A Century of English Sanctity
Chapters 76 – 100
76. SAINT NECTAN, MONK-MARTYR OF HARTLAND
And those with him
Our holy Father Nectan was born in the fifth century, being the oldest child of Prince Brychan of Brecon in Wales and his wife Gladys. Before begetting Nectan, Brychan went off to live the ascetical life in Ireland, and on his return begat a large family of sons and daughters – one for every year that he had unlawfully forsaken the company of his wife. Several of these sons and daughters later founded churches on the North Devon and Cornwall coasts.
Inspired by St. Athanasius’ Life of the great Egyptian hermit, St. Anthony, Nectan decided to abandon his father’s house and lead an ascetical life in a foreign land. So, going down to the sea-coast, he entered a boat and committed himself to the Providence of God. Eventually the boat landed on the North Devon coast near Hartland. Nectan soon found a convenient site for his hermitage, in a wooded, north-sloping valley next to a waterfall, which is now called St. Nectan’s Kieve, near Tintagel. There he constructed a hut out of the branches and bark of trees, and set about living a hermit’s life, eating only herbs and acorns and such-like things.
Soon news of the holy hermit spread, and his brothers and sisters set out to look for him. Having found him, they spread out along the coast, and each built for him or herself a cell in which to live the heremitical life. But every year they all assembled in St. Nectan’s cell on the eve of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (January 1). There they conferred together on spiritual subjects and strengthened each other in their zeal for the Heavenly Kingdom. And afterwards they each returned to his cell mutually edified and rejoicing greatly.
Now there lived not far from the saint’s hut a pious man named Huddon. He was a swine-herd, and one day as he was wandering in the woods looking for his lord’s breeding sow with her young, he came upon the hut. Astonished at the sight of the saint, he was at first afraid to approach him. But then, plucking up courage, he went up and spoke to him. He asked him whether he knew anything about the sow and her young. Nectan told him where they were, and the swineherd took the animals and returned them to his master, telling him everything that he had seen and heard.
When his master heard the story, he was filled with compassion for the saint in his poverty, and went and offered him two good milk-cows. St. Nectan accepted the offering gratefully, allowing himself to depart a little from his voluntary poverty so as not to offend the giver.
One day, as the cows were wandering through the woods, seeking richer pastures, two robbers came upon them and stole them. Then the saint set out in search of them, and came upon the robbers at a place called Newton. He began speaking to them about the Faith of Christ, but was cut short when they attacked and beheaded him.
But then a great miracle took place. For, taking his head up in his hands, the saint carried it for about half a mile to his hermitage and laid it all blood-stained on a stone. The traces of the blood shed by the martyr can still be seen on the stones of the stream in the little valley leading to his hermitage, which is called St. Nectan’s glen.
Meanwhile, the robber who had beheaded him went completely mad, and after tearing his flesh with his nails and biting off his tongue with his teeth, he perished miserably. And the other robber, his accomplice, immediately went almost totally blind. But then, feeling his sight failing, and witnessing the terrible retribution meted out to his companion, he came to repentance. And following as best he could after the martyr as he held his head in his hands, and gathering up the blood from the holy body as it fell to the ground, he felt the progression of his blindness arrested.
Glorifying God, he took the body and reverently buried it in the hut near the waterfall.
There is a tradition that shortly before his death St. Nectan threw his chapel-bell into the waterfall and prophesied that later, when the true faith will have returned to the land, a boy would find it. Much later, sometime in the nineteenth century, some people were drilling through the rock of the waterfall, hoping to find a hidden treasure with the bell. But then they heard a bell tolling and a voice which told them to go no further, because the boy who would find the bell had not yet been born…
In about the year 937, a young peasant from Hartland was called up to serve in the army of the pious King Athelstan against an invasion from the north led by Olaf, the Viking king of Dublin, and Constantine, king of the Scots. In the night before the battle which has gone down in history as the Battle of Brunanburgh (which was probably in what is now the Wirral), the young man was lying in his lord’s tent, near the king’s pavilion, when he suddenly felt himself seized by the bubonic plague, which at that time was sweeping through the English army. Terrified, he began to weep and groan and call upon God and St. Nectan. So loud were his cries that he disturbed the king and the others who were sleeping in the adjoining tents so that they could not sleep. After midnight St. Nectan appeared to the young man and gently touched the part of his body that was affected. The sick man was immediately cured. In the morning an inquiry was made who had disturbed the king’s rest, and the young man was discovered and brought before the king. When the king saw how frightened he was, he told him not to be afraid but to tell him why he had been shouting so loudly. Then he said: “I felt that this pestilence which is raging among the people had affected me, and I was possessed by uncontrollable grief, thinking that I would die unexpectedly on an expedition in a foreign land. And I began sorrowfully to call upon God, and to invoke again and again, among other saints, St. Nectan. And I was heard; for he came to me when I invoked him, touched the part affected by the disease, and drove the whole illness away from me.”
The king asked him to recount the life of the martyr. The peasant told the story, and then, plucking up courage, said: “Begging your pardon, my lord king, I want to say that I trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the help of His martyr, which I have often experienced. And if you devoutly invoke him and commit yourself to his patronage, by his prayers you will obtain victory over the enemy and drive away the pestilence which is destroying the people.”
The king accepted the wise advice of the young man, and promised that he would give the honour to the Lord and St. Nectan if he won the victory and returned safely with his men. God hearkened to the king’s faith, gave him a great victory over his enemies, and removed the deadly plague which had been threatening his army. And so, when he first came to Devon, and was informed by his bailiffs that his manor at Hartland was reckoned to contain twenty hides, he gave two hides to the church of the blessed martyr Nectan, and as long as he lived had a special trust in his intercession.
During the period of the Danish monarchy, in the early eleventh century, God decreed that the relics of the holy martyr should be revealed. The revelation was made to Brictric, the devout priest of St. Nectan’s church, in the following way. One night, while the priest was sleeping, there appeared to him an angelic man surrounded on every side with glorious light, who said to him: “When it dawns tomorrow, take with you some religious and worthy men and enter the basilica of the blessed martyr Nectan, and in the part which faces north you will find the body of the holy martyr buried. Lift it out of the ground and put it in a more conspicuous position, so that it can given the highest honour and due reverence by posterity.”
The priest awoke and, being a simple soul, waited a little in order that he might prove whether that voice had come from God… And on the following night the angelic man again appeared to him in his dreams, shining with heavenly light, and warned him to fulfil the command which had been given him.
Then Brictric asked and obtained from the Lord that the heavenly vision should appear to him a third time. And so on the third night, as he rested in bed, the heavenly messenger appeared to him again, and first reproved him for not having obeyed. Then he showed him by a sign clearer than that given before where the sepulchre of the holy martyr was.
Brictric joyfully went to his local bishop, Livyng of Crediton (1021-1046), and told him the whole story of his vision. But the bishop, despising the poverty of the priest, did not pay any attention. However, Brictric was not to be put off. With unquenched zeal he returned to his church, and summoned all the older persons of both sexes who lived in the parish to come together at that church.
And so when a considerable multitude both of clergy and people had assembled, he told them the whole story and ordered that a solemn three days’ fast be observed, in order that God might make his purpose plain to all.
At length, the three days’ fast completed, Brictric together with the other priests and a devout multitude of either sex took candles in their hands and went with the banner of the Cross at their head towards the place indicated in the vision. On arrival, the whole congregation prostrated itself in prayer. Then they arose, cleared the dust away from the pavement and the priests began digging while the rest of the clergy led the people in prayer.
For a long time they laboured without result, and all the priests except Brictric went away to rest a little, as if doubting whether their labour would be rewarded.
But Brictric, who was taking the leading part in the work, did not leave, but, inspired by most fervent love, zeal and devotion, began digging still more eagerly.
Finally, the holy treasure was opened to him that knocked. For by the will of God he found a stone sculpture with figures inscribed on it, which was later placed on the altar built in honour of the martyr near his grave. Then, having taken away the stone which blocked the indenture, he smelled such a sweet fragrance arising from the sepulchre that one would have thought that all the spices and perfumes in the world were contained within it. At the same time a brilliant light suddenly shone down on them from heaven, dazzling the eyes of all who were present. Then, to the accompaniment of hymns and spiritual songs, they approached the sarcophagus, lifted the holy body from the earth, and placed the holy relics upon the altar consecrated in the name of the martyr. This uncovering of the relics of the holy martyr took place on December 4.
Now when Bishop Livyng heard the news, he repented of his unbelief and donated two bells and an immense amount of lead sufficient to roof the whole church, together with a most beautifully worked door.
In the sarcophagus, close to the martyr’s body, they found his staff, which the people decorated in gold and silver and precious stones, and a bone seal depicting the bust of the martyr and with the letters SIGILLUM NECTANI inscribed upon it.
At the moment of the uncovering of the relics, a blind woman who was nearby, hearing the chanting of the psalms, ran up and asked that she might be led to the holy body. As soon as she put her eyes to the relics of the martyr, she recovered her sight and thanked God. Many other miracles were wrought at that time in the presence of the holy relics.
After the death of King Canute in 1035, his son Hardacanute succeeded him on the throne of England. For services rendered in battle, Hardacanute gave the royal manor at Hartland to Earl Godwin. (Godwin was the father of the last English Orthodox king, Harold II, who died at Hastings in 1066, and grandfather of Gytha, the wife of Great-Prince Vladimir Monomakh of Kiev.) However, Hardacanute’s courtiers whispered against Godwin, accusing him of fraud and treason. And so the king decided to destroy Godwin by a cunning stratagem. He gave him some a sealed letter and asked him to take them to Swein, sub-king of Galway. Now while Godwin was on his way to Swein, in the middle of the Irish sea, a great tempest arose. The passengers called upon God and His saints, and each implored the help of his special patron. But as soon as Godwin called on the name of St. Nectan, the sea became calm. Then the earl vowed to pay special honour to the martyr in future.
Meanwhile, Godwin’s servant, a very prudent man, approached him and said: “I have long been silently thinking my lord, that perhaps we are bearing Uriah’s letters with us on this journey.”
The earl replied that he could not imagine such a thing of the king. But his servant replied: “With your permission, I will examine the letters in such a way as neither to break the king’s seal nor to smudge the writing.”
The earl agreed. The letter read as follows: “King Hardacanute to his relative Swein, greeting. When you have received this letter, take its bearer, Earl Godwin, who has been guilty of devising treachery against me, and secretly put him to death.”
At the request of the earl, the servant wrote another letter with the king’s seal: “King Hardacanute to his relative Swein, greeting. I command and entreat you to give the bearer of these presents, my great friend Earl Godwin, the fairest and best of my nieces as a wife.”
And so, when Godwin landed, he went to the sub-king, gave him the letter, and within a month married Gyditha, and brought her back to England with him. The king was greatly astonished at this outcome, but he went to meet him and greeted him with the kiss of peace. He bestowed many presents upon his niece and treated the earl with the greatest respect as long as he lived.
Godwin gave the church of St. Nectan, among other gifts, a mark of gold, with which the martyr’s staff was gilded. And his wife, Countess Gytha, greatly honoured the church, giving it silk palls. She introduced the clerics Ailman and Lemann and gave them the manor at Hartaton as a place to keep the valuables of the church safe from the ravages of the Irish pirates.
During the Second World War the Monophysite Emperor Haile Selassie, who was in exile in England, made the long journey to Hartland in order to pray to St. Nectan.
Several local traditions concerning the saint have been preserved to the present day. One of these records that the saint once asked God that if anyone used the name of God in vain in his region, he would be punished in the following way. He would bite on his tongue, the tongue would swell up and nearly choke him, and the swelling would not go down for twelve hours. This gift was granted to him, and there is one recent instance of its exercise.
In 1972, Mrs. Olga Mount was staying at her cottage near Hartland with her eldest son and some of his student friends. She told them the story of St. Nectan, and the gift he had received from God to punish those who used the name of God in vain. The next day the students went sightseeing to St. Nectan’s church and holy well, coming back in the evening.
The next morning, they were all having breakfast with the exception of one student. Suddenly this student appeared at the top of the stairs, and gestured to the others that he could not speak because his tongue was swollen. The other students laughed, because, as they explained, this student had the previous day mocked /1Nectan’s well and used the name of God in vain. The student then motioned for a piece of paper and wrote down how he had bitten on his tongue during the night. It had swollen quickly, waking him up and nearly choking him. He came out in cold sweat and was thinking of waking up one of the others in his panic when he remembered his idle words of the previous day. Struck with fear, he sat up in bed and meekly asked God to forgive him. The swelling at once ceased to grow, and he sat for the rest of the night waiting for it to go down. The students laughed, but one remarked that he had been very careful with his language the previous day and had been surprised at the other student’s carelessness. After several hours the swelling went down and the suffering student was able to eat his lunch.
St. Nectan is commemorated on June 17. His translation took place on December 4. Several of his brothers and sisters are also considered among the saints, including Clether (Cleer) and Morwenna.
Holy Monk-Martyr Nectan, pray to God for us!
(Sources: 12th century Gotha manuscript translated by G.H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, Truro: Holywell Press, part 5, pp. 59-79; R. Pearse Chope, Presidential Address, Devonshire Association Transactions, vol. 58, 1926, p. 52; Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, London: Chatto & Windus, 1930, pp. 280-82; Mrs.Olga Mount)
77. SAINT NEOT, ABBOT OF CORNWALL
Our holy Father Neot was born in the first half of the ninth century. He was of royal stock. When he had reached the age of military service, he decided instead to become a monk in the monastery of Glastonbury. There, by fasting, vigil and prayers he was counted worthy of great spiritual gifts. He cast out demons and healed both physical and spiritual illnesses. He became famous for his virtues, his learning, eloquence and wisdom.
St. Neot was short of stature, like Zacchaeus; and he used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy standing on an iron stool. Once this became the occasion for the working of a miracle. A noble came to the monastery and sought admittance. Neot, as the sacristan, came to the door; but the lock was too high for him to reach. Then by Divine power the lock was brought down to the level of his girdle, and he was able to open the door.
Now the saint felt oppressed by the crowds of people who came to see him, and, guided by God, he retreated with a single companion called Barry to a secluded valley in Cornwall, today’s Neotstoke. This was surrounded by woods and hills, not far from the sea, and about ten miles from the monastery of St. Petroc at Bodmin.
After about seven years, the saint made a pilgrimage to Rome to receive the Pope’s blessing and seek his advice about his way of life. The Pope exhorted him to preach the Word of God to the people. And so, on his return, Neot built a monastery and gathered together some monks.
The saint used to chant the psalms standing in a pool of water, like St. Aldhelm and several of the Celtic saints. One day, while he was chanting thus, he heard many horsemen riding through the woods. Not wishing to be seen, he fled to his cell. But he left his shoe behind in the process, and so sent his cell-attendant to fetch it.
However, a crafty fox had in the meantime come to the spot and taken the shoe. But the fox suddenly fell into a deep sleep and died, having the thongs of the shoe will in his mouth. When the saint’s servant brought it back to his master, he was told to tell no one about the incident until after his master’s death.
Another time, when the saint was again psalmodising in the pool, a trembling doe bounded out of the thick forest and fell at the saint’s feet as if imploring his help.
This was granted; for when the dogs came up, they immediately fled back into the wood, and Neot dismissed the doe unharmed. The huntsman was so astonished at the miracle that he threw away his arrows and implored the hermit’s advice. Then, in accordance with the saint’s word, he left the world and became a monk in the monastery of St. Petroc.
Near his cell there was another pool in which there lived three fish. It was revealed to the saint by an angel that he should take one fish from the pool every day, leaving the other two, whose number would be restored by Divine power. One day, however, he was so ill that he could hardly eat anything; and his attendant, feeling compassion for him, caught two fish, and, broiling the one and boiling the other, urged the saint to eat. When asked where they had come from, Barry told the truth. The saint said: “Why have you done this? Why have you rashly presumed to act contrary to God’s command?” Then, having ordered him to restore the fish to the pool, he prostrated himself in prayer, and did not rise again until he was told that the fish were alive and swimming again in their usual way. After that, he told Barry to bring one of the fish and prepare it for eating; and no sooner had he eaten it than he was healed of his disease.
Another time, some thieves came and stole the saint’s oxen. After that some stags came out of the forest and tamely approached the brethren. When Neot saw this, he ordered the yoke to be placed upon the stags, and for a long time they did the work of the oxen. When the thieves heard of this, they repented, restored what they had stolen, and humbly came to the saint asking his forgiveness. And through the saint’s advice they reformed their lives.
Sometimes King Alfred of Wessex came to the man of God asking for his blessing.
The saint severely criticised the king for his proud harshness, bringing before him the humility of David as an example, and pointing out that Saul, who had been placed at the head of the tribes of Israel when he was small in his own eyes, was later condemned for his pride. Then he prophesied that the barbarians would invade the land and triumph by God’s permission, and he would be the only one to escape, wandering as a fugitive over the land. “O King,” he said, “you will suffer much in this life; no man can say how much you will suffer. But now, beloved child, hear me if you are willing, and turn your heart to my counsel. Forsake your wickedness; redeem your sins by almsgiving, and wipe them out through tears.” And he urged him, when he would see his words fulfilled, not to despair, but to act like a man and strengthen his heart. For through his intercessions he had obtained from God that Alfred would again be restored to his former prosperity, so long as he ceased from doing evil and repented of his sins. And he further urged him to send gifts to the Pope, beseeching him to give freedom to the English School in Rome. This good deed would help him in his troubles. Alfred then sent the Pope as he had been advised, and obtained his request, together with several holy relics and a portion of the True Cross.
At length the holy man, exhorting the brethren to live in peace and showing them the way of salvation, lifted his hands to heaven and committed his soul into the hands of his Creator, on July 31, 877. A wonderful fragrance came from his body, which brought comfort and healing to many coming from far and wide. And even the earth from his grace, when received in faith, was found to give healing to both men and animals.
It came about that when the saint’s prophecy had been fulfilled, and Alfred was fleeing from the barbarians, the saint appeared to him in his misery one night, and told him that he would triumph over the enemy in the seventh week after Pascha (878), and that the Danish King Guthrum and his nobles would be baptised. Then, on the night before the battle of Ethandune, in the village of Iley, the saint again appeared to the king. He looked like an angel, his hair white as snow, his garments glistening and fragrant. He was carrying armour with him, and said to the king: “Arise quickly and prepare for victory. When you came here, I was with you, I helped you. So now you and your men go out to battle tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you, the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, Who gives victory to kings. And I will go before you to the battle, and your enemies shall fall by your arm before my eyes, and you will smite them with the edge of the sword.” The next morning, during the battle, an invisible hand seized Alfred’s standard and waved the English on. As a result, the Danes faltered and fled in confusion. Then the Danish King Guthrum surrendered and was baptised, in accordance with the prophecy.
Many years later, when a monastery was being founded at Eynesbury in Cambridgeshire, it was found that they did not have any relics. So a conspiracy was formed with the warden of St. Neot’s shrine at Neostoke in Cornwall. On November 30, 974, he stole the body of the saint, and arrived with it at Eynesbury (later renamed St. Neot’s) on December 7. But the Cornishment soon discovered the theft and traced the body to Eynesbury. So angry were they that King Edgar was forced to send out an armed force to drive the Cornishmen out of the village.
The relics of St. Neot at Eynesbury were inspected by Archbishop Anselm in 1086, who declared them authentic and also complete except for one arm left in Cornwall.
Anselm himself gave his monastery in Bec a relic of St. Neot’s cheekbone.
John Leland, travelling through England in the 1540s, saw the tunic of the saint in St. Neot’s and his comb “made of a little bone of two fingers’ width, into which were inserted small fishes’ teeth, the whole having the appearance of a pike’s jaw”.
St. Neot is commemorated on July 31.
Holy Father Neot, pray to God for us!
(Sources: An early twelfth-century Vita S. Neoti in Latin, and an eleventh-century homily on the saint in Anglo-Saxon, in Whitaker, The Life of Saint Neot, 1809; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 289- 290)
78. SAINT NON, NUN OF CORNWALL
Our holy Mother Non (or Nun or Nonna or Nonnita) was the daughter of Cynyr of Caer Gwch, in Menevia, West Wales, and Anna, the daughter of Gwrthefyr Fendigaid. Cynyr was the sub-king of a region which afterwards came to be known as Pebydiog, or Dewisland. He was also the father of SS. Gwen (Wenn), Banhadlen and Gwestlan or Guistlianus, Bishop of Old Menevia.
Non, who was a very beautiful virgin, became a nun at Ty Gwyn monastery at Maucan near Whitesand Bay. Once she was met by Sant, or Sanctus, king of the people of Ceredigion. Falling in love with her, he raped her in a meadow. From this rape was born the great St. David, or Dewi, as the Welsh call him. It is said that at the time of St. David’s conception two large stones, which had not been seen there before, appeared, one at the head of St. Non and the other at her feet. Also, a well sprung up near the chapel which survives to this day and whose water has healing properties. From this time, according to Welsh tradition, she lived on bread and water, and never knew a man again. However, according to Irish tradition, she was also the mother of Magna, mother of St. Setna, and of Mor, mother of St. Eltin. This had led modern authorities to consider that she may have been married to Sant, and became a nun only after his death.
Once the pregnant St. Non went into a church to offer alms for the birth of her child. By tradition this was the church of Caermorfa on Morfa Esgob. At that time a certain preacher – he is variously considered to have been St. Gildas, St. Ailbe, or /1Patrick – was preaching in the church. As the mother entered, he was struck dumb.
When asked by the congregation why he had broken off his sermon and become silent, he replied: “I can talk to you in ordinary conversation, but I am unable to preach. But go outside and allow me to remain here alone, to see if I can preach under those conditions.” The congregation went outside, but the mother concealed herself and hid in a corner, wishing to hear his words. Then the preacher again found himself unable to preach. Terrified, he cried out in a loud voice: “I adjure anyone who may be hiding from me to reveal himself from the place of his concealment, and to make himself known.” Then she said in reply: “I am hiding here.” Then he said: “Go outside, and let the congregation re-enter the church.” They did so, and he preached in his usual manner with unfettered tongue. Then the mother, on being asked, confessed that she was pregnant; and it became obvious to all that she would bring into the world one whose teaching would excel that of all the teachers of Britain.
There was a ruler in the neighbourhood who had heard from magicians that a boy was about to be born in his realm whose power would extend over the whole country. They also told him where he was going to be born, so he went to keep watch there. On the same day, St. Non was walking on the road leading to the place of the birth. Suddenly a great storm arose with thunder and lightning. There was so much hail and rain that nobody could go outdoors. But the place where the mother lay groaning shone with a brilliant light as if lit by the sun. On that spot a church was built, whose ruins can be seen to this day.
At some time after the birth of her son, St. Non took him to Altarnon in Cornwall, perhaps because her sister, St. Gwen, was the wife of Selyf, Duke of Cornwall, who lived at Gallewick, “between the Tamar and the Lynher”. There is a fine old church dedicated to her at Altarnon, with a holy well and an ancient standing cross, and another church bearing her name at Bradstone in Devon, by the Tamar. There are further holy wells dedicated to her at Pelynt, Boyton, Grampound and Portscatho, as well as in the region of St. David’s in Wales.
According to Cornish tradition, the body of St. Non lies at Altarnon. However, it appears more likely that she died at some time in the sixth century at the last place of her earthly pilgrimage, at Dirinon, near Brest in Finistère, Brittany, where there is a chapel with her tomb in it and a holy well. At Dirinon is also shown the rock on which she was accustomed to kneel in prayer, until she left the impress of her knees in it. According to Breton tradition, many miracles were wrought at her tomb, and the Bretons venerate her even more than her son.
The feastday of St. Non is March 3.
Holy Mother Non, pray to God for us!
