I visit a white cathedral which is haunted by the memory of an unpleasant person and cross the Yorkshire moors to the ruins of a noble abbey – In County Durham I visit the home of a great lady and discover the most sacred spot in England – I come to the abode of a famous scholar, fond a great cross upon a lonely moor and follow the Roman road from Hexham to Carlisle.
Out the dust of England`s history arises the unquiet shade of a very disagreeable man – Wilfred, Bishop of York. He quarrelled his way from cradle to grave, and the fact that afterwards authority saw fit to call him a saint does nothing to mitigate the extreme unpleasantness of his character – the pride and complacency with which he marches through the pages of his stormy life, the arrogance of his appeals to Rome, like a spoilt child running to weary his mother with complaining – except that Rome was not his mother – and the black treachery which stained his earliest exile.
It has been said that his stepmother was unkind to him. Poor woman! One suspects that it were he who plagued the life out of her, until at last she turned to his father, who was a gentleman of rank and substance, and said, “Really, you must do something about Wilfred, fir it is certain that there is not room for both of us in the home.” And so, in 648, when he was fourteen years of age, his father packed him off to the court of King Oswy of Northumbria. Here the boy met Queen Eanfleda. Perhaps she influenced him for good, showed him how his ill-temper must mar his own happiness as much as other people`s, and persuaded him to attempt the hard road of self-discipline. A sick lord had decided to end his days as a monk at Lindisfarne and someone was needed to accompany him there. Wilfred volunteered.
The thin, golden island of Lindisfarne which lies quietly off the coast of Northumberland was then the scene of Bishop Aidan`s newly established monastery. The monks lived in happy easy comradeship, each bound by a rule of his own choice, and there the bishop had established a school for boys. His pupils included the boy Chad and others destined for positions of responsibility in the Church, and now, for three years Wilfred joined them.
Although the time is shrouded in silence one cannot imagine he was happy. He hated obscurity; he was restless in the peace of the monastic life; his spirit was yearning for the colour and pomp and liveliness amid which he had been bred and nurtured, and so, at the age of seventeen, he asked leave to visit Rome.
It says much for the tolerance of Aidan`s community, which always refused to admit the dictatorial authority of the papacy and which at last chose exile rather than surrender, that he was permitted to go. It also hints of their recognition that Lindisfarne was not his true abiding-place; he was a square peg in a round hole, and only long and bitter experiment might smooth his unquiet character. Anyway, he was not bound to them except as a student, and perhaps they could not hold him against his will. One can imagine him hurrying joyfully back to the mainland across the smooth sands, with the foreboding cry of gulls for his dismissal and the hushed restlessness of the grey seas in harmony with his own disquietude. How eagerly did he exchange the drab garments of scholarship for the old gay clothes of the lordling, and how gladly welcome the pride and gaiety of the company which was to guide him south to Canterbury.
At Canterbury he met, for the first and last time, Benedict Biscop, and in his society commenced the journey. Both these young men were destined to become well-known visitors to the Italian capital and to exercise far-reaching influence upon the English Church, but while Wilfred`s visit were prompted by personal ambition and selfishness, Biscop went humbly to obtain the enrichments of art and culture for his monasteries. They parted at Lyons, where Wilfred lingered, caught up by the magnificence and stateliness of the great city. The archbishop wanted to marry him to the niece and settle him on a princely estate, but he was more ambitious. Already he had caught the vision of the rich material fruits which were glad to be gained in the service of the Church, and he replied by taking the tonsure of the monk. Later, when he returned from Rome, he was to witness the martyrdom of the archbishop and, fired by sudden flash of purity, was hardly prevented form offering himself for death beside his friend. No man can be utterly self-centred; and beneath the personal ambition of Wilfred was a dormant flame of selfless inspiration which twice more was to leap into strange dominance of his unhappy character and claim him as the instrument of an idealism that was generally so alien to his motives and endeavours.
He returned to England in 658, the sworn protagonist of the Roman Easter. This was to be the reason for an irritating disunity in British Christianity for four centuries to come. Under the Celtic bishops the Church celebrated the Resurrection on a day different to that of Rome, for in 527 the mode of its calculation had been changed, but the British Church, fully occupied with the Saxon conquest, had not adopted the new method. According to the new calculation the festival might fall between March 25th and April 21st, and while this did not mean that the two methods allocated differing Sundays for the feast every year, yet if, for instance, the Roman Easter fell on March 21st the Celtic Church would continue to keep the fast of Lent for another month.
When Wilfred returned, Archfrid, son of Oswy, was reigning as sub-king of Deira. At his invitation the monks of Melrose had sent a company of their brethren to commence a monastery at Ripon, among them Cuthbert, who was appointed cellarer or guest-master. Already his fame as a holy man of God was gaining prominence, and once when on a winter`s day he speeded a departing guest he saw that the stranger left no foot-marks in the snow, and afterwards he found on the refectory table a loaf of unearthly sweetness.
Alchfrid, who became much attached to Wilfred, demanded that the Ripon community should observe Easter on the Roman date, and when they indignantly refused he sent them back to Melrose and handed over the building to Wilfred whom Agilbert, Bishop of Wessex, now ordained to the priesthood. Agilbert was living in exile in Northumbria and had neither right nor authority to ordain in a diocese in which he had no Episcopal jurisdiction, but he was, with Alchfrid and Wilfred, an ardent upholder of the Roman Easter. The indiscipline of his action was a gross impertinence, implying, as it did, that Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne was a schismatic.
At Ripon, Wilfred built a fine church of polished stone, with glazed windows and a leaded roof. The dedication festival was a pageant of magnificence in which kings and nobles rubbed shoulders with bishops and abbots, and Wilfred strutted resplendent as a peacock; the feasting lasted during three nights and days of riotous merriment.
Meantime, dissension was growing apace. Its cause was the date of Easter, for Oswy found himself observing Lent after the Celtic manner while his wife, Eanfleda, who had no doubt followed the progress of Wilfred – her one-time charge – with admiration and delight, kept Easter with feasting and song. Such a state of affairs could not reasonably be tolerated in the royal household, and so the king summoned a meeting to discuss the matter at Hilda`s newly erected abbey at Whitby.
They assembled in 663/664 and thrashed out the question in a long debate, Alchfrid, Wilfred, Agilbert and the queen opposing the Bishop and monks of Lindisfarne, while Oswy, his heart leaning undoubtedly in favour of the Celts, made an earnest attempt to reach a just and impartial decision. When eventually Oswy cast his vote in favour of Rome it was because Wilfred, striking below the belt, threatened that the king`s entry into Heaven might become uncertain if he offended Peter, the holder of the keys, from whose teaching the Roman custom was said to claim authority. Nonsense, of course, but weighty argument to one who still hid the superstitious nature of a pagan just below the skin.
Wilfred did not cut a pretty figure at the conference. He stood proud and contemptuous among the humble brethren who, but a dozen years ago, were his tutors, sneering at their affectionate reverence for Columba, their founder, whom he dismissed as `of rustic simplicity but pious intention`, having the impudence even to infer that on the Last Day he might be among those to whom Christ shall say, “I never knew you; depart from me.” How the kind saintliness of Colman must have blushed before the arrogance of this young princeling whose hair was cut in the circular tonsure of a Roman monk, while theirs, in contrast, grew long to the shoulders and was shaven only in the front in accordance with Cetlic practice.
Yet no one can doubt that Oswy acted wisely when he voted for Rome. Unwittingly, he was preventing English Christianity from developing into an isolated and stunted backwater of the Universal Church, divorced from the art, learning and culture of the continent.
Despite his descision, the king`s hostility to and dislike of Wilfred was barely hidden. One man at that conference, not realizing this, mistook the meaning of his action. Alchfrid acclaimed the triumph of the Roman party by appointing Wilfred Bishop of York, and Wilfred, delighted by the prospect of greater power, richer magnificence, and contemplating the humble offices of his fellow bishops, hurried away to seek consecration as splendidly as possible on the continent. But Oswy had other intentions, and civil war broke out between father and son, ending in Alchfrid`s defeat and disappearance, and Chad was sent to York.
The significant thing about this is that Chad would most certainly have voted against the Whitby decision even though he would bow to it once it became law. Some have said that Chad was consecrated only because Wilfred delayed so long abroad, but the deed was done before the delay had become apparent. When Wilfred did at last return it was to go quietly back to Ripon. Knowing the nature of the man, this sudden meekness is inexplicable but for the fact that Alchfrid, his patron, was dead and Oswy would hear no appeal from him. It was not until 699. On the arrival of the new Archibishop of Canterbury, Theodore the Greek, who found Oswy an old man, weighed down by sickness and the heavy burden of his throne, that the king permitted his return. In years to come Theodore was to regret his too hasty championing of Wilfred`s cause.
In the meantime, Wilfred had not been idle. He had exercised Episcopal jurisdiction in the midlands where reigned Wulfhere, the founder of Peterborough, and added two new monasteries to his `possessions`, and at Egbert, King of Kent`s invitation had, with no ecclesiastical authority, ordained many priests in Kent during the vacancy of the archbishopric.
Yet when Egbert and Oswy met to find a new archbishop neither thought of Wilfred: the first would dislike a Northumbrian at Canterbury, the latter had more personal reasons. So Wighard was sent to Rome, and when news came that he had died of a pestilence on his arrival they were content to leave the choice to the pope. Thus, after some delay and two polite refusals, Theodore was found, and with his arrival on these shores in 699 a new and glorious chapter commences. `During the time of his episcopate,` writes Bede, `the Churches of the English gained such an amount of spiritual benefit as they had never before received.`
But why did Wighard make the arduous journey to Rome when he might with much greater ease have been consecrated in Gaul? Did the two kings fear an awkward demand from the continental bishops that Wilfred should be appointed archbishop? Both seem agreed that, at all costs, such a disaster must be avoided.
