicholas J. The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

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.

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

Lanigan, John. An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland: From the First Introduction of Christianity Among the Irish to the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century, Vol.2 of 4, 1822 (Google Books).

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

Mayr-Harting. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, Pa.:  The University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd ed. 1991.

Fordham University. Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of St. Eligius, 588-660.

Milligan, K & R. Burgh Castle History and Guide. RPD Printers. 1983, 2011 reprint.

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

Ní Mheara (O’Mara),  Róisín. In Search of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1994.

The Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul: Burgh Castle, Norfolk, 26th ed. RPD Printers, 2011

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

Pestell, Tim. Landscapes of Monastic Foundations: The Establishment of Religious Houses in  East Anglia, c650-1200. Woodbridge UK: Boydell Press, 2004.

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

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

St. Fursa in A Compendium of Irish Biography by Alfred Webb. libraryireland.com.   google books.

Stokes, Margaret Macnair. Three Months in the Forests of France:  a pilgrimage in search of vestiges of the Irish saints in France. George Bell and Sons, 1895. (available through google books).

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

Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751. London: Routledge, 1993.

Wooding, Jonathan. St. Fursey: Pilgrim and Visionary. Issue 7 of Fursey Occasional Papers, Fursey Pilgrims, 2015. 

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

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

Fursey made himself at home on my office at church, December 2015

Fursey, my Maine Coon cat made himself at home in my office at church, December 2015 (hope St. Fursey is ok with having a much-loved cat named after him!)

Fursey helping decorate for Christ's birth, 2015

Gentle giant Maine Coon Fursey helping decorate for Christ’s birth, 2015

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Celts to the Creche: Abbess Theodechilde of Jouarre

Icon of Abbess Theodechilde holding her abbey in her left hand and her staff in her right hand

Theodechilde with her church in her left hand and her staff in her right hand. Both of these symbols denoting her being the spiritual head of this Abbey.

Celts to the Crèche: Day 36

December 20

Abbess Theodechilde of Jouarre

Died about 667 AD

Today, on this 36th day on our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet 7th c. Theodechilde (Theodechildis), who started out as a nun in the Faremoutiers Monastery in France near Paris. Her brother, Bishop Agilbert was not only a Bishop in England, but also in France. She was later sent from Faremoutiers to become the first Abbess of Jouarre in central France.

Her abbey flourished and became so well-respected that one of her nuns was sent to become the first Abbess of Chelles Abbey outside of Paris and also another of her nuns became the first Abbess of Soissons Abbey. Theodechilde was buried in a beautifully carved-stone sarcophagus that still can be seen in the original Merovingian crypt at Jouarre. The words on her coffin are beautiful and touching: “This tomb contains the remains of blessed Theodechilde, virgin of noble race, valiant in works, ardent in faith, mother of this monastery. She taught her daughters to run to meet Christ like the wise virgins, their lamps filled with oil. She now rejoices in paradise.”

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

Early Life: Theodehilde was the daughter of a Neustrian nobleman named Betto and she  was also the sister of Bishop Agilbert, who was not only the  Bishop of of the West Saxons (Dorchester, England), but also later was Bishop of Paris. He was a participant at the famous Synod of Whitby in 664 AD where he struggled with the Anglo-Saxon language.  Interestingly, Bishop Biscop, (see Day 34 of Celts to the Creche) the founder of the twin abbeys of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow visited Jouarre, Chelles, and Faremoutiers while Agilbert was Bishop of Paris between 666 and 668AD. Theodechilde was also the first cousin of the much-loved St. Audoin (also known as St. Dado).

 

Jouarre where Abbess Theodechilde served. Visited this beautiful place in September 2009

Jouarre where Abbess served.Visited this beautiful place in September 2009

She becomes a nun: Theodechilde had become a nun at the double monastery of Faremoutiers, east of Paris that was founded upon the heritage of the Celtic Irish monk St. Columbanus’ foundation and rule.

She becomes the first Abbess of the Double Monastery of Jouarre: Bishop Faro of Meaux wanted to transform the Jouarre Monastery founded by Bishop Ado and his brother St. Audoin/Dado around 630, into a double monastery.

So Faro asked his sister Abbess Burgundofara of Faremoutiers (see day 21 of Celts to the Crecheif she would release Theodechilde to lead the enlarged monastery that would now be based like Faremoutiers upon the Celtic heritage of a double monastery with both men and women serving and worshipping together. It is interesting that while St. Columbanus was in the neighborhood after having blessed Burgundofara when she was a child, he went over to the home of Autharius and Aiga, where St. Columbanus also blessed her first cousins Ado and Audoin/Dado, the original founders of Jouarre. So, Faremoutiers and Jouarre were both influenced by the great Celtic leader and founder of monasteries, St. Columbanus.

Jouarre flourished so much under Abbess Theodechilde’s leadership that she sent several nuns including Bertilla, who became the first Abbess at the newly formed Chelles Abbey about 660 AD and to Soissons Abbey about 667 AD.

Merovingian Crypt at Jouarre where Abbess Theodechilde and her brother Bishop Agilbert are buried

Merovingian Crypt at Jouarre where Abbess Theodechilde and her brother Bishop Agilbert are buried. One walks down a steep set of stairs into the crypt. Visited here Sept. 2009. Photo by Harvey Warren

Buried in the Merovingian Crypt at Jouarre: Theodechilde died about 667 AD and was buried in the Merovingian crypt of Jouarre. Her cousin St. Agilberta, then became the second Abbess of Jouarre. Her stunning scallop-carved stone sarcophagus is still there along with the sarcophagus of her brother Bishop Agilbert, who was the Bishop of Dorchester, England and later was Bishop of Paris. He was one of the participants at the famous 664 AD Synod of Whitby. His stone sarcophagus  has a Merovingian-style carved Second Coming of Christ.  Also, in this crypt is the sarcophagi of her cousin St. Aguilberte.

The sarcophagus of Bishop Agilbert, brother of Abbess Theodechilde. He was Bishop of Dorchester, England and later Bishop of Paris. The carving is of the second coming of Christ. Crypt of Jouarre Abbey. Photo by Harvey Warren

Abbess Theodechilde’s  sarcophagus was opened in 1627 in the presence of Queen Marie de Medici. Theodechilde still looked intact and dressed as a nun with a sort of mantle of cloth of gold of which nothing remained but a few strands of gold thread and a clasp, also of gold, which Abbess Jeanne de Lorraine presented to the Queen. Theodechilde’s body was placed in a shrine and her head was put in a reliquary of vermeil made for the purpose. (information from The Hour of our Death by Philip Ariès)

 

 

These beautiful words are inscribed in Latin (translated into English) on Theodechilde’ sarcophagus:

“This tomb contains the remains of blessed Theodechilde, virgin of noble race, valiant in works, ardent in faith, mother of this monastery. She taught her daughters to run to meet Christ like the wise virgins, their lamps filled with oil. She now rejoices in paradise.”

Tomb of Theodechilde. South side of tomb

Stone Sarcophagus of Theodechilde. South side of tomb, Merovingian Crypt, Jouarre, France. Visited here in Sept. 2009. 

Meditation

Feast Day October 10

Let us join Abbess Theodechilde and those wise virgins, lamps filled with oil, ready and rejoicing as we run and dance to meet the newborn Christ at the creche. Matthew 25:1-13.

Prayer: Christ, may I be ready to meet you with my eyes filled with light and my soul attuned to recognize you.

___________________________

© 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:

Ariès, Phillipe. The Hour of our Death. Penguin Random House, 1981.

Effros, Bonnie. Caring for Body & Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World. University Park, PA. The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity. New York: Henry Holt, 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: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Jonas of Bobbio. Life of Columbanus.

Jouarre Abbeyhttp://www.abbayejouarre.org

Jouarre: ses cryptes, son église, son abbaye. No publisher. No date, c 1976.

Monasticmatrix.org. Venard, Bruce L. Jouarre.

Ní Mheara, Róisín. In Search of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1994.

Schauss, Margaret, ed. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. London:Routledge, 2006.

“Theodechilde”. http://www.heiligen.net/heiligen/10/10/10-10-0660-teclechildis.php

Wemple, Suzanne Fonay. Women in Frankish Society. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

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Celts to the Creche: Abbess Werburga of Chester

St. Werburga of Chester. Icon of St Werburgh from the parish of St Elisabeth the New Martyr, Wallasey.

Icon of St. Werburga of Chester from the parish of St Elisabeth the New Martyr, Wallasey

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 32

December 16

Abbess Werburga of Chester

c 630-February 3, 699 AD

On this 32nd day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet Abbess Werburga of Chester which is in Northwest England near Wales.

Life: Werburga (Werburgh, Wærburh) is the patron saint of Chester, England and was the Abbess of several abbeys in England. She was born at Stone in Mercia in the mid 7th century. She had quite a royal pedigree. Her father was Wulfhere,  King of  Mercia and her mother was Eormenhilda. Werburga’s maternal grandparents were Eorcenberht, King of Kent and Seaxburga, daughter of the much-loved King Anna of East Anglia.

The earliest account of Werburga’s  life was recorded by  the Flemish monk Goscelin at Canterbury in the late 900’s.  William of Malmesbury later used this account to produce his writings about her.

Gorgeous huge Stained Glass of Celtic Saints. Chester Cathedral. photo from a postcard sold at the Cathedral

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

Calling as a Nun and Abbess: Princess Werburga felt a call to be a nun and not be married. She entered the famous Abbey of Ely in East Anglia  which had been founded by her great-aunt Etheldreda (Audrey) who was the current abbess at the time. It is said that when Werburga was ordained as a nun at Ely that not only her father, King Wulhere was in attendance, but that many kings and princes were there also.

It is interesting that Werburga’s Grandmother Sexburga succeeded her sister Etheldreda as Ely’s Abbess.  After King Wulfhere’s death in 674/5, his wife and Werburga’s mother, Queen Eormenhilda became Abbess of Minster-in-Sheppey. She later joined her daughter at Ely where she became the Abbess of Ely. Anglo-Saxon scholars have noted that often when royal husbands died, the widow was sent to live in a convent or double monastery connected in some way to their maternal lineage.

Later,  Werburga’s uncle Æthelred became King of Mercia and invited her to return home to Mercia and become Abbess of the all the convents in his kingdom. Werburga transformed the existing abbeys and founded new convents and double monasteries (a double monastery is where men and women live in the same monastery under an Abbess) including those at Hanbury, Trentham, Threekingham (dedicated to St. Etheldreda), and Weedon. She was also likely the Abbess of Repton in Derbyshire.

A Wild Goose Chase: Legend says that St. Werburga brought a goose or flock of geese back to life. There are several stories of how the goose/geese died.

Carving of St. Werburga with the flock of geese on the misericord in Chester Cathedral

Carving of St. Werburga with the flock of geese on the misericord in Chester Cathedral. Photo taken in 2009 by author

Often geese are displayed with St. Werburga on icons and carvings including the pilgrim badges that medieval visitors to her shrine collected.

Place of Resurrection: Werburga passed away on February 3rd,  in 690 or 699 AD at her convent  at Trentham, or some scholars say she died at Threekingham. She had wanted to die and be buried at Hanbury, but the nuns at Trentham refused to give up her body and carefully protected her coffin.  A group from Hanbury came in the stealth of night, stole  her body, and took her back to Hanbury.

By the year 708 Werburga’s brother Coenred  (Coelred)had succeeded Æthelred as king of Mercia and decided to move her body to a more conspicuous place within the church at Hanbury.

Her Shrine Goes Traveling: About nine years after her death, when Weburga’s coffin was opened during the transition to another part of the church, her body was found to be incorrupt, still looking the same as she did the day she died.  Her brother, King Coenred was so effected by this miracle of incorruption of his sister’s body that he decided to abdicate and enter holy orders himself. With that miracle, her tomb became an object of veneration and a center for pilgrimage.

Werburga’s shrine remained at Hanbury for the next century and a half,  but was moved in 875  to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul that was located within the city walls of Chester on the border between western England and northeastern Wales for more protection from the voracious Viking raids.

St. Werburga's Shrine in Lady Chapel in Chester Cathedral. I visited there often in Sept/Oct. 2009 as it is a short bus ride from Gladstone's LIbrary where I stayed and studied for 3 weeks.

St. Werburga’s Shrine in Lady Chapel in Chester Cathedral. I visited there often in Sept/Oct. 2009 as it is a short bus ride from Gladstone’s Library where I stayed and studied for 3 weeks. Photo by author.

With Abbess Werburga’s shrine in Chester, it became a place of pilgrimage. The church’s name was rededicated to St. Werburgh and St. Oswald, probably about 975 when a monastery was founded there and dedicated to those two saints.