(Sources: S. Baring-Gould and J. Fisher, The Lives of the British Saints, 1907-1913, vol. 4, pp. 22-24; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 294-295; Rhygyfarch, The Life of St. David; Nona Rees, St. David of Dewisland, Gomer Press, Llandysul, Ceredigion, 2008, pp. 4-7; T. Thomley Jones, “Saint David”, The National Library of Wales Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, 1978, p. 216; John McAsey, Ancient Chapels and Churches in Wales, Talybont, Ceredigion, 2003, p. 49)
79. SAINT ODA “THE GOOD”, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Our holy Father Oda was born in East Anglia, of Danish parents. His father had been a soldier in the pagan Great Army that killed the holy Martyr-King Edmund of East Anglia in 869, and was opposed to his son’s Christian leanings. So Oda left father and mother and all his possessions to attach himself to a pious man named Ethelhelm, who adopted him as his son and taught him the Christian faith.
Once Ethelhelm and Oda were on a pilgrimage to Rome. Suddenly the elder had a heart-attack. Oda resorted to prayer, and then gave his teacher a cup of wine over which he had made the sign of the Cross. On drinking the wine, Ethelhelm immediately recovered. News of this miracle reached the ears of the king. As a result, Oda, who was already a priest, was consecrated Bishop of Ramsbury in Wiltshire.
This took place in about 925. In 936 Bishop Oda was sent by King Athelstan to France to negotiate the restoration of Louis, the son of Emperor Charles the Simple, who was at that time in exile in England. In 937 Bishop Oda was present at the Battle of Brunanburgh, where by his prayers King Athelstan’s sword was miraculously repaired, thereby saving his life. (According to another account, his saviour was /1Aldhelm.)
In 942 Oda was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, having become a monk at Fleury-on-Loire shortly before. As archbishop, Oda showed much courage and wisdom. He encouraged monasticism, issued decrees promoting good morals and asserted the independence of the Church from the secular authorities.
St. Oda was once celebrating the Divine Liturgy with tears, as was his custom.
Suddenly he saw a drop of Blood flowing from the consecrated Gifts. Amazed and struck with fear, he called a priest and showed him the miracle secretly. “You should rejoice, highest Father,” said the priest, “for today Christ the Son of God has honoured you, in that He Who is blessed above all has counted you worthy to see this with your bodily eyes.” “And now I beseech the power of the ineffable God to return this His Body to its original form,” said the archbishop. When he had prayed, he arose and found it as before, and partook of it with reverence. After the Liturgy, all the poor, the pilgrims, the orphans and widows were brought together and given food to the glory of that great miracle.
St. Oda greatly embellished his cathedral church at Canterbury, completely renovating and enlarging the structure erected by St. Augustine. It is said that during the repairs to the cathedral no rain at all fell on the city. He also brought to it the relics of St. Wilfrid from the ruins of Ripon Minster, while at the same time commissioning the writing of a new Life of the saint.
One of his last acts was to consecrate St. Dunstan to the episcopate. For when King Edwy died, and his brother Edgar ascended the throne of Wessex, he immediately recalled Dunstan from exile. And at a witan (parliament) held at Bradford-on-Avon, “by the choice of all Dunstan was consecrated bishop, especially so that he might constantly be in the royal presence on account of his far-seeing and prudent counsels”. During the service, however, St. Oda paused at the point where the church to which the new bishop is to be appointed is declared, and, to the astonishment of all, name him bishop of the metropolitan see of Canterbury. Quietly resisting the objections of those around him, he said: “I know, dearly beloved, what God has spoken in me.” The holy prelate said this through the Holy Spirit, foreseeing the grace that was to fill Dunstan. And indeed, within two years /1Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury.
St. Oda reposed on June 2, 958, being called “the Good” by St. Dunstan, who never passed his tomb without kneeling. He was succeeded by Elfsin, Bishop of Winchester, a man of very different character. One day, after he had been elected but before he had received the pallium (omophorion) from the Pope, Elfsin was standing over Oda’s tomb, and addressed him, saying: “Behold, O Bishop, here you lie prostrate, and I enjoy the rights of victory. While you were alive, I did not obtain them, but now that you are dead, I have taken them.” Then he disdainfully struck the tomb with his staff and went away. That same night the weather was very bad.
And St. Oda, clothed in hierarchical vestments, appeared to a certain priest and said to him: “Go to the bishop and diligently ask him why he mocked me yesterday and struck me with his staff.” On awaking, however, the priest forgot the word of the saint. Again St. Oda appeared to him and repeated the same words. Again the priest kept silent – this time out of fear. On the third night the saint came to him and reproached him for his slothfulness, adding: “If you wish to preserve the prosperity of this sweet life of yours that you now enjoy, tell your bishop what you have heard.” Taking courage from the saint’s words, the priest went to the bishop, prostrated himself at his feet, and said: “There came to me, not Gabriel, the Virgin’s messenger, but that glorious Oda, your predecessor, who ordered me to say these words to your Eminence with indignation: ‘Since you despised me yesterday in word and deed, I tell you that you will cross the sea and climb the mountains, but in no wise will you sit upon the apostolic throne.’” The bishop dismissed this as an idle dream. But the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter: on his way to Rome to receive the pallium, Elfsin caught a cold in the Alps and died.
St. Oda is commemorated on June 2.
Holy Father Oda, pray to God for us!
(Sources: William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, I, 14; Saxon priest B.,Vita Dunstani, in W. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, Rolls series, 1874; Anonymous, Vita Oswaldi, in J. Raine, Historians of the Church of York, Rolls series, 1874, vol. 1; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp.296-297)
80. SAINT OLAF, MARTYR-KING OF NORWAY
St. Olaf was born in 995, the son of a Norwegian lord named Harald Grenske, the great grandson of Harald Fairhair, and Asta Gudbransdatter. Olaf grew up in the household of his stepfather, Sigurd Byr of Ringarike. From the age of 12, he went on expeditions to the Baltic coast, Denmark and the Netherlands. Between 1009 and 1013 he fought under Thorkell the Tall against the English at London, Ringmere and Canterbury. For a time he was a captain of mercenaries for Duke Richard of Normandy, and in 1013 or 1014 he was converted to the Faith of Christ and baptized in Rouen. Then he entered the service of the exiled English King Aethelred and followed him back to England, where he fought on the English side at the taking of London Bridge. When the Danish King Canute conquered England, Olaf joined his service.
According to The Saga of St. Olaf, the two men were at first great friends.
However, King Canute then became jealous of the younger man. Moreover, the Saga continues, “the bishop [St. Sigfrid, enlightener of Sweden] always waited for Olaf at Divine service, but not for Canute, and the bishop called Olaf king, and this Canute could not bear to hear, and spoke to the bishop about it in such strong words that the latter had to desist, because of the king’s authority, for the king’s heart was filled to overflowing with pride and ambition, because of his power and place. So things went on until it came to Lent. Then Canute began to speak to Sigfrid: ‘Is it true that you called Olaf by the title of king this winter? Now how do you defend your words, when he has no settled country nor wears a crown?’ “‘It is true, my lord,’ said the bishop, ‘that he has no land here, and he wears no crown of gold or silver. Nay, rather is he chosen and crowned by the highest Lord and Ruler, the King of all kings, the one almighty God, to rule and govern that kingdom to which he is born, and this special destiny awaits him, to rule a kingdom for the comfort and profit of the people, and to yield to God the fitting fruit of his coming into his kingdom. All the people in Norway and the lands tributary to it, and not these parts only, but no less the whole of the region of the north as well, shall have reason to remember and keep in mind this pillar and support of God’s Christendom, who will root out all brambles and weeds from God’s field and vineyard, and sow in their stead the noble seed of God’s holy words. All these words will flourish and come to perfect growth, and every man who accepts them will himself be acceptable to the highest King of heaven, world without end.’
“King Canute said: ‘You cannot be said to have made good the words which we are told you have spoken, my lord Bishop, declaring that he outshines us in miraculous virtues, above all if you make so great a distinction between us, that you declare that we show no virtues at all.’
“‘You have heard rightly concerning these words of ours,’ said the bishop.
“King Canute said: ‘It avails me little, then, to chastize myself more than King Olaf, if I am bound to fall short of him in some respect, for now, since Lent has begun, I wear a linen and not a silken shirt, a scarlet kirtle, and not one of velvet or purple. I drink also ale and not mead. But Olaf wears a shirt of silk and a kirtle of velvet. He has the choicest foods prepared for him, and a vessel of wine stands on his table.’
“The bishop said: ‘It is true, my lord, that Olaf wears a shirt of silk, but he wears a hair-cloth under the shirt, and a belt about his body so broad that it reaches from hip to shoulder-blade, and iron extending from it in front. You will always see that when King Olaf takes his seat and the choicest foods are brought before him, there is a mound in the place where he is wont to sit. There is hidden a cripple, and it is he that eats the dainties, but Olaf eats salt and bread. There is also a vessel of water, and this Olaf drinks, and has no more to drink than that, but it is the cripple that drinks out of the wine-cup.’
“Then King Canute was so enraged against Bishop Sigfrid, that King Olaf could not stay there because of the jealousy of King Canute, and a little later it went the same way with Bishop Sigfrid.”
In 1015 Olaf and Sigfrid went to Norway, where Olaf succeeded in seizing the kingdom in spite of much opposition. First, by distributing money, and with the support of his kinsmen on the Opplands, he gained control of Ostland. Then, on Palm Sunday, March 25th, 1016, he conquered the country’s principal chieftains, Sven Hakonsson Jarl, Einar Tambarskjelve, and Erling Skjalgsson, in the sea battle at Nesjar (between Larviksfjord and Lengesundsfjord). In the same year he was accepted as King at the Oreting in Trondelag.
He had a comparatively peaceful reign for almost 10 years, and during this period considerably advanced the unification of Norway. Olaf’s work of unification assumed concrete form as territorial dominion over a kingdom which extended from Gautelven in the south up to Finnmark in the north, from the Vesterhav islands in the west to the forests toward the realm of the Swedes in the east. Olaf was the first high king who secured real control over the inland areas of Trondelag and Opplandene. Moreover, he gained a foothold for the Norwegian national kingdom on the Orkney Islands and Hjaltland.
Olaf also laid the foundation for nationwide local government and introduced a certain division of labour among the royal housecarls. He installed sheriffs recruited from the nobility and the landed gentry throughout the country and tried by means of his year-men to keep control of the political activities of the sheriffs. According to Snorre a division of labour seems to have occurred in the King’s household into actual housecarls (military functions), guests (police functions), house chaplains, and churls (duties within the palace). Moreover, several titles of the masters of the King’s court are known from this time: standard-bearer, King’s Marshal, House Bishop.
With the aid of his English missionaries he succeeded in making Norway Christian. At the meeting of the Ting (Parliament) at Moster, Bomlo in Sunnhordland (1024), Norway acquired a nationwide ecclesiastical organisation with churches and priests, a Christian legal system and a first organisation of the Church’s finances.
Gwyn Jones writes: “The Christian law formulated at Moster was of prime authority; it was read out at the different Things, and there are confirmatory references to it in the oldest Gulathing Law.”
The king established peace and security for his people, remaking old laws and insisting on their execution, unaffected by bribes or threats. He built many churches, including one dedicated to St. Clement at the capital, Nidaros (Trondheim). All other faiths except Christianity were outlawed.
At the beginning of his reign St. Olaf did not enjoy good relations with Sweden; for the Swedish King Olof Skotkonung had seized a portion of Norway in about the year 1000. However, through the mediation of St. Anna, King Olof’s daughter, it was agreed that St. Olaf should marry his other daughter Astrid, and relations between the two Christian kings were restored. In this way the foundations were laid for the Christianisation of the whole of Scandinavia.
After the death of the King Olof in 1022, St. Olaf made an alliance with his son Anund Jacob against Canute of England and Denmark. For Canute’s hatred had not been extinguished; and the jealousy of this Cain was destined both to open a fruitful mission-field and to provide a martyr’s crown for the latterday Abel. But in 1026 the allies were defeated by Canute at Helgean in Skane, Sweden.
Then, as Florence of Worcester writes, “since it was intimated to Canute, king of the English and Danes, that the Norwegians greatly despised their king, Olaf, for his simplicity and gentleness, his justice and piety, he sent a large sum of gold and silver to certain of them, requesting them with many entreaties to reject and desert Olaf, and submit to him and let him reign over them. And when they had accepted with great avidity the things which he had sent, they sent a message back to him that they would be ready to receive him whenever he pleased to come.” So the next year (1028), “Canute, king of the English and Danes, sailed to Norway with 50 great ships, and drove out King Olaf and subjected it to himself,” appointing the Danish earl Hakon, son of Eirik Jarl, whom Olaf had banished in 1015, as his viceroy.
Olaf decided to flee to Sweden and thence to the court of his kinsman, Yaroslav of Kiev, whose father, the famous St. Vladimir, had given shelter to Olaf Tryggvason in his youth. And it was the same Olaf Tryggvason who appeared to his successor and namesake one night and said: “Are you sick at heart over which plan to take up? It seems strange to me that you are pondering so much, and similarly that you are thinking of laying down the kingdom which God has given you, and moreover that you are thinking of staying here and taking a kingdom [Bulgaria] from kings who are foreign and strangers to you. Rather go back to your kingdom which you have taken as your inheritance and have long ruled over with the strength God has given you, and do not let your underlings make you afraid. It is to a king’s honour to win victories over his foes, and an honourable death to fall in battle with his men. Or are you not sure whether you have the right in this struggle? You will not act so as to deny your true right. You can boldly strive for the land, for God will bear you witness that it is your own possession.”
In 1029 Hakon died in a shipwreck in the Pentland Firth on his way home to Norway. This gave Olaf his opportunity. Early in 1030 he set off for Norway over the frozen Russian rivers. When the sea-ice broke, he sailed to Gotland with men.
King Anund of Sweden gave him 480 more, but when he faced Canute’s army at Stikrlarstadir, he had no more than 3600 men (Swedes, Jamtlanders from Northern Sweden, Icelanders and his Norwegian companions) against a peasant army 14,400 men – the largest army ever assembled in Norway.
Then, like Gideon, the saint decided to reduce his numbers by choosing only Christians to fight in his army. So he was eventually opposed by overwhelmingly larger forces. And as the sun went into total eclipse on July 29, 1030 (July 30, according to modern astronomers), his army was defeated and he himself was killed, as had been revealed to him in a vision just before the battle.
But immediately a great fear fell on the soldiers of Canute’s army. And then miracles began to be manifested at St. Olaf’s body: a light was seen over it at night; a blind man recovered his sight on pressing his fingers, dipped in the saint’s blood, to his eyes; springs of water with healing properties flowed from his grave; and then, to the chagrin of Canute’s first wife, Aelgifu, and her son King Swein of Denmark, his body was found to be incorrupt. Soon the penitent Norwegians expelled the Danes, and recalled Olaf’s son Magnus from Russia to be their king.
The incorruption of Olaf’s body was certified by his loyal Bishop Grimkel, whose see was Nidaros (Trondheim). As we read in St. Olaf’s Saga: “Bishop Grimkel went to meet Einar Tambarskelver, who greeted the bishop gladly. They afterwards talked about many things and especially about the great events which had taken place in the land. They were agreed among themselves on all matters. The bishop then went into the market and the whole crowd greeted him. He asked carefully about the miracles which were related of King Olaf and learned a great deal from this questioning. Then the bishop sent word to Torgils and his son Grim at Stiklastad, calling them to meet him in the town. Torgils and his son did not delay their journey, and they went to meet the bishop in the town. Then they told him all the remarkable things which they knew and also the place where they had hidden the king’s body.
The bishop then sent word to Einar Tambarskelver, and Einar came to the town.
Einar and the bishop then had a talk with the king and Aelgifu and asked the king to allow them to take up King Olaf’s body from the earth. The king gave permission, and told the bishop to do it as he wished. Then a great crowd assembled in the town.
The bishop and Einar then went with some men to the place where the king’s body was buried and had it dug up. The coffin had by this time almost risen out of the earth. In accordance with the advice of many, the bishop had the king buried in the ground beside St. Clement’s church. It was twelve months and five days from the death of the king to the day his holy relics were taken up, the coffin having risen out of the earth and looking as new as if it had just been planed. Bishop Grimkel then went to the opened coffin of King Olaf, from which there proceeded a precious fragrance. The bishop then uncovered the king’s face, and it was completely unchanged: the cheeks were red as if he had just fallen asleep. Those who had seen King Olaf when he fell noticed a great difference in that his hair and nails had grown almost as much as they would have done if he had been alive in this world all the time since his fall. King Swein and all the chiefs who were there then went to see King Olaf’s body.
“Then Aelgifu said: ‘A body rots very slowly in sand; it would not have been so if he had lain in mould.’
“The bishop then took a pair of scissors and cut off some of the king’s hair and also some of his beard (he had a long beard, as was the custom at that time). Then the bishop said to the king and Aelgifu: “‘Now the king’s hair and beard are as long as when he died, and since then they have grown as much as you now see shorn off.’
“Then Aelgifu answered: ‘This hair will be a holy relic to me if it does not burn in the fire; we have often seen the hair of men who have lain longer in the earth than this man whole and unscathed.’
“The bishop then had fire brought in on a censer. He made the sign of the cross over it and put incense in it. Then he laid King Olaf’s hair in the fire. And when all the incense had burned the bishop took up the hair from the fire and it was not burned. The bishop let the king and the other chiefs see it. Then Aelgifu ordered them to lay the hair in unhallowed fire. But Einar Tambarskelver ordered her to be silent and said many hard words to her. Then the bishop declared, and the king agreed, and the people deemed, that King Olaf was truly holy. The king’s body was then borne into St. Clement’s church and placed over the high altar. The coffin was wrapped in a pall and over it was placed a beautiful cover. And then many miracles took place at the holy relics of King Olaf.”
King Canute did not oppose the veneration of St. Olaf, and churches dedicated to him were soon being built throughout the Viking world, from Dublin to the Orkneys to Novgorod. Forty ancient churches were dedicated to St. Olaf in Britain, and his feast occurs on several English calendars.
It was in connection with a miracle attributed to St. Olaf that a chapel was dedicated to him in Constantinople. Thus Bishop Ambrose von Sievers writes: “From other sources I have established that the Panagia Varangiotissa was situated by the western facade of Hagia Sophia, almost touching it. In about the reign of Alexis Comnenus (or a little earlier) St. Olaf was included among the saints of Constantinople and in the church of the Varangian Mother of God a side-chapel was built in honour of St. Olaf, while the old church itself was transformed into a church to which a women’s monastery was attached.”
According to the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, in 1066 as /1Olaf’s half-brother, King Harald of Norway was preparing to invade England, he dreamed that he was in Trondheim and met St. Olaf there. Olaf told him that he had won many victories and died in holiness because he had stayed in Norway. But now he feared that he, Harald, would meet his death, “and wolves will rend your body; God is not to blame.” Snorri wrote that “many other dreams and portents were reported at the time, and most of them were ominous.” Harald was killed, in accordance with the prophecy of St. Olaf, at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.
St. Olaf is commemorated on July 29 and August 3.
Holy Martyr-King Olaf, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Heinskringla. The Saga of St. Olaf; King Harald’s Saga, 82, translated by Magnusson & Palsson, Harmondsworth: Penguin books, 1966; Florence of Worcester, Chronicle; “The Life of the Holy Grand Princess Anna”, Living Orthodoxy, vol. V, no. 1, January-February, 1983, pp. 14-18; The Norwegian Encyclopaedia and the Svenska Uppslagsbok, translated in Living Orthodoxy, vol. V, no. 3, May-June, 1983, pp. 27-30; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 300-301; Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, Oxford University Press, 1984; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers) of the Goths, personal communication)
81. SAINT OSWALD, MARTYR-KING OF NORTHUMBRIA
The holy Martyr-King Oswald was born in the year 604, being the son of the pagan King Aethelfrith of Bernicia. In 616, following on the death of his father, he was forced to flee with his six brothers and sister St. Ebba to exile in Scotland, where they were received with honour by King Donald Brecc. There he received the faith of Christ and was baptized on the holy island of Iona.
In 633, shortly after the death of King Edwin at the hands of Kings Cadwallon of Gwyneth and Penda of Mercia, and the apostasy of almost all the Northumbrians from the Christian Faith, Oswald advanced south with a small force into English territory. He was met by a vastly larger army under King Cadwallon at Heavenfield near Chollerford on Hadrian’s Wall.
On the eve of the battle, as St. Columba’s biographer, St. Adomnan, writes: “while King Oswald, after pitching his camp in readiness for the battle, was sleeping on a pillow in his tent, he saw St. Columba in a vision, beaming with angelic brightness, and of a figure so majestic that his head seemed to touch the clouds. The blessed man, having announced his name to the king, stood in the midst of the camp, and covered it all with his brilliant garment, except at one small distant point; and at the same time he uttered those words which the Lord spake to Joshua the son of Nun before the passage of the Jordan, after Moses’ death, saying: ‘Be strong and of good courage; behold, I shall be with thee.’ Then St. Columba, having said these words to the king in the vision, added. ‘March out this following night from your camp to battle, for on this occasion the Lord has granted to me that your foes shall be put to flight, hat your enemy Catwallon shall be delivered into your hands, and that after the battle you shall return in triumph.’ The king, awaking at these words, assembled his council and related the vision, at which they were all encouraged; and so the whole people promised that, after their return from the war, they would believe and be baptized, for up to that time all that Saxon land had been wrapped in the darkness of paganism and ignorance, with the exception of King Oswald and the twelve men who had been baptized with him during his exile among the Scots.
“I, Adamnan, had this narrative from the lips of my predecessor, the Abbot Failbe, who solemnly declared that he himself had heard King Oswald relating this same vision to Segine the abbot.”
The Venerable Bede continues the story: “On approaching the battle Oswald set up the sign of the holy cross and on bended knees besought God to send heavenly aid to His worshippers in the hour of their need; and the place is pointed out to this day and held in great reverence. Indeed it is said that when the cross had been quickly made and a hole made ready for it to stand in, Oswald himself, fired by his faith, seized it and placed it in its hole and held it upright with both hands, until the soldiers heaped up the soil and made it fast in the ground. Thereupon he raised his voice and cried aloud to the whole army: ‘Let us all kneel, and together pray the almighty, true and ever-living God to defend us by His mercy from a proud and cruel enemy; for He knows that the war we have engaged in for the deliverance of our people is a just war.’ They all did as he had ordered and, advancing thus against the enemy as dawn appeared, won the victory as the reward for their faith. At the place where they prayed countless miracles of healing are known to have been wrought, a sure proof and memorial of the king’s faith.”
Although the remnants of the St. Paulinus’ mission to Northumbria still existed under the leadership of Deacon James, St. Oswald preferred to send to Iona for missionaries to reconvert his newly-won kingdom. When the Irish bishop St. Aidan arrived, continues Bede, “the king granted him the island of Lindisfarne, as he requested, to be his episcopal see. With the ebb and flow of the tide, this is a place that is twice a day encircled by the waves of the sea, like and island, and twice rejoined to the mainland when its shore becomes exposed again. In all matters Oswald listened humbly and joyfully to the bishop’s advice, and showed great concern to build up and extend the Church of Christ within his kingdom. The bishop was not fully conversant with the English language, and on many occasions it was delightful to watch while he preached the Gospel and the king himself, having acquired a perfect knowledge of Irish during his long exile, acted as interpreter of heaven’s word for his aldermen and thanes.
“From that time many missionaries from Irish territory began to arrive in Britain as the days went by, who preached the word of the faith with great zeal to the English kingdoms ruled by Oswald; and to those who believed, such of them as held the rank of priest administered the grace of baptism. Churches were built in various places, and the people gladly flocked together the hear the Word. By the gift of the king estates and lands were granted for the establishment of monasteries, and English boys together with their elders were given systematic instruction by Irish teachers and taught to observe the discipline of a Rule.”