It was as beautiful a day as September might afford when I left behind the cream and blue hotel at Boroughbridge and crossed the grey stone bridge which gave access to the road to Ripon. The haze of early morning still clung about the fields like the gauze veil of a young bride awaiting her lover, and the wide river ran clear and unruffled over a pebble bed. Presently, a pleasant, red-faced farmer, riving a wagon at break-neck speed, picked me up and carried me to my destination, talking vigorously all the time.
“They said they`d send me Italian prisoners help bring harvest home,” he said, “but I`m having nowt o` that. I`ve got three hundred acres, eight men and fower girls – not as thou can expect much o` girls – but between us we`ll do it ourselves. Aye, lad, if thou had told me fower year ago as I`d be drivin` lorry an` workin` in fields along o` farm hands I`d `a told thee not to be daft, but there I be, an` – aye, dammit – if I didn`t work I`d dee;” and he laughed the rich, hearty laugh of a man with a worth-while job to do and the will to do it, suddenly breaking off to shout furiously at an astonished old lady who, with her dog, had narrowly missed being run down, “Out o` was, lass, out o` way – wandering all ower road, wi` fancy poodle!”
Then, high on our right there soared the white mass of the cathedral, and soon we were driving into the wide market square where a nightly curfew has been blown on a Saxon horn since the time of Alfred the Great.
Ripon is a kindly and unhurried town with a terribly respectable population. It has a calm atmosphere of happy self-satisfaction, without any deforming stain of smugness. I wandered down a narrow cobbled side-street, searching for a barber, for I had left my razor at my previous lodging and would not retrieve it till next day. The houses had a queer, stunted appearance as though they were bulging forward to gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the stranger who dared so impudently to explore their neighbourhood. There was a tiny shop-window squashed between sturdier houses, which displayed the information that here you might be tattoed at moderate cost, and there were sheets of faded designs from which to choose – large-bosomed females, Union Jacks, clasped hands, and even a portrait of Queen Victoria. I tried the door, anxious to interview the artist and enquire the details of his craft, but bit was locked. Perhaps that was all to the good, for he might have been a persuasive gentleman and I would find myself emerging with a ship in full sail across my chest and a pierced heart between my shoulder blades.
The barber`s shop was the front room of a cottage, the rafters ceiling so low that I could barely stand upright, and great gaps between the floor and skirting board at which a lithe undernourished terrier sniffed expectantly for rats. Seated on the bench were two of the oldest men I have ever seen, little, bent, gnarled creatures, like gnomes in modern dress. The barber, himself of diminutive size, leapt about his client with flashing razor and frothing lather-mug, talking animatedly without pause, except to throw a sly wink at the next customer when he managed a sally of particular wittiness.
“Sit down, lad,” he cried to me almost before I was inside. “Home from home here, an` no mistake. Take thee summat to read; here thou`rt – next week`s Tatler.”
I accepted the proffered magazine, rid of his stubble, wheezed and coughed his arduous way into the street, and the next customer was enveloped in the sheet.
“Now, sit back an` take it easy, lad,” said the barber; “Tom there paid for him an` thee, so there`s nowt to worry about, Aye now, I`ve cut thee; that`s fault o` being too frisky. Folk`ll think thou`s bin fighting or falling down steps o` Black Bull.
The cathedral is small, as cathedrals go, but it has nothing of the daintliness of Lichfield nor the grandeur of its larger sister, York. It is built of white stone which lends it a cold, almost forbidding aspect, reflecting, one feels, the pride of Wilfred, whose statue, with that of St. Peter, the patron saint, flanks the tasteful High Altar, with its blue riddle posts and many gilded figures of kings, monks and bishops set in the golden reredos. There is a strange pulpit of beaten copper, painted over, and lately a doorway has been revealed which once gave access to the second church, built in 950 and burned during the devastation of the Danes. The present structure dates about two hundred years later, and there is only one link with Wilfred`s day, but that a magnificent one.
Down steep, rough steps is a little vaulted crypt, and ancient niches cut in old, cold stone which once held the relics of the saint. A red lamp winks solemnly in the dim silence, and the shadow of the quarrelsome bishop seems to strike across the chilly floor. Ripon is curiously in tune with Wilfred; there is an icy remoteness present in its stones.
I went back into the sunlight without regret and felt over-conscious of the essential gaiety of creation. There was a thrush which sang against the background of the river`s music, and gentle meadows sloped to drink the clear waters, with graceful courtesy. There is some indefinable witchery about this rich and fertile countryside of Yorkshire which makes one feel that to view it is to behold the heart of England. There is majestic beauty in the rugged, rock-bound bays of Cornwall, the mighty Devon moors, the charm of Warwickshire`s half-timbered cottages, the savage beauty of Pembrokeshire, the untamed wildness of Northumberland, but Yorkshire stands apart as though it were the parent of them all. Nowhere else do trees seem so expansive, farms so secure, meadows so splendidly green, rivers so cool and peaceful. One realizes here that the English are still at heart an argricultural people and England yet a land of villages. Cities and towns are born, grow old and die, but the English village will always continue, and the yeoman heart of England will beat in Yorkshire so long as hills remain and the blue of an English heaven kisses the quiet valleys and the sleeping dales.
Travelling from Ripon towards Jarrow I went by way of Malton and the Whitby moors. It was still early morning when I arrived at Malton, and the little town seemed yet asleep. Disappointingly, the church was locked, for I had hoped to see the ancient cresset stone which is kept there. This is a rectangular stone, with twelve saucer-like hollows in two rows in which oil was placed and burned, apparently, by means of a floating wick, to give illumination in the church.
Just beyond the town I hitched a beer-lorry to Pickering. There were two men in the cab: one with a huge, black walrus moustache and worn leather apron, and the other a little, shrivelled rat of a man; they could barely squeeze me in beside them. As we lumbered out of the houses a stout gentleman beside the road waved to the driver, and the Walrus Moustache leaned heavily across me to shout, “Dost want a ride, lad?”
“Nay,” called back the Stout One, “seems thou art full already.”
The sundial above the porch of Pickering Church registered 9 a.m. when I walked out of the grey market town, with its mellow, red-tiled roofs, over the bridge where silver maples simmered in the sunlight; out of the wooded high land jutted a spur of purple moor.
Later, I walked across the fields of Kirkdale where a tiny church, with slated tower, nestled among dark conifers, cool, sunlit meadows beyond. Here is kept a Saxon tombstone which is very probably that of Ethelwald, son of Oswald. Ethelwald is remembered for a great piety and a great treachery. It were he who, as sub-king of Deira, gave the site for a monastery at Lastingham, but when his uncle, Oswy, fought Penda at the Battle of Winwaed he went over to the side of the enemy, owing to some personal grudge, and acted as a guide to them.
I decided to risk a cross-country route to Lastingham, which lies several miles/km from the main roads, and taking a compass direction by my map, I set off through belt of wood and up a gully strewn with rough stones and massed with languorous foxgloves. Mostly my way lay across fields, one where red poppies splashed their colour among the yellow stalks of wheat, and there were sudden views of moorland, purple and brown, beneath a brilliant sun. Then came the houses of Gilamoor, which has a queer and not very beautiful sundial, but at the end of the street there was a magnificent view of the moor cut by yellow ribbon of deserted road.
For several miles/kms there was nothing but the moor, lying in brooding silence, hugging its secrets from the intrusions of mankind. Into a wildness even more lonely and more grim came, thirteen hundred odd years ago, the pioneers of Christianity to redeem a desert of moorland and forest for the use of men, to wield warring tribes into a single nation and to teach the common people the high destiny of their creation.
The English nation is the product of Christ`s Church. The Romans developed the resources of the country and gave it contact with civilization, but their aims were fundamentally self-seeking and the character of the native was obliterated by their conquest. The Saxons divided the country into kingdoms which were for ever at war among themselves, and vast areas were left in their state of uncultivation. Viewed against the background of eternity and the purposes of God, neither of these contributed except accidentally to the making of England. But the Church brought unity where there was division, peace where there was war, cutivation where there was wasteland, education and culture where there were barbarous ambitions. Through the Church God not only redeemed a people and enabled them to progress and achieve; He also redeemed a country, giving to the very soil a spiritual significance.
Coming across the barren wasteland of the moor the road dips suddenly into the magic of a wide, expansive green tinged about with little houses and divided by a sparkling river and a gay, white bridge. This is Hutton-le-Hole, one of the loveliest villages in Yorkshire, and from there a shady lane, its ditches sprinkled with red and orange toadstools, goes wandering on to Lastingham.
Lastingham is a grey nest of a village lying at the foot of lovely wooded hills. There was water everywhere; it leaped from the banks beside the road, ran in the ditch in cool and silver streams and lay in a shallow splash where the way dipped and rose upwards to the church. In the steaming heat, beneath that blue, unclouded sky, this seemed the coolest village in the world reposing calmly in the shade of kindly trees.
When Cedd the brother of the more famous Bishop Chad, came here in 659 it lay `among craggy and distant mountains which looked more like lurking-places for robbers, and retreats for wild beasts, than habitations for men`. Arriving in Lent, he consecrated the site of his mud and wattle church with a daily fast broken only at evening. Cedd resided at Lastingham for four years, joined sometimes by Chad, who had been sent by Oswy to Mercia, Cedd being sent by the same king as bishop to Essex where he founded a monastery at Tilbury and built a church at Bradwell which may still be seen.