In the 14th century, an elaborate brightly painted shrine was constructed featuring 34 carved figures and a number of niches where supplicants could kneel in prayer to the saint. Her coffin was jewel encrusted. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Werburga’s shrine was destroyed and her remains scattered.

Later some of the shrine’s remains were gathered up and built into the Bishop’s throne. In 1876, Sir A. W. Bloomfield  who was in charge of the restoration of Chester Cathedral used the rest of the remains to reconstruct her shrine. These can be seen in the Lady Chapel of Chester Cathedral.

It is thought that there may be seventeen churches dedicated to Werburga in England, together with one in Dublin, St Werburgh’s Church (established 1178); St. Werburgh’s Church in Barker in Western Australia; a St. Werburga School in Bvumba, Zimbabwe; and the Lady Chapels at the Chester and Lichfield cathedrals. 

What a joy it was when I stayed and studied at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Wales in September 2009 as I was able to go several times to the Chester Cathedral to visit Werburga’s  shrine. It was a short bus ride from Hawarden to the historical and beautiful city of Chester.

Stained Glass window of St. Werburga in Chester Cathedral.Photo from Wikipedia

 Meditation

Feast Day February 3

The Spirit gives us each gifts to use for the kingdom. Werburga was blessed with the gift of administration and spiritual leadership. With these gifts and skills, she was able with strength, courage, wisdom, and deep faith to transform and reform the religious houses in Mercia.

Prayer: O Spirit of the living God, thank you for Celtic St. Werburga who as part of the Communion of Saints is journeying with us to the crèche. Please use the gifts we have been bestowed with by Your Spirit to bring blessing to God’s kingdom on earth. 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:

BBC News. On the Trail of the Mercian Anglo-Saxon Saints. 

Bradshaw, Henry, Goscelin of St. Bertin. The Life of Saint Werburge of Chester. London: Pub. for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1887.

Chester Cathedral.com

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

David Nash Ford’s Early British Kingdoms. St. Werburga of Chester: Abbess of Ely.

Goscelin of St. Bertin. Rosalind C. Love, ed. The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2004.

“Werburg, St” by Paul Anthony Hayward in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2001.

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

Schoenbechler, Roger. “Anglo-Saxon Monastic Women,” in Magistra: A Journal of Women’s Spirituality in History, Vol. 1, Number 1

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

 

 

 

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

St. Cuthbert by Aidan Hart. It is said that otters licked his feet as he stood in the icey waters to pray for hours on end.

St. Cuthbert icon written by Aidan Hart. It is said that Cuthbert stood in the icey waters to pray for hours on end and that otters licked his feet dry when he came back on land.

Celts to the Crèche

Day 6

November 20

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

c634-March 20, 687 AD

On this 6th day of our Advent pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we join St. Cuthbert who was the much loved 7thc. Bishop of Lindisfarne. He is also known as the patron saint of Northern England. Cuthbert’s life was filled with gentle strength, wisdom, skillful speaking, prayerful life, and devotion to Christ. His body was lovingly and devotedly carried all over northeastern England by the Lindisfarne monks to protect his body from the Vikings. He is buried in Durham Cathedral where thousands of visitors come annually to visit his shrine. The stunning 8thc. Lindisfarne Gospels were made in his honor. We can still the items that were in Cuthbert’s casket in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit at Durham Cathedral. 

You may desire to continue reading about Cuthbert or to go on down the page to the Meditation for the day.

Ruins of Melrose Abbey in Scotland where Cuthbert first became a monk. . photo from wikipedia

Early Life: Cuthbert grew up in southern Scotland, near Melrose Abbey.  It is said that on the night that St. Aidan (day 1 of Celts to the Crèche) of Lindisfarne died, that Cuthbert saw a vision of Aidan’s body being carried to heaven which led him to sense a call to become a monk.

His calling: Soon after that vision, Cuthbert became a monk and entered Melrose Abbey under the direction of its prior Boisil whom Cuthbert admired.1 In the late 650’s, he and his Abbot Eata transferred to Ripon Abbey and they then returned to Melrose where Boisil died of the plague about 664.  About 665-700 Cuthbert went to Lindisfarne as Abbot.

A view of the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne

A view of the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne. Visited in 2007, 2014, 2017, 2019. Photo from english-heritage.uk.com

After the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, Cuthbert helped transition Lindisfarne from the Celtic to the Roman way.  While serving as Abbot, he would often sense the need for solitude to renew his spirit and would take a little boat several miles away to one of the isolated Farne Islands. It is interesting that he would not visit with anyone who came to see him while there.

Rode on the St. Cuthbert boat to the Inner Farne Island where Cuthbert’s hermitage was. The return back to Seahouses was a very rough and unnerving ride! I am standing next to the 13th c. church near his hermitage. This hollow place by the beach is thought to be where Cuthbert’s hermitage was and where he died on the Inner Farne. October 2017. Photos by Brenda Warren and Janet Davis

Cuthbert meeting Abbess AElfflaed of Whitby at Coquet Isle.

Cuthbert meeting Abbess AElfflaed of Whitby at Coquet Island.

He might open the window to speak with someone who showed up, but when the Abbess of Whitby, Ælfflæd, (Day 29 of Celts to the Crèche), who was the second abbess of Whitby and succeeded Abbess Hilda wanted to meet with Cuthbert, he left his little cell and met her at the Isle of Coquet.

Bishop of Lindisfarne: Cuthbert retired in 676 to permanently live on the Isle of Inner Farne as a hermit.

King Ecgfrith and a band of other leaders actually rode a boat out to the Inner Farne to Cuthbert’s hermitage to call (more like beg!) him out of retirement to become the Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Cuthbert reluctantly accepted this call and was ordained by Archbishop Theodore and six bishops at York on Easter Sunday, March 26, 685, but less than two years later at Christmas he decided he had enough of a good time and moved back to his little hermitage on the Inner Farne.

Place of Resurrection: Cuthbert predicted his own death and he died on the Inner Farne on March 20, 687. He was buried at Lindisfarne, but to protect his remains from the Viking onslaught to the area in the mid-800’s, his sarcophagus was carried by the monks of Lindisfarne throughout Northumbria.

Cuthbert's monks carrying his body to safety by Fenwick Lawson. Original wood carving at Lindisfarne, 2008 bronze at Durham Cathedral

Cuthbert’s monks carrying his body to safety by Fenwick Lawson. Original wood carving at Lindisfarne, 2008 bronze at Durham Cathedral. Saw the wooden version  on each visit to Lindisfarne and Durham Cathedral. 

In 883AD, his body rested at the church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street for a long while, but Cuthbert’s final resting place was Durham Cathedral, where his body still remains. His burial is intriguing. It is said that when his sarcophagus was opened eleven years after he died that his body was incorrupt. He looked like he was asleep and his limbs were still flexible. His vestments still looked new.

St. Cuthbert's body found to be incorrupt when his tomb was opened.Illustrations from British Library MS Yates Thompson 26, a manuscript of Bede's prose life of Cuthbert, written c. 721, copied at the priory of Durham Cathedral in the last quarter of the 12th century. The 46 full page miniatures include many miracles associated with Cuthbert both before and after his death.[57]

St. Cuthbert’s body found to be incorrupt when his tomb was opened. Illustration from British Library MS Yates Thompson 26, a manuscript of Bede’s prose life of Cuthbert, written c. 721, copied at the priory of Durham Cathedral in the last quarter of the 12th century. The 46 full page miniatures include many miracles associated with Cuthbert both before and after his death. photo from Wikipedia

In 1104, Cuthbert’s tomb was opened once again and a small book of the Gospel of John, measuring only three-and-a-half by five inches, now known as the St. Cuthbert Gospel, was incredibly found! Even the original goat leather with raised Celtic design on the red bookbinding was still intact.

Formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, it was purchased in April 2012 by the British Library for $14.3 million (9 million British Pounds).2 It is available to view online through the St. John’s Gospel of St. Cuthbert at the British Library.

St. Cuthbert's Gospel of St. John found inside his sarcophagus

Early 8th c. St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John found inside his sarcophagus. Likely produced at Wearmouth Jarrow Abbey. It is now housed in the British Library.  photo from Wikipedia via The British Library

Also found in Cuthbert’s casket was a set of  early 10th century  vestments placed by King Æthlestan while on a pilgrimage to Cuthbert’s shrine at Chester-le-Street. These vestments were made of Byzantine silk with a stole decorated with Anglo-Saxon embroidery. Also, in his coffin, a stunning gold, garnet, and shell pectoral cross was found on his body. In addition, Cuthbert’s personal portable altar table covered in silver was discovered in his coffin. It is recorded that also an ivory comb, scissors, and a chalice made of onyx with a gold lion was in the coffin.

St. Cuthbert's pectoral cross found on his incorrupt body. I purchased an inexpensive copy of this at Durham Cathedral that I treasure.

St. Cuthbert’s mid 7th c. pectoral cross found on his incorrupt body. It had likely been handed down to him.

Cuthbert’s very simple wooden coffin carved with primitive looking angels along with some of the coffin relics can be viewed in the well conceived and produced Treasures of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. It is recorded that at the Dissolution of the Monasteries that Durham Priory was dissolved about 1539/1540 and the gold, silver, and gemstone shrine of Cuthbert in the Cathedral was torn asunder by a goldsmith and others sent to plunder by Henry VIII. One cannot help but wonder if Cuthbert was relieved that his ostentatious shrine was now gone.

We know of St. Cuthbert through The Venerable Bede’s Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne written in verse after 705 which he later revised and a prose life that was composed between 710 and 720AD.3 Bede’s works on Cuthbert were likely composed based upon an original  Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk at Lindisfarne that Abbot Eadfrith commissioned in honor of Cuthbert’s life. 4

A reproduction of St. Cuthbert's portable altar table that was buried with him

A reproduction of St. Cuthbert’s portable altar table that was buried with him. photo from W & G Robinson

Lindisfarne Gospels: The Lindisfarne Gospels were likely produced in honor of St. Cuthbert by a monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne (see day 7 of Celts to the Crèche) in 698 and died in 721. Eadrith designed, illuminated, and penned the Lindisfarne Gospels. Current scholarship indicates a date around 715-721 for the production of the Lindisfarne Gospels.  However, some think that Eadfrith produced them prior to 698, in order to commemorate the elevation of Cuthbert’s relics in that year.

The original Lindisfarne Gospels is housed in the British Library as one of their most treasured pieces. The Lindisfarne Gospels are available for viewing online from the British Library. The pages of this remarkable book can be viewed page by page.

Gospel of Matthew page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. British Library.

Gospel of Matthew page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. photo from The British Library.

Still popular in the 20th and 21st Centuries: In 1987, on the anniversary of Cuthbert’s Resurrection Day in 687 the magnificent early 8th century Anglo-Saxon illuminated  Lindisfarne Gospels was displayed in Durham Cathedral. This sacred gospel book was most poignantly laid upon Cuthbert’s shrine for a short while.5

In 2013, Durham Cathedral once again hosted the Lindisfarne Gospels on loan from the British Library and of course the much loved St. Cuthbert was at the forefront of these  festivities. The Lindisfarne Gospels are permanently kept at the British Library and are magnificent to behold.

St. Cuthbert’s Way, a beautiful 62 mile hike from Melrose Abbey in Southern Scotland to Lindisfarne  is a popular walking path through the hilly terrain of the Scottish borders.

Pilgrims from all over the world flock to Durham Cathedral, Lindisfarne, Melrose Abbey, and the Inner Farne to be in the presence of the places where this gentle wise Celtic Bishop lived. He still touches lives 1300 years later.

In June 2017, archaeologists digging on a rocky promontory on Lindisfarne discovered the ancient stone foundation likely resting on the original wooden foundation of either Aidan’s or Cuthbert’s church.This archaeological dig through Dig Ventures on the church was ongoing in the summer of 2018 and Dig Ventures continues to dig on Lindisfarne.

Cuthbert’s wooden coffin with angels carved into it. On display in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit at Durham Cathedral. I have viewed this treasure several times including with  the Celtic Pilgrimage group I led in October 2019.

Treasures of St. Cuthbert. Durham Cathedral. In late summer of 2017, a wonderful multi-million British pound Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibition of the 1300 year old wooden sarcophagus of Cuthbert opened in the former monks kitchen in Durham Cathedral. One can view some of the relics found in his oak sarcophagus mentioned earlier in this post  like his gorgeous gold and red pectoral cross,  ivory comb, portable altar, along with later silk vestments. There is also a wonderful display of carved stone Celtic and Anglo-Saxon crosses.