From Lindisfarne many monasteries were built in various parts of the north. Thus there was Melrose, where the great St. Cuthbert became a monk, Hartlepool, where the first abbess was Heiu “the first woman in the kingdom of the Northumbrians to take the vows and habit of the religious life”, Coldingham, where Oswald’s sister /1Ebba was the first abbess, and Whitby, where St. Hilda was the first abbess. Oswald also strengthened the faith in Wessex, where he became godfather of the first Christian king Cynigils and married his daughter.
St. Oswald, writes Bede, “was always humble, kind and generous towards the poor and towards strangers. For example, it is said that once at Pascha, when he was sitting at dinner with the bishop, and a silver dish was placed before him on the table full of royal fare, they were about to raise their hands to ask a blessing on the bread when one of his officers, whose duty it was to bring relief to the needy, suddenly came in and told the king that a large crowd of poor people from every district was sitting in the precincts, asking for alms from the king. He at once ordered the meal that had been served to him to be taken out to the poor, and the dish to be broken in pieces and divided among them. When he saw it, the bishop who sat with him was delighted by the act of mercy, and took his right hand and said: ‘May this hand never wither with age.’ And his prayer and blessing were fulfilled, for when Oswald was killed in battle his hand and arm were severed from his body, and they remain undecayed to this day. They are preserved in the royal town named after Bebba, a former queen, stored in a silver casket in the church of /1Peter, and are venerated with due honour by everyone.”
Bede also records that St. Oswald was a great zealot of prayer. Thus “it is said, for example, that he often remained at his prayers from the time of the office of Mattins until daybreak, and because of his frequent habit of prayer and giving thanks to God, wherever he sat he used to have his hands on his kness with the palms upward.”
St. Oswald subdued the kingdom of the Mercians and drove the pagan King Penda into exile in Wales. However, in 642 Penda gathered a large heathen army and, allying himself with the Welsh ruler of the mid-Severn valley Cynddylan, he unexpectedly attacked Oswald near Oswestry. “But the man of God,” writes Reginald of Durham, “hitherto renowned for his honour as a soldier, refused to consider flight, in case he should seem a man unskilled in the conduct of battle. He considered it dishonourable to be found vanquished and disgraced at the end, when hitherto he had appeared to all to be a vigorous and victorious warrior. And so he summoned a small force of soldiers and proceeded to commit himself to Christ, gladly choosing to die for the honour of the Lord and the faith of the Cross, and for the salvation and freedom of his Christian people… He therefore advanced to battle with great confidence, seeing that he was summoned by the Lord’s mercy to a martyr’s crown. Penda had gathered a large force of the heathen, and suddenly advanced to the field of battle, where he slaughtered a great number of the Christian people together with their holy and most Christian king.”
Bede records that when the saint “saw that he was surrounded by enemy forces and about to be slain, he prayed for the souls of his army; and this is the origin of the proverb, ‘God have mercy on their souls, said Oswald falling to the ground’.”
Penda took the saint’s head and hands and fixed them on stakes for a whole year, to be an object of derision and scorn. But his head was later retrieved by his brother Oswy, and was placed in St. Cuthbert’s coffin, where it still remains. And his right hand – the one St. Aidan had blessed – was placed in a silver casket at Bambrough, where it remained completely incorrupt until at least the twelfth century, as both Abbot Aelfric and Simeon of Durham attest.
At the place where he died – praying, with arms outstretched, for the souls of his men – many miracles were wrought. People took dust from the place and, mixing it with water, applied it with wonderful effect to sick men and animals. Once a house caught fire and burned down, and only the post on which some of the holy dust had been placed remained completely untouched.
In the year 697 Queen Ostrythe of Mercia, who was the saint’s niece, and was later murdered herself, decided with her husband King Aethelred to translate the relics of the saint to the monastery of Bardney in Lindsey (Lincolnshire). But the monks of that monastery, entertaining a grudge against Oswald because he had once been king over that region, refused to allow the relics through the monastery gates. So they remained on a waggon covered by a tent throughout the night.
However, during the night a great column of light was seen stretching from the waggon up to heaven, which was visible throughout Lindsey. Chastened, the monks brought the holy relics inside the gates, washed them with reverence, and placed them in a specially constructed shrine in the church with a gold and purple banner over it. The water used in the washing was poured away in a corner; but the earth which had received it was found to have the power of expelling demons.
Reginald describes the appearance of the head in the twelfth century as follows: “The roundness of the head, completely spherical, is extraordinary, and gives off a wonderfully sweet fragrance; it has a glassy colour, glowing a deep yellow all over which surpasses the yellowness of wax and is closer, in its great beauty and loveliness and in its gleaming brightness, to the appearance of gold. It is a sphere of large dimensions, in width, in length, and from front to back; and a smooth line, like the circle of a helmet, rises and falls around the middle of its curvature. Its bulk is considerable, but… when held in the hands it seems quite light, although to the eyes observers, judging by its size, it looks a heavy weight. The forehead is broad and prominent, the nose of moderate proportions. The length of the face and cheeks lend the face a certain nobility, clear testimony to his manly glory.”
His fame quickly spread throughout the British Isles and into continental Europe, where relics of his body, including fragments of the wooden cross he erected at Heavenfield and earth taken from his grave, worked many miracles, several of which are recorded by the Venerable Bede. One of these took place at a monastery founded by St. Wilfrid in Sussex in the second half of the seventh century: “About the time that this province accepted the Faith of Christ, a dangerous epidemic struck many provinces of Britain. When, by God’s dispensation, it reached the monastery, ruled at the time by the most religious priest of Christ, Eappa, it swept from this life many of the brethren, some of whom had come with the bishop, while others were South Saxons recently converted to the Faith. The brethren therefore decided to observe a three-day fast and implore God in His mercy to show pity on them, that He would preserve those who were in danger of death by disease, and deliver the souls of those already departed this life from eternal damnation.
“In the monastery at this time there lived a little Saxon boy, who had recently been converted to the Faith; this child had caught the disease, and for a long time had been confined to bed. About the second hour on the second day of prayer and fasting, he was alone in the place where he lay sick, when, by Divine Providence, the most blessed Princes of the Apostles [Peter and Paul] deigned to appear to him; for he was a boy of innocent and gentle disposition, who sincerely believed the truths of the Faith that had been accepted. The Apostles greeted him very lovingly, and said: ‘Son, put aside the fear of death that is troubling you; for today we are going to take you with us to the Kingdom of heaven. But first of all you must wait until the Liturgies have been celebrated, and you have received the Viaticum of the Body and Blood of our Lord. Then you will be set free from sickness and death, and carried up to the endless joys of heaven. So call the priest Eappa, and tell him that our Lord has heard the prayers of the brethren and regarded their fasting and devotion with favour. No-one else in this monastery and its possessions is to die of this disease, and all who are now suffering from it will recover and be restored to their former health. You alone are to be set free by death today, and will be taken to heaven to see the Lord Christ Whom you have served so faithfully. God in His mercy has granted you this favour through the intercession of the devout King Oswald, so beloved by God, who once ruled the people of the Northumbrians with outstanding devotion as their early king and whose Christian piety has won him an everlasting kingdom. For today is the anniversary of the king’s death in battle at the hands of the heathen, when he was taken up to the joys of the souls in heaven and enrolled among the company of the saints. If the brethren consult the annals that record the burials of the dead, they will find that this is the day on which he departed this life, as we have said. So let them celebrated Liturgies in all the oratories of the monastery, either in thanksgiving for God’s answer to their prayers, or in commemoration of King Oswald the former ruler of their nation, who has prayed for them as newcomers of his nation. Let all the brethren assemble in church, and join in offering the heavenly Sacrifice; and let them end their fast and take food to restore their strength.’
“When the boy had called Eappa and told him all that the Apostles had said, the priest particularly asked him to describe the clothes and appearance of these men who had appeared to him. ‘They wore wonderful robes,’ the boy replied, ‘and their faces were very kindly and handsome, such as I have never seen before. I did not believe that there could be men so distinguished and wonderful. One of them was tonsured like a priest and the other had a long beard; and they said that one of them was Peter and the other Paul, and that they were servants of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, sent by Him to protect our monastery.’ The priest then believed the boy’s statement, and went off at once to consult his annals, where he found that King Oswald had indeed been killed on that very day [August 5]. So he summoned the brethren, ordered a meal to be prepared, Liturgies to be celebrated, and all the brethren to communicate as usual. He also directed that a particle of the Lord’s Offering should be taken to the sick boy at the time of the holy Sacrifice.
“A little while later the same day the boy died, and his death proved the truth of what Christ’s Apostles had told him. In further confirmation of his statement, no-one except himself died in the monastery at that time. Many who heard about the vision were wonderfully inspired to implore God’s mercy in every trouble, and to adopt the wholesome remedy of fasting. And from that time the heavenly birthday of Christ’s warrior King Oswald was commemorated each year by the offering of Liturgies, not only in this monastery but in many other places as well.”
St. Oswald is commemorated on August 5 and October 8.
Holy Martyr-King Oswald, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People; St. Adomnan, Life of St. Columba; Reginald of Durham, Life of St. Oswald; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford; The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 304-305; John Marsden, Northanhymbre Saga, London: Kyle Cathie, 1992)
82. SAINT OSWALD, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
Our holy Father Oswald was the son of Danish convert parents, and was the nephew of St. Oda of Canterbury. After a certain time spent in a monastery in Winchester, he went for five or six years to the Benedictine monastery of Fleury-on- Loire. There he acquired a thorough knowledge of Benedictine monasticism and the writings of the Holy Fathers, distinguishing himself by his humility, obedience and the austerity of his life.
In 958, when St. Oda was dying, he called his nephew, who was now a priest, to his bedside. But when Oswald arrived at Dover from France, he heard that the saint had already reposed. He decided not to return to Fleury, but to go north to York, where another relative of his, Oscetel, was archbishop. Oscetel introduced him to /1Dunstan, and he, much impressed, introduced him to the king. And so, supported by both king and primate, he was elected to the bishopric of Worcester in 961. There he soon became the object of great love and veneration by the citizens.
Eleanor Duckett writes: “The Cathedral at Worcester was dedicated to Saint Peter.
Since it was very small, it soon could not hold the people who came flocking to hear this new pastor preach. Outside it, on a side, level tract of ground, stood a little stone shrine, with a cross of top, marking the burial-place of Wifred and his wife Alta, benefactors of Saint Peter’s. To this open space Oswald moved his congregation and taught as best he could, standing beside the old tomb. Soon the crowds compelled the building of a new and larger church; and when at last this was ready, the bishop consecrated it in honour of Mary, Mother of God. Then the little Saint Peter’s, which before Oswald’s coming had seen secular clergy in its choir, offered its services in union with this more splendid cathedral.”
Meanwhile, in 962, Oswald had founded his first monastery, at Westbury-on- Trim, establishing in it, and later in Worcester, the regular Benedictine discipline.
This was the first of several monasteries that he founded or re-founded in the Severn valley. At Westbury, as well as at the restored monastery of Winchcombe, he placed his disciple Germanus as abbot. And at Pershore he installed an abbot named Fordbricht, who had been trained under St. Dunstan at Glastonbury and /1Aethelwold at Abingdon. Pershore was enriched by some relics of St. Edburga, and was henceforth dedicated to SS. Mary, Peter and Paul, and Edburga.
But Oswald’s most famous foundation was outside his diocese, deep in the fencountry of Huntingdonshire – Ramsey. Here, in 971, he introduced monks from Westbury and the famous scholar Abo of Fleury (who wrote the Vita Edmundi), and translated the relics of St. Felix of Dunwich and the holy Martyr-Princes Aethelbert and Aethelbricht of Kent. The land was donated by the pious alderman of East Anglia, Aethelwine.
Once Oswald and Aethelwine came to a feast at Ramsey. “There is an ancient tradition,” writes Oswald’s biographer, an anonymous monk of Ramsey, “that the whole of the main body of the congregation processed barefoot to the church of the Blessed Ever-Virgin Birth-Giver of God Mary, which custom was followed by the chief man [Aethelwine] as he walked with us with joyful heart together with his soldiers, the monks and the boys. But next to the church to which we had to go was a bridge, which we crossed on the way out. So on the way back we wanted to go quickly home by sailing across in a boat together with the precious relics. When the Liturgy was over, the prelate blessed the people; and we hastened to return home.
But the boat was overloaded. When we were in the middle of the deep lake, and were about to sink, and the prelate was standing on the bank surrounded by his own people, he heard the sound of voices: ‘Saint Benedict, help us!
’ On hearing this, he asked the reason, and on ascertaining it he raised his holy right hand and said, trusting in the Lord: ‘May the blessing of Christ come upon us from above.’ His clear voice came to the ears of the most merciful Redeemer more speedily than you could have finished the verse; and all were brought safely to land.”
In 972, the saint was made archbishop of York while retaining the bishopric of Worcester until his death – a unique situation that testified to the honour in which he was held. This appointment gave him a vast sphere of influence, but also great responsibilities and difficulties. Since the Viking invasions of the previous century, when the North had been to a large extent repopulated by Danes and consequently repaganised, its loyalty to the English Crown and Church had been in question.
Thus Kings Edmund and Edred had had to deal with uprisings of the Northumbrians, who first took Eric Bloodaxe, son of Harold Fairhair of Norway, as their king; then Olaf Cuaran, another Viking; and then Eric again. Finally, in 954, Edred regained permanent control of the North. Archbishop Wulfstan of York, who had sided with the rebels in both Edmund’s and Edred’s reigns, was imprisoned, and then, perhaps on St. Dunstan’s advice, was brought south and given the diocese of Dorchester, while the Danish bishop of Dorchester, Oscetel, was given York. This was a bold move, but it worked – the Dane was better able than the Englishman to control his countrymen, and he was completely loyal to the English Crown. Indeed, both archbishops (Oda of Canterbury and Oscetel of York) were Danish at this time; and it says much for the wisdom, charity and lack of prejudice of the English leaders that they were able to welcome such a situation when the Danish wars had by no means receded from the people’s memory.
Since St. Oswald was of Danish parentage, and, moreover, related to Oscetel, he was well equipped to continue in this tradition of racial reconciliation and missionary activity. However, the fact that he did not found a single monastery in his northern diocese shows the difficulty of the task he faced; and during the antimonastic reaction during the reign of Edward the Martyr this diocese suffered as much as any. Thus in a memorandum on the estates of York, he states: “I, Archbishop Oswald, declare that all these lands which Archbishop Oscetel obtained in Northumbria, and which my lord granted me for St. Peter’s when he was at Nottingham, together with these other lands which are entered here besides, I had them all until [?] ascended. Then St. Peter was robbed of them. May God avenge it as He will.”
Once when the saint was making a tour of the monasteries in his diocese, a messenger came to him from Ely announcing the death of a brother who had fallen from the walls of the church. He was saddened by this news, and asked the brethren of the monastery to celebrate thirty Liturgies and vigils for the dead man; which they did. He himself, meanwhile, returned to York, where he remained steadfast in prayer. One night Huna (for that was the dead man’s name) appeared to him, and Oswald, seeing him stand opposite, said: “Who are you?” To which he replied: “I am he for whom you have been pouring out prayer to the Lord. I thank your paternity.
Yesterday my soul was taken up to the refreshment of eternal salvation.” In view of this appearance, Oswald ordered his clergy to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at daybreak. “When he came to us again,” records his biographer, “he told us this story, saying: ‘The Lord has heard your prayers; now the soul of the brother has been freed from punishment.’ But we understand this to have happened through his prayers, for we have learned from the Scriptures that the prayers of a righteous man avail much.”
On another occasion, the saint entered a hall in York after celebrating the Divine Liturgy. “Having commanded blessed water to be sprinkled through the house, he sat down and prepared to eat the good things of his Lord, blessing Him in His works. There is an ancient custom among the English that the people go up to the bishop or priest and, holding their hands in the shape of the Cross, receive some blessed bread from him before returning to their seats and eating their food. And when he had given a piece to everyone, and they had reverently returned to their seat and were eating with gratitude, the father placed a piece of bread next to his seat. And he was happy, because the hall was full. Meanwhile, while they were all eating their bread, a wretched mouse, greedy in heart and mouth, boldly ate a crumb of blessed bread. But while he had the power to touch it, he could not swallow it. For that which is the guard of Christians was his downfall. After a while, some notables from the city came in bearing gifts for the lovable man. As was the custom, he received them with thanks. He stretched out his hand to take that which he had placed nearby. But then he saw the wretched mouse lying there dead. Neither knowing nor caring why this had taken place, he ordered the dead mouse to be thrown out. But his servers were not slow to point out why this happened.”
The saint performed many miracles during his life on earth. Thus once he drove away a demon that was preventing the removal of a large stone, and on another occasion he healed a sick man with blessed bread. Again, a terrified server once saw an angel serving with him at the Divine Liturgy.
In 991 the saint visited Ramsey for the last time, to reopen the church which had been damaged by the fall of the tower. Two days later, announcing that his death was approaching, he made his last farewells to the monks. Then he returned to Worcester, where he spent the winter.
After morning prayers on February 29, 992, St. Oswald came, as was his custom during Lent, to wash the feet of twelve poor men, chanting in the meantime the fifteen psalms of degrees. At the end of the psalms, the brethren bent their knees, saying, “The Lord bless thee out of Sion, He that made heaven and the earth”. “Then blessed Oswald,” continues his biographer, “also bent the knee with them before the feet of the Lord, and as he was saying ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’, by the secret command of God his holy spirit left his body and was taken up to the heights of the eternal Kingdom… Then the brethren washed the beloved body of Oswald and clothed it in new vestments for the funeral… But since the death of such a great father could not be kept hidden, lamentation quickly spread through the houses, castles and countryside. And merchants left their markets, women their looms, hurrying to the door of the man of God. Orphans and widows, strangers, peasants, monks and clergy, all groaned with great sorrow and wept.”
Many miracles took place at the tomb of the saint; and in response to these and a special heavenly revelation, Archbishop Erdulf of York translated the holy body on April 15, 1004. A great multitude was present at the translation, one of whom, a woman with a paralysed hand, was healed of her infirmity. However, there was also an abbot there who by his words and gestures tried to cast doubt on the whole proceedings. This saddened the bishops and other good men, and they turned to Christ in prayer that the doubter might be convinced and St. Oswald glorified. While they were praying a sufferer was brought into their midst who was lame and covered all over with leprosy. He was placed beside the body of the saint. After prayers he was found completely healed. Seeing this, the crowd rejoiced and praised God, while the former doubters prostrated themselves in tears to the ground, asking forgiveness for their sin. The bones of the saint were then washed and placed in a reliquary at Worcester. Many healings were wrought through the water used in the washing; the blind saw, the deaf heard, and the infirm were restored to full strength.
All the clothes of the saint had been reduced to dust except his chasuble, which was completely untouched by corruption.
At the monastery of Ramsey, there was a very pious monk named Edwaker, who had a cancerous ulcer on his jaw. This became so bad and disgusting to behold that, in obedience to the abbot and his brethren, he betook himself to a small island near the monastery, where food was brought to him and his attendant every day. On /1Oswald’s day he came to the monastery with his attendant and stood listening to the prayers in a hidden corner of the church. After the service, the brethren, taking pity on him, persuaded him to come with them to the refectory, although he was all for going back to his island. Now there was a custom in the monastery on that day to pass round the goblet which St. Oswald had drunk from during his earthly life.
Every brother drank from it and received a blessing thereby. Last of all it came to the sick brother. Recognizing the cup as St. Oswald’s, he groaned and lifted up his voice and mind in prayer to God to heal him through the intercession of the saint. The eyes of all those sitting round were fastened on him, and the hearts of all joined in his prayer. Having asked a blessing from those around him, he drank. Immediately his ulcer disappeared, and for the rest of his life that side of his face was a little rosier than the other.
There was a citizen of Worcester who had been dumb from his birth, and who had the habit of going to church and standing in the place where the clergy passed most often, bending his head to show the humble respect which his mouth was not able to utter. One feastday, he came to the church and was standing in his usual place when he saw someone whom he did not know coming to him from the tomb of St. Oswald. This man had a venerable face and shining white hair, was dressed in priestly garments and was holding a staff in his hand. He came to the dumb man as he was inclining his head and struck him on the neck. Then he disappeared. At this blow a great mass of coagulated blood fell out of the man’s mouth and onto the floor. “Help, help!” he cried. “Throw me out quickly, in case the church of the Lord is defiled by my blood!” So he was led out by those standing near, who were amazed at the very plentiful flow of blood. While he was washing he explained to them what had happened; and hearing the formerly dumb man speak, they were very ready to believe him.
Once Worcester was on fire through the negligence of its citizens. The monks brought the shrine of St. Oswald out of the church, meaning to take it to the part of the city where the fire was fiercest. But suddenly the light shrine became unbearably heavy. So they changed their route and came to the house of a poor man who was standing outside it sadly waiting for its complete destruction. On see the fathers, however, he cheered up and besought them to take the shrine through the burning house. This they did; and immediately the flames died out.
On another occasion, the city was again on fire, and the shrine of St. Oswald was carried to the burning part. A certain man who had just built a big house asked the monks to carry the saint’s shrine into his house, saying: “Holy Father and Hierarch Oswald, look! I give you my house which is in danger from the flames. I place it under your dominion by perpetual right! Vindicate me, free me from this present danger!” At the intercession of St. Oswald, the house was preserved completely unharmed. An adjacent house, however, was completely burned down except for one log.
Again, a pestilence was raging through Worcester and the neighbouring villages.
A healthy man would be walking or sitting outside his home when he would suddenly fall and die without confession or communion. The brethren of the church of the Mother of God then brought the shrine of the saint in a procession round the city, singing a litany meanwhile. Immediately the pestilence ceased, not only in Worcester, but also in the neighbouring villages whose inhabitants had come to take part in the litany and procession. But those who had disdained to take part were struck down. The monks of Pershore were also hit by the disease. One of them asked his brother according to the flesh, a monk from Worcester, to take him to St. Oswald.
A carriage was prepared, he was taken to the saint’s shrine, and within a few days he was completely cured. But those who remained in the monastery soon died.
St. Oswald is commemorated on February 28.
Holy Father Oswald, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Anonymous, Vita Oswaldi, in J. Raine, Historians of the Church of York, Rolls series, 1874, vol. 1, pp. 399-475; Edmer, Miracula Sancti Oswaldi Archiepiscopi, in Raine, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 1-59; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 118, 305-307; Eleanor Duckett, Saint Dunstan of Canterbury, London: Collins, 1955) 282
83. SAINT OSYTH, MARTYR-ABBESS OF CHICH
Our holy Mother Osyth was born of a noble English family, being the daughter of King Frideswald (or Frithuwold), the Mercian sub-king of Surrey, and Queen Wilburga, a daughter of King Penda of Mercia. Her parents, together with /1Erkenwald, founded the monastery of Chertsey in Surrey in 675. She was born at Quarendon, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and her childhood was spent in the care of her maternal aunts, the holy abbesses Edith of Aylesbury and Edburga of Bicester.
There is an old story that St. Edith once sent Osyth to St. Modwenna (it is not known which) in her convent, in order to point out to her a particularly interesting passage that she had discovered. To reach Modwenna, Osyth had to cross a stream by a bridge. The stream was swollen, the wind was high, and she was blown into the water, and remained there for two days before she was discovered. Modwenna was not expecting her, and so was not surprised by her non-appearance. But on the third day, St. Edith, wondering why her pupil had not returned with an answer to her message, went to Modwenna. Distraught, the two abbesses went looking for their charge, and found her lying at the bottom of the stream, holding the book open at the passage she had been told to show to Modwenna. The abbesses prayed, and then commanded her to rise from the water and come to them. This she did, and he dress and the book were quite unharmed.