In Essex he excommunicated an eorl for breaking the Church`s marriage law, and when the king ignored the sentence and continued to visit the eorl`s house Cedd warned him that he would die beneath that roof. He was murdered there, because the eorl disliked a monarch who was bound to `a mild and womanish Faith`. In 694 a later king, named Sebbi, was to abdicate his throne to take the vows of a monk, and until 1666 his tomb was to be seen in St. Paul`s Cathedral; he is still commemorated there by a tablet in the crypt.
But in the plague which swept England so devastatingly in 664, which slew Deusdedit the Archbishop and caused a mass return to paganism in Essex, Cedd also died and was buried in Lastingham churchyard. When Bede visited Cedd`s monastery the saint`s body had been moved within the church which had now been built of stone.
The present church has a squat tower and, within, a wide, attractive apse and two great Norman pillars, relics of an intention to build a large monastery here, abandoned in 1228 when it became the parish church. Down a modern flight of steps access is gained to the ancient crypt which has two miniature aisles and stubby, Norman pillars. The stone altar dates, probably, from the time of Cedd himself; on this both he and Chad may have celebrated the holy Mysteries. I knelt now on the cool floor in that dim and hallowed place and offered a `Te Deum` for the lives and sacrifice of those who planted Christianity among these untamed moors thirteen hundred years ago.
Chad died at Lichfield in 669, and his bones are preserved in Birmingham. From his midland diocese comes the kindly picture of Archbishop Theodore lifting him with his own hands onto a horse and insisting that, for his health`s sake, he should ride among his flock instead of travelling on foot as had been his wont. To Lichfield came Owine, thegn of the nun-queen Ethelreda, to work as an humble labourer in Chad`s monastery, for `as he was less capable of meditating on the Holy Scriptures, he more earnestly applied himself to the labour of his hands`.
One of the most valuable influences of the Saxon monastery, filled often with high-born and noble monks, was the sanctification and dignity which it gave to manual labour and the common tasks of men and women in the world.
I caught the local omibus back to Pickering. A mile or two/1.6km to 3.2km from Lastingham we stopped beneath a giant chestnut tree at a little village composed of a single, straggling street. This was Cropton, and I remember that at Beverley a gentleman had advised me that there was something here I ought to see, but what it was I had quite forgotten. I moved my seat and asked a lady what Copton had to boast about.
“Now, let me see,” she said; “we have a nice old church, and Lady Reckitt has been most kind in helping us to beautify it. Of course, I don`t live here now; I used to. I`ve been visiting a friend.”
“I don`t think it was the church,” I said.
“Well now, there is an old dungeon; it`s under a farm-house, but I don`t think you can get inside today.”
“And it couldn`t have been the well, because that`s filled in. It took eighty feet/twenty four metres of rope to reach the bottom. Perhaps it was the Roman Camp.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, “I believe it was.”
We were running into Pickering.
“Cropton is lucky,” she said, as we bid good-bye, “because the squire paid for the water to be laid on, and so, of course, there isn`t any water rate.”
I was walking through Pickering towards the Whitby road when suddenly a form loomed and blocked my path – a black walrus moustache and a leather apron.
“Na` then, brother, how`yer fixed?”
It was the driver of the beer lorry which had brought me here in the morning. There was something vaguely threatening about him, and I guessed that he was annoyed that I had not tipped him. Throughout my pilgrimage of three thousand miles/4,800kms, during which I spent less than three pounds on fares, I never gave a tip, not because I was unwilling to do so. But because on the only two occasions when I offered money to the drivers it was so indignantly refused that I decided not to risk further embarrassment. And there is nothing so embarrassing as to have a proffered tip refused. One feels that one has stained a comradeship, destroyed the kindness of a friendly act. But, apparently the Walrus Moustache was of differing mind.
“Me an` my mate`s run out, an` we`re fair parched,” he said.
I said, “Good heaven! But of course.” Immediately his manner changed; his sinister, highwayman-like attitude became one of comical, almost pathetic apology.
“We don` wanna fix you, brother – not unless you can manage summit. Aye, now that`s champion. Good luck to you, brother, good luck; it`s your `ealth we`ll be drinking an` no mistake.
In the evening a cheery farmer drove me over the moors to Sleights, and, as dusk gathered, a lorry taking home a party of workmen carried me to Whitby. The moors lay silent, a purple wildness, broken in the valley by the green basin where Goathland lies and the rocky out-crop of the Devil`s Elbow. The road, unhedged and marked by small stone posts to guide the traveller when snow lay thick upon the ground, rose and dipped across the wild, deserted vastness, leaping over little bridges, past black and shaggy sheep, with deepening shadows creeping over gorse and fern and the last sunshine glinting on the distant sea. Beyond Sneaton Castle we passed a forsaken road to Guisborough – which I was told, is the longest road in England devoid of habitation; the parliamentary constituency of Scarborough and Whitby is the largest in area in the empire.
Sharp against the evening sky stand the magnificent ruins of Whitby Abbey, proud even in death. King Oswy erected the first building as a thank-offering for his victory over Penda, the king-slayer, and Hilda came from Hartlepool to rule as Abbess over the double monastery which, like many others in those times, housed both nuns and monks. Of that abbey, which consisted most probably of a central church, hall, and common room, ringed about with the separate huts of the brethren, the only remnant is the rubbish tip which was dug up some years ago, revealing an ancient leaden seal which, it is thought, may have been attached to the document which Bishop Wilfred brought from Pope Agatho, demanding his reinstatement, and which King Egfrid flung into the fire.
Here, previously, had been held the great council which decided that Easter should in future be observed by English Christians on the Roman date. Among those who attended that meeting was a certain Agatho, who may have become the pope in whom later Wilfred appealed. If that is so, and he was now present as the papal representative, it is significant of the independent spirit of our Church even in those early days that he neither occupied the chair nor acted as spokesman for the Roman cause.
Hilda was the daughter of that Hereric whose murder Edwin avenged when he defeated the British chieftain, Certu, and annexed his kingdom in the vicinity of Leeds, and the little girl, his grand-niece, was brought up at the court and baptized by Paulinus in 627 at the same time as the king. When, in later life, she desired to go to the continent to become a nun, Aidan wisely persuaded her to join the monastery at Hartlepool which had been founded by St. Bega, or Bees, as she was generally called.
This lady had fled from a royal Norwegian lover on the eve of her wedding, hiding in the Lake District. But when Hilda joined the community the nuns were ruled by her aunt Hieu. Eventually Hieu left Hartlepool and moved to Tadcaster, where her name is still commemorated in Helaugh Manor, and Hilda herself became the abbess. It was, apparently, at King Oswy`s invitation that she took charge of the new-built monastery at Whitby.
The Saxons were a musical people, and at suppers it was customary for each diner to entertain the company in turn, what was known as passing the harp. Among the many servants attached to Whitby Abbey was Caedmon, a herdsman/swineherd. The poor fellow seems to have been tone-death and unable to sing a note. When he saw his turn approaching he would creep out of the supper-room and go disconsolately to an early bed. One night, as he lay wakeful, hearing the sounds of merriment wafted from the hall, an angel appeared to him and said, “Ceadmon, sing.”
“I cannot sing, replied Caedmon.
But the angel was insistent, and when at last Caedmon tried to sing he discovered that his disability had vanished. The news was told to Hilda, who immediately interviewed the herdsman and, finding that his claim was true, invited him to become a monk and to occupy himself translating the Bible story into verse. In an age when few, outside the royal households and the monasteries, could read, Caedman fulfilled a highly important task, for the story of Christianity was much more eagerly heard and learned by the common people when rendered in verse and song. Some of his lines have been preserved, claiming for him the title of the First of the English Poets. At the top of the long flight of steps which the abbey ruins are approached stands a modern cross to his memory, beautifully carved in the Saxon manner, its shaft inlaid with figures of Christ, Hilda and Caedman.
In the shadows of the abbey five brown cows grazed peacefully, and beyond the great east window was a pond on which ducks swam, diving after food, their small white tails left comically above the surface of the water.
Everyone for what he likes!
We like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Tradition says that the bells were stolen from the tower and carried off in a boat, but the thief was wrecked and the bell lost in the depth of the North Sea; sometimes they may be heard ringing far below the waves.
As you descend the steps Whitby lies cosily below you, grey quays clutching the harbour, surf breaking on to golden sands; the cry of gulls mingled with echoing voices borne up from the tumbled streets of fishers` cottages, and the smell of fish and brine heavy on the air. Northward there is the twisting declivities aglow with purple heather, deep inlets where the sea darts up the sands in little, startled rushes, and glittering silver streams overhung by trees. Above a fierce headland the red ball of the sun hung suspended in the phantom branches of a tree, and there was a pit-wheel, starkly naked against the evening sky. The moor, sullen and unconquerable, was lost now in gathering darkness, and past the ruins of Guisborough Priory were the lights of Middlesbrough.
Next day I went to Hartlepool. I had expected from my visit, but what I found delighted me. The old church which stands where once stood Hilda`s monastery, is beside the harbour, its weathered stones in perfect harmony with its environment – a sympathy in grey: the dark, velvet greys of rock and stone, and the soft, silken greys of sky and smoke and sea, the harbour splashed with patches of brilliant sand, as though a mischievous Puritan had struck three yellow feathers in his sombre, grey hat.
In the church a woman was sweeping up rose petals. Near the altar, in an oaken, glass-topped box, was a smooth grey stone delicately carved with a Saxon cross and the alpha and omega signs, which was dug up where once was the cemetery of the monastery; it may well commemorate one of Hilda`s nuns. On the north wall was fixed an old Tudor brass bearing the portrait of a quaint little `Kate Greenway` lady in high hat and splendid ruffle, and inscribed `The Vertuous Gentell-woman, Jane Bell`.