Stone foundation on earlier wooden church of either Aidan or Cuthbert found on Lindisfarne in June, 2017.Photo from archaeology.org

Archaeologists and volunteers working on the stone church foundation excavation on Lindisfarne, June, 2017. Photo from church times.co.uk

Meditation

Feast Day March 20

In former years, pre-2021 quarantine time, Cuthbert might have said to us on this 6th day of  journeying with the Celts to the Crèche, in the midst of this usually overwhelmingly busy and sometimes crazy Advent season, seek some solitude. Yet, perhaps, you feel that you have had too much solitude the past two years. It has been a lonely time for many, especially for extroverts or those who are single and live alone. As we continue this unplanned and unwanted season of quarantine, be considering how you might make a sacred place that can be your personal “Isle of Inner Farne.” It won’t be long until life is very busy again and we may even wistfully look at those quiet quarantine times we had. Be renewing your spirit, try calling  a relative, a friend, or a church member who may be lonely and listen to them, let them know they are loved and missed. 

Prayer: O Spirit of the Living God, remind me to rest, to find some sacred quiet in Your presence. Amen.

___________________

Footnotes:

1 Blackwell Encyclopaedia, 131.

British Library Press. British Library Acquires the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel.

Bonner, 24.

4 Brown, Lindisfarne Gospels, 65.

5 Ibid, 139.

__________________

© 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:

Battiscombe, C. F, ed. The Relics of Cuthbert. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1956.

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

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

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

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

British Library. Lindisfarne Gospels. 

British Library Press. British Library Acquires the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel-the earliest intact European Book, April 12, 2012.

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

________. The Book and the Transformation of Britain, c.550-1050. London: British Library, 2011.

________. The Lindisfarne Gospels. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

________. The Painted Labyrinth: the world of the Lindisfarne Gospels. rev. ed. London: British Library, 2004.

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. 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.

Cronyn, Janet M. and C. V. Horie. St. Cuthbert’s Coffin: The history, technology, and conservation. (with an introduction by R. J. Cramp). Durham, UK: The Dean and Chapter, Durham Cathedral, 1985.

“Cuthbert” by Alan Thacker  and “Lindisfarne” by John Blair in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg.  The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford:Blackwell, 1999.

Dig Ventures. The Monk, the Midden, and the Monastery. Lindisfarne dig July 2017.

Duckett, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1959.

Durham Cathedral. The Story of St. Cuthbert. March 31, 2020. (note: easy to understand and could be also used for teaching children and youth about Cuthbert).

Durham World Heritage Site. St. Cuthbert

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

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c.600-900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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

Historic Scotland. Melrose Abbey online.

____________. Melrose Abbey, rev. ed. n.p., 2005.

Hume, Basil. Footprints of the Northern Saints. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1996, 2006 reprint.

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.

Keys, David. Archaeologist’s Dig Reveals Ancient Lindisfarne Church. Church Times, July 7, 2017

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

Lindisfarne. 

Mayr-Harting. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, Pa.:  The University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd ed. 1991.

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

Ramirez, Janina. Treasures of St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral. Video. April, 2018.

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.

Rollason, David. Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The birth of western society. Edinburgh: Pearson, 2012.

Sadgrove, Michael. Durham Cathedral: The Shrine of St. Cuthbert. Norwich, UK: Durham Cathedral and Jarrold Publishing, 2005.

____________. A Pilgrim in Durham Cathedral. Norwich, UK: Jarrold Publishing, 2006.

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel has been digitized by the British Library. 

The St. Cuthbert’s Gospel: Looking Pretty Good at 1,300. NPR April 20, 2012.

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

St. Cuthbert’s Way

Warren, Brenda G.  St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.  March 20, 2017. Godspacelight.com.

Weightman, M. Scott. Holy Island. UK: Claughton Photography. n.d.

Wells, Emma. Saint Cuthbert’s Way with Dr. Emma Wells. available on youtube.  March, 2018.

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

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Celts to the Creche: St. Non of Wales

 

The chevet’s(a half-round tower/apse added to a church) principal window dates to 1923 and is dedicated to Sainte Nonne (Non). The two lancets in the left side of the window recall the welcome given by the local people to Sainte Nonne and her son Divy (David) shown here being baptised, while the two lancets on the right side show the saint taking her son to a monastery where she is greeted by an abbot and two monks.photo from Dirinon Parish Close website

Celts to the Crèche

Day 31

December 15

St. Non of Wales 

Died about March 2, 589AD

On this 31st day of our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet St. Non, whose name means “nun.” She was the mother of the patron saint of Wales, St. David (Dewi Sant). She likely died about 589 AD, even though she may have been born in the 400’s.  She may have been a daughter or granddaughter of Brychan, king of Brecon in South Wales.

Legend says that Non was a virgin and was raped by Sant (Sandde), the King of Ceredigion. She became pregnant with David. Another story states that Non stopped into a local church to get a blessing for the upcoming birth. When the preacher found himself unable to preach in the presence of her unborn child, this was taken as a sign that the child would himself be a great preacher.

St. Non's Chapel, Wales. I visited there in September 2009

St. Non’s Chapel, Wales, built in 1934 very near the original chapel. I visited there in September 2009. Photo from Wikipedia

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

Chapel: Non’s chapel stands near the original Celtic foundations on a picturesque cliff top overlooking the gorgeous St. Non’s Bay, about a  mile south of St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. The chapel along with St. Non’s Well is located on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Walk.

Very close by St. Non’s Holy Well, a St. Non’s Chapel was built. Later, farmers began to dismantle St. Non’s Chapel to use for mending their stone fences, so her chapel was rebuilt in 1934.

From St. Davids Cathedral website:

The ruined chapel contains a stone incised with a Celtic round cross dating to the 7th-9th century. It was once built into the wall and was probably originally a grave marker. The chapel is surrounded by a stone circle dating from the Bronze Age, marking this as a site which has been held sacred for thousands of years. Such layers in the landscape speak to us of the power of place.

Holy Well: St. Non’s Holy Well is close to the chapel and it is considered to be one of the main healing wells in Wales as it is famous for curing eye diseases.

From: (Survey of St. David’s by Browne Willis, London 1717):

“There is a fine Well beside it (St. Non’s Chapel), cover’d with a Stone-Roof, and enclos’d within a Wall, with Benches to sit upon round the Well. Some old simple People go still to visit this Saint at some particular Times, especially upon St. Nun’s Day (March 2nd) which they kept holy, and offer Pins, Pebbles, Etc at this well”.

According to the St. Non’s Retreat Centre website:

“Near the Chapel ruins is the Holy Well of St Non which tradition says sprang up at the birth of St David. It is regarded as one of the most sacred wells in Wales. The water is considered to having healing and miraculous powers. Even after the Reformation the well continued to be frequented by the faithful. It was fully restored and rededicated by the Passionist Fathers in 1951.At the same time a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary was placed opposite the well.”

St. Non's Well in Wales. I dipped my hands in the well in September 2009

St. Non’s Well in Wales. I took this photo after I dipped my hands in the well in September 2009.

 

Original location of St. Non's Chapel before it was dismantled by farmers. Very near 1934 St. Non's Chapel

Original location of St. Non’s Chapel before it was dismantled by farmers. Very near to the 1934 St. Non’s Chapel. Photo taken in Sept. 2009 by Harvey Warren

St.Non’s Retreat Centre is on the same promontory as Non’s Chapel, well, and chapel ruins are located. They have various retreats throughout the year with accommodation.

 

St. Non’s Retreat Centre is to the left of the photo. St. Non’s Chapel is the small stone building near the ocean. It is a gorgeous setting. Photo from St. Non’s Retreat Centre website.

Stained Glass of St. Non in her 1934 Chapel. Photo from Wikimedia

St. Non is also commemorated as a holy woman not only in Wales, but also in Cornwall, England, and in Brittany, France. Non brought Dewi (St. David) up at Henfeynyw near Aberaeron, Wales and together they founded a nunnery at Llanon nearby.

The icon of St Non in the Cathedral's north quire aisle

Icon of St. Non in St. David’s Cathedral north quire aisle.  Icon writer is unknown.                                                                       Photo from https://www.stdavidscathedral.org.uk/discover/history/St-Non

6thc. Churchyard cross at Altarnun Church in Cornwall, may be of Non’s time. Photo from https://www.greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/altarnun.html

Later, she moved to Cerniw to be near her sister, St. Wenna. It is said that Non sent out some oxen to drag her portable altar to the place where she would live. The oxen  stopped at Altarnon, Wales where she founded a monastery and the Church of St. Nonna can be found.  She is listed in the Perpetual Calendar of Cornish Saints as “Mam S. Davy.” There are at least two holy wells to St. Non in Cornwall: at Grampound and at Altarnun which was used for public displays of miraculous cures. There is a 6thc. round head Celtic churchyard cross on the grounds of the Altarnun Church in Cornwall that may be of St. Non’s time.

Non in France. Non retired to Brittany in France and settled in the port town Dirinon (Diri in Breton meaning oak trees and Non her name) in Finistère, on the far west coast of France. She set up a third monastery there.  Non died there on March 3rd. Her shrine can still be seen today in the Finistère parish church, L’eglise Sainte-Nonne in Dirinon, Brittany, France. This village is ten miles east of Brest. 

St. Nonna’s Church at Altarnun, Cornwall. Also known as the Cathedral of the Moor. Photo from Wikipedia

Church of Dirinon in Brittany, France where St. Non is buried.

L’eglise Sainte-Nonne in Dirinon, Brittany, France where St. Non is buried. Photo from Wikipedia

.St.Non Reliquary in Church of Dirinon in Brittany, France

             St. Non’s Reliquary in L’eglise Sainte-Nonne  in Dirinon, Brittany, France.  Photo from Wikipedia                           

Meditation

Feast Day March 2 or March 3

What a wonderful example Non’s life is of God turning something horrible in our life into something that blesses and transforms the world. As we journey with Non, a Welsh Celtic saint to the Crèche, let us take the truth deep into our souls that Christ can make all things new. That even the worst thing in our life can be transformed by the Creator Spirit into something beautiful and sacred and lovely.

Prayer: O Christ of the Universe, you know the deepest, darkest, most painful place of my life. Some I have done to myself and some have been done to me. Shine the penetrating light of the holy Star of Bethlehem into that secret sanctuary that only You and I know about. May healing begin as I pilgrimage closer to that Crèche (manger) where Christ is born anew in my life.

May I become a new person, with a transformed soul and mind, and a new way of seeing and experiencing life. I desperately need your help. Heal my broken relationships. Heal my broken heart and broken body. Dry my tears that seem to constantly flow and unplug the tears that need to flow. Shine through me to help others to also find their way to the Crèche. 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.

___________________

St. David’s in Wales and the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast. St. Non’s Retreat Centre is in St. David’s on the gorgeous Pembrokeshire Coast. photo from Google

Some Resources:

Boardman, Steve, John Rueben Davies, and Ella Williamson, eds. Saints Cults in the Celtic World. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2009.

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

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

Enys, Sarah L. Perpetual Calendar of Cornish Saints, with selections of poetry and prose relating to Cornwall.  A.W. Jordan, 1923.

Evans, J Wyn and Jonathan Wooding. St. David of Wales: Cult, Church, and Nation. (Studies in Celtic History, v. 24).Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2007.

Fish, Sarah. The Female Saints of Cornwall. MA Celtic Studies Dissertation. University of Wales. Trinity St. David. n.d.

Genderdesk. “Women Saints in Cornwall.” Perpetual Calendar of Cornish Saints.  July 27, 2019.

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.

L’Abbe Sionett. Buhez Santez Nonn ou Vie de Sainte Nonne. Paris: Merlin, 1837.

L’église Sainte-Nonne.  Dirinon, Brittany, France.

Matthews, John. “The Friend of the Spirit: David of Wales” in  Drinking from the Sacred Well:Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

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

Orme, Nicholas. The Saints of Cornwall. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail.

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.

Rhygyfarch. Life of St. David. In Life of St. David in Lives of the Celtic Saints, edited by Eleanor Hull. Available at Archive.org.

St. David’s Cathedral. Wales.

St. Non’s Retreat Centre, Wales.

St. Non’s Chapel and Holy Well. 

“The Life of St. David” by Rhygyfarch in Celtic Spirituality, ed. by Oliver Davies and Thomas O’ Loughlin. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Thomas, Patrick. “St. Non.  March 10. “Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two. London: William Collins Publishers, 2015, p. 1195.