After the death of St. Edith, Osyth returned to her parents, who gave here in marriage to Sighere, king of the East Saxons, although she had secretly taken a vow of celibacy. Sighere had relapsed into paganism, but promised to return to the Faith after his marriage to Osyth. However, after the marriage ceremony, which took place in London, the capital of the East Saxons, when he wished to consummate the marriage, she refused. And she continued to repel his advances for a long time. One day he was trying to force her when a messenger entered, announcing that a deer of a colour whiter than snow was in front of the palace gates running around freely as if mocking the king and his men. When the king heard this he postponed rushed after the deer with his hunters and soldiers. The blessed virgin saw in this an act of Divine Providence, and, like a sheep snatched from the lion’s mouth, she immediately ran to the holy priests (or bishops) Acca and Bedwin, humbly beseeching them to tonsure her so that she could keep her virginity. They looked with favour on her petition and tonsured her. When the king learned this on returning from the hunt, he sorrowed deeply, for he loved her as his own body.
However, he did not dare to dissuade her, and allowed her to remain a virgin, giving her the seaside villa of Chich, in the territory of the East Saxons, in the year 653. There she remained for the rest of her life. Later the king was converted to the Christian Faith by Bishop Jarman.
On October 7 in about the year 700, while Osyth was faithfully serving God in Chich, some pagan pirates came and seized her and tried by both blandishments and threats to force her to worship the idols. But the blessed virgin spat on the blandishments and derided the tortures. Incensed by this, the pirate chief ordered her to be beheaded. On the spot a spring immediately bubbled up which had the power of curing diseases. When the saint had been beheaded she immediately stood up, took her head in both hands and with a firm step carried it to the church of Saints Peter and Paul, which was about three stadia from the place of the beheading.
As she was entering the church she accidentally smeared the doorposts with her blood. These blood-stains were visible for centuries thereafter. Her family claimed her body and it was buried for a while in Aylesbury monastery. However, the saint intimated, by visions and other signs, that she chose to rest in her own monastery. So her venerable body was buried at the entrance to the choir of the church in Chich, where God worked many miracles through her intercession.
In the twelfth century, St. Osyth’s relics were moved to a new abbey erected in her honour by Augustinian canons. Here they continued to work many miracles. Once the Bishop of London unjustly tried to take away some of the monk’s rights along with certain of their lands. The monks took St. Osyth’s relics out of the shrine and covered them with a cloth. Bishop Richard was paralyzed until he restored both their rights and their lands to the monks.
St. Osyth straightened a hump-backed woman and made the lame to walk. Once she cured a young woman’s withered arm, in gratitude for which the woman vowed to remain a virgin. But then she married, and her feet were bound with an invisible chain. Another woman who had been healed by St. Osyth decided to be a servant of her sanctuary. Unfortunately, a man named Godwin seduced her, and her feet were twisted in the shape of the cross. Godwin asked the clergy to intercede with the saint; but in vain. Only on the day of her death did St. Osyth appear before the woman and unlock her feet.
In the Middle Ages, St. Osyth was the patron saint of people who had lost their keys.
St. Osyth is commemorated on October 7.
Holy Martyr-Abbess Osyth, pray to God for us!
(Sources: A.T. Baker, “An Anglo-French Life of St. Osith”, Modern Languages Review, vi, 1911, pp. 476-502; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 302-303; Canon James Bentley, Restless Bones; Sir Arthur Bryant, Set in a Silver Sea; Christopher Hohler, “St. Osyth and Aylesbury”, Records of Buckinghamshire, XVIII, 1966, part 1, pp. 61-72; Agnes Dunbar, A Dictionary of Saintly Women, 1904, http://www.britannia.com/bios/saints/osith.html)
84. SAINTS PAULINUS AND ITHAMAR, BISHOPS OF ROCHESTER
Our holy Father Paulinus was a Roman monk who was sent to England in 601 by St. Gregory the Great in order to help St. Augustine’s mission. The Venerable Bede describes him as “a tall man with a slight stoop, with black hair, a thin face and narrow, aquiline nose. His presence was venerable and awe-inspiring.”
On July 21, 625 he was consecrated bishop of York by St. Justus, archbishop of Canterbury, in order to serve the Christian Queen Ethelburga of Kent at the court of the still pagan King Edwin of Northumbria. In 626 the queen gave birth to a baby girl, Eanfled, and Paulinus baptized her with twelve other Northumbrians at Pentecost. Eanfled later became Abbess ofWhitby, reposing on February 10, 704.
“On a certain Lord’s Day,” writes a monk of Whitby, Paulinus “is said to have given a very simple display of his discernment of God. When the aforesaid king, surrounded by those who were not only still heathen but not even bound by lawful marriage, hastened with Paulinus to the instruction room from the palace, where they had been exhorted to change from other practices to this, a certain screeching crow sang out words of dire calamity. The whole royal retinue who were in the street, hearing the bird, stopped and turned toward it in amazement, as if that ‘new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God’ were not to be, as it should, in the church, but, as it should not, ‘to not profit [but to the subverting of the hearers’ (II Tim. 2.14)]”. Then, with God watching and foreseeing all from His ark, the honourable bishop said to one of his boys, ‘Shoot an arrow carefully at the bird.’
When this had quickly been done, he ordered the bird and the arrow to be saved and carried to the palace after he had completed the instruction of those to be catechized.
After they had all assembled in the palace and the new and ignorant people of God had given him a sufficient opportunity, he explained how from so clear a sign they should learn that the ancient evil known as idolatry brought no good to anyone. For he said that that irrational bird sang of his own death, though he had known it not, whereas he could say nothing profitable for men reborn baptized in the image of God who ‘have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’.”
At Pascha (April 12), 627 Paulinus baptized King Edwin and a vast number of his people. And “from that time until the end of Edwin’s reign,” writes the Venerable Bede, “a period of six years, Paulinus continued to preach the word of God in that kingdom with the king’s consent and favour; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed and were baptized. Indeed it is said that so great was the zeal for the faith and the desire for the saving grace of baptism among the Northumbrians that on one occasion Paulinus, when visiting the royal estate at Adgefrin [Old Yeavering] with the king and queen, spent thirty-six days with them there administering catechism and baptism. During all that time he did nothing from morning till evening but give instruction in Christ’s saving Word to the people who flocked there from every village and district; and after their instruction, he baptized them for the remission of their sins in the river Glen, which was nearby.”
At Holystone, in Coquetdale in Northumbria, at “the Lady’s Well”, St. Paulinus baptized 3000 people in 627.
“These events,” writes Bede, “happened in the kingdom of Bernicia. In the kingdom of Deira, where he very often stayed with the king, he used to baptize in the river Swale, which flows past the town of Cataracta [Catterick]; for the church there was in its infancy, and it had not yet been possible to build oratories or baptisteries.”
With the deacon James, St. Paulinus moved further south. He preached at Lindsey, baptized in the Trent at Littleborough and at Southwell in Nottinghamshire, and built a beautiful stone church at Lincoln. There he consecrated St. Honorius, archbishop of Canterbury, in 628. He also persuaded King Earpwald of East Anglia to accept the Faith.
After the death of St. Edwin in battle in 633, Paulinus fled to Kent with Queen Ethelburga, her surviving children and an escort of thanes. There, being unable to return to his northern see, he acted as bishop of Rochester. There is a tradition that he visited Glastonbury and rebuilt the church of St. Mary, covering its roof with Mendip lead. It is very possible that he helped Queen Ethelburga to found her convent at Lyminge in Kent, where she reposed as abbess on September 8, 547.
Paulinus himself reposed on October 10, 644.
In the place of St. Paulinus, Archbishop Honorius consecrated Ithamar, a Kentishman whom the Venerable Bede describes as “not inferior to his predecessors for learning and conduct of life”. During his episcopate he consecrated the first Anglo-Saxon archbishop of Canterbury, Deusdedit. He died in about 660 and was buried at Rochester. In 1077, while Bishop Gundulf was carrying out extensive rebuilding, St. Ithamar’s relics were translated to the accompaniment of miracles.
Another translation was accomplished by Bishop John, who was cured of severe pain in the eyes through the prayers of St. Ithamar.
St. Paulinus is commemorated on October 10, and St. Ithamar on June 10.
Holy Fathers Paulinus and Ithamar, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People; A Monk of Whitby, Life of St. Gregory the Great; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 79; David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 206, 318-319)
85. SAINT PEGA, HERMITESS OF PEAKIRK
Our holy Mother Pega was the sister of the great hermit St. Guthlac and lived as a hermitess in Peakirk, Northamptonshire, not far from Guthlac’s hermitage at Crowland. On Holy Wednesday, 714, Guthlac fell ill; but he was still well enough to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Pascha and to preach to his fellow-struggler Beccel; which sermon, we read in Felix’s Life of Guthlac, “moved him so very deeply… that he never before nor after heard the like.
“When the seventh day of his illness came, the aforesaid brother came to visit him about the sixth hour of the day. Then he found him leaning in the corner of his chapel against the altar. However, he could not speak with him for he saw that his illness troubled him very much; nevertheless, afterwards he begged that would leave his words with him before he died. Then the blessed Guthlac raised his tired limbs a little from the wall, and spoke to him thus: ‘It is now very near the time, my son, so take heed of my last instructions. After my soul leaves the body, to then to my sister and say to here that I avoided her presence here on earth and would not see her, in order that afterwards we two might see each other again in heaven before the face of God. And bid her set my body in the coffin, and wrap me in the shroud that Ecgburh sent me. I would not be dressed in linen clothing while I lived, but now for the love of Christ’s virgin I will put the gift she sent me to the use for which I kept it. When body and soul part, let them wrap the body in that garment, and lay it in the coffin.’
“When the aforesaid brother heard these things, then he spoke thus: ‘Now that I see and understand your illness, and I realize that you must leave this world, I entreat you my dear father to tell me about something which I never dared to ask you before. Since the time that I first lived with you in this wilderness, I have heard you speak in the evening and in the morning – with whom I knew not. Where I beg and entreat you never to leave me troubled and anxious about this matter after your death.’ Then the man of God drew the breath from his breast with a long gasp, answered him and said: ‘My son, do not be troubled; the things which I would not tell to any man of the world before as long as I lived, I will now disclose and make known to you. From the second year I lived in this wilderness, in the evening and in the early morning God Himself has sent to me an angel for my consolation, who revealed to me the heavenly mysteries which it is permitted no man to tell, and quite relieved the hardness of my struggle with heavenly angelic conversation; who made known and revealed to me things absent as well as present. And now my son, beloved one, preserve my words and tell them to no other man save Pega my sister and Ecgberht the hermit, if it happen that you should speak with him.’ Then when he had spoken these words he leaned his head against the wall, and drew the breath from his breast with a long gasp. When he recovered and got his breath back again, there came a fragrance from the mouth like the scent of the sweetest flowers. And on the following night, when the aforesaid brother fell to his nightly prayers, he beheld all the house surrounded outside with a great brightness; and the brightness remained there till daylight.
“Then when it was morning, the man of God again stirred a little, and lifted up the tired limbs. Then he spoke to him thus: ‘My son, prepare yourself to go on the journey which I commanded you; because it is now time that the spirit must leave the tired limbs and to unending bliss, to the Kingdom of heaven.’ Then when he had said these things, he stretched his hand towards the altar and strengthened himself with the heavenly food, Christ’s Body and His Blood. And after that he lifted his eyes to heaven, and stretched out his arms, and then with joy and bliss sent his spirit to the eternal bliss of the heavenly Kingdom. In the middle of these things, the aforesaid brother saw all the house suffused with heavenly light; and he saw there a fiery tower from the earth to the height of heaven, the brightness of which was unlike anything else; and because of its beauty, all the brightness of the sun itself as midday was turned to paleness. And he heard angelic songs throughout the regions of the air; and all the island was completely filled with a great fragrance of a wonderful scent.
“Then the aforesaid brother was immediately struck with great fear, and went into a boat and travelled to the place which the man of God had previously instructed, and then came to Pega and told her all those things, in order, as the brother had ordered him. Then, when she heard that her brother had died, she immediately fell on the earth, and was filled with great grief so that she could not say a word. Then, when she recovered herself, she drew a long sigh from within her breast, and gave thanks to the Almighty for His will. Then on the following day, according to the instruction of the blessed man, they came to the island and there they found all that place and the building filled with the fragrance of the herb ambrosia. Then for a period of three days she commended the holy man to God with holy hymns, and on the third day, as the man of God had instructed, they buried the body with honour in the chapel.
“The Divine goodness wished openly to display to men in how great a glory the blessed man was after he was buried; for formerly he shone and was resplendent with so many miracles before the eyes of men. So after his death, when he had been buried twelve months, God put it into the mind of the Lord’s servant that she should remove her brother’s body to another tomb. Then she gathered together there God’s servants and priests and those in ecclesiastical orders, on the same day twelve months after the blessed man had died; and they opened the tomb. Whereupon they found the body as entirely sound as it formerly was, and as though he were still alive; and in the flexibility of the joints and in all things it was much more like a sleeping man than a dead one. Moreover the garments were as pristine as when they were first put round the body. When they who were assembled there saw these things they were very afraid because of what they saw there; and they were so struck with fear that they could say nothing. Then when Christ’s servant Pega saw that, she was immediately filled with spiritual bliss, and then with hymns in honour of Christ wrapped the holy body in another shroud which Ecgberht the hermit had previously sent him, when alive, for the same service…
“There was a certain head of a household of the aforesaid exile Aethelbald in the district of the Wisse, whose eyes had been covered with the white spot and with cloudiness for twelve months. Then when his doctors had for a long time treated him with salves, and this had brought about no cure, he was divinely admonished within that if they brought him to Guthlac’s place, he should then recover his health and sight. His friends brought him to Crowland shortly after, and they spoke to Christ’s servant Pega; and she heard of the man’s firm and fixed faith. Whereupon she led him into the church where Guthlac’s venerable body was, took some of the consecrated salt which Guthlac himself had previously consecrated, and moistened it and dropped it in the eye. And then, before she put another drop in the other eye, he could see with the other; and he easily saw what there was there; and he went home whole and sound.”
Shortly after this, St. Pega went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where she reposed in about 719. Ordericus Vitalis claimed that her relics survived in an unnamed Roman church in his day, and that miracles took place there.
St. Pega is commemorated on January 8.
Holy Mother Pega, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Felix, Life of St. Guthlac; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 319)
86. SAINT PETROC, ABBOT OF PADSTOW
And those with him Our holy Father Petroc (or Pedrog) was born in about 468, the third of ten children of King Glywys Cernvw of Glywysing (Dyfed, Wales). After the death of his father, the people wanted Petroc to take his place, but the saint wanted to devote himself to the religious life. So his brother Winleu (Gwynllyw) became king instead, becoming the father of St. Cadoc.
Accompanied by a band of followers, Petroc set off for Ireland, where he learned the monastic life from various teachers for about twenty years. Then he decided to return to Britain. Returning to the shore, he found the same ship in which he had sailed to Ireland, miraculously free from damage and dilapidation. “Regarding it as a good omen for the voyage they were about to begin, he boarded the ship with greater confidence than a practiced sailor, though untrained in navigation, and was followed by his band of disciples rejoicing. At the command of the servant of God they haul up the sails to the top of the mast, believing what they had learnt from their true Master – that all things would be possible to the saints. The sails spread, the ship was borne along by the fear of God with great rapidity, although the winds were adverse. To confirm the sense of miraculous intervention in the minds of the simple crew, the intervening space of ocean was crossed in a very short time, and the ship arrived at the same calm haven which they had desired.” (St. Méen) They landed at Trebetherick in St. Minver’s parish, on the north bank of the River Camel in Cornwall. Now at that time St. Samson [perhaps the first bishop of Dol in Brittany], was living in solitude by the sea-shore. Lifting his eyes towards the sea, he was astonished to see with what extraordinary speed Petroc’s boat was advancing over the water, and he prayed to God to humble those who were sailing in such an unusual way, “lest they should be puffed up. Then a certain man, acting as underpilot, travelling along the sand and incautiously slipping, was drowned in the channel. The name of the under-pilot who died was Reu…” (Gotha MS) Petroc and his disciples were saddened by this event. But they landed, and seeing some reapers in the field, Petroc went up to them, courteously saluted them and asked them how they were and of what religion they were. The reapers answered rudely, scoffing at what seemed to them to be their ridiculous monastic attire. And they said – perhaps to test the strangers’ sanctity – that they were tired and thirsty and would be glad if a fountain of fresh water would spring out of the rock so that they could quench their thirst. Petroc immediately prayed, struck a rock with his staff, and a fountain of salubrious water sprung up before their eyes… The reapers were astonished by the miracle and gave thanks to God. Then Petroc asked them whether they knew of any religious man in the area. They told him about /1Samson’s holy life, all-night prayers and extreme fasting. Delighted by this news, /1Petroc set off in the direction of St. Samson’s cell, earnestly praying that Samson would not depart from that place before he had had a chance to speak to him.
“Immediately Samson’s limbs became stiff as stone. In vain did he attempt to put his hands to the instrument with which he was turning the soil. Thus had he been bound by the prayer of the man of God. Meanwhile the holy Petroc had reached him, and at the voice of his salutation Samson was freed from that stone-like rigidity, and, after they had exchanged the kiss of peace, he gave glory to God for the virtue and holiness which he had revealed by so great a miracle.
“After the servant of God had had a short conference with Samson, receiving permission to depart, he turned his steps towards the cell of Bishop Wethnoc, which Samson had pointed out to him. Wethnoc received him courteously, and entertained both him and his companions honourably in the true spirit of hospitality. Next morning the servant of God resolved to make a permanent stay in that place, and approaching Wethnoc he earnestly desires leave to live with him. The bishop gladly agreed, and promised of his own accord to make over the cell to him altogether, because he was confident that Petroc was the very man whom an ancient prophecy current in the neighbourhood had foretold was to come from Ireland and to magnify the name of the Lord Jesus Christ far and near by the merits of the highest sanctity.
He asked however, and obtained, that that place in memory of him should be called by his name. Wherefore in the language of that nation it is called Llanduwethinich [Lawethinoc, “the cemetery of Wethinoc”, now Padstow, “Petroc’s place”]. Bishop Wethnoc therefore with his men departed, rejoicing that he had been worthy to prepare a place of habitation for the man of God, and blessed Petroc entered the cell with his disciples, and there for full thirty years he lived, and led so innocent a life that he did to none what he would not should be done to himself, and so afflicted his body with vigils and endurance of cold that, to repress the unlawful motions of concupiscence, he often plunged himself into the middle of a torrent, and stood there naked from cockcrow till dawn…” (St. Méen) “And to guard against the possibility of disagreement with his neighbours arising from disputed boundaries, he surrounded the limits of his lands with very long ditches, dug deep like valleys, the ruins of which remain to this day, thus occupying his monks with bodily labours and warding off the danger of idleness. Also, in the place which is at Nant Funttum, that is, the Valley of the Fountain, he constructed an oratory, and a mill close by, at vast cost and by daily labours. And because the place where the work was being carried on was at some distance from the monastery, to occupy himself during his journeys to and fro he is said to have carried on his shoulders each morning and evening a stone of great size, in memory of which the same stone is place and placed on his tomb, and to this day scrapings from the same stone, mixed with water, confer prompt remedy on the faithful who are sick.”
(Gotha MS) At length the saint decided to go on pilgrimage to Rome. After venerating the holy places, he and his disciples returned home, and were at Newton on the border of Cornwall [Newton St. Pettock in North Devon] when a great storm of wind and rain assailed them, rendering the roads impassable. His disciples began to grumble about this. But “the servant of God checked their murmuring, promising the next day it would be fine, and they would have a prosperous journey. But when the next day arrived, the storm did not cease. Which when the servant of God saw, he began to be sorrowful, and to accuse himself of presumption because he had promised what God’s Providence had not ordained. When the tempest ceased on the third day, and his companions wished to proceed on their journey, he announced that he was going on a pilgrimage to Rome, because he had been rash with his tongue and prophesied falsely, and not in accordance with what God had disposed. They consented, albeit with regret, and after exchanging the kiss of charity they separated with tears, and so they returned to Cornwall and he set out for Rome.” (St. Méen) While he was in Italy, Petroc visited the shrine of the holy Archangel Michael in Monte Gargano, and then went on to Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre. At length, after much travelling, the saint returned home to Cornwall.
“There reigned at that time Teudur, a cruel and fierce man who, to punish thieves and criminals, had with savage cruelty caused various serpents and all kinds of noxious worms to be collected in a marshy lake. At his death, his son, who succeeded him in the kingdom by hereditary right, forbade this kind of torment to be inflicted upon men, and the hungry reptiles turned and destroyed one another by frequent attacks with livid tooth, so that out of so great a number only one remained – a horrible monster of enormous size who tore to pieces cattle and men in fearful fashion with his savage jaws.” On hearing of this peril, St. Petroc approached the monster together with Bishop Wethnoc, and, binding him with his stole, led him towards the sea. But then “the man of God met a party of men carrying, amid loud lamentations, the lifeless body of a prince’s son, to fulfil the rites of burial according to the custom of the country. They were terrified at the sight of this most hideous monster, and some fell prostrate on the ground like dead men; others, trembling as they stood, were hardly able to carry the bier, so overwhelmed were they with sudden horror and anguish at the sight of the reptile. The servant of God, therefore, taking pity on the mourners, kneeled and prayed, and having implored the clemency of the Almighty restored to all their strength and raised to life again the young man whom they had been bearing as a corpse. Then, while they were rejoicing in the praises of God, the saint commanded the monster which had bound to hurt no one any more and to depart to solitudes beyond the seas…” (St. Méen) Now Petroc, feeling the infirmities of old age since his return from his long pilgrimage, and wishing to withdraw from the cares and disputes of the monastery, “took with him two brethren, Peter and Dator, and secretly departed to Nanceventon [Little Petherick], and there lived in retirement fifteen days. Then fearing that his brethren might be concerned about his unexplained absence, he determined to see them again and afterwards to return to his retreat when the affairs [of the monastery] had been duly settled, with the consent of his brethren, after the matter had been discussed with them. He summons the brethren, and informs them that he is no longer equal to the task of managing business matters and that he wishes to live a retired life with a few chosen [monks]. He bids them elect an administrator, fit to undertake the burden of ruling the church, whom he may place in his own seat [cathedra] instead of himself; who must be a worthy pastor of souls, and an energetic man of affairs, fearing God and blameless. Now there was there a certain man, well instructed, named Peter, recently professed, but esteemed by his brethren as a man of holy life, and ‘having a good report of them which are without’.
After prayer, he was unanimously elected, and Petroc transferred to him the pastoral charge. Then, taking twelve brethren, after exchanging the kiss of peace, he departed, and they made lodging-places for themselves an Nanceventon in different cells. He himself had a cell constructed of logs, and likewise some of the brethren, but many withdrew to caves in the hills or hollow places in the valleys. They met together for solemn prayers and for meals. But they suffered from lack of water, which had to be brought with considerable trouble from a long distance, for the water of the river could not be drunk, as it was mixed with salt water coming up from the sea. So the venerable old man, after singing the Praises as usual, full of faith struck his staff into the ground on the right-hand side of the cell, and repeated the miracle [of Trebetherick], causing a well of purest water, sweet to the taste, to spring forth.” (Gotha MS) “On a certain day when the servant of God was praying alone in a place where he had been accustomed to pray, he saw a stag appear in the distance, fleeing towards him as hard as he could go, pursued by the huntsmen of Constantine, a rich man, with hallooing and barking of dogs. The servant of God, moved with kindly feeling, protected it from being hurt. The stag was being followed by the chieftain himself, to whom his soldiers, fearing to touch it while under the protection of the man of God, reported the matter in due order. Full of fury, Constantine would have struck the servant of God with his sword, but was suddenly smitten with paralysis, and became unable to move hand or foot, until he besought pardon and (at the petition of his soldiers) the saint released him by his pious prayers. After freeing him, he taught him and his nineteen [or twenty-four (Gotha MS)] soldiers the Christian Faith, and made them gentle and kind instead of fierce tyrants, and worshippers of Christ instead of pagans.