The church was founded by members of the family to which Robert the Bruce belonged, and the ancestors of our present queen were once residents of the town.
I was glad I went to Hartlepool, and though it was St. Hilda whose memory I sought there, it was the charming gentellwoman of the Tudor brass whom most delightedly as I came away.
I stayed at Billingham, where the church is of Saxon foundation and dedicated to St. Cuthbert. When the Danes raided Lindisfarne and massacred the monks, some if the community escaped with a stone coffin containing the remains of their beloved saint and the skull of King Oswald; with them, also, they bore a seventh-century copy of the Gospels, beautifully illuminated by Abbot Eadfrid and bound in a cover studded with precious jewels. For three hundred years, when England was torn by the cruel and barbarous onslaughts of the Danes, monks bore this coffin and book from place to place, seeking safety, and often where they rested a church was raised above over northern England and the Lowlands of Scotland, and of their number is the church at Billingham. At last, in 1104, St. Cuthbert found his final sanctuary in the cathedral which they built at Durham for his shrine.
I travelled by stages into Durham and caught my first glimpse of the cathedral rearing its mighty tower above the trees from the high vantage of its hill. No other cathedral has been so nobly placed. A little below stands the Norman castle on the summit of a green cliff which drops steeply to the River Wear, the massed houses of the city scrambling about its feet as though begging the protection of soldier and of saint.
The empty tomb of Bede, robbed at the Reformation, stands in the Galilee Chapel. For long the bones which the monk Elfrid stole from Jarrow were hidden in St. Cuthbert`s coffin, tied in a canvas bag, until at the end of the twelfth century a golden shrine was made for them. The present tomb is of slate-coloured stone, the uppermost slab carved with a rhymed epitaph:`Hac Sunt In Fossa Bedae Venerabilis Ossa`. Legend asserts that the craftsmen carvedthe first five words and the last, leaving a space between because he could think of no suitable adjective to complete the rhythm of the second line, and in the night an angel added the word `Venerabilis`. There is a further legend which says that when Bede was an old man and nearly blind someone mocked him by telling him that an empty valley was filled with people waiting to hear him preach, but at the end of his sermon the stones cried out, “O venerable father!”
As one turns from this exquisite chapel and walks slowly up the giant nave, hedged with massive Norman pillars, towards the wheel window in the eastern wall, one is conscious of a great excitement. How grand it is and how stately! But why has no one ever had courage to remove the marble screen which, however tasteful in itself, is a hideous disfigurement because so utterly out of keeping with the pure Norman of the nave?
The High Altar is backed by a stone reredos composed of some three hundred empty niches. Once, I was told, these were filled with coloured statues which were neatly cut away on the approach of that iconoclast, the Earl of Somerset, and hidden, it is believed, somewhere in the building – in a wall, maybe. When Dr. Henson was Dean he made an attempt to discover them. Today only two statues remain, two tiny angels high up near the roof, which Somerset was unable to reach. Now it is as though the altar stood beneath an empty picture-frame of perfect workmanship.
Behind the reredos is the Chapel of the Nine Altars, one of which has at last been restored, and up steps leading to the higher level of the sanctuary there is a plain stone set in the floor and carved with a single word – CUTHBERTUS.
This is the most sacred spot in England. Beneath that humble stone lies all that is earthly of Cuthbert, Saint of God, and, with him in his tomb, the skull of Oswald, King and Martyr. In 1200 the monks adopted an old Roman engraving of the head of Jupiter, added the words `Caput sancti Oswaldi Regis` and used it as the monastic seal.
For centuries the body of Cuthbert was believed to remain undecayed. A monk was ordered to attend the corpse, cutting the nails and hair from time to time, and once this attendant was rebuked for permitting a weasel to nest inside the coffin. In the Middle Ages the tomb was opened to convince a visiting bishop of the body`s incorruption. The face was seen to be covered by a cloth and the body robed in vestments, and the incredulous ecclesiastic was convinced. Pilgrims flocked to the shrine, which became the most costly and magnificent in Christendom, and still you may see in the hard stone floor the hollow worn by countless knees of those who genuflected as they paused to pray.
The grave was twice examined in the last century (19th). The remains lay, then, in the innermost of three coffins, an ancient one of wood, fashioned in the seventh century, remnants of whichmay be seen in the cathedral museum. An additional skull was also in the tomb. There were as well scissors and a comb, though both of later workmanship, and a tiny, silver-covered portable altar and a gold pectoral cross, these most certainly the possessions of the saint. The pectoral cross which bishops customarily wear was a reliquary containing a small relic of some saint and worn for protection, against evil spirits.
On the skull of Cuthbert a face-cloth was gummed, no vestige of flesh remaining between the cloth and bone, and the eye-sockets were filled with a putty-like substance. Must we believe, then, that a pious fraud was playing on the unbelieving bishop for when the tomb was first examined? The revenue of the monastery depended upon the visits of pilgrims, and the story of the uncorrupting body was a great attraction. Perhaps the corpse had been embalmed, for always we hear how a sweet odour accompanied the reopening of tombs of uncorrupted saints, and this might prove an explanation. If, then, it were robed in vestments, the features filled in with putty and covered with a cloth, the appearance of incorruption might be passably convincing. Whether or not there is any truth in this supposition, the fact that the bones of Cuthbert and the skull of Oswald still rest in the Durham grave is unaffected.
In the coffin were found, too, the illuminated Lindidfarne Gospels, the pages stained with sea-water – for the fleeing monks dropped the book into the Solway Firth – but the colours quite undimmed. They are now in the British Museum.
Cuthbert had the reputation of being a woman-hater. A Pictish princess who had accused him of violating her had been swallowed up by the earth. No doubt the weakness of the saint was much exaggerated; it was said that he could not even bear near his grave a chapel to the Blessed Virgin, and in the twelfth century all efforts to erect the chapel beyond his tomb failed, so that the Galilee Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Pity, was built instead at the further end. Near the font the floor is marked with blue stone to show the line beyond which no woman was permitted to pass.
On the north door is fixed the ancient sanctuary knocker by which criminals gained admission to the cathedral to find sanctuary from private vengeance until a just trail might be arranged, and above the door are the remains of the little room in which sat the two monks who admitted those who knocked.
As one goes away from Durham one is conscious of conflicting emotions – wonder at the inexpressible beauty, the huge purity of Norman craftsmanship, and sadness for all the remaining marks of bygone desecrators: the countless niches raped of their statues, the shrines of Cuthbert and Bede shorn of their ancient glory, the haunted emptiness of the Chapel of the Nine Altars, the misplaced tomb which blocks the great west doors . . . In recent years the work of restoration has progressed, but how I wish that an ambitious appeal might be launched to give back to Durham the coloured glory of which men robbed it in the past. Restored to its pre-Reformation splendour it would have no rival in the world. Even today it is the most magnificent cathedral in the country. Yet I met a man in Durham who had lived all his life in the city and never once entered the cathedral!
As I went north again I was glad the England`s loveliest building stands guard above the shrine of England`s greatest saint.
Once a young man left Ripon and journeyed northward to the Wear. He was Ceolfrid, one-time baker in the monastery, ordained by Wilfred and appointed prior. In 674 Egfrid, successor of Oswy, who had died four years previously and been buried beside King Edwin at Whitby, presented Benedict Biscop with a site for a monastery at Monkwearmouth, and Biscop had fetched masons from the continent to erect a stone church. Thirteen years later, Aldfrid, half-brother of the king, gave him the land for the monastery of Jarrow in exchange for an illuminated manuscript. In the succeeding years Biscop made many journeys to Rome to enrich his twin buildings with pictures and books, and to introduce to their monks the new art of chanting which on the continent had been attempted with no little success that the singers of Gaul, it is said, emitted sounds more like the harsh crashing of wagon wheels down steps of stone. Ceolfrid he invited to fill the position of prior at Monkswearmouth, and though he was at first with difficulty restrained from flying back to Yorkshire, disgusted by the snobbery of the high-born monks whom he found in County Durham, he remained to become joint-abbot of the two monasteries, until at the age of seventy-four he set out upon a pilgrimage to Rome.
Theodore, meantime, worked energetically to unite and organize the Church of his adoption and to counteract the undue emphasis placed upon the value of extreme asceticism. Chad retired by his own wish to the midland bishopric of Lichfield in an humble attempt to solve the problem of Wilfred`s position, and Theodore called the latter back to York.
At York Wilfred found the church in an appalling state of disrepair; he re-roofed it, lime-washed the walls which were stained with the droppings of birds, glazed the windows and added many treasures to its possessions, including a copy of the Gospels written in gold upon purple vellum. He also promoted a school for boys which still continues, York Minster school the oldest continuous educational foundation in the country. It was originally founded in 627 by Paulinus first archbishop of York called the `Song School`, but fell away on the defeat of King Edwin, there upon Paulinus left with the rest of the court back to Kent, where the Queen originally came from.
Theodore was the first archbishop to be accepted by the whole English Church, and its debt to him is incalculable. If his work was not spectacular, it was thorough and painstaking. He called two councils, the first in 673 at Hertford, and the second in 680 at Hatfield, to ensure the orthodoxy of the Church`s teaching and to establish discipline. In the face of powerful opposition he divided the unwieldy dioceses into more workable areas under bishops of their own, and he drew up a detailed code of penances to be meted out to those who were disobedient to Christian morality and conduct, which indicates that paganism still flourished in the country and that many of those who had been baptized brought only a superficial and nominal loyalty to their new creed.