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

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Columba of Iona

 

Stained Glass in Iona Abbey of St. Columba

Stained Glass in Iona Abbey of St. Columba (Columcille) of Iona. photo by Harvey Warren


Celts to the Crèche

Day 4

November 18

St. Columba of Iona

7 December 521 – 9 June 597

On the 4th day our journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we meet the much-loved and admired St. Columba, (Colum Cille meaning “dove of the church”) who was an Irish monk, abbot, scholar, and missionary who spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in Scotland, England, and throughout western Europe from the monastery he established on the little island of Iona off the western coast of Scotland. Iona is known as a “thin place” where the veil between heaven and earth seems almost gossamer. Many of the famous Celtic monks and missionaries were educated and trained on Iona like St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. Because of Columba’s love of books and writing, his influence throughout the years likely led to the magnificent Book of Kells that was likely handwritten and illuminated on Iona about 800AD. The famous Book of Durrow that may have been the model for the Book of Kells takes its’ name from Durrow Monastery in County Offaly,  one of the monasteries that Columba established. 

Man of Matthew from the Book of Durrow. photo from Wikipedia

It is even recorded that Columba had an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster in which Nessie was quite stunned!

St. Columba of iona

Icon of St. Columba by unknown writer

His life was recorded by Adomnan, a later abbot of Iona who wrote the Life of St. Columba a century after Columba died. Much of Adomnan’s work was based upon an earlier biography recorded by the seventh abbot of Iona, Cummene “the White.” Columba evangelized the local Druids by declaring to them, “Christ is my Druid.”

The Venerable Bede also wrote about Columba in Book 3, Chapter 4 of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People  as one who came to evangelize the Picts after he established numerous monasteries in Ireland including a large monastery in Ireland called Dearmach, meaning The Field of Oaks.

Columba is the patron saint of Derry, of Irish bookbinders, poets, publishers, editors, authors, diplomats, statesmen, Ireland, Scotland and Ulster County, and he is the protector against floods and evil.

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

Early Life: Columba grew up in Ireland in Garten in County Donegal in Ulster. His father was Fedhlimdh and this family was descendants of one of the most powerful royal dynasties of Ireland, the Ui Neill clan of northern Ireland that descended from the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages. His mother, Eithne, was descended from a king of Leinster. Columba studied under the famous Irish monastic teachers, Finnian of Moville and Finnian of Clonard. He was ordained as a deacon at Moville Abbey and was ordained as a priest when he was about thirty years old. Adamnan described Columba in this way:  “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work.” His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous, capable at times of being heard at a great distance. 

While in Ireland, Columba established several churches and probably at least twenty monasteries including Derry on the banks of Lough Foyle and Durrow in County Offaly. Some believe that he also established the Abbey of Kells in County Meath on a former Irish hill fort. There are heritage trails of St. Columba’s journeys and monasteries that he established.

St. Columba Heritage Trail map in Ireland of places that Columba established before going to Iona.

St. Columba Heritage Trail map in Derry, Ireland of places that Columba established before going to Iona.

Ancient church where Columba was born in Garten, Ireland. A monastery likely was in this place also

Ancient church built in the area where Columba was born in Garten, Ireland. A monastery likely was in this place also.

The Cathach is the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter. It may also be the earliest example of the form of Irish writing known as insular majuscule script. The surviving portion of the manuscript contains a Vulgate version of Psalms XXX (10) to CV (13) with an interpretative rubric or heading before each psalm. It is written in Latin. It is traditionally ascribed to St Columba as the copy, which was made at night in haste by a miraculous light, of a Psalter lent to Columba by St Finnian. A dispute arose about the ownership of the copy and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill gave the judgment ‘To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy’. https://www.ria.ie/cathach-psalter-st-columba

How Columba Came to Iona: Legend says that after copying a book of Psalms from his former teacher, St. Finnian of Moville Abbey, without permission, that Finnian demanded the copy, but Columba refused to hand it over. Their dispute was taken to the High King Diarmuid, who ruled “to each cow its calf and to every book its copy”  convicting Columba of plagiarism and giving legal copyright to Finnian. Columba persuaded his kinsmen to go to battle over this ruling and King Diarmuid was defeated. Columba was blamed for the hundreds of men that were killed at this battle. For penance, it was decided by a synod that Columba must convert an equal number of pagans.  So Columba and twelve companions chose to embrace peregrinatio, exile as his penance. This is considered by some to be the the first recorded instance of the use of “copyright.”

Columba travels with his 12 companions from Ireland to Iona

Columba travels with his 12 companions in their wicker coracle from Ireland to Iona. from RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust

Columba had already established several monasteries in Ireland, but in 563, he sailed with 12 companions to Iona in Scotland, in a little wicker coracle with no oars trusting the Spirit to take him to wherever the Lord wanted him to serve. That little boat landed on the Isle of Iona on the day of Pentecost, where Columba began creating one of the greatest centers of faith and evangelism in Christian history. It is said that he chose Iona, near the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland because when he stood on the highest hill on Iona, he could not see Ireland from that place.

Columba copying a manuscript in Iona's scriptorium

Columba copying a manuscript in Iona’s scriptorium.from RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust

Columba’s Life Work: Columba was a scholar, poet, evangelist, and visionary. It is thought that Columba was an important leader in evangelizing the Picts in Scotland. There are eve three surviving early medieval poems which may be attributed to him. He spent much of the last years of his life copying manuscripts by hand in the scriptorium at Iona. It has been said that he personally copied 300 manuscripts. This influence passed on down through the years on Iona, as some Anglo-Saxon manuscript scholars believe that the magnificent Book of Kells was handwritten and gorgeously illuminated about 800AD at the scriptorium at Iona. The front page to this Advent devotional, Celts to the Crèche is of the Madonna and Child is from the Book of Kells .

In July of 2017, it was announced that archaeologists had completed radiocarbon testing on wood fragments that had been retrieved by archaeologists in 1957 from what was thought was Columba’s cell on Tòrr an Aba (Mound of the Abbot). The radiocarbon tests came back with the era of Columba, 540-650 AD. This is a very exciting discovery for those who love Iona and Columba.

Wood discovered at Columba’s cell in 1957, radiocarbon tested in 2017 and proven to be of the same era as St. Columba. photo from BBC.com

Columba’s Place of Resurrection: Columba lived on Iona for 36 years and died on June 9, 598 while copying Psalm 44. A favorite story relates that the aged Columba was out walking one afternoon and he grew weary. As he sat down  by the roadside to rest, his white horse who carried milk for the monastery came to him and laid his head upon the saint’s breast and tears flowed from the horse’s eyes as he gave  farewell to the master he knew was dying.

Columba and his white horse that predicted his master's death

“St. Columba Bidding Farewell to His White Horse” that predicted his master’s death. Painting by John Duncan (1866-1945)

Columba was buried on Iona and later his relics were divided and some came to rest in the same coffin with St. Patrick and St. Bridget at Downpatrick in Ireland. A pillow stone  used in graves was discovered in a field near Iona Abbey in the 19th century by a crofter. It has a Celtic cross engraved on it.  Was it St. Columba’s pillow stone, we don’t know. It is in the Museum at Iona Abbey.

Iona’s Influence: Columba’s establishment of the abbey on Iona off the western coast of Scotland in the Inner Hebrides became the “Cradle of Western European Christianity.” This scholarly, yet deeply spiritual abbey sent out hundreds of monk evangelists who shared the gospel and set up monasteries all over England and western Europe.

The Fallen Christ by Ronald Rae at entrance to the Iona Community. Sept. 2009

The Fallen Christ by Ronald Rae at entrance to the Iona Community. Photo by Brenda Warren, Sept. 2009

Today, pilgrims come from all over the world to this “Thin Place,” where the veil between earth and heaven seems gossamer, very thin. The Iona Community, an ecumenical inclusive community based on peace and justice founded by Rev. George McLeod in the late 1930’s continues to draw people of all ages and from all over the world to stay, work, and worship on Iona.

 

Harvest Sunday, Sept. 2014 in Iona Abbey. Residents gathered fruits and vegetables along with flowers from their gardens to bring for this special day to honor God as Creator.

Harvest Sunday, Sept. 2014 in Iona Abbey. Residents gathered fruits and vegetables along with flowers from their gardens to bring for this special day to honor God as Creator. Photo by Harvey Warren

bishops house. iona

Bishop’s House. Iona. Stayed here for almost two weeks, Sept. 2009 while taking a course on Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba. My room faced the water where I often watched dolphins cavorting. 

I was blessed to stay on Iona at the Bishop’s House for almost two weeks in September 2009 to take a course on St. Columba. This was offered through the University of Wales, Lampeter taught by Celtic scholar, Dr. Jonathan Wooding and Iona expert Mairi MacArthur, who grew up on Iona across from the Abbey.

It was a dream come true to be on this sacred island and to worship in the ancient abbey, to walk on the same places the great saints have trod, to sit on the isolated beaches and listen to the waves crash, to peruse the incredible museum, and to contemplate at the foot of the huge Celtic crosses throughout Iona. It was quite a pilgrimage to get here by myself the first time and what a joy it was to share this with my husband on the second trip to Iona in October of 2014…plane, tube, train, bus, and ferry, but it was worth it beyond my dreams or imaginations. 

Yes, Iona is a magical, mystical place, where the veil between the heaven and earth is indeed gossamer.

Iona Abbey, Sept. 2014 with St. Martin's Cross

Iona Abbey, Sept. 2014 with St. Martin’s Cross. Photo by Harvey Warren

A replica of St. John's High Cross in front of Columba's Chapel likely built upon the place where Columba was buried. Connected to Iona Abbey. Took this photo Sept. 2009. Original St. John's Cross is in the museum behind the Abbey

A replica of St. John’s High Cross in front of Columba’s Chapel likely built upon the place where Columba was buried.  Original St. John’s Cross is in the museum behind the Abbey. Photo byHarvey Warren, September. 2014.

Iona Abbey. East Side. A cloudy day view, Sept. 2009

Iona Abbey. East Side (facing sea). A cloudy day view, Sept 2009. Photo by Brenda Warren

Meditation

Feast Day June 9

St. Columba’s life is a wonderful example that even when we mess up big time in life, that the Spirit of our living God can remold us and remake us. We can find our place of resurrection, not only on the other side of the veil, but also in the here and now. Let us join St. Columba on the pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, where the possibility of fresh new starts awaits.

Prayer: As Columba evangelized the Celtic people by describing Jesus Christ as his Druid, I too am able to say, “Christ my Druid, I open my heart to you”. As I continue to pilgrimage towards the manger in Bethlehem, may You be born again anew in my life. Shine your healing light upon those broken, messed up places in my life. Re-mold and remake me. Thank you God for second chances and may the dove of peace fill my life. Amen. 

And now,
may kindly Columba guide you
to be an island in the sea,
a hill on a shore,
a star in the night,
a staff for the weak.”
Amen and amen.
-Gaelic oral tradition

 

Hymn: Change my heart, O God, make it ever true. You are the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray.


© 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:

Adamnan of Iona. Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy. Written by Adamnan, Ninth Abbot of that Monastery, ed. William Reeves. (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874)

Adomnan of Iona. Life of St. Columba, trans. by Richard Sharpe. London: Penguin Books, 1995.

BBC. Scotland’s History: Iona. 

Bede, The Venerable. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book III, chapter 4.

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

British Heritage. Exploring the Magical Isle of Iona. June 9, 2021.

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

“Columba”  and “Iona” by Richard Sharpe in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg.  The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford:Blackwell, 1999.

Columcille.net. St. Columba Trail.

Corpus of Electronic Texts. Life of St. Columba. (Author unknown)

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge, James Clarke & Co., 1997.

Dillon, Miles and Nora Chadwick. The Celtic Realms. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2006.

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

Herbert, Maire. ‘Columba (c.521–597)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Historic UK. St. Columba and the Isle of Iona.

“How We Found St. Columba’s Famous Writing Hut, Stashed in a Cornish Garage.     The Conversation. July 10, 2017.

The Iona Community. Our History.

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.

Kearney, Martha. BBC. The Book of Kells: Medieval Europe’s Greatest Treasure?. April 25, 2106.

Keys, David. “Archaeological Test Lends Credibility to Find of St. Columba’s Cell on Iona. Church Times, July 14, 2017.

Lehane, Brendan. Early Celtic Christianity. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2005.

MacArthur, E. Mairi. Columba’s Island: Iona from Past to Present. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007 with revisions.

Macdonald, Ken.  “Scientists Uncover St. Columba’s Cell on Iona. BBC News, July 11, 2017.

Millar, Peter W. Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2007.

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.

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

Ritchie, Anna and Ian Fisher. Iona Abbey and Nunnery, rev. ed. Historic Scotland, 2004.

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

Rule of St. Columba.

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

St. Columba Heritage Trail (mostly Derry area).