“One day, while the servant of God was at his meal, a jar of water which had been placed there was knocked over by accident, and the liquor was spilt. But Petroc, making the sign of the cross, took up the vessel immediately, full of heavenly nectar, which he tasted and handed to his brethren, who wondered at its sweetness.
“The saint was watching in prayer out of doors on a Sunday, when the rain fell in abundance all round him, but fell not upon him.
“The servant of God and Bishop Wethnoc were [one day] alone, conversing together sweetly of heavenly things, when lo! A mantle of wondrous beauty descended [from heaven] between them. And when, ‘in honour preferring one another’, each offered it to the other, and with pious contention heaped up reasons why the other should have it, straightway in their sight it was taken up into heaven.
And immediately two were sent from heaven – one for each.
“After they had spent several years in the aforesaid cell in holy life and conversation, the servant of God was directed by an angel to betake himself to some still more remote part of the wilderness, and found Vuron [or Goran], a most holy hermit, who, while winning his daily bread by the labour of his hands, never let his spirit cease from prayer. He asked and obtained from him the grace of hospitality, and they entered together into [Vuron’s] solitary habitation, and found there bread and a white table placed for them there by God’s command. Refreshed by the wonderful sweetness of this meal they gave thanks to the divine goodness, and continued their sober colloquies; and then [after a revelation from God] Vuron departed to seek a new abode for himself. Meanwhile the anxious disciples had been seeking for Petroc through the wilderness, and when they had found him, they hailed him, and besought him to return, in spite of his desire to hide his sanctity [in the wilderness]…” (St. Méen) In the place where the hermit Vuron had lived, which is now Bodmin (“the abode of the monks”), the saint built a monastery.
“Cynam [Cynan or Conon], a tribune in the country, was racked with agonizing pain; Petroc appeared to him by night as he slept and commanded him to set free the accused persons he was keeping in prison, [promising him] that if he would release them he would recover his health. On awaking, he related the vision to his wife, by whose counsel he loosed the prisoners from their chains, and felt himself completely recovered.
“A certain woman also, who had suffered an issue of blood for several years, secretly touched the garment of the holy man and recovered her health as a reward of her faith.
“But that the virtue of the saint should be known even to ‘beasts that are not clean’, a great dragon living near his cell in the wilderness, having got a piece of wood into his right eye, laying aside all wish to hurt, hastened to the temple where the saint was engaged in prayer, and reclining his head on the outer threshold lay there for three days, waiting for a miracle from God. By Petroc’s command he was sprinkled with water mingled with dust from the pavement [or the foot of the altar (Gotha MS)], and straightway the wood removed by means of the [saint’s] prescription, and his sight restored, wonderful to relate! He returned to his accustomed wallowing place.
“A woman, feeling thirsty one night, drank water out of a jug and swallowed a small serpent, [in consequence of which] she was for many years in bad health. As no physicians benefited her, she was brought to the holy man. He made a mixture of water and earth which he gave to the sick woman to drink, and immediately she had swallowed it she vomited a serpent three feet long, but dead, and the same hour she recovered her health and gave thanks to God.” (St. Méen) “After several years had passed, his body being worn out, partly by the exercises of the contemplative life, and partly by age,.. he wished to visit each of the places where the brethren abode, to confirm them and to bid them a last farewell, and on his journey he began to find his strength suddenly fail him. And having greeted his monks at Nanceventon, he desired, before the rapid progress of his disease made it too late, to push on and visit the brethren of Lanwethinoc, and entered the house of a certain father of a family named Rovel, from whom that rus is to this day called Trerovel, that is, the Villa of Rovel, and his growing weakness made it impossible for him to proceed further. Now the father of the family, having great compassion on him, accomodated him in a private chamber in which he might repose, taking great care of him. And as his languor hourly increased, he [Petroc] invited his special friends, united to him by spiritual ties, to recommend [to God] his departure in their prayers. Finally his agony approached, and, having received the great viaticum of our redemption, on June 4 [in the year 564], about the fourth watch of the night, freed from the prison of the body, he shone forth like a star in that said chamber… “When therefore the death of this great patron is made public, the whole population of the province comes together, he is borne forth by an immense crowd of mourners… and is solemnly buried in the place which he had made glorious by the first fruits of his conversation [as a monk in Cornwall]. Close to his tomb a living fountain springs up, which cures sore eyes and internal complaints, if there be faith in the person seeking healing…” (Gotha MS) St. Petroc is commemorated on June 7 and October 1, and his fellow-struggler, /1Wethnoc – on November 7 in Cornwall, and on November 11 in Brittany (where he is known as St. Guenoc).
In the early tenth century King Athelstan of England gave to Exeter, among other relics of Breton saints he had received from grateful Breton friends, relics “of the body of S. Withenoc the Bishop”.
Some time after the middle of the ninth century Bodmin became the major centre for St. Petroc’s veneration and his relics were moved there from Padstow. The Bodmin monastery soon became one of the wealthiest Cornish churches. In 963 King Edgar ordered a shrine to be built for the relics of the saint. It was “to be honourably gilded with gold and silver, in honour of S. Petroc the confessor of Christ, where his relics are kept, that by his merits I may obtain length of days both in this life and in that which is to come”. However, in 981 Bodmin was sacked by Viking pirates, and in about 1000 his relics were removed elsewhere for safe keeping. In 1177, a Breton stole his relics and gave them to the Abbey of St Méen in Brittany, where his first life was written on the basis of older documents. (The other life, in the Gotha MS, is also twelfth century.) However, Henry II restored them to Bodmin (leaving one rib at /1Méen), and the head-reliquary, an ivory casket of Sicilian workmanship that used to hold them is still on public display in the church of St. Petroc at Bodmin. The holy relics were cast out during the English Reformation.
Five churches are dedicated to St. Petroc in Cornwall, about the same number in Wales, in Devon – seventeen, and some also in Brittany.
Holy Father Petroc, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Gilbert H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, part 4, Truro, 1985, pp. 132- 166; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 351-352; http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/pedrogg.html; http://www.frpeterpreble.com/2011/06/6-june-st-petroc-abbot-of-padstow.html)
87. SAINT RUMWOLD, INFANT OF BUCKINGHAM
The holy infant Rumwold was the grandson of the famous pagan King Penda of Mercia, who killed the first two Christian kings of Northumbria, Saints Edwin and Oswald. His mother, however, was Christian, perhaps one of the converts of /1Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons, who was given permission to preach in Mercia.
Now she was given in marriage to a pagan king of Northumbria. But during the marriage feast she sighed deeply and prayed God that she would not be joined to a pagan, but that her husband would be converted to the Truth Faith. And in the marriage chamber she told her husband that she would not sleep with him until he renounced his idols and was baptized. By the Providence of God, he accepted her words, and was baptized, after which they were joined according to the Christian rite of marriage. So it came to pass that she conceived a son.
As the time for giving birth drew near, King Penda invited his daughter and her husband to visit him. On the way, at what is now King’s Sutton in Northamptonshire, the pangs of childbirth came upon her, and when the soldiers had set up a tent in a field, she gave birth to a son. But then an extraordinary miracle took place, which has parallels in the lives of some Eastern saints, such as the Martyrs Cyricus and his mother Julitta, and St. Sergius of Radonezh. The infant immediately cried out in a loud voice: “I am a Christian” three times. At this two priests named Widerin and Edwold said: “Thanks be to God”. And then the infant said: “I worship, confess and adore the God Who is three and one, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” At this the priests and bystanders marvelled and began to chant: “We praise Thee, O God.” Then the child asked that he be made a catechumen (one preparing for baptism) by the priest Widerin, and be held for the signing of the Faith by the priest Edwold, and be given the name Rumwold. After the signing, the parents said to each other: “Let us send to the neighbouring kings and princes, that they receive our dearest son from the sacred font of Baptism.” When St. Rumwold heard this, he summoned his parents and said to them: “It is not fitting that I, a servant of God, should be received from the regeneration of Holy Baptism in the hands of the proud and rich of this world, but the example of God should be imitated, Who was humbled for our sake to the taking on of human flesh, and was conceived by the Holy Spirit from the life-giving womb of the Virgin, and did not wish to be baptized in the flowing waters of the Jordan by the mighty of this fleeting age, but by the forerunner of His Nativity, who lived in the desert clothed in camel’s hair, whose food was wild honey and locusts, and was made poor among me, though he was worthy to be venerated as the prophet, forerunner and baptist. For he was announced by an angel, was born of a priestly father, and deservedly baptized the Holy of Holies and King of all the ages and eternal Priest, Who give to all who believe in Him the Baptism of salvation to the remission of all sins, since in Him there was no stain of sin. I ask, therefore, that I be baptized by the priest Widerin and received by Edwold; for it is in their hands that I desire to be made a Christian through the virtue and mystery of God.” When he had said this, Rumwold pointed out a hollow stone which lay not far away in a certain hut in a low-lying valley, and ordered the servants who were standing by to bring it with all haste. But they were unable to move the stone from the earth by any means. When they told this to the king, he ordered them to fetch a wooden vessel in which to baptize the recruit of Christ. But when Rumwold saw them going and bringing back a wooden vessel full of water, he said to the priests Widerin and Edwold: “You go alone in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Trinity, and without doubting take up the stone, and trusting in the supreme Creator of all bring it here.” Immediately they went, easily lifted the stone (which was very heavy) from the earth, and place it in front of Rumwold. And when he had been baptized, he ordered the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated, so that he might be given the Body and Blood of Christ.
After the Liturgy, the holy infant gave a sermon which amazed all those present.
Then he said: “Behold, I go the way of all flesh; for it is not right that I should live in this mortal body after the hour of my birth. But after my departure I wish to remain in the place where I was born the space of one year. After that I should be taken to Brackley for two years. And after three years I propose that my bones should rest in the place which will at some time be called Buckingham for all time.” The names of these places were not known at that time, but afterwards came to be known.
And so on the third day St. Rumwold gave up his spirit to God, on the third of November. And, as he had commanded, he was buried in that same place. Then after the death of the priest Edwold, he was translated to Brackley by the priest Widerin. And after three years he was translated to Buckingham, where many miracles were wrought for those who sought his prayers. The blind were given their sight, the lame walked, and many diseases were cured.
St. Rumwold was commemorated on many Anglo-Saxon calendars, including that of Canterbury which was compiled by St. Dunstan. But his cult died out after the Norman Conquest of 1066, being preserved only in some church dedications. In Camden’s time he was still invoked by the fishermen of Folkestone as their patron.
The saint’s popularity, according to Farmer’s Oxford Dictionary of Saints, “was unexpectedly persistent”.
St. Rumwold is commemorated on November 2 or 3.
Holy Infant Rumwold, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Nova Legenda Anglie, II, 345-50; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 350)
88. SAINTS SIDWELL AND JUTHWARA, VIRGIN-MARTYRS OF EXETER
These martyrs were sisters in the flesh, and since their lives are very similar it is sometimes thought that they are one and the same person. However, the balance of evidence appears to support the traditional belief that they were distinct persons.
St. Sidwell (Sativola) was born at Exeter, and was killed by her stepmother, who incited the reapers in the fields to behead her with a scythe and throw her head into a well. She was buried outside the east gate of the city (the church dedicated to her still survives), and many miracles of healing took place through her intercession during Orthodox times. There is a holy well next to her church.
St. Juthwara (Aude) was the sister of St. Sidwell, St. Wulvela of Cornwall and Paul Aurelian, bishop of Leon of Britanny. She was a pious virgin devoted to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. After her father’s death she grew pale as wax, and when her stepmother asked her the cause, she replied that she was suffering from a pain in her chest. Her stepmother recommended that she apply two cheeses to her breasts to ease the pain. Then she told her son Bana that Juthwara was pregnant, adding as proof that if he felt the space between her breasts it would be damp from milk coming from her breasts. He accused her, found that the space between her breasts was damp, flew into a rage and cut off her head with his sword.
According to the Breton version of the story, Juthwara had stuffed her bosom with milk-curds to give to the poor, and when she was beheaded she took up her head, walked to the hall, put her head on again, reproached her brother, and immediately died. Then the brother, whose name was Gurguy, went to his brother, St. Paul, at Leon, and was told by him to do penance by retiring into the forest near Landerneau, and there fast and pray for forty days. The penance accomplished, Gurguy returned to St. Paul, who admitted him as a monk to his monastery, and finally sent him to be superior of a cell he had established at Gerber, afterwards called Le Relecqu, and changed his name to Tanguy. We know that St. Paul established a monastery at Gerber in about 560.
A fountain and an oak sprang up at the place of her martyrdom. After many years the tree was overthrown by a gale, and fell against a house that was near, so that the branches prevented people going in and out. The owner of the house and his boy set to work to hack the boughs away, when the stump, relieved of the burden, righted itself, and carried up the boy who was clinging to an uncut branch.
In about the year 1050, Bishop Aelfwold of Sherborne, in response to many signs and revelations, translated the relics of St. Juthwara from Halstock to Sherborne, where they were placed next to those of St. Wulsin, bishop of Sherborne, which were translated at the same time. There, through the intercession of the two saints, many miracles took place.
One of the brothers of the monastery had been violently shaken for nearly half a year by bouts of fever, which came, first every two days, and then daily. He hated all food, and had to be dragged to meals as if to torture. On the day of the solemn translation of the relics of St. Juthwara, he wanted to sing in the choir behind the procession, but was suddenly seized with trembling and pallor. Reluctantly, he began to move back as if to captivity. But the other brothers, mindful of the grace of the saints, gave him to drink from the water which had washed their bones. He was completely healed. Others suffering from fevers were also healed by drinking the holy water.
A married woman lay as if dead for three days. She was deaf and dumb, immobile as a stone, her eyes staring blankly in front of her, pupils and eyelids motionless. She gave no sign to those who called to her, and if carried her head and other limbs would fall if not supported. Everyone was expecting her death, and the only talk was of her burial. On the third day her son, who was a monk brought up in the piety of the saints, came to see his parents, wishing to comfort the one and cure the other. But human wisdom saw no hope of a cure. Mindful, however, of the virtues of his native saints, he returned to the monastery and sent her some of the above-mentioned water. Immediately some of it was poured down her throat, she came to as if from sleep, moved her eyes, sat up, and eagerly drank the rest of the draught. Soon she was on her feet. Then all their friends who had been mourning the woman without hope rejoiced with her husband as if she had come back from the dead.
There was a well-known priest named Wulfric, who had been taught and ordained by Bishop Aelfwold. A serious illness brought him to receive the sacrament of Holy Unction, when, mindful of the virtues of the Virgin-Martyr Juthwara, he sent a boy to Sherborne, saying: “Ask the brethren to dip the relics of St. Juthwara, who was translated thither by Bishop Aelfwold, into some water, and to send it to me to drink. For I believe that I shall receive life and my former health through it.”
The messenger went and came back with the water. When Wulfric drank, he was immediately cured.
St. Sidwell is commemorated on August 1, and St. Juthwara on November 28.
Holy Virgin-Martyrs Sidwell and Juthwara, pray to God for us!
(Sources: S. Baring-Gould and J. Fisher, The Lives of the British Saints, 1907-13, volume 1, pp. 185-188, vol. 4, pp. 174-176; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 230, 356-357; C.H. Talbot, “The Life of St. Wulsin of Sherborne by Goscelin”, Revue Benedictine, lxix (1959), 82-85)
89. SAINTS SIGBERT AND SEBBI, MONKS OF EAST ANGLIA
Our holy Father Sigbert succeeded to the throne of East Anglia after the death of his brother Earpwald. The Venerable Bede writes that he was “a good and religious man who had been baptized long previously in Gaul while he had been living in exile to escape the hostility of Redwald [first Christian king of East Anglia, who later apostasised]. When he returned home and became king, he wished to copy what he had seen well contrived in Gaul, and was quick to found a school for the education of boys in the study of letters. In this project he was assisted by Bishop Felix, who had come to him from Kent and provided him with teachers and masters according to the practice of Canterbury.
“King Sigbert became so ardent in his love for the Kingdom of heaven that he abandoned the affairs of his earthly kingdom, and entrusted them to his kinsman Egric, who had already governed part of the kingdom. He then entered a monastery that he had founded and, after receiving the tonsure, devoted his energies to winning an everlasting kingdom. A considerable while later, the Mercians led by King Penda attacked the East Angles who, finding themselves less experienced in warfare than their enemies, asked Sigbert to go into battle with them and foster the morale of the fighting men. When he refused, they dragged him out of his monastery regardless of his protests, and took him into battle with them in the hope that their men would be less likely to panic or think of flight if they were under the eye of one who had once been a gallant and distinguished commander. But, mindful of his monastic vows, Sigbert, surrounded by a well-armed host, refused to carry anything more than a stick, and when the heathen charged, both he and King Egric were killed and the army scattered.” This took place in about 635.
Some years later, the southern part of the kingdom (Essex, together with Hertfordshire and London) came under King Wulfere of Mercia, and after a plague King Sighere and many of the people apostasised from the faith. However, Sebbi his fellow-king remained faithful. Then, in 665, King Wulfere sent Bishop Jaruman, who brought back both king and people to the path of righteousness.
Then King Sebbi, according to the Venerable Bede, “devoted himself to religious exercises, frequent prayer, and acts of mercy, and he preferred a retired, monastic life to all the riches and honours of a kingdom. In fact, had not his wife absolutely refused to be separated from him, he would long before have abdicated and entered a monastery. For this reason many people thought and often said that a man of such disposition should have been a bishop rather than a king. When this soldier of the Heavenly Kingdom had ruled his earthly kingdom for thirty years [in 694], he was attacked by a serious disease that was to cause his death. He therefore urged his wife that, since they could no longer enjoy or serve the world, they should both devote themselves to the service of God. Having obtained her reluctant consent, the king went to Waldhere, bishop of London, successor to [Saint] Erkenwald, and with his blessing received the monastic habit that he had so long desired. He brought the bishop a considerable sum of money to be distributed among the poor, and kept nothing at all for himself, wishing to be poor in spirit for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
“As his malady gained ground and he felt the day of his death approaching, Sebbi, who was a man of kingly spirit, became apprehensive that the sufferings of a painful death might wring from him some word or gesture unbecoming to his dignity. He therefore summoned the bishop of London, in which city he was living, and asked that none but the bishop himself and two attendants might be present at his death. The bishop readily promised that, and not long afterwards this godly man saw in his sleep a comforting vision, which removed his anxiety on this score, and also revealed to him on what day he was to depart this life. As he subsequently related, he saw three men in bright robes come to him, one of whom sat down in front of his pallet while his companions remained standing and enquired about the condition of the sick man they had come to visit. The first man replied that his soul would leave his body without pain in a splendour of light, and that he would die in three days’ time. Both of these things happened as he had learned in the vision; for on the third day, at the Ninth Hour, he seemed suddenly to fall into a light sleep and breathed out his spirit without any feeling of pain.
“A stone sarcophagus had been made ready for the burial; but when they came to lay his body in it, they found it a hand’s breadth too long for the sarcophagus. So they chiselled out sufficient stone to add a further two fingers in length to it; but it still proved too short to receive the body. In this quandary, they wondered whether to look for another coffin, or whether, if possible, to shorten the body by bending the knees until it filled the sarcophagus. But an amazing thing happened, undoubtedly caused by Providence, that rendered both these alternatives unnecessary; for in the presence of the bishop and of Sighard, son of the monk-king – who succeeded him jointly with his brother Swefred – and a considerable number of men, the sarcophagus was suddenly found to be the correct length for the body, so much so that a pillow could be placed at the head, while the feet rested four fingers short of the end of the sarcophagus. Sebbi was buried in the church of the blessed Apostles of the Gentiles [St. Paul’s in London], through whose teachings he had learned to aspire to heavenly things.”
Holy Fathers Sigbert and Sebbi, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, III, 19, 30, IV, 11; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 353)
90. SAINT SIGFRID, BISHOP OF VAXJO
and those with him Our holy Father Sigfrid was a monk of Glastonbury, England. According to another source, he came from York. In 994, when King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway was converted to the Faith of Christ, King Aethelred and his councillors decided to send Sigrid and two other missionary bishops and some priests to accompany King Olaf to his homeland and help him in the conversion of his people.
On arriving in Norway, St. Sigfrid wanted to visit Raud the Sorcerer, who was living on the island of Godo in Slaten Fjord; but was prevented by bad weather caused by Raud’s sorceries. So Sigfrid, according to Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga, took all his liturgical vestments and went forward to the prow of the king’s ship. He ordered tapers to be lit and incense to be brought out. Then he placed a cross on the stern of the vessel, read the Gospel and many prayers and sprinkled the whole ship with holy water. Then he ordered the sail to be stowed away, and to row into the fjord.
The king ordered all the other ships to follow him. Then they went into the fjord without encountering any wind resistance. The water curled round the keel as if in a calm. And yet on each side the waves rose up so high that they hid the sight of the mountains.
St. Sigfrid continued his missionary activity when Olaf the Saint became king of Norway in 1016, both having been expelled from the court of King Canute of Denmark and England because of the latter’s jealousy towards Olaf.
Some time later, King Olaf of Sweden sent to the king of England for missionaries to enlighten his people. St. Sigfrid came, and after settling in Vaxjo began by evangelizing the surrounding district. Then, in response to an angelic vision, he built a church in Vaxjo. At about the same time, another Englishman, Gotebald, was sent to labour in Skane (he was commemorated at Lund on August 21). These were the first missionary bishops on Swedish soil.
The mission to Sweden began to bear fruit. Twelve wise and aged men were chosen to represent the twelve chief tribes of the land, who were to decide about the truth of Sigfrid’s teaching. After listening to his teaching, they were converted and agreed to be baptized in twelve days’ time. Eleven of them returned and were baptized, while the twelfth died in the meantime. The conversion of these leaders led to the conversion of a large number of people in Varend.
Hearing of these events, King Olaf sent one of his trusted councillors to find out what was happening. The councillor reported that during the Divine Liturgy, after the bishop had elevated the bread and the people had fallen on their knees, the bread changed into a young Boy, Whom the bishop kissed, and who then disappeared while the bread remained on the paten. When the king heard this, he knew who the bishop was and invited him to come to him at Husaby in East Gothland.
The bishop did not hurry on his journey, but stopped at Utvangstorp to teach and baptized the people. On arriving in Husaby, he was received with great honour, and soon the king, his family and his court were baptized in the well at Husaby. Later, Sigfrid consecrated two more bishops for East and West Gothland.
Soon holy martyrdoms were strengthening the faith in Sweden. These included the three nephews of St. Sigfrid – the priest Unaman, the deacon Sunaman and the sub-deacon Vinaman. Once, when St. Sigfrid had been called to see the king, twelve men burst into their home and killed them, cutting off their heads. Then they threw the heads into a river which flowed next to the church and hid the bodies in a remote place.
A little later, Sigfrid returned, and during the night fervently prayed to God to reveal to him where the martyrs were buried. Then he saw three star-like lights twinkling above the middle of the lake and moving towards the eastern bank. He swam to the bank, and found the three heads in a vase with a heavy stone on top of them. Clutching them to his breast, he tearfully cried: “May God avenge this crime!” Then the first head replied: “It will be avenged.”
And the second head said: “How?” And the third head replied: “In the third generation.”
King Olaf arrived in Varend with an army and imposed heavy fines on the people for the murder of Sigfrid’s nephews. Then he offered a considerable sum to the bishop himself. However, Sigfrid asked that the instead of the money some landed property should be given, as a result of which the king made over to him the estates of Hof and Tjuby. King Olaf died in 1022.
In 1028, an Englishman named Ulfrid came to Uppsala. He converted many to the Christian Faith, and proceeded to anathematize a popular idol named Thor which stood in the Thing of the pagans. At the same time, he seized a battle-axe and broke the image to pieces. Immediately he was hacked down and received the crown of martyrdom.
Other English bishops came to help Sigfrid in Sweden. Thus one by the name of Bernard was made bishop of Skane by order of King Canute, after he had supervised the preparation and putting into practice of a Christian code of laws in Iceland.