Bede complains of villages never visited by a bishop or given opportunity to receive Confirmation, of unlearned and negligent clergy, worldy nuns, and widespread and excessive drinking, but his pen exaggerates the picture. The Saxon `maesse-proest`, as the ordained clergymen was called – the title `proest` being given to any who held office – was beloved by his people and was an abiding influence of good. The monastery, too, was ever at the service of the people, a hospital for the sick, a school for the young, a hostel for the traveller, and in a land often torn by bloody warfare it maintained a peaceful and cultured community of dedicated men.
Following the youthful Ceolfrid to Monkwearmouth we enter the disciplined and calm atmosphere of the newly erected monastery. Each morning the monks assembled at 9 o`clock for the celebration of Communion, then separated to pursue their varied tasks, which included farming, teaching, and the valuable art of copying and illuminating manuscripts. At midday there was a time of rest and recreation, and at night the brethren retired to dormitories, an innovation when at other monasteries the monks occupied separate cells.
From these twin homes of northern monasticism three little pictures come down to us in the writings of Bede, each eloquent of the love and selflessness of those who served God long ago in County Durham.
It is 688. Sigfrid, Abbot of Monkwearmouth, is dying and Biscop himself lies sorely ill of creeping palsy. With infinite care the monks carry their abbot to the bed of their founder and lay them gently side by side that they may exchange a last kiss in greeting.
Shortly afterwards Ceolfrid is appointed joint-abbot of both monasteries. He holds this office for nearly thirty years, retiring in 716 to make a pilgrimage to Rome where he is determined to end his days for the fear that his continued presence at Jarrow may embarrass his successor. His monks crowd the shore to see him sail, the aged hand raised in final farewell, the white head bowed to hide his tears. No more will he return, for before Rome is reached he will die and be buried far away in a foreign grave. Back at the monastery, the monks are composing a letter commending him to the pope, surely one of the most touching passages in all the writings of Bede:
“We commend the white hairs of our venerable and beloved father . . . he has torn himself from us. You will keep his body, but his soul will remain with us and you, and after his death, as during his life, we shall find in him a friend, protector and intercessor with God.”
For the third picture we must turn back again the pages of the years. The scene is the chapel of Monkwearmouth, deserted but for Ceolfrid and a little boy. Plague has swept across the north bearing away its heavy burden of the dead, laying low every member of the monastery but these two, so that no longer may the little services of praise be sung for lack of voices. The boy is Bede, who joined the brethren at the age of seven, was made deacon by Bishop John of Beverley twelve years later and ordained priest at the age of thirty. His was a calm, industrious life, interrupted by but rare absences from the monastery, given to study, teaching and prayer. In him we see the greatest scholar of his day, his fluent pen producing not only Scriptural commentaries and volumes of history and biography, but also works of science, mathematics and astrology.
The deep sincerity and endearing purity of his character are reflected in his two famous remarks, the one stressing the importance he attached to regular attendance at worship, however much it might interrupt his labours, lest the angels see his empty stall and cry, “Where is Bede?” The other, as he lay dying, anxious to the last to ensure the perfection of his writing: “I don`t want my boys to read a lie.” They buried him at Jarrow, and there he rested until 1104 when a monk of Durham stole his bones and carried them to the cathedral above the high-banked Wear to share the coffin of St. Cuthbert.
His `Ecclesiastical History,` the earliest surviving copy of which, dated 737, is preserved at Cambridge, has no rival, though it is necessarily marred by his own peculiar prejudices – a disproportionate emphasis upon the danger of hell fire, a too great distaste for the Celtic difference on the date of Easter and an exaggerated account of the imperfections in the Church life of his own day. Yet sincerity is never absent from the harshness of his condemnations, as, for instance, of dicing and hawking when practiced by the clergy, or of gifts of land or money by the wealthy as a substitute for penitence of heart. What purports to be his chair – it is certainly very ancient – is still preserved at Jarrow, and once chips of its wood were believed to have power to relieve a woman`s pang in childbirth.
A lady doctor stopped her car in the high gap by which the road to Sunderland cuts through the grey cliff of rock above Houghton-le-Spring, and drove me to Monkwearmouth. It was Saturday afternoon, and the streets were crowded with young men who wore brilliant, plum-coloured suits and silk scarves knotted about their throats, and the girls with painted lips and waved hair who paraded the pavements, jostling one another, idling towards the picture palace or the race track. Trams jolted and rattled their uneasy way along the road, the drivers leaning out to exchange a witty thrust with a comrade on a passing vehicle; everywhere was the bustle and excitement of a well-earned holiday.
I asked a burly policeman which way I went to the old church.
“Why`aye, mon, I couldna tell you,” he replied, in the sing-song dialect of the north.
He directed me to a tram inspector whi, in turn, sent me to a gentleman who was entering his car from a nearby house. This ignorance surprised me, but modern Durham is si different a county from the Saxonkingdom of twelve centuries ago that perhaps they feel no kingship with the past. But I discovered the church at last, across a grey and desolate strip of waste land littered with rubbish, where little children, grinmy with dust, and two of them bare-foot, were building a pathetic, make-believe house from old bricks. I tripped over a length of rusty wire, and they gaped at me as though a stranger were a most unsual sight.
Of Biscop`s monastery only the tower remains, pierced by Saxon windows, with two ancient door jambs built into the porch. Within the church someone was about to be married, and the few women who formed the congregation, their grey faces stamped with the hardship and insecurity of life, faded scarves tiedabout mouse-coloured hair, turned to gape at me as their children had done. I came away disconsolately, past the long lines of ramshackle houses, each the exact image of its neighbour, and back over the waste land where the salt wind chinked a rusty tin against a pile of evil debris.
When Bede lived here it was a wild and savage land, endowed with the beauty of untamed forests creeping to the sullen sea and stretching plians unspoiled by slag-tip or mine-shaft. Now it was savage without beauty, desolate without attraction with the greed for wealth and the selfish lust for gain, a grim memorial to the Industrial Revolution. I wondered what harsh road lay before the new-wed bride in the church, the ceaseless striving to battle with the dirt, the wearying, monotonous struggle to grasp the elementary decencies of life, the eternal insecurity of the poor – would these break her heart before the end or would she grow old and die unbeaten, yet coarsened and made sullen by the unequal contest like the old crones who were assembled to watch her wedding in silent warning of the cruel depravities which time might practice on her? Yet I do not doubt that her nuptials were as gay as any other girl`s, as charged with idealistic dreams, as filled with coloured hopes. There would be babies and the warmth of human affection and the call to much self-sacrifice. There would compensate for many things.
In Jarrow, surprisingly, it was different. Here the church lies away from the squalid lines of brick houses and the unimaginative crudity of the town. It stands at the bottom of a gentle hill, nesting among drab sycamore trees, with an old, worn pair of stocks flanking the path through the graveyard, as though it were making a last, valiant effort to preserve the beauty amongst which originally it had been built. Once it was two churches, joined later by the ancient tower, so that, within, the altar is seen through the low, thick-set archway which supports the tower. Behind the church the sluggish Tyne flows outward to the sea, tall masts gracing the smoke-curtained sky, squat red funnels against the blackness of warehouse walls, and high chimneys belched acrid smoke to tell of the throbbing vigour of the docks and furnaces.
At Jarrow I met the most intelligent verger it has been my good fortune to encounter. He showed me over the building, quoting the inscription carved on the ancient foundation-stone – the oldest foundation-stone of any Christian church in Europe – dated 685 and set above the chancel arch, giving the names of Egfrid and Ceolfrid. He told me that in the tower there was a Saxon bell inscribed `Pray for us, St. Paul`; and that three of the letters were upside down an two reversed. He pointed out the Roman stones used in the wallsand the rounded window-tops which were once the roofs of Roman sentry boxes, and he regretted that the Saxon chalice of beaten silver had been sent away for safety during the war.
But the most interesting relic was one which he himself had discovered eleven years ago – a tiny stained glass window of Saxon workmanship, its colours still pure and brilliant, depicting a mounted figure, who may possibly be intended for St. George – and bearing the date 685, which vindicates its claim to be the oldest stained glass window in the world. Bede, who lived at Jarrow until his death in 735, would see the sunlight filtering through the colours of the glass as I saw it now.
In the late evening I went on to Newcastle. Once Peada, son of Penda, had come to this city to ask the hand of King Oswy`s daughter. They told him that he might only marry her if he adopted her religion, but after he had received instruction he cried out enthusiastically, “Whether or not I win the maiden I desire to be baptized.” But it was not a happy union; he was murdered by his wife. Bede says that he was `an excellent youth, most worthy of the title and character of a king`. Oswy sent him home with four priests, including Cedd, the brother of Chad, and he remained loyal to the Faith for the remainder of his life.
A policeman directed me along the Westgate Road, and when it became apparent that it was to obtain a hitch, I caught the last bus to Hexham.
One day a party of monks arrived at Cambridge, looking for a coffin. They had been sent by the Abbess of Ely who had decided that the body of their foundress, Queen Ethelreda, was worthy of a nobler resting-place than the wooden coffin in which she had been buried, and since there were no stones of size to be found near the abbey, she had ordered these monks to go in search of one. At Grantchester they were delighted to find an old Roman coffin of white marble which they bore back in triumph.
When Ethelreda had lain dying she had suffered from a painful tumour on the neck which she had dismissed with the remark, “I know that I deservedly bear the weight of my sickness on my neck, for I remember, when I was very young, I bore there the needless weight of jewels.” Years later, during the looting of the abbey by the Danes, one of them had thrust his hand into her tomb and caught hold of the robe in which she had been buried, but the saint, who, though dead, retained her sense of nicety, pulled it back and smote the Dane with madness.