Time Team 2010. Season 17, Episode 2. “A Saintly Site Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides.” Excavation on the Isle of Mull. An outpost of the Iona Columban Monastery. 

University of Wales, Lampeter. The Monastic Island of Iona: A Study in Place, Time and Thought. by Rev. Rodney Aist with Dr. Jonathan Wooding. 2009.

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

Wessex Archaeology. Baliscate Chapel, Isle of Mull. Report. January 2010. (from Time Team excavation, May 2009).

Wooden Hut Associated with St. Columba Dates to His Lifetime, Archaeologists Discover.   Telegraph News, July 11, 2017.

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

 

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Celts to the Creche: St. Hereswith

A most beautiful Bridge in the village of Faremoutiers that was likely part of the original lands of the double monastery of Faremoutiers in which Hereswith may have lived. I took this photo in September 2009. Photo by Brenda Warren

Celts to the Crèche: Day 3

November 17

St. Hereswith

c612 – September 3, c680/690AD

On this 3rd day of our Advent journey with the Celts to the Crèche, we pilgrimage with St. Hereswith, perhaps even dancing with abandon to this place of new life and fresh new starts. St. Hilda and St. Hereswith are my special saints, they are “friends on the other side” as Father James Martin so aptly describes saints in his awesome book, My Life with the Saints. 

Hereswith was a 7th c. Queen of East Anglia and the older sister of the famous St. Hilda of Whitby. see Day 2 of Celts to the Crèche. After her husband Æthelric was killed in battle, she was likely exiled to a convent in Merovingian France. Hereswith’s deep faith influenced her family. Her son and grandson were long-time Kings of East Anglia and faithful followers of Christ and her granddaughters were Abbesses in England.

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

Life: St. Hereswith was the older sister of St. Hilda of Whitby (see Day 2 of Celts to the Crèche). These two sisters were born into a royal family of Deira in Northumbria in Northeastern England. Their parents were Hereric (nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria) and his wife Breguswith, which became a compound name for Hereswith. She was likely baptized with her family by Paulinus when her uncle King Edwin had all the family baptized at a hastily built wooden church in York in 626/7.

Stained Glass representation of  St.Paulinus who likely baptized Hereswith and her sister St. Hilda at York in 626/7. stgregoryoc.org

Royal Marriage: To help seal diplomatic relations between Northumbria and East Anglia, Hereswith was married to King Æthelric (some say, but others disagree that Æthelric is the same person  as King Ecgric of East Anglia who was killed by King Penda in battle along with King Sigeberht about 637.) Hereswith’s husband was likely the nephew of King Rædwald who was buried with his magnificent treasure at  Sutton Hoo in East Anglia.

The Liber Elenesis, a 12th century manuscript of Ely Abbey recorded that Hereswith was married to good King Anna and other sources say she was married to King Æthelhere, but both of those ideas have been disproved with the discovery of the regnal list in the Anglian Collection proving her marriage to King Æthelric.

East Anglian tally from the Textus Roffensis of the Anglian Collection. Photo from wikipedia.com

Exile: What we know about Queen Hereswith comes from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede states that Hereswith went to a convent at Chelles that was located just east of Paris  on the Marne River. This famous convent was  founded by Queen Bathilde (see Day 19 of Celts to the Crèche), widow of King Clovis II, king of Burgundy and Neustria. Yet I disagree with Bede that Hereswith went to Chelles as Chelles was not established until about 658 and her husband died in battle in 636/637.***

13th c. reconstruction of the dormitory of Chelles. wikipedia.org

I conjecture that it is more likely that Queen Hereswith was sent into exile to the already established Faremoutiers-en-Brie after the death of her husband in 636/7.   Faremoutiers was a Celtic inspired double monastery, where men and women lived in the same monastic grounds ruled by the Abbess Burgundofara (see Day 21 of Celts to the Crèche) who was a disciple of the Irish St. Columbanus (see Day 8 of Celts to the Crèche). Faremoutiers  was established about 620 AD and is located east of Paris and very close to modern day EuroDisney. It was much influenced by the Celtic St. Columbanus.  Whether at Chelles or Faremoutiers, Bede tells us that Hereswith had become a professed nun. So, it is interesting to consider that after having been married and a Mother to at least one child, she was able to become a nun.

I also ponder at the possibility that Hereswith may have been  accompanied to France about 640 by St. Fursey, an Irish monk who was a monk/evangelist/monastery founder in East Anglia and was close to Hereswith’s marital family.  St. Fursey moved to France to establish his new monastery of Lagny in the same area not far from Faremoutiers and the future Chelles. For further information on St. Fursey and why I think that he accompanied Queen Hereswith to France see (see St. Fursey on Day 10 of Celts to the Crèche).

Chapel of St. Fursey on former Lagny Monastery grounds

Two of Hereswith’s nieces, Æthelburg and Sæthrid (King Anna’s daughter and step-daughter) became Abbesses at Faremoutiers after Burgundofara. Æthelburg may have been an Abbess at Hackness before going to Faremoutiers. Royal widows were often sent/exiled to monasteries to prevent them from remarrying and keep them “out of the way.” Monasteries were often chosen because of maternal or familial connections. We cannot even begin to imagine the sorrow Hereswith must have experienced as she had to leave her young son, the future King Aldwulf behind and perhaps other children also.

One of the buildings of Faremoutiers, France. I took this photo when I was there in September 2009. I tried to converse with the then current Abbess, but she only spoke French and I speak very little French. My husband and I had a lovely, very French picnic of cheese, bread, and eclairs under one of the gorgeous huge oaks in front of the convent. We tried to go to the museum at Chelles near where the Chelles Monastery was. We drove in circles for 2 hours in that very busy little suburb of Paris…sadly, we never found it! The Museum has now closed, but the death clothes of Bathilde, the first Abbess of Chelles Monastery are still housed in the museum. Photo by Harvey Warren

Children and Grandchildren: Hereswith was the mother of King Aldwulf (ruled 663/4-713) (see day 17 of Celts to the Crèche) and the grandmother of two and possibly three well-known devoted Christian leaders: King Ælfwald (ruled 713-749)); Ecburgh, an Abbess of Repton, or possibly Wirksworth and Hackness; and possibly Œdilburga (Æthelburga?),  an Abbess of Hackness. Interestingly, King Aldwulf and King Aelfwald  produced the first coins in East Anglia. These coins were called secondary sceattas. (Yorke, p. 66)

Some scholars say that Sæthrid, who is considered to be a step-daughter of King Anna, was actually a daughter of Hereswith.

Resurrection: Queen Hereswith, a devoted follower of Christ probably died about 680-690 at Faremoutiers or she possibly transferred to Chelles before her death.

Meditation

Feast Day September 3

Even though Hereswith has lived in the shadow of her younger sister, St. Hilda of Whitby for over 1300 years, she lived a good life as a Queen of East Anglia, a nun, and perhaps a leader in the Faremoutiers monastery. Her royal son, grandson, and granddaughters lived devout and holy lives helping evangelize the last pagan parts of England.

Her faith in God as her Great Good Shepherd even in the soulful sorrow of being exiled to another land away from her familial home and her son is to be commended. Her faith in the Great Good Shepherd to walk beside, guide, protect, and to even carry her at times through unexpected, unplanned, and likely not desired territory and terrain can comfort us also.

We join Hereswith on the Celts to the Crèche pilgrimage as a trusted guide who has journeyed to unknown places and found new life and resurrection on earth and on the other side of the veil.

Prayer: O God three in One, we ask for a trusted guide and friend to walk beside us as we pilgrimage to new places in life that seem fearful and scary. Amen.

Hymn: African American spiritual, I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

I want Jesus to walk with me
I want Jesus to walk with me
All along my pilgrim journey
I want Jesus to walk with me

In my trials, Lord, walk with me
In my trials, Lord, walk with me
When the shades of life are falling
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my sorrows, Lord walk with me
In my sorrows, Lord walk with me
When my heart is aching
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my troubles, Lord walk with me
In my troubles, Lord walk with me
When my life becomes a burden,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

 


© 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:

Click on the posts listed below as most of the resources for these four saints will also pertain to Hereswith:

Her sister Hilda of Whitby,  Day 2

St. Fursey, Day 10

Abbess Burgundofara of Faremoutiers, Day 21

St. Bathilde of Chelles, Day 19  

____________

Further resources:

Bede, The Venerable. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book FourChapter 23: “The Life and Death of Abbess Hilda.” (at Gutenberg.org)

Blanton, Virginia. Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Aethelthryth in Medieval England, 695-1615. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

deFrance, Marie. The Life of Saint Audrey. Translated by June Hall McCash and Judith Clark Barban. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2006. (note: there are two informative notes concerning Hereswith being married to Aethelric (Ecgric) and not King Anna p. 250n.175, 253n.1672.)

Fairweather, Janet, translator. Liber Eliensis: a History of the Isle of Ely from the the Seventh Century to the Twelfth. (compiled by a Monk of Ely in the Twelfth Century). Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2005. 

Kirby, D. P. The Earliest English Kings. London: Routledge, 1991, 1994 reprint.

Lapidge, Michael, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg. “Hild or Hilda” in The Blackwell-Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK, 2001.

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

Nash, David Ford.  “St. Paulinus, Archbishop of York” in Encyclopedia of British Kingdoms.  2001.

Plunkett, Steven. “The Age of Conversion” in Suffolk in Anglo-Saxon Times. Stroud, UK: Tempus Publishing Limited, 2005.

Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1971.

***Wallace-Hadrill, J.M. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary.Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,  1988, 2001 reprint. (note: p. 232, the author also agrees that Hereswith could not have been at Chelles). 

Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 1990.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Hilda of Whitby

Icon of St. Hilda of Whitby written by icon writer, Bonnie Wiltz Fairbanks, March, 2021 as a treasured gift for the author of Celts to the Crèche. Notice Abbess Hilda’s Bishop’s crozier with Irish shamrock in her right hand and her abbey church in her left hand.

 

Celts to the Crèche

Day 2

November 16

St. Hilda of Whitby

613/614-November 17, 680 AD

On this 2nd day of our pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we journey with ST. HILDA (Hild) OF WHITBY.The name Hild means “warrior.” She was the powerful, well-educated, and deeply spiritual Abbess of a convent and two double monasteries, a Celtic way of monastic living that included monks and nuns in the same monastery in separate small houses, but worshipping together in the abbey church under the rule of an Abbess. Double monasteries were most often led by an Abbess and were particularly found in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon monasteries. Hilda first established a convent of nuns on the North bank of the River Wear and was there about a year before St. Aidan of Lindisfarne sent her to Hartlepool where she was the second Abbess. Next she established the double monastery at Whitby.

Hilda was a highly respected leader of the Celtic church (she is often portrayed with a Bishop’s crozier being held in her right hand and a church/abbey in her left hand); a patron of the arts, literature, and music; and greatly influenced the transformation of Britain from paganism to Christianity. The famous Synod of Whitby in late 663 or 664 AD that was pivotal in the history of the Church was held at her monastery. She was also the one who discovered the musical and poetic talents of Caedmon, considered to be the first poet of England.

Hilda is known to us 1400 years later mainly through The Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. (see day 23 of Celts to the Crèche). Bede penned this important work as a monk at Jarrow Abbey in Northumbria in 731. He probably wrote about this great Celtic leader based upon a lost history of Hilda’s life and from personal interviews with those who knew her, likely Bishop John of Beverly  who had been trained by Hilda at Whitby. Bishop John of Beverly (see day 12 of Celts to the Crèche) is the one who ordained Bede as a deacon and later ordained him into the priesthood.

Bede who seemed to have an unabashed admiration for Hilda, wrote that she was “a woman devoted to God and a person of devotion and grace.” Her last words on earth are appropriate for the struggle in today’s world, to maintain the gospel peace among themselves and with others.

Hilda is the patron saint of learning and  culture including poetry.

St. Hilda presiding at the Synod of Whitby. Unknown artist

St. Hilda presiding at the Synod of Whitby. Unknown stained glass artist. St. Hilda’s Priory, Sneaton Castle, Whitby

You are welcome to continue reading or  go directly to the Meditation below. Like Bede, I am very fond of St. Hilda, so this post is longer than all the other devotionals in Celts to the Crèche. 

Hilda’s Family. Bede recorded that Hilda was born into the royal Deiran household, the great-niece of King Edwin of Northumbria in England and the daughter of Hereric and his wife Breguswith. Bede also includes a story in which Breguswith while pregnant with Hilda,  dreamed that she suddenly became aware that her husband was missing. After searching for him frantically without success, she discovered a precious jewel under her garment. When she gazed at the jewel it flashed a blaze of light that illuminated all Britain with its splendor. Breguswith sensed that this was a prophetical dream not only about her husband, but also about her daughter Hilda who would bring light to the isle of Britain.