Shortly before his death, it is related of St. Sigfrid that he became somewhat forgetful. Once he ordered a bath to be prepared for him on a fast day. A voice reproved him for doing this, whereupon he left the bath and confessed his fault.
On February 15, according to an old runic calendar, St. Sigfrid reposed in Vaxjo, where he had built a wooden church on the site of the present stone cathedral. A shrine to the saint, which has now disappeared, was situated in the centre of the church. Sigfrid died, according to one source in 1045, according to another – between 1060 and 1070.
His work in Sweden was continued by his disciples, Bishops David and Eskil.
David was a great ascetic, and during prayer was seen enveloped in a flame of fire.
Eskil, who was a relative of Sigfrid’s and had been his chaplain, worked mainly in Sodermanland, and was consecrated bishop at Strangnas. After a violent storm had destroyed a pagan altar and its sacrifices, Bishop Eskil was stoned to death in about the year 1080.
St. Sigfrid is commemorated on February 15.
Holy Father Sigfrid, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Heimskringla, 87; Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg- Bremen, II, lxii, 60; “Trois Legendes de Saint Sigfrid”, Analecta Bollandiana, 1942, LX, pp. 89-90; C.J.A. Oppermann, The English Missionaries in Sweden and Finland, London: SPCK, 1937; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 357, 385-386; C.F. Willstedt, “Vaxjo Cathedral”)
91. SAINT SWITHUN, BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
Our holy Father Swithun was born in Wessex in the ninth century and educated at the Old Minster in Winchester. He was chosen by Egbert, King of Wessex (802- 839), to be his chaplain, and to be the educator of his son Ethelwulf, who became king in 839. In 852 St. Swithun became Bishop of Winchester.
In 853 King Ethelwulf sent his five-year-old son Alfred, the future founder of the All-English monarchy, on a pilgrimage to Rome. He was escorted by St. Swithun.
Pope Leo IV endowed the young prince with the insignia and dignity of a Roman consul. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he even “consecrated Alfred as king and stood sponsor for him at confirmation, just as his father Ethelwulf had requested when he sent him thither.” But this is disputed by historians… In 854 King Ethelwulf “determined to give a tenth part of the lands throughout all my kingdom to Holy Church”. This charter was signed, after the king, by /1Swithun. His signature is also on other royal gifts of land to the Church.
It was a very difficult time for the English people as the pagan Vikings invaded the land and spread death and destruction far and wide. In 860 a great naval force even stormed the city of Winchester itself, but was later defeated. Swithun not only protected the kingdom by his prayers, but is also credited with building the bridge at the east end of the city.
Once, when he was visiting the workmen at the bridge, the saint saw a poor woman carrying eggs back home in her basket. She dropped the basket, and, to her great distress, the eggs broke. However, the holy bishop, taking pity on her, restored the eggs whole and unbroken to the basket.
It is at about this time that an Anglo-Saxon poem called Judith was composed; it has been described as “one of the noblest poems in the whole range of Old English Literature, combining the highest dramatic and constructive power with the utmost brilliance of language and metre”. Professor Cook of Yale University thinks that it was composed by St. Swithun himself in about the year 856 in gratitude for the deliverance of Wessex from the fury of the Vikings and dedicated to Judith, wife of King Ethelwulf. In the poem the Vikings are represented by the Assyrians, the English by the Jews, and Queen Judith by her namesake in the Bible story.
St. Swithun died on July 2, 862, and was buried in a simple grave outside the west door of the old cathedral. The grave was identified and marked by archaeologists in 1971.
For over a hundred years, his memory was forgotten, and, as he wished, people walked over his grave on their way to church without knowing who it was they were stepping on. But the Lord did not wish this light to remain hidden under a bushel. And on July 15, 971 his relics were translated into the cathedral to the accompaniment of a greater outpouring of miracles than had ever been seen in Orthodox England.
About twenty years later, this event was recorded by Abbot Aelfric:- “For three years before the saint was translated into the church from the stone coffin which now stands inside the new building, he appeared in a vision to a certain faithful blacksmith, wonderfully arrayed, and said: ‘Do you know the priest Edsige, who with other priests was driven out of the old monastery by Bishop Aethelwold for their misconduct?’ The smith then answered the venerable Swithun as follows: ‘I knew him long ago, sir, but he left this place, and I do not know for certain where he is living now.’ Then the holy man said again to the old smith: ‘He is now living in Winchcombe. This is the truth. And now I adjure you in the name of Christ: go quickly and give this message, that Swithun the bishop has commanded him to go to Bishop Aethelwold and say that he must himself open my grave and bring my bones inside the church; for he has been counted worthy that in his time I should be made known to men.’ Then the smith said to him: ‘O sir, Edsige will not believe my words.’ Then the bishop said again: ‘Let him go to my grave and pull a ring out of the coffin; and if the ring yields at the first tug then he will know for certain that I have sent you to him. If the ring will not come away easily, then he will by no means accept what I say. And after that tell him that he must amend his ways in accordance with the will of the Lord, and hasten single-mindedly to eternal life. And tell everyone that as soon as they open my grave they will find such a valuable hoard that their precious gold will be as nothing in comparison.’ Then holy Swithun vanished from the smith’s sight.
“However, he did not dare to tell anyone about this vision, fearing to be regarded as an untruthful messenger. So the holy man spoke to him again, and yet a third time, and severely reproved him for not acting in obedience to his commands. Then at last the smith went to his burial-place, and, albeit fearfully, took hold of the ring, crying out to God: ‘O Lord God, the Creator of all things, grant me, a sinner, to pull this ring out of the lid, if he who spoke to me three times in a dream is really lying here inside.’ Then he pulled the iron out of the stone as easily as if it had stood in sand, and wondered greatly at what had happened. Then he put it back in the hole and pressed it in with his foot. Again it stuck so firmly that no one was able to pull it out. The smith went away awestruck, and in the market-place he met a serf of Edsige’s, to whom he related exactly what Swithun had commanded him to report it to his master.
“The serf consented, but at first did not dare to tell his master, until he felt that no good would come from concealing the saint’s command. Then he told him in order what Swithun had commanded. Now at that time Edsige avoided Bishop Aethelwold and all the monks who were in the minster because of his ejection by then. So he did not obey the saint’s command, although the saint was a bloodrelative of his. Within two years, however, he retreated to that same monastery, and by the grace of God became a monk, continuing there until he departed this life.
Blessed is Almighty God, Who humbles the proud while exalting the humble to high estate, and corrects the sinful while always preserving the good who hope in Him.
“Again, there was a certain poor peasant, awfully hunch-backed and bent over in consequence, to whom it was revealed in a dream that he would obtain bodily health and recovery from his crippled state at Swithun’s sepulchre. And so he arose joyfully in the morning, crept on two crutches to Winchester and sought the saint as he had been instructed, praying for his health on bended knee. Then he was healed by the holy bishop, so that no trace of the hump which had oppressed him could be seen.
At that time the monks did not know about St. Swithun, thinking that some other saint had healed the man. But the peasant said that it was Swithun who had healed him, for he knew best about the matter.
“A certain man was afflicted with a very distressing disease, so that he could hardly open his eyes or utter a word, but lay in torment thus, despairing of his life.
Then all his friends wanted to carry him to the New Minster, to [the relics of] /1Judoc, so that he could recover his health there. But someone told them that it would be better to take the sick man to the Old Minster, to Swithun’s grave. This they did, and that night they kept vigil at the grave with him, praying to Almighty God to grant the sick man health through St. Swithun. The sick man also watched until daybreak. Then he fell asleep, and it seemed to all of them as if the tomb was rocking, while to him it seemed as if someone was dragging one of his shoes off his feet. Suddenly he awoke, healed by the holy Swithun. They looked carefully for the shoe, but no one could find it. So they returned home with the man who had been healed.
“Through the power of God eight sick men were miraculously healed at the holy tomb before the body was removed from it.
“After these signs, King Edgar desired the holy man’s exhumation, and told the venerable Aethelwold to translate it with great pomp. Then Bishop Aethelwold, accompanied by abbots and monks, took up the saint and and bore him into the church of St. Peter. There he remains in honour, working miracles. Then within three days four sick men were healed by the holy man; and there were few days within the next five months in which at least three sick people were not healed – sometimes five or six, or seven or eight, ten or twelve, sixteen or eighteen. Within ten days two hundred men had been healed, and so many within twelve months that no one could count them. The cemetery was filled with cripples, so that the people could hardly get into the minster. And within a few days they were all so miraculously healed that one could not find a sick man in the whole of that vast crowd.
“At that time there lived in the Isle of Wight three women, two of whom had been blind for nine years, and the third had never seen the light of the sun. With some difficulty they obtained a dumb guide and came to the saint, and watched there for one night, and were healed, both the blind woman and the dumb guide. Then the boy told the sacristan, saying that he had never been able to speak before, and asking for the appointed hymn of praise to be sung.
“At about the same time a certain bondwoman was caught and sentenced to be flogged for some very minor fault. She was put in custody until the morning, when she was to be severely beaten. All night she lay awake, weeping and calling on the holy Swithun to help her, the wretched one, praying that through the power of God he would deliver her from the cruel stripes. When dawn broke, and they began to sing the Praises, the fetters on her feet suddenly fell off, and she ran, with hands still bound, to the church and the blessed saint, in accordance with his will. Then her lord came after her and freed her, loosing her bonds, for the sake of St. Swithun.
“A certain nobleman had lain crippled by paralysis for many years, being unable to move from his bed. Then he said that he wanted to travel to Winchester, if only in his horse-litter, and pray for his healing. While he was saying this to his servants and friends, he was cured. Nevertheless, he made his way to the saint on foot, travelling in front of the company for the whole journey, and earnestly thanked the saint for his recovery.”
On one day, twenty-five men suffering from various diseases came to the saint, imploring him to help them. Some were blind, some lame, some deaf and some dumb. They were all healed at the same time through the saint’s intercession.
There was a certain very rich nobleman who went suddenly blind. He travelled to Rome to pray to the holy Apostles for a cure. For four whole years he stayed in Rome, but was not healed. Then he heard of St. Swithun, and of the miracles he had wrought since the nobleman had left England. Travelling back in haste, he came to the holy man and was healed there, returning home with perfect sight.
“Another man,” continues Abbot Aelfric, “had been blind for seven whole years.
He had a guide who led him everywhere. One day he went out, but the guide became angry and left him. At a loss how to return home, the blind man cried out to god and St. Swithun in great anguish. He was immediately healed and returned home joyfully without a guide, for which his relatives thanked God fervently.
“Then the venerable and blessed Aethelwold, who was the bishop of Winchester at that time, commanded all the monks who were living in the monastery to go in procession to the church and praise the saint with hymns, and in this way to magnify God because of the great saint every time a sick man was healed. This they did immediately, and sang the Te Deum so often – sometimes three, sometimes four times in a night – that they came to hate getting up to do this, as they wanted to go on sleeping. At length they gave up the chanting altogether, for the bishop was busy with the king and had no means of knowing that they were not chanting the Te Deum continually. Then St. Swithun himself came, wonderfully adorned, to a certain good man, and said: ‘Go now to the Old Minster and tell the monks that God very much dislikes their murmuring and sloth, for they see God’s wonders among them every day but will not praise Christ with chanting as the bishop told the brethren to do. And tell them that if they do not sing the hymn, immediately the miracles will cease. However, if they sing the Te Deum every time a miracle is performed and a sick man is healed, then so many miracles will be wrought among them that no one will be able to remember so many miracles having been wrought in his lifetime by anyone. Then the man awoke from that joyous sleep, lamenting that he could no longer see the bright light which he had seen around St. Swithun. He arose, however, and went quickly to Bishop Aethelwold, and told him all that had happened. Aethelwold then immediately sent from the king’s court to the monks, and told them to sing the Te Deum as he had commanded, with the warning that anyone who neglected this would heavily atone for it by seven days’ continuous fasting. From that time they always observed this custom, as we ourselves have very often seen; for we have not infrequently sung this hymn with them.
“A certain man was unjustly accused of stealing, and sentenced to having his eyes put out and his ears cut off. He was immediately seized and the sentenced carried out. Then the blood ran down into his head so that he could not hear, and he continued blind and deaf for seven months. Until, that is, he went in faith to /1Swithun, and sought out his relics, and prayed to him that he would at least receive his hearing; for he did not believe that he would ever recover his sight. And he said that he had been unjustly punished in this way. Then through Swithun’s intercession a wonder of God was wrought in that man so that he saw clearly with perfect eyes, although they had been thrust out of their sockets and one ball removed entirely, while the other hung down his cheek. He was also granted good hearing – he who had formerly possessed neither eyes nor hearing.
“However, we should understand that we should not pray to God’s saints as to God Himself, for He alone is God and above all things; but we should truly pray to the saints to intercede with the omnipotent God, Who is their Lord, that He may come to our aid.
“Once some men were keeping vigil beside a corpse in the customary manner, when a fool, as if in jest, told them with unseemly laughter that he was Swithun.
‘You may know that I am in fact Swithun who work these miracles, and it is my will that you bring your candles to me and prostrate yourselves, and I shall grant you your desire.’ He foolishly blasphemed in this way for a long time until the suddenly fell to the ground, silenced, and as if dead. Immediately they carried him home to his bed, where he lay for a long time, confessing that he had presumptuously spoken foolish words, and asking forgiveness from the saint. And by the saint’s intercession he was healed… “A certain nobleman’s servant had a sudden fall from his horse, so that his arm and left leg were broken. And he was so crushed that he immediately thought that he would die. He had been previously very dear to his lord, and the lord was in great sorrow for his servant, and besought the Almighty from his inmost heart to help the man through the great Swithun. And he also appealed to Swithun, crying out in sorrow: ‘O holy Swithun, pray to Jesus that He may grant life to this sick servant. If He does this through you, I shall be more faithful to the living God all the days of my life.’ Then the servant arose, made whole through St. Swithun. Then the lord rejoiced, and with faith gave praise to God.
“A certain old nobleman in the Isle of Wight had lain bedridden for some nine years, and could not leave his bed without being carried. Two shining saints appeared to him in a dream and told him to run with them quickly. The sick man said: ‘How can I run with you when it is nine years now that I have been unable to rise from this bed alone, without men’s help?’ Then the saints said: ‘If you go with us now, you will come to that place where you will receive healing.’ Then he was very glad, and wanted to go with them; and when he found himself unable to travel with them, they flew through the air and carried him until they came to a solitary field with brightly blooming flowers. And standing in the field was a church made of shining gold and precious stones. And St. Swithun stood before the altar, dressed in shining Eucharistic vestments, as if about to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Then Swithun said to the sick man: ‘I tell you, brother, from this time forth you must do evil to no man, nor curse any man, nor speak evil of any man, nor be malicious, nor agree with murderers, nor connive at wicked robbers and thieves, nor join in evil deeds, but rather, as best you can, help the needy with your own goods. Then you will be healed by the power of God.’ Then the sick man reflected that he did not wish to do evil except to those who had done evil to him, and that he wished to do good to those who had done good to him. But St. Swithun knew the reasoning of his heart, and said to him cheerfully: ‘Brother, I tell you, you must not do what you are thinking and harm any man, even if he harms you, but imitate your Lord, Who would not curse those who put Him to death, and commanded His followers to pray for their enemies. In the same way Paul the Apostle says to all Christians: ‘If your enemy hungers, feed him, or if he thirsts, give him to drink.’ Then the bedridden man said to the bishop: ‘O sir, tell me what kind of man you are, since you are so well able to discern the thoughts of men.’ Then St. Swithun said: ‘I am he who has just recently come,’ as if he said: ‘I have just recently been made known’. ‘What is your name?’ asked the man. ‘When you come to Winchester, you will know my name,’ replied the saint. Then the man was immediately brought back to his bed, and awoke from sleep, and told his wife the whole of the vision he had seen. Then the woman said to him that it was Swithun who had instructed him and whom he had seen looking so glorious in the church. ‘It would be very good if some men carried you to church,’ she said, ‘and if you prayed to the saint to cure you.’ Then they immediately carried him from his bed to a church in the Isle of Wight, and he was instantly healed. And he went home whole and on his feet – he who had been carried on a bier to the church. After that he went very quickly to Winchester and told the venerable Bishop Aethelwold how he had been healed through St. Swithun.
And Landferth the foreigner wrote it down in Latin… “A certain Winchester man became angry with his serf because of some carelessness, and put him in fetters. He sat in the hated bonds for a long time until, with the aid of a staff, he hopped out on one foot and with tears prayed to /1311 Swithun. The bolt immediately shot out of the fetter and the serf arose, freed by the saint.
“We cannot write,” concludes Aelfric, “nor recount in words, all the miracles the holy Swithun wrought by the power of God in the sight of the people, both on prisoners and on the sick, to manifest to men that they, like Swithun who now shines out through his miracles, may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of heaven by good works. Both walls of the old church were hung, from end to end, with crutches and the stools of cripples who had been healed there. Even so they could not put half of them up…” Another great miracle took place in the middle of the eleventh century, as Canon Frederick Busby recounts. Queen Emma, the mother of King Edward the Confessor, had been accused of unchastity with Bishop Alwyn of Winchester. In order to prove her innocent she was obliged to undergo the ordeal of walking over nine red-hot ploughshares placed on the pavement of the nave of the Cathedral. The Cathedral annalist says: ‘The new was spread throughout the Kingdom that the Queen was to undergo this ordeal; and such was the throng of people who flocked to Winchester, that so vast a concourse on one day was never seen there before. The King himself, Saint Edward, came to Winchester; nor did a single noble of the Kingdom absent himself, except Archbishop Robert, who feigned illness and, being inimical to the Queen, had poisoned the King’s mind against her,’ so that if her innocence was proved he might be able to make his escape without difficulty. The pavement of the church being swept, there were placed upon it nine red-hot ploughshares, over which a short prayer was said, and then the Queen’s shoes and stockings were drawn off, and laying aside here mantle and putting off her veil, with her garments girded closely about her, between two bishops, one on either hand, she was conducted to the torture. The bishops who led here wept, and, though they were more terrified than she was, they encouraged her not to be afraid. All persons who were within the church wept and there was a general exclamation: “O, St. Swithun, St. Swithun, help her!” The people cried with great vehemence that St. Swithun must hasten to the rescue. The Queen prayed: St. Swithun, rescue me from the fire that is prepared for me. Then followed a miracle. Guided by the Bishops she walked over the red-hot ploughshares, she felt neither the naked iron nor the fire… St. Swithun’s feastdays are July 2 and July 15.
Holy Father Swithun, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; Abbot Aelfric, Lives of the Saints, Early English Texts Society, no. 76, 1881; Frederick Busby, Saint Swithun, Winchester, 1971; “Swithun and Scandinavia”, in Winchester Cathedral: Record 1972; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 365)
92. SAINT THEODORE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Our holy Father Theodore was of Greek nationality, born in about 602 in St. Paul’s native city of Tarsus in Cilicia, and educated in Athens. Later, he was tonsured as a monk. When he was already an old man, Divine Providence led him to Rome, where the archbishop-elect of Canterbury, Wighard, had died from plague. Pope Vitalian was looking around for a suitable man to replace Wighard, and his choice fell upon a holy and learned African abbot named Adrian. But Adrian declined the offer, and suggested Theodore instead. The Pope accepted this suggestion, but on condition that St. Adrian, who knew the West well, accompanied St. Theodore to England.
Then Theodore was ordained through all the degrees of the priesthood, and was consecrated archbishop on March 26, 668. Then, together with Adrian and the Northumbrian abbot, Benedict Biscop, he set out for Britain. On the way, in Paris, they met Bishop Agilbert, formerly of Dorchester-on-Thames. Finally, on May 27, 669, Theodore and his companions arrived in Canterbury.
The new archbishop immediately appointed Benedict abbot of St. Peter’s monastery in Canterbury until 671, when Adrian was able to take over. In spite of his age and the fact that he was a complete stranger to his semi-barbarian diocese, /1Theodore acted with great vigour and success in the remaining twenty-two years of his earthly life, becoming, as the Venerable Bede wrote, “the first archbishop whom the whole of the English Church obeyed”. He convened councils, consecrated bishops, disciplined offenders and travelled the length and breadth of the land on horseback. Together with St. Adrian, he founded the famous school of Canterbury, at which Greek, Latin, theology, literature, science and mathematics were taught, and which became the main fount of learning for English churchmen until the time of the Venerable Bede. It was thus under his leadership that the English Church entered upon the “golden age” of her existence, begetting a multitude of saints of both sexes and every station of life. Monastic life in particular reached a high pinnacle of excellence, and within a few years of St. Theodore’s repose hundreds of English monks and nuns were pouring out of their newly-enlightened homeland to bring the light of Christ to their still-benighted kinsmen in Holland and Germany.
One of St. Theodore’s main problems was how to relate to the Celtic Christians of the North and West of Britain who refused to accept the Roman-Byzantine Paschalion. The Synod of Whitby, which was convened in 664 just before the coming of St. Theodore, had decided in favour of the Roman-Byzantine Paschalion, and against the Celtic Paschalion; but many of the Celts, believing their tradition to be more authentic, refused to accept this decision and remained in schism from the English Church. St. Theodore applied the canons concerning schismatics to those who rejected the Synod of Whitby. When Celtic bishops sought refuge in the English Church, he completed their consecrations before accepting them as bishops; and all English Christians who received communion in the schismatics’ churches were subject to excommunication for one year. It was under his presidency that the Council of Hertford in 672 (the first Council of the All-English Church) decreed in its first canon: “that we all in common keep the holy day of Pascha on the Sunday after the fourteenth moon of the first month” and always after the Jewish Passover.
By the end of the 670s there were twelve bishops accepting St. Theodore’s authority in England. Kings, too, recognized his authority; for in 679, after the Battle of the Trent, he reconciled Kings Egfrid and Aethelred. And towards the end of his life, in 686, he became reconciled with St. Wilfred, archbishop of York, who had appealed to Rome against his decision to divide the diocese of York into four smaller dioceses.
St. Theodore convened local councils at Burford in 679 and Twyford near the River Alne in 684. But the most important was the Synod of Hatfield in 679, at which the heresy of Monothelitism was condemned and, in the Venerable Bede’s words, “the bishops of the island of Britain united to proclaim the true and Orthodox faith”.
The Fathers of this Council confirmed the first Five Ecumenical Councils, affirming “the Trinity Consubstantial and Unity in Trinity, that is One God subsisting in three consubstantial Persons of equal glory and honour”. Although the text of this Council as it has come down to us contains the words: “and the Holy Spirit ineffably proceeding from the Father and the Son”, the Orthodox scholar Adam Zernikav of Chernigov established in 1682 that the words “ineffably” and “from the Son” had been inserted at a later date.
Of particular importance for later generations was the collection of canons known as Theodore’s Penitential, which, though not written by St. Theodore himself, contain decisions made by him. These decree, for example, that while “no man may leave his lawful wife except on account of fornication”, there are other causes which may lead to the dissolution of marriage and the possibility of remarriage, including cases of captivity, penal slavery and permanent abandonment. In the next century Archbishop Egbert of York wrote: “It is since the times of St. Theodore that not only the clergy in the monasteries, but also the laity with their wives and families, would resort to their confessors, and would wash themselves of sin through tears, community life, fasts, vigils, prayers and alms during the full twelve days before Christmas, and so purified, would receive the Lord’s Communion on His Nativity.”
St. Theodore reposed on September 19, 690, at about the age of eighty-seven. He was buried close to St. Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, in the monastery of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Canterbury. In 1091, some years after England fell away from the Orthodox Church, his relics were uncovered and found to be incorrupt.
St. Theodore is commemorated on September 19.
Holy Father Theodore, pray to God for us!