Ethelrida was one of the four daughters of King Anna of East Anglia, all of whom adopted the veil of the nun, and though she was twice married she insisted upon retaining her virginity, to the very reasonable distress of her second husband, Egfrid. Egfrid succeeded his father, Oswy, to the throne of Northumbria and after twelve years of wedlock allowed himself to be persuaded by Wilfred to release his unsatisfactory wife from her vows. Wilfred himself presented Ethelfreda with her nun`s veil at Coldingham, the monastery which later was to be condemned by Bede for the worldliness of its inmates and to be burned to the ground in divine retribution. Within a year of her departure Egfrid regretted his decision and set off to reclaim her. Ethelreda fled to Ely, where she had inherited land as a marriage portion, and there founded the abbey in which she died. But Egfrid, though he made no further attempt to regain her and shortly married again, never forgave Wilfred.
The site upon which Wilfred raised the great minster of Hexham was presented to him by Ethelreda. It stands today as a grim memorial of his troubles.
In 678, six years after Ethelreda`s flight, Theodore came to Northumbria. At this time the vast area which now comprises Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland was the diocese of the Bishop of York. Theodore refused to believe that any man could administer so great an area with efficiency, and he proposed to Egfrid that it should be divided. Egfrid jumped at the opportunity of revenging himself on Wilfred, and no doubt it was he who persuaded Theodore to act without consulting the Bishop of York. That was tactless of them, to say the least of it, and it is regrettable that the archbishop should have allowed himself to become the tool in a private quarrel. However, the deed was done. Bosa, a monk of Whitby, was consecrated Bishop of York; Eata, whom Alchfrid had turned away from Ripon, where he had been abbot, because he refused to observe Easter on the Roman date, became Bishop of Lindisfarne and Hexham; and Edhed Bishop of the newly conquered district of Lindsey. The service was held in York Minster, and Wilfred knew nothing about it.
Of course he was furious. He replied by appealing to Rome. On the journey he stopped in Frisia, which lay between the river Rhine and Weser, a territory over which Boniface was later to bear spiritual rule, having his headquarters at Mainz. Here Wilfred worked as a missionary, thereby probably saving his life. Egfrid sent men to seize him on his journey, and now by mistake they attacked Winfrid, whom Theodore had deposed from the bishopric of Lichfield and who was also travelling on the continent; this unfortunate gentleman was roughly handled, and some of his companions even killed. Egfrid then wrote to the king of Frisia and demanded Wilfred, dead or alive, but that monarch tore up the letter and said indignantly that he was not in the habit of betraying his guests.
At Rome Wilfred was treated with the deference that he loved and whenhe returned in 680 he brought with him a papal bull demanding his restoration to his full diocese, with, if necessary, the appointment of additional bishops to assist him. He presented this document to Egfrid at Whitby, but the king flung it into the fire, accused him of obtaining it by bribery, and had him arrested and imprisoned.
But the bishop might still count upon influential friends. In prison he cured the reeve`s wife of a sickness, and the grateful husband pleaded for his release. Egfrid, encouraged by his new wife, Earmenburgh, replied by confining him in a dark cell at Dunbar. Then Earmenburgh made the mistake of going to stay at Coldingham where Ethelrida had taken her vows and where the abbess, Egfrid`s aunt, was Wilfred`s ally. A demon – no doubt a very human demon – obtained access to the queen`s bedroom and violently ill-treated her; Egfrid was told by the abbess that surely this was a sign of the divine disapproval of his treatment of Wilfred. So the bishop was released and returned for a very short time to York. But the hatred of the king was soon upon his track again and he had to fly the kingdom, with the derisive laughter of the people of York at his heels. As he went he cursed the population and vowed that within a year their humour would be turned to tears. He fled to Mercia.
Shortly afterwards war broke out between Northumbria and Kent, and out of the battle an ominous little story survives. Alfwine, brother of Egfrid and a great favourite with the people, was killed in the battle and his body carried to York to be greeted by mourning and sorrowful populace exactly one year from the date of Wilfred`s curse.
Peace between the two kingdoms was ultimately established by the good offices of Theodore, and under the treaty it was agreed that Wilfred must not be allowed sanctuary in Mercia any longer, and he was forced to move over the border into Wessex. But in Wessex the queen was sister to Earmenburgh, and once more he had to fly south, through the dark jungle of the Andredsweald, to Sussex, the only part of England now unconverted. And here, as in Frisia, he forgot his selfish ambitions and once more became a courageous and energetic missionary.
In the deep forests of Sussex, where the wolf howled to the rising moon and the wild boar skulked in impenetrable undergrowth, lived two unhappy men. One was Dicul, an Irish monk. He had been invited to Sussex by Ethelwalch, the king, who, with his wife, was a Christian in a pagan land, but somehow Dicul and his monks had failed to touch the hearts of the savage and ignorant people. Wilfred, sailing home to England fifteen years previously, had experienced something of their savagery when his ship was all but driven on the sands by a tempestuous gale, and the men of Sussex, encouraged by heathen priests, had waited on the shore, like beasts of prey, to slay the ship`s company and sieze the wreck and its cargo. But providence had aided the travellers, and they had succeeded in escaping to the more friendly embraces of the storm-swept sea. Now, coming to seek shelter as an exile with a price upon his head, Wilfred was to experience their ignorance.
He discovered that they did not know how to fish. Incredible as it may sound, these people who inhibited the channel coast lapped by a sea waiting to be harvested, often suffering from terrible famines, so that companies of them would join hands and throw themselves over the cliffs. He immediately set about instructing them how to make nets and to relieve their want, and no doubt this, more than anything else, prepared them to receive his Gospel. Moreover, on the day of the first Baptisms a prolonged drought ended in torrential rain. The new God of Love was vindicated, and Sussex was won for Christ.
Ethelwalch presented Wilfred with the land of Selsey, and there he built a monastery. Of Dicul, wearied with long failure and fruitless effort to convert those whom Wilfred now baptized, we hear no more. Probably he went back to Ireland, glad to bid farewell to this inhospitable land of wild, grim forests.
The second man who hid in the forests of Sussex was Cadwalla, heir to the throne of Wessex, but exiled now and living as a brigand and an outlaw. He was a brutish and cruel pagan determined only upon seizing power by force of arms. Wilfred befriended him with gifts and bribes, and thereby stained the purity of his mission. Cadwalla ravaged Sussex and, though eventually defeated, there is no hint that any rebuke fell from Wilfred`s lips. Then, coming to the throne of Wessex on the death of Centwine, he once more descended upon Sussex, murdered Ethelwalch the Christian and usurped the throne. And Wilfred saw his protector slain and robbed of the kingdom and still kept silence. His friendship with the tyrant seems to have been in no was disturbed. It is an ominous fact. It is almost unavoidable to conclude that he had conviently forgotten that he owed his life tp Ethelwalch and was intent only upon retaining his position.
In 688, Wilfred, maintaining his unworthy friendship with the conqueror, persuaded Cadwalla himself to become a Christian, and, no doubt with the bishop`s encouragement, he travelled to Rome to seek Baptism. There plague struck him and he died. Shortly afterwards Wilfred was gratified by a vision: he saw the soul of Egfrid, his old enemy, being carried by Satan into hell.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Theodore, wearied with arduous journeys throughout the kingdoms and aged by the weighty responsibilities of his position, was, like any Christian gentleman, preparing his soul to die, and, desiring to depart in charity with all men, he sent for Wilfred, they met at the house of the Bishop of London, and Theodore wrote both to Aldfrid, Egfrid`s successor and the founder of the monastery at Jarrow, and to Ethelred, King of Mercia, requesting them to receive the bishop kindly and to reinstate him in his bishopric. Ethelred obeyed immediately and a lasting friendship sprang up between the two men; Alfrid was more cautious, but eventually he called him back to Hexham, and after an interval, gave him also York and Ripon, so that Wilfred found himself once more chief pastor of the north, in possession of all his previous diocese but for Lindisfarne.
But within a year Aldfrid removed him from Hexham to make room for John of Beverley. Once more Wilfred`s anger blazed forth, crying that his monasteries had been robbed of portions of their lands and he of a bishopric. Aldfrid replied sternly with the sentence exile, and Wilfred, again a fugitive, fled into Mercia. There Ethelred appointed him Bishop of Leicester. After eleven years, in 702. Aldfrid, possibly at the request of the pope, invited him to return and to lay his grievances before a council held at Austerfield, but the hostility of his fellow bishops turned the proceedings into a farce, for it was demanded that he should agree to Thoedore`s original plan for the partition of the diocese and himself return to Ripon, exercising there no Episcopal duties nor leaving the vicinity of the monastery without the king`s permission
“And who, pray, is Theodore that his orders should over-ride those of the papacy?” cried Wilfred, flaming with an indignation with which for once we may feel some sympathy.
He went furiously back to Mercia and demanded to know the opinion of Ethelred. Ethelred replied cautiously, unwilling to set himself at variance with almost the entire English Church.
“I mean to add no new trouble to your trouble,” he said. “I will keep safe for you your lands in my kingdom until I hear the ruling of the pope.”
Once more, at the age of sixty-nine, Wilfred went to Rome; remarkable as it may seem, he walked there. But this interview with Ethelred betrays him. What lay nearest to his heart were his `possessions` – the church which he had restored at York, the monasteries he had built at Ripon, Hexham and in Mercia. Had he been offered the archbishopric it is doubtful if at any time he would have accepted it. He wanted his property.