Almost immediately after her birth, Hilda’s parents and older sister were sent into exile in Elmet in western Yorkshire, England and Hereric (Hilda’s Father) died there, likely poisoned by their “host” King Cerdic of Elmet. Soon afterwards, Breguswith and her two young daughters moved back to Northumbria to be under the protection of King Edwin. They probably lived at King Edwin’s dual palaces at York and Yeavering.

According to Bede, Hilda was baptized alongside King Edwin and his extended family by St. Paulinus in the especially built wooden York Minster on Easter Sunday, April 12 in 627. It is interesting that the Annals of Wales (Annales Cambriae) and the Historia Brittonum record that King Edwin was baptized by Rhun, son of Urien in 626, so it is possible that Edwin and his family including Hilda were baptized by Rhun or perhaps they were baptized twice, by Rhun and by St. Paulinus!

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

Icon of St. Hilda of Whitby written by Ellen Francis, OSH. Used with her permission.

Hilda had an older sister Hereswith (see day 3 Celts to the Crèche) who married into East Anglian royalty connected to King Rædwald of the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial. Probably after her husband’s death, Hereswith was exiled to France to live at a Merovingian convent east of Paris with Anglo-Saxon familial ties.

Bede eloquently extolled the virtues of women who were virgins in spite of marriage. Since he never mentioned Hilda’s virginity, it is quite likely as a royal princess that she was married to another royal, and was possibly not only a queen, but also a mother  who  in her late 20’s or early 30’s was either widowed or divorced.

 

Hilda’s Calling and Her Monasteries. When Hilda was 33 years old, she was in East Anglia for a year preparing to travel by ship to a convent near Paris, France to join her sister, Hereswith. St. Aidan, the first Bishop of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumbria  (see day 1 of Celts to the Crèche) had been brought from the great Celtic monastery of Iona off the western coast of Scotland by King Oswald to convert the people of his kingdom. When Aidan heard about Hilda, he pleaded with her to stay in England and to begin a small convent north of the River Wear. This may have been where St. Hilda’s Church, South Shields is located now or it may have been in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Church in Monkwearmouth.

St. Hilda’s Church. South Shields.
Some think that this church may have been  built over St. Hilda’s first monastery on the north side of the River Wear. The name may have originally been St. Hilda’s that was transformed over time in South Shields. (Arnold-Foster. Studies in Church Dedications, vol. 2, p. 399). My husband and I worshipped with this congregation in April 2012. Photo by Harvey Warren

Hilda Reassigned to Hartlepool Monastery. After Aidan saw Hilda’s great ability to lead a small convent on the north bank of the River Wear, a year later, about 649, he persuaded Hilda to become the second Abbess of Hartlepool (also called Hereteu or Hart’s Island), a double monastery on a headland at the mouth of the Tees estuary. Hilda succeeded Abbess Hieu (see day 24 of Celts to the Crèche), the founding Abbess of Hartlepool who had recently retired to Tadcaster. Hilda served there for nine years. Interestingly, in 1833, while digging some land for Cross Close, the monastic cemetery was located. Skeletons of females were discovered that were lying in two rows with their heads laying upon flat stones like pillows, with larger stones (gravestones?) above, engraved with Runic and Saxon letters. Most of the stones bore different types of crosses. There were several women’s names on the stones that were used in the time of Hilda including the name Bregusuid, the name of Hilda’s mother. Was her mother in her daughter’s monastery or was that a common name? It is more of a British name than an Anglo-Saxon name which makes it intriguing. 

 

St. Hilda’s Church, Hartlepool
Likely built over the original abbey founded by Abbess Hieu. Hilda became the second Abbess. I visited this church in June 2007 and Sept. 2014  that has an incredible display about Hilda.  Some believe that Hilda’s Mother, Breguswith was buried at Hartlepool. Photo from Doc Brown’s Travel Photos

I am with Dr. Michelle P. Brown speaking at Hartlepool Abbey in September 2014 on St. Hilda.

I am with my friend, Dr. Michelle P. Brown, former Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library and expert on the Lindisfarne Gospels who spoke on St. Hilda at Hartlepool Abbey in September 2014.

Hilda builds a new monastery at Whitby. In 657, King Oswiu gave Hilda ten hides of land (about 1,200 acres) called Streanæsalch to build a double monastery and to raise his infant daughter, princess Ælfflæd (see day 29 of Celts to the Crèche) there. Later this monastery became known by the Viking name of Whitby.

The ruins of the later Whitby Abbey probably built upon St. Hilda’s original monastery of Streanaesalch. I visited here in June 2007,  September 2014, and October 2017. It was so foggy in 2014, that we could barely see the ruins of the Abbey.

Chancel Area of St. Mary's Church, Whitby, at the top of 199 steps! it is thought by some that the chancel area is built over St. Hilda's first wooden church. Sept. 2014

Chancel Area of St. Mary’s Church, Whitby, at the top of 199 steps! It is thought by some that the chancel area is built over St. Hilda’s first wooden church. Visited this church in Sept. 2014 and October 2017. Photo by Brenda Warren

There is some discussion among Anglo-Saxon scholars whether Hilda’s monasteryWwas originally at this location or at Strensall (very similar name to Streanæsalch), a village slightly north of York where St. Mary the Virgin  Church is now located. (see reference below: Barnwell, Butler, Dunn. in The Cross Goes North). I visited this Strensall church in April 2012. St. Hilda would probably be smiling that this ancient church is modern inside, has a praise band, and young families are once again worshipping here.

St. Mary the Virgin Church at Strensall, just north of York. I visited this church in 2016. Photo by Harvey Warren

Under Hilda’s leadership, Whitby flourished and became a center of great literacy and learning. It most likely had a scriptorium where illuminated manuscripts were copied and decorated as evidenced by styli (used to practice on wax tablets before putting pen to parchment) and other manuscript tools which were found at the site in archaeological excavations.

Hilda’s Satellite Convent. Towards the end of her life, Hilda began a satellite convent at Hackness, in a very beautiful part of North Yorkshire about 13 miles west of  Whitby. The broken cross in the photo below was discovered before 1848 (likely in the 1830’s) in one of the two outbuildings of Hackness Hall. It may have been used earlier as a gatepost and that is why it was so weathered. The writing on this cross reads, “Œdilburga…always…your community /devotees are always mindful of you…most loving mother…religious Abbess Æthelburga pray for (them?)”.

The shaft of an Anglo-Saxon cross in St. Peter’s Church in Hackness which is likely located on the foundations of another of St. Hilda’s convents/double monasteries. The cross in Latin and Runic bears the names of Abbesses of Hackness likely including  Hilda’s great niece Œdilburga (likely Aethelburga)  who was Hereswith’s granddaughter and Hilda’s great-niece. It was discovered in the 1830’s being used as a gatepost. I visited here in April 2012,  Sept. 2014, and October 2017. Photo by Brenda Warren

It is likely that Hilda also had a hermitage in Cumbria at Islekirk, which is said to be a corruption of Hild-kirk. She may have also established a monastery or hermitage where the current St. Hilda’s Church in Ellerburn is located. It is in a beautiful secluded spot beside any idyllic brook.

St. HIlda's Church, Ellerburn with two of the Sisters of the Holy Paraclete from St. Hilda's Priory/St. Oswald's Pastoral Centre. St. Hilda's Pilgrimage, Sept. 2014

St. Hilda’s Church, Ellerburn (possibly another outpost of Hilda’s Abbey) with two of the Sisters of the Holy Paraclete from St. Hilda’s Priory/St. Oswald’s Pastoral Centre. St. Hilda’s Pilgrimage, Sept. 2014. Photo by Brenda Warren

Beautiful idyllic Ellerburn where St. Hilda may have had another monastery or hermitage

Beautiful idyllic Ellerburn where St. Hilda may have had another monastery or hermitage, visited Sept. 2014. Photo by Brenda Warren

Synod of Whitby. Whitby was of the Celtic persuasion (vs. the Roman way). Hilda’s monastery was probably based upon the rather rigorous Celtic St. Columbanus’ Rule perhaps mixed with some of the more compassionate St. Benedict’s Rule and likely a rule that she wrote herself. As Abbess, Hilda emphasized learning and literacy, scholarly study of the Bible, good works, holding all things in common, and living with one another in peace and love.

In 664, (see Frank Stenton’s resource listing below for information on this date),  King Oswiu of Northumbria called the important and influential Synod of Whitby which was held at Hilda’s monastery. This synod was to bring together the leaders of both the Celtic and the Roman ways to decide dates of Easter, the types of tonsures (monks’ haircuts), and theological leanings. It has been implied (Dugdales Monasticon, v.1, p. 220), that Hilda presided over the synod.

At the close of the synod, King Oswiu  chose for his kingdom to follow the Roman way. Wilfrid, an Anglo-Saxon bishop of the Roman persuasion convinced the king that since St. Peter held the keys to heaven that it would be expedient to follow the Roman method of doing church. Even though Hilda was disappointed and rather disgusted with Wilfrid, she followed the ruling and began to transform Whitby towards the Roman way. Colman, the Bishop of Lindisfarne (see day 25 of Celts to the Crèche) who succeeded Aidan, could not follow this Roman way and he and some of his monks left Lindisfarne moving back to the abbey on Iona, and later some returned to Ireland. Even to the end of Hilda’s life, she was not very fond of Wilfrid.

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

Hilda’s Influence. Bede records that Hilda was so loved and respected that everyone who knew her called her “Mother.” Bede also described her as “Christ’s servant” and many came to salvation through hearing of her industry and goodness.

Hilda’s wisdom led kings to come and ask her advice. Whitby became one of the greatest religious institutions and learning centers in England at that time. She was a great religious leader and teacher who was not only deeply spiritual, but was also a powerful administrator and visionary.

Among the men trained at Whitby, five went on to become Bishops.  Bosa of York (678-86, 691-706); Ætla of Dorchester (670’s); Oftfor of the Hwicce (c. 691-?); John of Beverly (Bishop of Hexham 687-706 and York 706-721); and Wilfrid II of York (721-732). Another of Hild’s students Tatfrid had been chosen to become Bishop of the Hwicce, but he passed away before he could be consecrated. (See Celts to the Crèche, day 12 John of Beverley)

Hilda recognizes the gifts of Caedmon. One day a cow herder on the monastery lands who had some ways with words and music was brought to Hilda to hear. She recognized his gift from God and encouraged him to stay at the monastery to learn the Bible stories and to create them into poetry and song. She must have recognized that teaching the Bible in the vernacular instead of Latin would help bring the people of the area to Christ. Through this encounter with Hilda, Cædmon became the first English poet. The only existing poem of his is the nine line alliterative vernacular praise poem in honor of God. Perhaps this appreciation for music and poetry was a carry-over from the Druidic Bards.

Standing next to Caedmon’s Cross on the grounds of St. Mary’s Church, next to Whitby Abbey. My friend Janet Davis joined me on this pilgrimage. October 2017. Photo by Janet Davis

Hilda has continued to influence Christianity in England for over 1400 years with many churches, colleges, convents, schools, and organizations named for her and she is the patron saint of numerous places.  Born only 600 years after the birth of Christ and 200 years after the Romans left Britain, she was chosen by the Spirit to be a strong and persuasive leader to bring literacy, learning, and the light of Christ to Britain.

St. Hilda's Well, Hinderwell, England

St. Hilda’s Well, Hinderwell, England. The name originally was likely “ Hilderwell.” Visited there and brought back water from this well. April, 2012 and Sept. 2014. Photo by Brenda Warren

St. Hilda by Edith Reyntiens of England, a Russian Orthodox iconographer. This icon resides in Durham Cathedral.

St. Hilda by Edith Reyntiens of England, a Russian Orthodox iconographer. This icon resides by the altar to St. Hilda at Durham Cathedral very near St. Cuthbert’s shrine

At Sneaton Castle in Whitby, there was a group of Anglican Sisters of the Holy Paraclete at St. Hilda’s Priory. They have many beautiful representations of this woman who helped bring Christianity to pagan England. The Sisters  sold this property in 2019 and they have built a beautiful new priory on a piece of the original land. It is quite likely that one of Hilda’s monastery outposts was on this land.