(Sources: The Venerable Bede, A History of the English Church and People; A.W.Haddan & W. Stubbs, Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. III, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1871, 1964; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, The English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 64; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford; The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 370-371; Nicholas Brooks, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, London and New York: Leicester University Press, 1996)
93. SAINT WALSTAN OF TAVERHAM
Our holy Father Walstan was born in East Anglia, either at Bawburgh in Norfolk or at Blythburgh in Suffolk, during the reign of King Aethelred, in the late tenth century. He was said to have been of noble lineage and related to the king’s son, Edmund Ironside. Walstan’s father is recorded as having been called Benedict, and his mother was Blide (or Blythe); the St. Blide who was buried and honoured at Marsham.
At the age of 12, Walstan renounced his patrimony, left home and travelled to Taverham, just north of Norwich, where he sought employment as a farm labourer.
He was hired by a local farmer, who put him to work in the fields and woodland in the surrounding area near Costessey. There he laboured with great devotion and obedience, combining his toil with constant prayer and frequent fasting. He also took a vow of celibacy although he never received monastic tonsure. All the time he kept his true identity (as a nobleman) a secret. He was so charitable that he frequently gave his meagre rations to the poor, and sometimes even his shoes, going barefoot as a result. On one occasion he was severely punished by his employer’s wife for what she had come to regard as his foolishness.
Eventually, the farmer wished to adopt St. Walstan as his heir. The saint refused this honour. Instead he asked that, at his death, he be given two oxen to draw his body wherever they wanted to its place of burial. This request was granted and two white ox calves were set aside for this eventuality.
Three days before his death, St. Walstan received an angelic visitation, witnessed by a companion, forewarning him of his death and translation to heaven. The priest of Taverham church who came to give him Holy Communion omitted to bring water with him to mix with the wine. At the prayers of the saint a well-spring miraculously sprang up. The site of this well can still be seen to this day.
St. Walstan died in a field, praying for all the sick and for cattle, at noon. His body was placed on a rough cart and was drawn by the two white oxen, which wended their way through Costessy Woods, across the River Wensum until they reached to what is now Costessey Park. At this point the oxen rested for a while, a sacred spring arising there. Then they set off again towards Bawburgh church, whose north wall miraculously opened up allowing the oxen, cart and body, together with all those accompanied it, into the church, after which the wall closed and became whole again. Inside, Bishop Aelfgar of Elmham with forty monks carried out the funeral service. (Bishop Aelfgar, known as “the almsgiver”, had been a disciple of /1Dunstan, and died during Mattins on Christmas Day, 1021.)
This took place on May 30, 1016 (or 1019).
The saint’s shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage down the centuries, and many miracles were wrought there. Thus through the prayers of the saint a man who had lain drowned in a pond for two days was resuscitated. Many of his miracles relate to the healing of animals and the abundance of crops, and in 1989 he was declared “Patron Saint of British Food and Farming”.
In the general destruction of the Reformation, the shrine was demolished and /1Walstan’s relics were burnt and scattered. The wells were given over to secular and superstitious use. The wells at Taverham and Costessy eventually dried up, but the one at Bawburgh survived. However, there is now a revival of interest in, and devotion to, St. Walstan.
Although Walstan’s name does not appear on any Anglo-Saxon calendar, the veneration of him in East Anglia has been strong and persistent since Orthodox times.
(Sources: Fr. Elias Jones, “The Life of our Father among the Saints, Righteous Walstan the Generous of Taverham”, Orthodox News, vol. 12, no. 1, Eastertide, 1998, pp. 1, 5; The English Saints: East Anglia, Canterbury: Norwich Press, 1999, pp. 179-187; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, D, 1021; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 397-398)
94. SAINT WENDREDA, HERMITESS OF MARCH
Our holy Mother Wendreda was the sister of Saints Aethelthryth, Sexburga, Ermenhilda and Withburga. She was, it seems, a hermitess – first in Exning, where a holy well is named after her, and then at March in Cambridgeshire. Nothing else is known of her life. However, in the late tenth century Abbot Aelsi of Ely asked King Aethelred for permission “to translate the relics of the holy virgin Wendreda” from March to Ely, to join the relics of her holy sisters. This request was granted. The abbot then enclosed the relics in a shrine made of gold and precious stones.
In 1016 the Danes invaded East Anglia, and King Edmund Ironside marched against them. At the request of the king, the relics of St. Wendreda were carried by four monks to the battlefield. On October 16, the battle of Ashington was joined, and the English were defeated. The four monks were also killed, and the relics of the saint came into the possession of King Canute. He gave them to the Church of Canterbury.
Holy Mother Wendreda, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Liber Eliensis, 76, 77; Trevor Bevis, Fenland Saints and Shrines; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, p. 400)
95. SAINT WERBURGA, ABBESS OF CHESTER
Our holy Mother Werburga was the daughter of King Wulfhere, first Christian king of Mercia and his wife, St. Ermenhilda. At a young age she was dedicated by the queen, her mother, as a chaste virgin to Christ. And, says an early chronicler, “thinking scorn of her royal wooers, and recoiling from the pompous splendour and pride of all worldly glory, as a violet, she bloomed in the beauty of unsullied youth, and as a lily, adorned the Garden of the Lord in the brightness of her virginal purity.” On the death of her father, in about 673, she and her mother became nuns in Ely. There she remained under her mother’s direction until her uncle, Aethelred, who had succeeded her father on the throne of Mercia, placed her in charge of all the convents in his kingdom.
St. Werburga is especially associated with the convents of Hanbury in Staffordshire and Threckingham in Lincolnshire. But it was on her father’s royal estate at Weedon, in Northamptonshire, that the most famous incident in her life took place. Goscelin tells the story:- “When the royal virgin was spending some time in her house at this same Weedon, a huge flock of wild geese… ravaged the fields, as is their wont. A domestic servant, a countryman, told his mistress of the damage that was being done. Then with great faith she told him to bring them all and shut them up just as one does with animals who eat other people’s corn. ‘Off you go,’ she said, ‘and bring all the birds in here.’ The man went, greatly amazed and wondering whether this command was nonsense or madness. For how could a person, unfamiliar to the geese and of whom they would be suspicious, compel so many winged creatures to walk into captivity, when they could fly off and escape? ‘How,’ he said, ‘am I to direct the birds towards this place, when they will fly into the air at my first approach?’ Then the virgin, reiterating her demand, said, ‘Go, the sooner the better, and bring all the geese into my custody in accordance with my order.’ He was afraid to neglect even a useless command of his saintly mistress, and went behind all the geese and said to them, ‘Off you go then to our mistress.’ He drove them all in front of him as if they were a tame flock. Not one bird from all that gathering raise a wing, but like wingless chicks or as if they their wings cut off, they moved on foot, walking with bowed heads as if ashamed of their bad behaviour. So they assembled within the courtyard of their judge, trembling and subdued as if found guilty. They were shut up as captives, or more precisely, they were preserved to be the object of her kindness.
“The daughter of light passed that night, as she was accustomed, in hymns and prayer to God. In the morning all the visitors made a din in shrill tones to their mistress, as if they were asking for pardon and permission to leave. But she, as she was most kind to every creature of God, ordered that they be pardoned and set free.
She sternly forbade them ever again to return there. But one of her servants had gone out and stolen one of them, and then carried it off and hidden it.
“When the geese all raised their wings and flew off into the air, they rested and looked around, and reckoned up the loss to their company and found that one was missing. Immediately the whole host gathered above the virgin’s house and bewailed with a great din the harm done to their fellow-creature. Their forces spread out everywhere and completely covered the sky, and it seemed that they were pleading in these human words for the compassionate Werburga to give her judgement: ‘Why, mistress, when your clemency released all of us, is one of us held captive? And can this iniquity be concealed in your holy house, and this detestable theft flourish under your innocence?’ So at the noise and complaint of the great host the divine virgin went out and understood its cause, just as if it had been put in the above words. Straightway the theft was investigated and the culprit himself admitted it. The holy peacemaker took the bird back and reunited it with its tribe, and ordered it to be off immediately on the conditions previously given.
“She then rejoiced with them, by saying in a kindly spirit, ‘Birds of the air, bless the Lord.’ Without a moment’s delay the whole flock flew away and not a single creature of that kind has ever been found on the land of the blessed Werburga, as is well known.”
Goscelin continues: “But Werburga’s great humility, and also her eminence before God, are confirmed by other signs in this same place of Weedon. She had a herdsman, a man of pious nature and holy living – as far as was possible in a life of subjection to a human master. He is remembered in that area for the renown of his meritorious deeds, and is revered as a saint on his own day. It once chanced that his mistress’ bailiff was beating him most cruelly with the whip, and he was bearing it all with great tranquillity in God’s name. Then the blessed compassion of the virgin could not bear that he should suffer, and throwing herself down at the wicked slavemaster’s feet, she cried with a prayer and a rebuke: ‘For the love of God, spare him! Why are you tearing this innocent man to pieces? He is more acceptable, I believe, before the Most High Judge than all of us’. And when he was prevailed upon all too slowly – either out of violent rage or out of pride – immediately his brutal blows and savage glances were diverted by the celestial indignation on to his own back. Thus at last he himself, as indeed was more incumbent upon him – fell at his mistress’ feet and the pardon which he had denied to the innocent man he begged with tears for his own offence. And immediately, through the kind intervention of the saint, he was returned to his former state. But the celebrated man of God, Alnoth, lies buried at Stowe, one league from Bugbrook. Robbers martyred him as he led an anchorite’s life in a wood, and so destroyed one who by miracles and by common acclaim was acceptable to God.”
St. Werburga had the gifts of healing and prophecy. And, foreseeing the day of her death, she ordered that her nuns at Hanbury, on hearing of her death, should come and take her body. Then, on February 3, in one of the years between 700 and 707, she died in her convent at Threckingham.
However, the people of Threckingham did not want the holy body to be removed from their midst. So they placed it in the church, bolted the gates and kept a guard over it. But then, by the Providence of God, a heavy sleep fell upon them just as a large band of the people of Hanbury together with some priests arrived. Moreover, at that moment all the bolts and bars of the monastery fell to the ground. So the people of Hanbury were able to take the holy body to their own monastery and bury it there with great joy and thanksgiving.
Many miracles were wrought at St. Werburga’s tomb: sight was restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, and lepers and other sick people were healed. About nine years after her burial King Ceolred of Mercia ordered that her remains be raised from the tomb. Then it was found that the holy virgin’s body was completely incorrupt: “Her clothes were seen in all respects radiant and undefiled just as when they had been put on first; when her veil was reverently drawn aside, her face was seen to be unmarred, her cheeks rosy as in the first bloom of youth.”
In the tenth century (or 875, according to another source), for fear of the Danes the relics of St. Werburga were translated from Hanbury to Chester and placed in the church on the site of the present cathedral. Later in that century, as the pagan Danes approached the city, the incorrupt relics of the saint suddenly disintegrated, “lest the enemy, not believing in the miracles of God, and knowing no gratitude for the blessings she had bestowed, should lay impious hands upon her.”
St. Werburga is commemorated on February 3.
Holy Mother Werburga, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Liber Eliensis; The Life of St. Werburg by Goscelin the Monk, Chester Cathedral, 1974; `”The Martyrdom of SS. Wulfhade and Rufine”, Latin version in R.
Hyett Warner, The Life and Legends of St. Chad, Leach & Son, 1871; Fr. Andrew Phillips, Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition, English Orthodox Trust, 1995, chapter 82; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, p.401)
96. SAINT WISTAN, MARTYR-KING OF MERCIA
The holy Martyr-King Wistan (Winston) succeeded to the throne of his grandfather, Wiglaf of Mercia, in 840. However, being too young to rule, he asked his mother Elfleda to act as regent.
Now an ambitious cousin of Wistan’s, Berhtric by name, sought the hand of Elfleda in marriage. Wistan, however, refused to permit the marriage, considering it to be incestuous and against the canons of the Church. So Berhtric plotted to kill him.
He arranged to meet him at a place called since that time Wistanstowe (Wistow, Leicestershire). First he greeted him with the kiss of peace. But then he drew a sword from under his cloak and struck off the top of his head in the shape of a crown.
Three of Wistan’s followers fell with him. This took place in about 850.
A column of light was seen over the place of martyrdom; and on the first of June every year thereafter, for the space of one hour, “hairs” could be picked off the grass, touched and kissed. Wistan’s body was buried next to those of his father and grandfather at the monastery of Repton, the original crypt of which can still be seen.
In 1019 Abbot Alfwerd of Evesham asked King Canute to give him the relics of /1Wistan. From then on Evesham became the centre of his veneration. Just after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Norman abbot of Evesham, Walter de Cerisy, had doubts whether Wistan was really a saint. So he decided to subject his relics to an ordeal by fire. However, as he was carrying the skull of the saint, it suddenly fell from his hands and began gushing rivers of sweat… Over a century later, the miracles of the “hairs” was verified by a commission sent by Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury.
In Orthodox times, the feastday of the saint was January 1, but later it was changed to June 1.
Holy Martyr-King Wistan, pray to God for us!
(Sources: C. Horstman (ed.), Nova Legenda Angliae, Oxford, 1901, p. 467; W.D. Macray (ed.), Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham, Rolls series, 1863, pp. 232-234; P. Grosjean, “De Codice Hagiographico Gothano”, Analecta Bollandiana, vol. LVIII, 1940, pp. 90-103; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 410)
97. SAINT WITHBURGA, HERMITESS OF EAST DEREHAM
Our holy Mother Withburga was the daughter of King Anna of the East Angles and sister of St. Aethelthryth. For many years she lived as a hermitess at Holkham, Norfolk, and then at East Dereham. She used to be fed with milk by a tame doe.
Once a man killed the doe, and very soon died himself.
At East Dereham St. Withburga founded a community, but died before the buildings were completed, in 743. She was buried in the churchyard. In 798, her body was found to be incorrupt and was translated into the church. A holy well, which is still in existence, sprang up at the point where her body was exhumed.
In 974, Abbot Brithnoth of Ely went secretly at night to Dereham and removed the body on waggons to the river Brandun, hotly pursued by the men of Dereham. On the waterways the ship lost its course, but a column of fire appeared from heaven and showed the way to the shore. In 1106, the incorruption of St. Withburga’s body was again confirmed.
The translation of St. Withburga is commemorated on July 8.
Holy Mother Withburga, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, IV, 184; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, p.411)
98. SAINT WULFHILDA, ABBESS OF BARKING
Our holy Mother Wulfhilda was the daughter of a wealthy nobleman named Wulfhelm. Wulfhelm had several children by his pious wife, but for eighteen years before the conception of Wulfhilda they had lived together as brother and sister so as to give themselves up more completely to prayer and fasting. One night, however, an angel appeared to each of them separately three times, and told them that they should come together so as to beget a daughter who would become a bride of Christ.
The next morning they told each other the vision, and discovered that it had been identical for the two of them. So they accepted it as having come from God. Thus was the saint conceived and born; and shortly after her weaning she was given over to be brought up at the convent in Wilton.
One day the adolescent King Edgar came to Wilton on a hunting expedition and was struck by the beauty of the novice Wulfhilda. He made advances to her, but neither by flatteries nor threats could she be persuaded by him, but rather fled from him as a dove from a hawk. Not daring to snatch her from out of a monastery, the king conceived a cunning strategem. The virgin had a paternal aunt named Wenfleda, who was abbess of a convent at Wherwell. Tempted by the desire to have a relative of hers as queen, she agreed to pretend that she was ill and lure the virgin to her on the pretext of wishing to dispose of her possessions before she died. So when Wulfhilda arrived she found her aunt, not ill as she had supposed, but full of good cheer from a royal banquet – and with the king sitting beside her. Everyone greeted and congratulated the new arrival, and she was commanded to deck herself royally and come before the king. Thus, shining in the splendour of golden raiment, she was acclaimed by everybody as worthy of being queen. The king sat her beside him, between himself and her aunt, and tempted her with blandishments, riches and the title of Queen of Britain. But she was silent, thinking only of flight, and pouring out her heart in prayer to God. She would not eat, feigning illness; and indeed, she was sick with anxiety, which made the feast like iron to her. At length, pleading tiredness, she was given permission to go out for a short time. But the king, knowing her intention, had placed guards at the doors to follow her even into her bedroom.
Eventually she escaped through an underground passage, her guide being the same angel who had announced her birth to her parents.
Then, wandering through pathless places, she came to the humble hut of a peasant woman in Wherwell, where she stayed the night as a beggar. Meanwhile, there was much coming and going from the king’s court, where everyone was worried, not so much because she had escaped, as that she might have perished. But she was not lured out of her hiding-place by the shouts of the men or the sounding of the trumpets, remembering the words of David: “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be shaken… He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven. He is my God, and I will hope in Him. For He shall deliver thee from every troubling word.” In the morning the king went away, and Wulfhilda, having generously rewarded her hostess (who was a servant of Wenfleda’s), found her travelling companions and returned to the safe refuge of Wilton.
When the king discovered this, he abandoned all his kingdom’s affairs and flew back to Wilton. But she could not be persuaded by any means even to talk to him.
However, he caught her in the courtyard outside the church, and, leaping at her as she was fleeing across the threshold, he took hold of her sleeve. But then a miracle took place: the sleeve came away in his hand without the slightest sign of tearing or cutting. She fled into the altar and took hold of the box containing the holy relics. But the king was smitten in his heart as once was David at the words of the Prophet Nathan. Trembling, he realized that the sleeve coming away in his hand indicated that she had been cut away from his lust by God Himself. Then he said: “Fear not, O virgin acceptable to God. I promise in the sight of God that I shall molest you no longer, but will rather show myself to be your helper and protector with all benevolence. Only pray, I beseech you, that the most kind God will forgive my vanity and rashness. And now farewell, you who are given to a better Spouse.
You will be dearer to us now, in accordance with a chaste and higher and incorruptible desire.”
The virgin assented to these words with a humble nod. But she did not leave the place of prayer until the king had departed.
True to his promise, the king now extended his help to the saint, making her abbess of Barking in Essex and restoring it to what it had been under St. Ethelburga in the seventh century. He also greatly endowed the monastery at Horton in Dorset and likewise gave it, together with some other churches in Wessex, to Wulfhilda.
And all this before she had even been tonsured! When she did come to be tonsured, the grace of God was seen to descend upon her head in the form of a dove which was whiter than snow. Thereafter she governed the two convents which had been given to her for many years. Caring for the nuns with maternal love, she was an example to them in all virtue: in prayer and fasting and abstinence and in every kind of lowly work.
She was especially given to almsgiving. Early in the morning, she was at the doors of the church distributing alms to the poor and anticipating their petitions.
Once a woman brought her blind child to her. The blessed virgin made the sign of the cross with a gold ring over the eyes of the child, and he immediately opened his eyes and, seeing the light of the ring and his mother’s face, laughed joyfully. The saint told the woman not to publicize the miracle, but she was unable to restrain herself.
Once she gave hospitality to St. Aethelwold, bishop of Winchester, and his retinue, who were sailing down the Thames to meet the king and his fleet at Sandwich. Many people came to meet the prelate, and the demands on the supply of alcoholic drinks were great. But the level of wine never fell below its original level throughout the day – much to the astonishment of the bishop’s servants who had measured it with a rod beforehand.
On another occasion, she and the virgin Lenfleda were carrying some heavy jugs of water on their shoulders. But, finding them too heavy, they were forced to put them down. Then Wulfhilda said: “It seems to me that we are good for nothing: the beasts of burden are more efficient and deserve their food more than we do.”
In this way she gave a lesson in humility to Lenfleda, whom she knew, by the gift of prophecy that was in her, would be her successor. Lenfleda had been brought up in luxurious surroundings, but had always longed to be a nun. When her parents were about to give her in marriage, she ran away to the saint, who told her to preserve her virginity until the Coming of the Lord. She received the monastic tonsure, and was thereafter inseparable from her mistress.
As we have said, Wulfhilda was granted the gift of prophecy by the Lord. Once she rebuked one of the church’s goldworkers for profligacy. But he responded with a torrent of furious words.
“Before your death,” she said, “you will atone for the crime you have committed, as well as for your abuse.”
A year before his death, the man became mute and was confined to his bed with a chronic illness. Remembering the saint’s prophecy, he repented deeply of his sin.
After she had ruled the two monasteries in peace for several years, the envy of certain priests in Barking was aroused against the saint, and they prevailed upon Queen Elfrida to cast her out and install them. The sisters escorted their mother out of the monastery with tears and groans, as if they themselves wished to go with her.
But she comforted them, saying on the threshold of the church: “Weep not, my dearest daughters, but as I have instructed you, so remain in the Lord.”
And, touching the threshold with her hand, she said: “I tell you that on this very day twenty years from now, and by this very door by which I am going out, I shall return.”
Then she retired to her other monastery at Horton, from where she continued to instruct and exhort the sisters of Barking.
Once Queen Elfrida visited the orphaned monastery. Immediately a variety of disasters overtook her: animals died, then her own men, and finally she herself fell ill. As she was praying fearfully, the first abbess of the monastery, St. Ethelburga, appeared to her, looking ill and miserable, and with her clothing torn and in rags.
“Do you see the shame of my wretchedness,” she said to the astonished queen.
“You have taken away the ornament of my glory, the holy Wulfhilda, and in her long exile you have covered me with this squalid attire. And by what right do you occupy this holy place? Therefore I tell you that unless you recall her as soon as possible you will not recover from this illness but will die of it.”
Terrified, the queen sent messengers with all speed to Wulfhilda, and received her back with all the honour due to her. This happened on the very day, and by the same door, as had been prophesied by the saint. Then the queen recovered from her illness, by which she knew that the cause of it had been her expulsion of Wulfhilda.
For seven more years the saint ruled both monasteries in peace, drawing all hearts by her love and gentleness and angelic life. Then, on Candlemas (February 2) in about the year 1000, she fell and hurt herself badly.
“We have fallen like a leaning wall,” she said, “and soon the house, too, will fall.”
Then she asked when was the feast of the translation of the relics of /1Aethelwold. The tenth of September, she was told.
“Good,” she replied. “I have a little time left with you, until the birth of our supreme mistress, and the feast of our beloved prelate.”
And so, on the vigil of St. Aethelwold’s translation, September 9, which was during the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, after prayers and fastings and vigils, and having partaken of the Body and Blood of the Lord, she reposed in peace.
She died in London, but her body was conveyed immediately to Barking and buried there. Many miracles were wrought in the presence of her holy relics, as well as at her other monastery of Horton.
When the sacred relics of St. Wulfhilda were being conveyed the seven miles from London to Barking, a certain man who had been rebuked for his sins by the saint during her earthly lifetime put his hand to the coffin. Immediately it became very heavy, as if rooted to the spot, so that no-one could move it. Everybody noticed this and blamed the man, whereupon he departed trembling. Immediately the coffin became light again. But the guilty man, overcome with grief, followed the procession with bitter tears and groans. At length the Lord had mercy on him, and his friends called him to help in carrying the body the last two miles to the monastery. There it was buried at the head of St. Ethelburga.
Once a woman who was both blind and lame came to the monastery at Horton.
Having prayed, she received the sight of her eyes, which encouraged her to pray more fervently for the use of her legs. Then it was intimated to her that she should go to the saint at Barking. Thither she dragged herself with great difficulty, and kept vigil at the tomb. Suddenly she was able to stand upright, healed in both her feet.
On September 2, 1030, the relics of St. Wulfhilda were translated together with those of Saints Ethelburga and Hildelitha, the first two abbesses of Barking.
St. Wulfhilda is commemorated on September 9.
Holy Mother Wulfhilda, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Mario Esposito, “La vie de Saint Vulfhilde par Goscelin de Cantorbery”, Analecta Bollandiana, 1913, XXXII, 10-26; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 411-12)
99. SAINT WULSIN, BISHOP OF SHERBORNE
Our holy Father Wulsin was a native of London. In 959, he was appointed by King Edgar and St. Dunstan as superior of St. Peter’s, Westminster, and in 980 – as abbot. In 992, he was consecrated bishop of Sherborne while remaining abbot of Westminster; and there he lived a life of great holiness and abstinence until his repose in 1002.