They feted him at Rome, but did little to strengthen his position. When he returned in 704, he brought only a request from the pope that the archbishop should consider his claims face to face with him and if a satisfactory solution prove unobtainable, lay the case before the papal court. But the English Church had already asserted its right to decide its own actions, and no appeal to Rome was recognized. And when Wilfred landed he was beginning to feel wearied by his quarrels; he was a sick man and greatly aged.
Aldfrid gave a terse reception to those whom Wilfred sent to him.
“Never ask of me anything for Wilfred, your lord,” he said, and that was all. When he died a year later, Eanwulf, a usurper who siezed the throne, gave the bishop six days in which to leave the realm on penalty of instant death. But in 706 Eanwulf was overthrown, and the rightful heir, Osred, a boy of eight, whom Boniface described as `a worthless and an evil youth`, mounted the throne. Now, at last, it was Wilfred`s hour.
Osred called the Council of Nidd to settle Wilfred`s differences. Someone told him that Aldfrid had repented on his deathbed and desired to reinstate the bishop in accordance with the pope`s decision. Another recounted how, besieged in Bamburgh Castle by Eanwulf, the had vowed to champion Wilfred if ever Osred proved himself victor, and straightaway the besiegers had surrendered. So the exile came home again, but not to the full power he had once enjoyed. They gave him back the Bishopric of Hexham, the monastery of Ripon and all his `possessions` in Mercia and Northumbria except York, to which John of Beverley was transferred from Hexham. The weary, unfruitful controversy was at an end, but the full power which was Wilfred`s before his first appeal to Rome was never his again. His appeals had been an innovation, and the English Church had replied in no uncertain voice that no pope might rightly dictate to her.
In 709 he made a last tour of his property, magnificent as a royal progress, and coming to Oundle found the peace of death. Yet even now it is not quite the end. His dying testament sends forth a last grim whisper to disturb his memory, ominous as a muffled drum-beat, disquieting as the returning shade of an evil dream: a quarter of his wealth he leaves to his abbots that there-with they `may win the favour of kings and bishops`. We remember Egfrid`s accusation of bribery and we wonder. . . .
Yet the extreme unpleasantness of Wilfred`s character cannot blind us to his gifted ability. He was arrogant, worldly, self-willed, richer than the king and with a more magnificent retinue, but he was also among the outstanding leaders of his generation. His artistic taste and appreciation of architectural beauty gave much of priceless value to the culture of his age, and it is the more regrettable that one so gifted by birth, opportunity, education and natural ability should have marred his life and influence by that arid individualism which so often made his contribution to the Church of his day unacceptable to his contemporaries.
The site of Hexham Abbey was given to Wilfred by Queen Ethelreda, who was the beginning of all his troubles. Wilfred is dead, and his bones, moved in the tenth century from Ripon to Canterbury, have long since been lost. But Hexham remains, and its shadow, made sinister by his remembrance, falls darkly on an English countryside.
The waters of the Tyne are poisonous and grey, creeping obscenely, like a glutted worms, beneath the canopy of smoke which veils industrial Newcastle, bearing on their sluggish bosom ships and tankers, coal barges and slow-moving tugs. But the Tyne which runs past Hexham might be a different river, so clear it is, so clean and placid, sunlit meadows running down to little and comfortable grey farmhouses crouching under generous English trees.
Somehow, I had expected to find Hexham a mere over-growth of Newcastle, its ancient buildings swallowed in an ugliness of modern commercialism, but it was not so. Hexham stands on a bank of a green valley, darkened by patches of woodland, gentle hills rising to meet an unsullied sky. In its picturesque market place men once raised the banners of the ill-fated Pilgrimage of Grace, and afterwards the Prior, whose house is now the police station, was hanged in the north gateway. Where the solid Priory Gateway stands, straddling the steep street which tumbles to the river men came in haste eight hundred years ago to cry that Malcolm, the husband of St. Margaret, was marching across the Scottish border, bringing the fierce men of Galloway to loot and burn and kill. But when the people ran for safety to the abbey a fog crept up the river, wrapping the town in an impenetrable curtain, and dimly men saw two shadowy forms move reassuringly through the frightened streets; they said that they were the forms of Cuthbert and Wilfred. So Malcolm turned away and went home again, but two hundred years afterwards the Scots were to burn the abbey to the ground.
It is a magnificent abbey, its great central tower, solid and mountainous, rising above a ninety-foot choir. Within the door is a carved stone from the Roman camp at Corbridge, which depicts a mounted soldier administering a contemptuous kick to a bearded Briton, and opposite it stands the shaft of the cross which Saxon craftsmen raised long ago to commemorate Bishop Acca, the friend and confidant of Wilfred. The font rests on an upturned Roman pillar, and there are two hog-backed tomb-stones which are possibly unique, and a queerly carved chantry tomb where the remains of Prior Lishman have slept for nearly five centuries.
But most splendid of all is the wide flight of the Night Steps rising to the broad balcony by which the monks gained access to their dormitory.
It was Sunday morning when I went to Hexham, having attended Communion at the little church of St. John Lee, which stands on the foundation of one erected by Bishop John of Beverley. For some strange reason I found the abbey locked, and when I tried the door a small boy who also was waiting to go in for Mattins, shouted to me, “How`wey, mon, you canna git in till the fellar comes.”
So we sat on the low wall beside the entrance, and he told me proudly that he was in the choir.
“But I wouldn`t be in the choir if it wasna for the school-master,” he said; “it was he gettin` me in. This morning` there`s goin` to be a procession up the Neet Steps; I don`t knoo wey it is so, but I`ll be getten` to knoo at the service.”
And when at the end of Mattins the choir mounted to the ancient balcony, singing `Nunc Dimittis`, the bright silver of the cross and the white and scarlet of surplices and cassocks resplendent against the cool background of worn stone, a small boy caught my eye and smiled at me.
Afterwards I went down the old steps which lead to the crypt which was once a part of Wilfred`s church. There are three flights of stairs, two now blocked; one leads in to the tiny room where, in the shalloe niches, hidden lights threw their illumination on to the reliquary which contained the relics of St. Andrew. The remaining flights were for the entrance and exit of the pilgrims who filed past the iron grill which shut the entrance to the chapel. There are many stones from the Roman camp built into the walls, some faintly carved, one, set above the archway, once a heathen altar, and the cement of Wilfred`s masons, mixed with animal blood, is still smooth upon the ceiling.
Wilfred himself stood proudly on these very stones, and his hands touched this masonry, his robes brushed the surface of these walls. Perhaps Queen Ethelreda descended these steps to genuflect before the relics; Cuthbert almost certainly did, and Blessed John of Beverley. The dim confinement is alive with ghosts, and prayers and praises uttered twelve centuries ago are echoed in the whispering shadows. Here, perhaps, the aged bishop knelt after his last exile and lifted up his wearied soul to God, recalled the splendour of Lyons where, at his consecration, they had carried him high in a golden chair, and the glory of Rome which had welcomed him with pomp and ceremony when the Church of England spurned and hated him. Here at last, perhaps, he found the peace which had eluded him so long.
In the church above there is a stone frith-stool standing where was the eastern end of Wilfred`s church, and a small portion of the original flooring exposed below the chancel step, both of which beloned to his building.
Afterwards I walked to Acomb, along a road shaded by quiet trees, and a narrow bridle-path which leaped suddenly across an angry stream. Farther on the road rose steeply, and I trod a bronze carpet of strewn beech nuts, until, beyond a green-roofed farm a shoulder of hill all golden with dancing wheat, I came upon a stretch of barren moor, black, twisted trees, stunted and grotesque, bowing above the dying gorse, lending to the solitude a sense of horror as though the earth were soaked in evil and unmentionable deeds. Over the crest of the moor was a rough, lonely road, and beside it a great cross of blackened wood which rose up sturdily and high to cry defiance to the evil on the moor and proclaim a victory of righteousness.
Here, in the year of Wilfred`s birth, a Christian warrior had defeated the might of paganism and driven it for ever from Northumbria.
The head of Edwin was stuck crudely above the gate of York; the villages of Yorkshire were ruins, uninhabited by men; the pride of Northumbria was trampled under savage, pagan feet. Paulinus, snug in his retreat at Rochester, and Ethelburga fighting the tragedy of memories, knew nothing of the horror in the north where Penda and Cadwallon were burning, looting slaughtering and ravaging to their hearts` content. Long afterwards men remembered and called it the Hateful Year.
Then, in the wild border country a messenger appeared going stealthily from village to village, rousing the men of Bernicia to strike for freedom, for a deliverer was at hand. Out of the Western Highlands, from the tiny island of Columba where he had sought refuge from the vengeance of King Edwin, came Oswald, son of Ethelfrid the Fierce. His brother, Eanfrid, had cast aside his Christianity and bowed the knee to Penda, but Oswald was made of sterner stuff. He returned now to his rightful kingdom, called his countrymen to arms and in the name of Christ marched against the aggressive forces of the heathen.
In the valley above Hexham he met Cadwallen. From this brown moorland he saw the twinkling lights of innumerable camp fires and realized that he was overwhelmingly out-numbered; then he strode back to his camp, seized a stake, broke it across his knee and, lashing it into the semblance of a cross, planted it firmly in the peat and called his men to prayer. It is doubtful if more than a handful of them were professing Christians, but they knelt now in obedience to their uncrowned king, and Oswald, tall and blue-eyed, the breeze catching his thin golden beard and his long hair, commended their cause to God.
“Let us kneel and jointly beseech the true and living God Almighty, in His mercy, to defend us from the haughty and fierce enemy; for He knows that we have undertaken a just war for the safety of our nation.”