Statue of St. Hilda at Sneaton Castle, Whitby

Statue of St. Hilda on the former St. Hilda’s Priory, Sneaton Castle, Whitby. Notice the Bishop’s crozier in her right hand that denotes religious authority and her church/Abbey in her left hand, photo taken Sept. 2014. Photo by Brenda Warren

St. Hilda's statue outside of St. Hilda's Priory Chapel, Sneaton Castle

St. Hilda’s statue outside of the former St. Hilda’s Priory Chapel, Sneaton Castle, photo taken Sept. 2014. She holds a Bishop’s crozier in her right hand and her abbey/church in her left hand. Photo by Brenda Warren

 

The New Priory of The Sisters of the Holy Paraclete

The new St. Hilda’s Priory houses the accommodation of the Sisters as well as offices, refectory, and a beautiful new chapel. Photo from Priory websitehttps://www.ohpwhitby.org.uk/the-priory/

Hilda’s Resurrection Day. Hilda became very ill the last six years of her life and Bede compared her to the apostle Paul saying that her “strength might be made perfect in weakness.” In spite of her long illness, she kept serving the Lord with energy, strength, creativity, and courage. On her deathbed, she had her last Communion at age 66 surrounded by her nuns on November 17, 680. Her last words to her followers urged them “to maintain the gospel peace among themselves and with others.

It is recorded by Bede that on the night of Hilda’s resurrection, that Begu, a nun at the newly established Hackness convent saw a vision of the roof opened and Hilda’s soul carried to heaven by angels. Begu told the Prioress of her vision and they all began to pray. It is even said that the bells at Hackness rang on their own at her death.  While the nuns were in prayer, the monks from Whitby came to inform the nuns of Hackness of the news of Hilda’s death, but they were already aware of her death from Begu’s vision. According to the Old English Martyrology, at Hilda’s death,

“One of her nuns perceived how angels brought her spirit to heaven and it glittered in the midst of the angels like the shining sun or a glossy new gown. The same nun heard at the same time as she departed the sound of a wonderful bell in the air and she also saw that angels raised against her spirit a very large and wonderful cross of Christ and it shone like a star of heaven. With such joy was St. Hilda’s spirit brought to the heavenly glory, where she now sees our Lord without end, whose will she did before as long as she was alive in the flesh.”

St. Peter's Church, Hackness likely built over another of St. Hilda's foundations. photo taken Sept. 2014

St. Peter’s Church, Hackness likely built over another of St. Hilda’s foundations. photo taken Sept. 2014, also visited 2017. Photo by Harvey Warren

Hilda was most likely buried at Whitby and her relics later taken to Glastonbury. In Volume 1 of Dugdale’s Monasticon, it is recorded that Tica, the Abbot of Whitby when the Vikings may have destroyed it in 867,  fled to Glastonbury with St. Hilda’s relics. Hilda was succeeded as Abbess at Whitby by King Oswiu’s widow, Queen Eanflæd and their daughter Ælfflæd (see day 29 of Celts to the Crèche) who was raised at Hartlepool and at Whitby.

Hilda’s Feast Day is remembered on November 17. There is a Feast of the Translation of St. Hild, on August 25 with a fair held on August 25, 26, and 27 in Whitby. Hilda’s name is found in the early 8th c. Calendar of Willibrord.

Whitby Destroyed.  Whitby, being situated on the coast was easy prey for the Vikings that came from Scandinavia. This magnificent double monastery may have been destroyed by these marauders in 867. One can only imagine the fine illuminated manuscripts similar to the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells which her scriptorium produced that were destroyed along with an extensive library of handwritten books for scholarly and theological learning.

Tools used in scriptoriums for producing illuminated manuscripts. These tools were found at Whitby.
2 copper alloy styli for practicing on wax tablets, bone pricker to prick lines in the parchment, and a parchment clip. From the Whitby Museum

St. Hilda Today: There are numerous  schools and colleges named after St. Hilda including at least 15 churches, eleven in Yorkshire, two in Durham, one at Hinderwell, and perhaps one in Ellerburn. Of course, there are other churches connected to her like Hackness. There is a renewed interest in St. Hilda among those who study the history of women, the Church,  and the early medieval era.

At Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in northeast England, the “Community of Aidan and Hilda,” a dispersed international ecumenical community of men and women has it’s office and a retreat center. Rev. Ray Simpson is the Founding Guardian of this community.

What a treat to have lunch with Ray Simpson on Lindisfarne, October 2017. He is the Founding Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda. He is also the author of the well-researched and excellent book on St. Hilda that is listed in the bibliography below. I shared an icon of St. Hilda with him written by Sister Ellen Francis, OSH. The Celtic Pilgrimage I led in the Fall of 2019 also met with Ray for dinner. Photo by Janet Davis

Hilda’s Way Pilgrimage. There is also a 43 mile St. Hilda’s Way pilgrimage path in Northeast England from Hinderwell in Yorkshire to Whitby Abbey. It visits eight churches and chapels all dedicated to St Hilda. St Hilda’s Way was launched on Sunday June 28,  2015 with a special service at St. Hilda’s Well at Hinderwell Church.

St. Hilda of Whitby by Betsy Hayes. Contact pastor pilgrim for information on this artist.

St. Hilda of Whitby by Betsy Hayes

MEDITATION

Feast day is November 17

St. Paul prays for the new converts in Asia Minor:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 TNIV

God is full of wonderful surprises and often leads us to places we never dreamed or imagined. When we trust our lives to the good God of the universe who loves us, then we are taken on journeys beyond our wildest imaginations.

The early Celtic monks would climb into their little leather coracles in the rough Irish Sea and ask the Spirit to blow them to where they were to share the Gospel. Their faith brought Christ to the Druids, pagans, and those  who had lost their Christian foundation after the Romans left Britain.

God still calls men and women in his equal opportunity kingdom to serve, to minister, and to share the Gospel of the good news. May we be open to the Spirit’s work in our lives even if it is different than what we would have planned or divergent from what our social or religious culture says we can do.

Hilda’s affirmative response to Bishop Aidan’s requests to become the head/founder of influential double monasteries was transformative to that pagan continent. During her lifetime, much of Britain became Christian. We can imagine St. Hilda crossing that Saints’ Bridge, that thin place between heaven and earth to emphatically tell us that a simple “yes” can transform your piece of the world. Both Hilda and Mary would encourage us to simply say “yes” to Jesus the Christ being born anew in your life this Advent season.

Prayer: Thank you God for St. Hilda and her courageous good work of establishing monasteries as beacons of learning, literacy, and light bearing Christ to the Anglo-Saxons. Spirit of the Living God, blow me to places I never dreamed of or imagined and I will say “yes!”  Amen.

Hymn: God of grace and God of glory on Thy people pour Thou power. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of these days.

St. Hilda of Whitby stained glass from Sneaton Castle, UK

St. Hilda of Whitby stained glass from Sneaton Castle, UK


© 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:

The Annales of Cambriae. from Fordham University.

Arnold-Forster, Frances Egerton. Studies in Church Dedications: Or, England’s Patron Saints, Volume 2. London: Skeffington & Sons, 1899. (St. Hilda of Whitby dedications). 

Barker, Rosalin. Whitby Sisters: A Chronicle of the Order of the Holy Paraclete, 1915-2000. Whitby, UK: Order of the Holy Paraclete, 2001.

Barnwell, Butler, and Dunn. “The Confusion of Conversion: Streanæsalch, Strensall and Whitby and the Northumbrian Church.” In The Cross Goes North, ed. by Martin Carver. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2003, 2005 reprint.

Bauer, Nancy. “Abbess Hilda of Whitby: All Britain Was Lit by her Splendor,” in Medieval Women Monastics, Miriam Schmitt, Linda Kulzer, eds. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996.

Bede, The Venerable. Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book IV, Chapter 23.

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

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

British Pilgrimage Trust. St. Hilda’s Way. 

Brown, H.E. For God Alone: The Lives of the Early English Saints: St. Hilda and St. Elfleda  of Whitby. Phoenix: Leonine Publishers, 2016.

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

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

Cavill, Paul. Anglo-Saxon Christianity. London: Fount, 1999. (Chapter 6 is good on Cædmon)

Colgrave, Bertram, trans. The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great by an Anonymous monk of Whitby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968, 2007 reprint.

Connelly, Roland (Father). Saint Hilda and her Abbey at Whitby. Middlesbrough, UK: printed by Quoin Publishing, n.d.

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles. Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1997.

Dalladay, J. Hild of the Headlands: The Story of St. Hilda of Whitby. 3rd ed. Whitby, UK: St. Mary’s Church, 2002.

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

Eckersley, John and Nancy. Walking St. Hilda’s Way.

Eddius Stephanus (Stephen of Ripon). The Life of Bishop Wilfrid, trans. by Bertram Colgrave. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Farmer, D. H., ed. The Age of Bede. London: Penguin, 1983, 2004 reprint.

Fell, Christine. Women in Anglo-Saxon England and the Impact of 1066. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984.

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

Gibson, Becky Gould. Need-Fire. Treadwell, NY: Bright Hill Press, 2007.

Goffart, Walter. The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988, 2009 reprint.

Goodall, John. Whitby Abbey. London: English Heritage, 2002, 2006 reprint.

Griffith, Nicola. Hild. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. 2013. (a meticulously researched sci-fi/historical fiction/fantasy by an award-winning author of St. Hild’s life that is receiving major book awards and will likely become a movie).

Hackness Church

Haigh, Daniel H. Notes on the History of S. Bega & S. Hild: and on some relics of anqituity discovered in the sites of the religious establishments of them. J. Procter, 1858.

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

Hartlepool Church, The Parish Church of St. Hilda

Hume, Basil. Footprints of the Northern Saints. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, Ltd. 1996, 2006 reprint.

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

Kilpatrick, Kelly A. “Latin, Runes, & Pseudo-Ogham: The Enigma of the Hackness Cross. The International Research Network. Runes.Monuments and Memorial Carvings Workshop. Chester, UK. 8 April 2013.

Lapidge, Michael, “Hild or Hilda,” in The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

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

McDonald, Ian, ed. Saints of Northumbria. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1997.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA:  The University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd ed. 1991.

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

Mundahl-Edwards, Sylvia. St. Hilda and Her Times. Whitby: Caedmon of Whitby, 1997.

Nennius. Historia Brittonum. from Fordham University.

Old English Martyrology. ed. by Georg Herzfeld. available online at Google books. New edition, 2013 ed/tr. by Christine Rauer.

Order of the Holy Paraclete. 

Parbury, Kathleen. Women of Grace: A Biographical Dictionary of British Women Saints, Martyrs, and Reformers. Boston: Oriel Press, 1985.

Pearse, W. Guy, ed. The Story of Saint Hilda of Whitby (The Children’s Library of the Saints, XXV). London: A.W. Mowbray & Co., n.d.

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

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

Register and Records of Holm Cultram.    Islekirk

“Rhun, son of Urien” at carlanayland.blogspot.com

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

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

_______. St. Hilda, the Synod of Whitby, and the Great Emergence. Talk at St. Giles Church, Oxford, November 15, 2013. youtube.

St. Hilda on BBC4’s In Our Time.  April 5, 2007.

“St. Hilda and St. Etheldreda” by Dame Etheldreda Hession in Benedict’s Disciples, ed by D.H. Farmer, Leominster, UK: Fowler Wright Books Ltd., 1980.

The St. Hilda Community. The New Women Included: A Book of Services and Prayers (with new introductions and prayers). London: SPCK, rev. and updated 1996.

St. Hilda’s Way. 43 mile walk that was instituted in 2015. It starts at Hinderwell and ends at Whitby Abbey.

Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974. (note: according to  this author, p. 129, the official dating of the Synod of Whitby would be late Sept.or early Oct, 663).

Szarmach, Paul E., ed. Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts. Albany NY: State University of New York, 1996.

Time Team. The Time Team endeavors to locate where St. Hilda’s original Anglo-Saxon church and nun’s cemetery were on this headland.  Season 7. Episode 12Hartlepool Excavation. April 27, 2013. Youtube.

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

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

Ward, Sister Benedicta. A True Easter: The Synod of Whitby 664 AD. Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2008.

Warren, Brenda Griffin. Chasing Hilda.” July 23, 2016. Godspacelight.com.

________________. “St. Hilda of Whitby…maintaining the gospel peace.” November 17, 2016. Godspacelight.com.

Webb, Simon. In Search of the Northern Saints. Durham, UK: Langley Press, 2012.

Whitby Abbey website. English Heritage

Winterbotham, James. Hackness and it’s Church: A brief history. 2000.

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

Young, Rev. George. A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey. London: Clark and Medd: 1817. Google books.

Ziegler, Michelle. Heavenfield blogpost on St. Hilda.

____________. Heavenfield blogpost on Rhun. 

Yes, I even had a Maine Coon cat named “Hilda!” Here I am picking up our little bundle of silver fur from the breeder, Donna Hinton of Nascat Maine Coons. And…Hilda was very intelligent, busy, and strong-willed like the great St. Hilda probably was. She lived up to her name as she designated herself as  the Abbess of our home. She was in charge of our home and her two brother cats that she kept in line. We miss this Abbess of our home. 

St. Hilda of Whitby cat celebrating Advent.

St. Hilda of Whitby cat celebrating Advent. Our sweet, scary-smart, strong-willed  Hilda crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Easter Week, 2018. It is my hope that she immediately went to look for her namesake. We miss her so much.

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Celts to the Creche: St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

               St. Aidan of Lindisfarne statue near St. Mary’s Church on Lindisfarne. photo from Dig Ventures

                                                        

Celts to the Crèche

Day 1

November 15

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

died August 31, 651 AD (Feast Day)

 

Welcome to this 1st day of our 40 Day Celtic Advent pilgrimage!

How delightful to journey together to the crèche in Bethlehem, that sacred manger of new birth and fresh new starts. Celtic Advent consists of 40 days as does the season of Lent. 

We will begin this pilgrimage with St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. He was an 7th c. Irish monk/bishop who established a famous Celtic-style monastery on the beautiful and sacred isle of Lindisfarne. This tidal isle in the area of Northumbria in northeastern England is  known as a “thin place” where heaven and earth are only separated by a thin, almost gossamer veil.

Some scholars believe Aidan was raised, educated, baptized, and later served as a Bishop on the tiny, yet historic monastic island of Iona founded by the much loved and revered St. Columba in the area known as the Inner Hebrides on the southwest coast of Scotland before he came to Lindisfarne.

Other scholars propose that Aidan came from the great Irish monastic foundations of Inish Craig (later called Scattery Island) founded by St. Senan (read more about Senan under St. Canaire, Day 35 of Celts to the Crèche) and later moved to the isle of Iona before going to Lindisfarne.

From Lindisfarne, Aidan was able to evangelize and share the Good News of God’s love through Jesus the Christ that shone as a beacon of light throughout England. Bishop Aidan appropriately became known as the “Apostle to the English.”

You may desire to continue reading more about Aidan or scroll on down directly to the Meditation

                           Statue of Aidan on Lindisfarne near St. Mary’s  Church. Photo from Dig Ventures

King Oswald Requests Spiritual Help from Iona.  As the future King of Northumbria, Oswald and his brothers had been raised in exile among the Irish of the  Dal Riata, it is likely that Oswald had visited the great Irish, Celtic abbey of Iona, perhaps even living there.  Iona is a tiny island off the western coast of Scotland founded by St. Columba (see Day 4 of Celts to the Crèche).

In 634, Oswald returned from exile and became King of Northumbria, in northeast England, near the Scottish border.  He immediately sent for help from Iona to convert his pagan kingdom. The monk Corman was sent from Iona to convince the Northumbrians to follow Christ. It quickly came to light that Corman obviously wasn’t the right person for this daunting task. He didn’t last too long as he described the Anglo-Saxons as too obstinate and intractable. He returned to Iona where Aidan heard Corman tell his story of woe.

Aidan bravely told Corman that he had been unreasonably harsh with his unlearned listeners in Northumbria. Then with even more courage, Aidan explained to Corman that he  should have allowed the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria to be fed the milk of the Word like babies and not expect them to eat the meat of solid doctrine.

Aidan to Lindisfarne. The Spirit works in interesting ways!  A short year later after Corman arrived in Northumbria and then abruptly left, Aidan in about 635 took Corman’s place and began setting up his monastery on Lindisfarne (known also as Holy Island). Lindisfarne is an island that is cut off twice a day by the water. Lindisfarne was far enough away for some quietness and solitude, but also close to the Northumbrian king’s palace at Bamburgh. Yet, Aidan had a problem communicating with the Northumbrians as Irish Aidan could not speak the British language. The problem was solved when King Oswald who was fluent not only in the British language, but also in Gaelic that he had learned from his childhood years of exile among the Irish, was able to  translate for Aidan as he preached the milk of the gospel to the people in the area.

                    A view of the ruins of the abbey on Lindisfarne. photo from English Heritage

Aidan’s Influence. Aidan’s monastery on Lindisfarne flourished and many more monks came from Iona to help him set up churches and to evangelize northern Britain. Aidan not only set up churches, but he also recognized the giftedness of Hilda (see Day 2 of Celts to the Crèche) and enlisted and entrusted her to set up double monasteries (where monks and nuns both lived and worshipped, ruled over by an Abbess) in Northumbria. 

Aidan’s Gifts. Aidan was considered to be a man of deep faith, prayer, and simplicity whom the Northumbrians trusted to follow his teachings. Sadly, Aidan’s dear friend King Oswald was killed by King Penda of Mercia in battle in 642 and Oswin became king.  Aidan and the new King Oswin also had a good relationship. There is a story that King Oswin gave peripatetic Aidan, a horse to help him over difficult terrain in his evangelistic work. Aidan then in turn gave the horse to a beggar who was asking for alms. When Oswin heard of this, he was furious that Aidan had given his gift away to a beggar. Aidan replied: “Is the son of a mare more precious to the king than a son of God?”

Aidan was also known for fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and when a feast was set before him, he often gave it to the hungry. The gifts he received were given to the poor or used to buy freedom for slaves, some of who became monks at Lindisfarne. During Lent each year, Aidan would retire to the small island of Farne off of Lindisfarne for prayer, penance, and solitude.

Aidan’s Resurrection Day. After serving sixteen years working for the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity, Aidan was heartbroken when King Oswin was killed by the kings’ cousin Oswy (Oswiu), King of Bernicia in 651. Aidan died less than two weeks later  on the last day of August in a shelter he had erected against the buttress of his church at Bamburgh.  Some of Aidan’s bones were later taken to Ireland with Bishop Colman (see day 25 of Celts to the Crèche) when he left Lindisfarne after his bitter disappointment when the Celtic way of life lost out to the Roman Catholic way at the famous Synod of Whitby in 664 AD.

12th c. Bamburgh Church built over the site of Aidan's 635 AD wooden church. There is a wooden beam in the church that is believed to be the beam that Aidan laid against as he died12th c. Bamburgh Church built over the site of Aidan’s 635 AD wooden church. There is a wooden beam in the church that is believed to be the beam that Aidan laid against as he died. photo from Aidan’s Church in Bamburgh website

Through Aidan’s service to God, Lindisfarne became not only a community of monks, but also a center for the spiritual life of Northumbria. The magnificently beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels was produced at the scriptorium at Lindisfarne about 715 AD after Aidan’s tenure, but the Irish/Celtic influence he brought to Lindisfarne was a precursor to this treasure. We mainly know about St. Aidan from The Venerable Bede’s biography of  St. Aidan that he included in his  Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Lindisfarne Gospels produced at Lindisfarne. Now housed at the British Library. photo from eadrith.tumblr           Lindisfarne Gospels produced at Lindisfarne about 715 AD, likely in honor of St. Cuthbert. Now housed at the      British Library. photo from eadrith.tumblr

Aidan Still Touches Our Lives Today: In the 21st century, the international ecumenical and dispersed Community of Aidan and Hilda is headquartered on  Lindisfarne that honors the memory of these two great early Celtic leaders.  Ray Simpson, a Celtic author and speaker is the Founder  and Guardian of this community.

Pilgrims to Lindisfarne walk barefooted across the mudflats                Pilgrims to Lindisfarne walk barefoot across the mudflats. photo from the journal.co.uk

People from all over the world pilgrimage to Lindisfarne. This tidal isle is only accessible twice a day when the tide is out. The tide can come in quickly and pilgrims must be able to get across the mudflats in a timely manner.

A safe house on the road to Lindisfarne in case one has to scramble quickly to higher ground        A safe house on the road to Lindisfarne in case one has to scramble quickly to higher ground as the tide can come i in quickly. photo from pic fair

One can also drive over a narrow road with little shacks on stilts in case the tide begins to come in too quickly.

Excavations began through Dig Ventures  on Lindisfarne in 2015 and in June of 2017, the stone foundations of a church were discovered by archaeologists on a rocky promontory on Lindisfarne. This foundation is likely resting on the original foundation of either Aidan’s or Cuthbert’s wooden church. Excavations have continued through 2021.

Ancient stone foundation on earlier wooden church of either Aidan or Cuthbert discovered on Lindisfarne in an archaeological excavation in June, 2017. photo from archaeology.org
Archaeologists and volunteers working on the stone church foundation excavation on Lindisfarne, June 2017. After an earlier pilgrimage to Lindisfarne in 2012,  I saw this excavation site in early October 2017 that had recently been covered up. Work was resumed in this area in the summer of 2018. The Celtic Pilgrimage group I led also viewed this site in October 2019. photo from churchtimes.co.uk
Map of Northumbria. Notice Lindisfarne, Monkwearmouth/Jarrow where Bede lived and wrote his history of the English people, and Hartlepool and Whitby where St. Hilda was Abbess of double monasteries

                       

MEDITATION

Feast Day of St. Aidan is August 31

Basil Hume was the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and a monk at Ampleforth Abbey in England. In his book, Footprints of the Northern Saints, he refers to the lives of Paulinus, an earlier monk who evangelized Northumbria and also of Aidan: “There was such a continuity between what they believed and what they preached, and between what they preached and what they lived, that people immediately saw and felt the living presence of God in their midst.”

St. Francis said something very similar, preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary.” Even though St. Aidan struggled with the language of the Northumbrians, the Anglo-Saxons saw Aidan’s life of simplicity, good works, and faith in God and they knew that they could trust what this man was telling them about God’s love and care.

May we daily “walk the talk.” As clergy and a follower of Christ, I often have to ask myself, “am I walking the talk or am I a fraud, am I bearing Christ or being a stumbling block, is my life a sermon or a script?” At one of my former churches, I always ended each worship service with these words, “And remember you may be the only Jesus someone sees this week, so make sure they get the right impression.”

St. Aidan was authentic and humble. His life spoke volumes concerning God’s character and love. He had a pastor’s heart in that he knew how to nurture people in their trust of God instead of banging it over their heads. Aidan must have been a very special person of integrity and trust for St. Hilda to change her plans from joining her sister in  France as a nun to following his request to stay in Northumbria and to help him convert her people to Christ and to be head of a large Celtic double monastery of men and women. 

Prayer: O God, Three in One, help us to be people of authenticity and compassion, people who walk the talk, people whose lives are a sermon. Help us sense the encircling and empowering presence of the Spirit and the great Communion of Saints as we begin this Celts to the Creche Advent pilgrimage towards Bethlehem, that place where Christ is born anew in our lives this sacred season. Amen.

 Back view of the Open Gate, owned by the Community of Aidan and Hilda on Lindisfarne, where my husband and I stayed for a few nights while in Northumbria in June 2007. I visited Lindisfarne again in October 2017 and in October 2019. photo by Harvey Warren

 

 

© 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 Crèche) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

____________________

A Few Resources:

Adam, Rev. David. Flame in My Heart: St. Aidan for Today. Triangle Publishing, 1997.

____________. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Moorehouse, 2009.

“Aidan” by Richard Sharpe. The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, Scragg, eds. Oxford, Blackwell, 1999.

Bede, The Venerable. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. iii.

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

Bradley, Ian. “Wanted, a New Patron Saint for Britain,” The Guardian, August 25, 2002.

British Library. Lindisfarne Gospels.

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

_____________. The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality, & the Scribe. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003.

Dales, Douglas. Light to the Isles: Mission and Theology in Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1997.

D’Arcy, Mary Ryan. The Saints of Ireland. St. Paul, MN: The Irish American Cultural Institute, 1974.

Deansley, Margaret. A History of the Medieval Church, 590-1500. London: Routledge Press, 1925, 2002 reprint.

Dig Ventures. The Monk, the Midden, and the Missing Monastery. Youtube video of an archaeological dig on Lindisfarne.

Dig Ventures. New Archaeological Discoveries on Lindisfarne | Virtual Dig Tour | 2021. September 21, 2021.

Dig Ventures website. 

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

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c.600-900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. 

Hume, Basil. Footprints of the Northern Saints. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1996, 2006 reprint.

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.

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

McDonald, Iain, ed. Saints of Northumbria. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1997.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1991, 3rd ed.

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.

Rollason, David. Early Medieval Europe 300-1050. Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2012.

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

Spirit in Stone. St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. (video).

Surtees Society. Vol. 8. Raine, James. Vita Oswinus, Rex Northumbriæ. 1838. Available at Google Play.

Tristram, Kate. Aidan of Lindisfarne.

__________.  The Story of Holy Island: An illustrated history. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2009.

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

Warren, Brenda G. St. Aidan of Lindisfarne. August 31, 2021. Godspacelight.com

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

Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 1990, 1992 reprint.

 

 

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