As the first colour of dawn blushed across the eastern hills the little army of Oswald marched to battle and, by the grace of God, to victory. So great was the slaughter that the waters of Denisburn ran red with the blood of those who fell; Cadwallen himself was among the slain. Penda, with strange caution, refused to meet Oswald in battle, but left him undisputed king of all Northumbria. It is even possible that he slew Eanfrid, Oswald`s treacherous brother, at the new king`s request; at least it seems that Ethelburga thought so, for she hurried her own children away to the safety of the continent.
But on the death of Oswald the rival royalties were united by the marriage of Oswy, younger brother of Oswald, to Eanfleda, daughter of Edwin, who had been dedicated to Christ when Eumer, in the presence of Paulinus, attempted Edwin`s murder. It was this Eanfleda who befriended Wilfred when, as a boy, he came to Oswy`s court; and it was she, too, who built the monastery at Gilling in reparation for her husband`s treacherous murder of his cousin Oswin.
Oswin was the son of Osric who had played the traitor with Oswald`s brother, Eanfrid, and on Oswald`s death Oswin divided the kingdom with Oswy, leaving him ruler of Deira and himself occupying the throne of Bernicia by popular demand. The murder was the one stain upon the reign of Oswy, who lived to be a just and godly king. Oswin, buried at Tynemouth regarded as a saint.
It is significant that Oswald, mounting his new-won throne, made no attempt to recall Paulinus. He sent, instead, to Iona, desiring a Celtic bishop to shepherd his heathen realm. The first monk who came soon fled back again, terrified by the savage nature of the northern people, and in his place came Aidan to found the monastery of Lindisfarne. Out of the pages of Bede Aidan emerges as one of the most attractive and noble figures of his time, travelling the kingdom tirelessly to preach his Gospel, with his king acting as interpreter, and training at his island school those who were later to evangelize the far corners of the land – Chad, future Bishop of Mercia, and Cedd, the first apostle to Essex.
When, only eight years after the triumphant victory of Heavenfield, Penda exacted vengeance and slew Oswald at the Battle of Maserfield, it was Aidan who sought the poor remains and carried the head back to Lindisfarne for burial. Years later the bones of the martyr-king were taken for burial to Bardney in Lincolnshire, but the monks, hating anything which savoured of Northumbria, refused to admit the coffin, until a miraculous light, blazing above it, convinced them of king Oswald`s saintliness. Today that saintliness still claims homage as far afield as Iceland, Italy and Germany.
These men lived in a fierce and bloody age, and their true worthy may only be assessed in relation to their times. They were not perfect men. Oswald probably mounted the throne stained with the murder of his brother; Oswy certainly gained power by an act of unpardonable treachery; yet, compared with the savage century in which their lives were set, they were, in their character and conduct, far in advance of the standards of their generation.
Throughout this stormy period of England`s history it astonishing to see the leaders of the Christian Church – Theodore, Aidan, Kentigern and the rest – moving from kingdom to kingdom with their Gospel tidings, unspotted by the greed, the hate, the lust, which so often tore those kingdoms in devastating warfare, spreading the knowledge of peace and charity among brutal and often primitive peoples, with an enduring courage and an unconquerable faith. They moved among the Saxons superior to the material causes of tribal disunities, and so planted in the land a Church which was from the first a Church of England and never, as one might expect, a collection of disunited tribal Churches. Archbishop Theodore claims but few paragraphs in this brief chronicle of Saxon days, yet it was his wisdom, his high integrity, his arduous and patient labours, which, more than those of any other man, cemented the work of the first missionaries to form there from the abiding beauty of our national Church.
I walked down the steep hill from St. Oswald`s Cross in ot the little village of Chollerton where, some yards down the river, there are remains of a Roman bridge and in the church a font made from a pagan Roman altar. On the crest of the farther hill, embraced by stately trees and set in the emerald of quiet fields, lies the Roman fort of Chesters, which, after Housesteads, is the most notable relic on the wall.
When Agricola was governor of Britain in the first century he constructed two chains of forts as a protection against the wild tribes of the Picts, the one from the Forth to the Clyde, and the other from Newcastle to Carlisle, a distance of over eighty miles/128.7km. at the commencement of the next century Hadrian constructed the great wall and dug a ditch which ran along the line of Agricola`s southern forts, and this was accepted as the boundary of the Roman province. Hadrian`s wall was really a sentry walk eight feet/2.9m thick and twenty feet/7.3m high, with turrets at intervals and forts every mile/1.6km. Chesters was situated where the Roman military road used by the troops who manned the Wall, met the southern road to York. The remains are extensive, for it covered over five acres/2h, and you may see the pavements of the chapel, the strong room, the bath and barracks, the broken pillars telling of shaded colonnades where the soldiers walked, and the hypocausts by which the rooms were heated through a system of hot water. Some yards/metres up the hill, on the right, a length of the Wall peers stoutly from encompassing brambles, and all the way beside the military road the grass-grown vallum follows you; beyond black lake set sombrely against blacker trees are the scattered remnants of the Procolita Station.
The road continued endlessly, dipping and rising, but running straight as an arrow, with wide views of Northumberland and the rich isolation of the border country. As I walked it, hearing in imagination the reverberating tramp of soldiers feet, seeing the sun which blazed above me glint on the bronze of their standards, the heat was pitiless and there was rarely any shade. I met no one but a lone cyclist, who stopped to inform me that the gentleman at Hexham who had told me that an omnibus ran occasionally to Carlisle, and been mistaken. I went on, hoping vaguely that I might obtain a lift, but the only car which met me was going in the opposite direction. Beyond a second lake, more desolate, more lifeless, than the first, I found a ramshackle, grey farm nestling under trees. I had been walking now for nearly four hours along that merciless straight road, with an unsympathetic sun boiling in a cloudless sky, and I was very thirsty. I knocked at the door, and an old woman came to scowl at me.
“Could you kindly give me a drink of water?”
“You can use the pump.”
She shut the door.
I found the pump in the yard. On the wall beside it sat a completely black cat which watched me suspiciously with unwinking, yellow eyes. When I worked the handle the water came spurting out, but it was deep copper colour, red as rust and though I pumped energetically for several minutes it became no clearer. Parched as I was, I would not risk drinking the stuff. There was a movement beside me, and a completely white cat was sitting beside the completely black one, its unflinching stare fixed upon me. I began to wonder if I was suffering from delusions. The two ridiculous animals annoyed me beyond words, so suddenly I filled my mug with the red water and flung it at them. They both disappeared as though by magic.
I went back to the road and plodded on. There was no breeze to relieve the intensity of the heat; the air was motionless, like the atmosphere of a slow oven, and the road went on and on, up and down, a shiny black snake creeping beside the Roman ditch. Then I saw a neat little house and a sign outside it which read SCHOOL. I wanted to laugh. A school in this vast emptiness of moor where curlews crying plaintively and slow-witted sheep browsing on the wiry grass were the only living things! But it was not a mirage. A very courteous gentleman brought me a clear glass, cool water.
I set out again. A group of black, shaggy cows regarded me curiously, then one of them ducked its head and came towards me in little, prancing leaps. I think it was only being playful, but I quickened my step. An hour or so later I met a boy on a bicycle who told me that there was a Youth Hostel, `Twice Brewed`, half a mile/.310km ahead. I thanked him fervently, for now it was cooling and the sun had dipped behind a far, dark line of trees. It was a long half-mile.
The hostel was clean and comfortable, and the warden provided me with half a loaf of bread to supplement the bacon which fortunately I had with me. He told me that I could get milk at the farm `across the way` – which actually meant a half-mile over soggy fields. I bought much more milk than I needed and stood in the mud of the farmyard drinking it out of the jug; it was delicious.
Next day I rose early and was away before the sun had dispersed the morning mist, which lay, thick as cotton wool, in the hollows of the valley and curled white, snaky fingers about the hedges and across the road. The warden advised me to go down to Bardon Mill where I would strike the main road, and when I asked him how far it was, he said, “Three miles/`4.8km` and twenty/`32km` back.” It descended steeply all the way
Luck was with me. A lorry carrying coal to Carlisle Electrical Works stopped for me almost immediately I struck the main road, and the driver was pleasant and talkative. The road ran through sleepy, grey towns built severely of stern rough northern stone, and in the fields the hay-stacks were shaped like giant beehives, a form I had not seen before, but which I met again in Galloway. Past the crossing to Alston, the highest town in England, and Bewcastle, where in the heart of the northern moors an equisite Saxon cross stands, heedless of the centuries, in the tiny churchyard, my driver pointed out the castle where Miss Violet Lorraine lives – “A right lady that, and no mistake!” – and then the wildness of hill and moor were left behind and we were entering Carlisle, its red castle frowning grimly on the modern city and hiding in appalling dungeons the relics of men who, imprisoned there, died in unmentionable agonies and torture.
It was here that Bishop Cuthbert came and received the news of king Egfrid`s death, news which filled Northumbria with terror and foreboding and which brought to an end the supremacy of the northern kingdom. Having lately returned from an unprovoked raid upon Ireland, Egfrid had marched northward against the Picts, flouting the advice of his ministers. At the Battle of Nectansmere, among the Sidlaw Hills, he had been defeated and slain, losing the territory at Abercorn which an outpost of Saxon had held for four years. a certain Trumwine was Bishop of Abercorn for this short period, but, in actual fact, that must have meant that he was little more than a garrison chaplain, not the pioneer missionary as which Dr. Bright would like to depict him. Queen Earmenburgh, widowed and sorrowing, came later to Carlisle to receive the veil of the nun, but in faraway Sussex Wilfred was joyfully preparing to return to Northumbria, rid of his enemy.
I had no time now to linger in Carlisle, for I was behind my programme. In the sinister shadow of the border castle I caught an omibus to Kingstown, and from there a lorry bore me into Scotland.