He rebuilt the church at Sherborne and improved its endowment.
As Christmas of the year 1001 was approaching, he fell ill in the monastery called Bega’s. “There had also fallen ill with him,” wrote his biographer Goscelin, “a certain very faithful and obedient monk of his named Aethelwine, who, having heard of Wulsin’s illness, was stricken with grief for his beloved lord, and sent to inquire solicitously what hope there was for his recovery. When the bishop saw the messenger of his most compassionate servant, he said: “‘Go back, brother, to your lord who has so warmly greeted me, and tell him from me, his master, that he should arrange everything and prepare himself with all care, for tomorrow he will go with me to the court of the Supreme King, where he will receive the reward of his faithful service which has been laid up for him by the Lord of all.’
“But when he was departing, the bishop besought his brethren in the following words: “‘Dearly beloved, I beseech you in my paternal love that you arrange that my faithful servant who is very well-known to you and who is about to go with me to the mercy of the Lord as I await my own death, should be taken with me to Sherborne and buried with me in the same monastery, so that he who was always devoted to me in this present life should also be with me in death and eternal peace.
How blessed is the faith of the righteous!
How true the word of the Lord: “He that heareth you,” He says, “heareth Me, and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” If we may draw parallels between great things and small ones, then it was thus that the evangelical forerunner sent a messenger to the Lord to ask whether they were waiting for Him or for another. Which is why he was counted worthy to be taught that the Lord would Himself follow His forerunner in death.’
“Now it seems that St. Wulsin was inspired by a prophetic spirit, since he foretold with such certainty the deaths both of himself and of the other man. All were amazed at this prophecy, and they were still more amazed at its fulfilment. And the hearts of all were overwhelmed by the setting of so great a light. However, just as once the disciples did not understand the word of the Lord concerning His Passion, and it was hidden from their stupefied senses, so these men did not grasp what they openly heard. Thus are we accustomed tardily to believe that which we do not wish to happen. At length, however, convinced by this assertion, they asked him with deep groaning where he wished to be buried after his death. He indicated a very definite place in Sherborne which had just been prepared and in which his coffin was to be laid without fail.
“More than the others there mourned a certain priest by the name of Wulfric, who was counted worthy through his virtue of being very close to the holy bishop and who was specially informed of his secrets in God. This man was comforted by the paternal compassion of the saint, who, speaking with assurance in the Holy Spirit as if he had been already loosed from the bonds of the flesh and was already in heaven, said: “‘Weep not, dearest brother, for I go to the joy of my Lord Who calls me. Trust, moreover, and be sure that, twelve years after my death, the Lord in His goodness will recall His mercies with me, and cause men to wonder by the witness of miracles, and will visit His people in me through the revelation of His grace, so that, just as you now weep for me, so then you will rejoice, looking up on high.’
“This prophecy was fulfilled in its time.
“When, therefore, his last hour had come, the sick man was placed in a chair, as was the custom, and the athlete, being about to triumph over the powers of the air, was signed with the potent mystery of Holy Unction. And when the hand of the priest had touched his breast with the holy oil, he lifted up his eyes to the Lord, his Helper, and broke into the wonderful cry of the blessed Stephen: “‘Behold,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.’
“And with these words, he breathed out his spirit into the hands of the Lord…
“When, therefore, the bier for the venerable body had been constructed, it was borne by the orphaned flock to the diocese of Sherborne to the accompaniment of hymns mixed with groans. Almost an hour before, the above-mentioned monk Aethelwine had preceded his master in death… Thus when the funeral rites had been performed by the bishop in the presence of abbots, clergy and a multitude of people, the saint was buried together with his companion, as he had commanded, in the narthex of the church…
“But when the saint’s body was being placed in that very grave which he had commissioned, it was found to be too long. His head and shoulders stuck out, and it was found to be impossible to compress the whole body into the confined space of the grave. Everyone was perturbed and at a loss what to do. For although this grave was the wrong size, they did not dare to place the saint in another one which he had not commissioned. But then Divine grace counted his family worthy to behold a new and mighty miracle which was performed in the presence of the people and which men of good repute have confirmed. While everyone was hesitating, two bishops from neighbouring dioceses approached the tomb. Suddenly a noise was heard and the living earth moved of itself, and whatever was found outside the short cavity was found within it. It was as if the hard stone moved like sand or the dead man himself awoke from sleep on his bed and stretched his whole body out within the tomb. And the tomb was now too long to the same extent that it had been too short before. Then the crowd standing round shouted praises to heaven, and wept from joy and sorrow combined. But when the lid had been placed on the coffin with pious care, the heavenly treasure was hidden until the time of the Divine visitation by the saint himself…”
St. Wulsin reposed on January 8, a Sunday. Then, in the twelfth year after his repose, miracles began to take place at his tomb, as he had prophesied. We shall describe a few of the very many.
Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester fell ill with a lingering disease. He was told in a vision to go to the tomb of St. Wulsin and there receive healing. And when he had been brought to the saint’s monastery in a carriage like the paralytic on a pallet, after staying the night there he was so completely healed that he who had been brought in a carriage returned on a horse. The day before the healing the bishops had been consulting with the king about appointing a successor to Wulfstan on account of his long illness. When they were unable to reach agreement about this, he suddenly entered the king’s court to the amazement of all. On hearing his story, the bishops praised God and recognized in Wulsin a saint of God.
His fame spread far and wide, many people came to his tomb and a variety of illnesses were cured. On one occasion, during the vigil of Candlemas (The Presentation of the Lord to the Temple, February 2), a festive procession with burning candles was made to the tomb of the saint. Five sick people were laid on it by the multitude, and they were all immediately restored to health.
A certain woman from the saint’s home city of London was in great pain from her back. She had gone round all the tombs of the saints, but without success. Having lost hope of a cure, she was returning home when the holy father appeared to her in her sleep and said: “Go to Sherborne, to the place of my rest, and tell the brethren of the monastery from me that they must ask to have the pontifical chair which I commended to the abbess of Shaftesbury returned, and bring it back to my place with them. And let them know that you are to be healed by this sign and message in memory of me.”
Wonderful revelation! Until the woman told it them, the brethren knew nothing about this relic of the bishop. They asked the abbess, who had forgotten all about it.
But then they found it and brought it back with them. The woman received the reward of her journey and labour and obedience at the tomb of the saint: she returned home with her health restored.
The saint’s body was translated from the narthex of the church by his successor in the see of Sherborne, Ethelric, and St. Aelfheah, archbishop of Canterbury, with the authorization of the king. It was decreed that the saint’s feast should be celebrated in his province every year. And when Bishop Ethelric and his fellow bishops, clergy, abbots and a multitude of the people opened the lid of the coffin, a wonderful fragrance as if from Paradise filled the senses and gladdened the hearts of all.
The holy body was laid on the right side of the altar. And then the fame of the saint’s miracles drew so many sufferers to Sherborne that you would have thought that the whole of England’s sick population had come there. The whole church and narthex was filled to overflowing, and most of those who sought healing received it.
St. Wulsin was succeeded in his see by the above-mentioned Ethelric, who was followed by Ethelsin and Brihtwine. But Brihtwine was ejected from the see and a Canterbury monk name Elfmar introduced in his place. He proceeded to tyrannize the saint’s flock, and seized one of the brethren’s possessions. Thereupon he lost his sight, and only received it back again when he returned to his own monastery, that he might realize that he had lost his sight by St. Wulsin’s judgement lest he should tyrannize his flock, and received it back only when he had given up the bishopric he did not deserve. Then Brihtwine was restored to his see.
In about the year 1050, Bishop Aelfwold of Sherborne ordered the sarcophagus of St. Wulsin to be translated into the church. While he and the prior of St. Wulsin’s monastery, Aethelweard, had been debating whether to take this step, they had both separately had a revelation at the same time and during the same night. In the prior’s vision, he had been admitted into the narthex where the saint’s sarcophagus lay and had seen himself collecting golden honeycombs from the sarcophagus as if it had been a beehive. The smell of the honey filled the whole monastery with an incomparable fragrance. Waking up, he cried: “Truly, O honey-flowing father, we have found that you are here and you have given these signs of your presence.”
Immediately, he rushed to the bishop, who was just about to tell him about his own vision. he had found himself in a delightful flowering orchard, where he saw the holy father shining in glorious light and washing his head in a fountain. Struck with terror and joy, he went up to him and said: “What are you doing, O fairest father?” “What you should have done long ago,” replied the saint.
When the bishop and prior had told each other of their vision, they were more than ever convinced of what they should do; and without procrastinating any longer, they called the people and brethren and performed the service.
When the tomb was opened a wonderful fragrance filled the whole church, so that what the prior had sensed in his sleep he was now able to experience in reality.
Nor did the fragrance fail throughout the service. When the holy bones had been brought into the church and placed on the south side of the main altar, they were reverently washed and then deposited in a casket in a specially prepared shrine, with an altar being situated at the saint’s head, where Mattins and the Divine Liturgy were celebrated every day. In the washing of the bones Bishop Aelfwold saw the fulfilment of his vision. Then he built a new monastery adjoining the old, and once again transferred the relics of their sacred patron into it. He also, in response to many signs and revelations, translated the relics of St. Juthwara from Halstock to Sherborne; and there, through the intercession of the two saints, many miracles took place.
During the episcopate of Bishop Hermann, Aelfwold’s successor, one of the church’s golden shrines was stolen. Tired after a long search, the brethren were depressed, and especially the brother who had been appointed to guard the church.
Then one night, when he was going into the altar at the end of Mattins, he suddenly heard a clear voice coming from the relics of St. Wulsin, which was audible to all the brethren in the choir as well: “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”
Stunned, they all felt renewed hope in the intercession of the saint. For none doubted that this voice had been from heaven. That same day, the stolen object was recovered, and the thief was caught and punished.
Once an attempt was made to take away from the rights of the bishopric, and to remove a convent from Bishop Hermann’s jurisdiction. But then by his command the relics of St. Wulsin were brought in. Immediately, as if in the presence of their leader and judge, the opponents ceased to put forward their claim, and the ancient rights of the bishopric were confirmed.
One of the brothers of the monastery had been violently shaken for nearly half a year by bouts of fever, which came, first every two days, and then daily. He hated all food, and had to be dragged to meals as if to torture. On the day of the solemn translation of the relics of St. Juthwara, he wanted to sing in the choir behind the procession, but was suddenly seized with trembling and pallor. Reluctantly, he began to move back as if to captivity. But the other brothers, mindful of the grace of the saints, gave him to drink from the water which had washed their bones. He was completely healed. Others suffering from fevers were also healed by drinking the holy water.
A married woman lay as if dead for three days. She was deaf and dumb, immobile as a stone, her eyes staring blankly in front of her, pupils and eyelids motionless. She gave no sign to those who called to her, and if carried her head and other limbs would fall if not supported. Everyone was expecting her death, and the only talk was of her burial. On the third day her son, who was a monk brought up in the piety of the saints, came to see his parents, wishing to comfort the one and cure the other. But human wisdom saw no hope of a cure. Mindful, however, of the virtues of his native saints, he returned to the monastery and sent her some of the above-mentioned water. Immediately some of it was poured down her throat, she came to as if from sleep, moved her eyes, sat up, and eagerly drank the rest of the draught. Soon she was on her feet. Then all their friends who had been mourning the woman without hope rejoiced with her husband as if she had come back from the dead.
St. Wulsin is commemorated on January 8.
Holy Father Wulsin, pray to God for us!
(Sources: C.H. Talbot, “The Life of St. Wulsin of Sherborne by Goscelin”, Revue Benedictine, LXIX, pp. 69-85; Frank Barlow, The English Church 1000-1066, Longmans, 1979, p. 68, note 2; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Clarendon Press, 1978, p. 415)
100. SAINT IVO, BISHOP OF ST. IVE’S
Our holy Father Ivo was a Persian bishop who came to Britain in the sixth century. (According to Florence of Worcester, it was shortly before the arrival of /1Augustine of Canterbury in 597.) William of Malmesbury writes that “one day he wearied of the pleasures which his very powerful see commanded and he secretly left everything to his people and set out with as few as three comrades on a very long pilgrimage. Therefore after a journey of many years, pretending he was a peasant with ragged clothing, he at last set sail for England. And he was very amused by the outlandishness of the unknown language, because everyone would laugh at him as if he were a fool. So he stayed in the muddy province where he spent the rest of his life. His companions died after him in turn as God foresaw. The provincials knew neither the place of his tomb nor the name of the saint.”
More details are supplied by the earliest life of the saint by Goscelin of Canterbury, who derived it from the account written by Abbot Andrew of Ramsey, who had travelled to Jerusalem in 1020 and on his return put down all he knew about Ivo: “After Great Asia, after Illyricum, after Rome, after traversing countless cities and peoples, he entered Gaul, and there he sparkled none the less with such signs that wonderful powers proclaimed his heavenly life and angelic teaching. And when the king of the Franks and the nobility of the kingdom and the people tried to keep him there – such an angel of God was he – with fitting honours, he, who had fled as an exile from the worldly glory of his parents and was fighting his way through many trials to enter the kingdom of God, could not be kept back by any earthly favour.
“Therefore, with all his acts confirmed by faith, he crossed the sea with his worthy comrades and companions to Britain; and according as the Lord had granted, he took pity on the white peoples with fatherly devotion and, as much by miracles as by preaching, he released them from the error of idolatry and more truly purified them with baptism. There was also, following the very loving father, a young man of noble rank called Patricius, son of a certain senator, who for the love of Christ, calling him through St. Ivo, not only disregarded his gentle birth and hereditary honours, but truly even deserted the maiden betrothed to him and with her all hope of descendants, and Stuck inseparably to his gentle master as much out of affection as from imitation. Blessed is he who followed the example of John, that most intimate and bosom friend of Christ.
“Then the healthgiving foreigner Ivo proceeded… to the village which is called Slepe [now St. Ives in Huntingdonshire]. Because he knew he had been led by the Lord to this particular place he persisted there for many years to the end of his life.
Here indeed he assumed his divine role with such ardour, as if only now at last he had begun, and as if after a long thirst he had found the spring he sought. Here, I say, by keeping watch perpetually for his own life as well as everyone else’s; here by waiting for the Lord right to the end, his lamps of virtue blazing with an aura of chastity, at last he opened up with joy to the One who came and knocked; and the Lord’s Ivo went to the Lord, who had left the Father and come into the world, and from the conquered world brought back the victory of the chosen people. Here his home was made in peace, and in peace he was buried: where, although he lay hidden from men’s knowledge for about four hundred years (as is calculated from the discovery which follows), his name lives for ever…” “Also before these times,” writes Goscelin, “there was a very old man in Rome, talking to someone who came from England to pray, and when he learnt he was English he questioned him rather closely as to whether he knew a village called Slepe. When the Stranger replied that he knew it very well the old man continued with these words: ‘Believe this, and preserve it as my memory begins to fail: not far from the ford in the nearby river some very bright light-bringers lie hidden who in their own time will be raised up and clearly known.’ The Englishman returned to his own country and with joyous faith spread the news of these things which afterwards were revealed to us and which today the truth has proved. A certain faithful priest, Durandus by name, also survived to these times, and he quite often promised those things which we have seen done.”
On April 24, 1001 or 1002, continues Goscelin, “a villager struggling to furrow the earth with a plough hit against a holy coffin. Astonished and excited by the hope of wealth, he called back the oxen, which were at a standstill, and put every effort into clearing the site. And when he realised that it was a human burial he called his fellow ploughmen to him. When the cover was lifted they found religious tokens suggesting a priest. They were captivated by the shining brightness of a chalice there; thinking it silver they vied with each other to break it in pieces. They seized the priestly brooches, transparent with the lustre of glass, which Ramsey Abbey afterwards inherited with the holy body and those same fragments of the chalice.
“Soon a prior, the bailiff of the village, arrived, accompanied by a smith. They quickly sent a messenger to Abbot Eadnoth [of Ramsey, future bishop of Dorchesteron- Thames, who was killed by the pagan Danes in 1016], and after the remains of the man who was so clearly God’s servant had been carefully washed he had them carried into the church and placed next to the altar.”
According to William of Malmesbury, “immediately after the saint’s body was exposed, wrapped in linen, from those very folds of the sepulchre there sprang a very plentiful fountain, bubbling swiftly. The spring remains to this day, sweet to drink and suitable for all illnesses. It is not possible to estimate the number, much less to recount the stories, of the many people healed by that blessed one, so much so that no saint in England is more responsive to prayer than Ivo, or more capable of effecting a cure.”
The following night, continues Goscelin, “so that it would be obvious that the discovery had been made not by a lucky chance but by God’s will, glorious Ivo appeared the following night to the smith of that same village as he slept. [His name was Ezi.] He was a harmless and simple man – to such the Lord speaks face to face, and entrusts His secrets, and he reveals to children things hidden from the wise.
“The saint was tall in Stature; he had a white face, lively features and a burning gaze; he held a bishop’s crozier in one hand, and an archbishop’s cross in the other.
He soothed the man, who was astonished by the vision, with an unusually sweet voice, and said: ‘The body you are surprised to have found just now in such a place is mine: I am Bishop Ivo, who was buried here and have lain hidden with my blessed companions until now. Go tomorrow and measure out the place eight feet on the right-hand side of my grave, and you will find the tomb of one of my holy companions. The other also who was buried with us is to be found not far away, and these two exult with me in glory. When you are convinced by these proofs, supply them to the bailiff from me so that he may tell Abbot Eadnoth who may translate me with these my companions to the community at Ramsey.’
“Truly, since the poor man was terrified in spirit to report these heavenly orders, on the following night his negligence was rebuked and he was reproached by the same power. None the less on the third night while he was Still hesitating, when he was in his first sleep the teacher himself appeared; and now he charged him quite severely with disobedience, and as the smith trembled and demanded a sign, he Struck him with his bishop’s crozier: ‘And you will have this sign,’ he said, ‘and will never get rid of it, unless you tell what you have been ordered to.’
“Waking up after this the smith was sore in the place where he had felt the blow, as if he had been stabbed with a sword. And when he had reported the orders along with his painful sign, the man himself recovered: however the bailiff refused to believe the saint’s great revelation, and pushed away the villager as if he was relating some fantastic tale. ‘And should we translate,’ he said, ‘and glorify the worthless remains of some old cobbler as those of a saint?’ “His nightly sleep overcame the scoffer, and the holy bishop, seeming rather severe in manner and appearance, woke him up with a harsh speech: ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘get up as quickly as possible. For I am that man whom yesterday you mocked as a cobbler and I have made for you leggings that will last. Put them on, and you will ride home in them in memory of me.’ At these words the sleeping man Stood up and sat down again; his just reprover had fashioned leggings very tightly for his legs. And so, Struck down like this, he woke up, and then a very severe pain tied up all his shinbones from the feet up and he could neither Stand nor walk. He rode to the monastery on someone else’s horse; and after he entered he reported all his own pains one by one, which he had refused to believe when they happened to someone else: and with much sorrow as well as in a truthful voice he proclaimed those things which he had condemned as fantasies.”
Abbot Eadnoth was “delighted at such a wealth of unexpected treasure”, and gave thanks to the bountiful Lord while the whole monastery rejoiced exceedingly (although they sympathized with their suffering brother). Then he rode to the relics of the saint and his companions in accordance with the revelation. But the horses were slow, and before he could reach Slepe the news of his intention had flown on ahead of him. So when he alighted in the field he was met by both nobles and people, who joyfully led him to the spot. Having bent the knee and implored the help of God with the brethren, he himself took a spade, and, following St. Ivo’s instructions, had no sooner started knocking than he found this desire. The bodies of the saints indicated by the saint, together with the above-mentioned Patrick, were found. Then he took them into the church and laid both them and the body of St. Ivo out in preparation for a more fitting translation.
As for the smith, for fifteen years, to the very end of his life, he remained in the shackles that the holy Father had devised for him. However, he used this time in a spiritually profitable manner. For on the seventh day before his death, the saint appeared to him, this time as a kindly comforter, with shining face and vestments, and said in a most heart-warming voice: “Now the time has come for the wounds I inflicted on you to become the source of your healing, and for you, after your long night, to possess the joyful day of eternal felicity. Only be prepared on the seventh day from now – I shall come to take you up from this prison of flesh into our light.”
When he had told this to the brethren, the smith resolutely prepared to appear before the face of the Lord, and passed away on the day foretold by the saint.
Meanwhile, the relics of the saint and his companions had been translated to Ramsey Abbey with great ceremony by Abbots Eadnoth of Ramsey and Germanus of Cholsey, to the accompaniment of a huge crowd. “They flocked here,” writes Goscelin, “from countryside and town: the open fields could scarcely hold the rush of people. Prayers and hymns of praise graced the air: heaven itself seemed to favour the saints, the sun seemed to rejoice with all its rays, such a sweet season and clear day had dawned. Many of the faithful also claim that during the entire journey of this joyful translation a snow-white dove flew over blessed Ivo’s remains, a miracle so widely observed that all would affirm the dove had come from heaven to favour the saint. A crowd from Ramsey met with the rest of the people, dressed in white and crowned with purple ornaments, carrying before it banners bearing Christ’s cross and Christian gilding, and splendid books of the saints, and lights on candelabra, and incense burning in censers, and whatever proof of devotion it could.
The whole island echoed with songs and cymbals and the sound of bells; the woods and rivers were brilliant. In this way, with the angels rejoicing on high with the human choir, the precious pearls were taken to their promised temple.”
It was decreed that the day of the uncovering of St. Ivo’s relics, April 24, together with the day of his translation, June 10, should be celebrated as feasts in perpetuity.
That night “Ivo himself appeared by night to a certain pious brother and asked the father of the monastery that they would build him such a place as would be accessible to anyone who wanted to pray. Thus the holy body was brought back, and wrapped in precious cloth, and reburied on the way up to the sanctuary: it may still be seen there today, and be touched by eyes and lips” At the place where the saint’s relics had been discovered, “Abbot Eadnoth at the wish of all the brothers built a church in honour and memory of the blessed Ivo in that very same place of his burial and discovery. It was furnished in this way: the sepulchre with its restoring flow was half below the wall and half sticking out outside, so that whether the doors were open or closed there would be water of grace for people who hurried there. For the Lord is wonderful in His saints and He brought out a river from the rock; the tomb itself gushed with a healing spring, and the flow of this stream gladdens the city of God in His faithful people.”
The church was dedicated to St. Ivo and his blessed companions by Bishop Sigfrid, who had already proved his worth “as a soldier of Christ with Brother Wilfred of Ramsey Abbey through deep perils of the sea and heathen nations [the Norwegians]. Together they were unconquerable by many persecutions and insults; they sought out a tribe and gained it for the Saviour, and at last, when their swordsman failed them, they returned to England.” Later Bishop Sigfrid went to Sweden, becoming the holy apostle of the Swedes.
Several miracles of healing were worked at the consecration of the church of /1Ivo, and many more were recorded later.
Thus Abbot Eadnoth was cured of gout after washing his foot in St. Ivo’s spring.
At another time “when he had been summoned to King Aethelred a very bad sickness attacked his entire body, and having taken over all his limbs it almost stole his voice when, look, remembering some brooches found with St. Ivo, which he kept with him, he dipped them into water that he himself had blessed. After his shoulders were sprinkled with it the troubling and upsetting pain fled and the sick man rested, and refreshed by sleep he got up well and, a happy man, he blessed the Lord in His saint.
During the time of Abbot Elfsige (1006/7-1042) a brother called Odo “was weak to the point of death with a pricking illness”. Then someone remembered St. Ivo and a boat was sent (by far the fastest mode of transport in those watery fens) to bring back water from the spring. The monk, at his very last breath, had a vision of a bishop, drank the water and recovered completely.
A certain boy was zealously fulfilling the duty of cook which had been assigned to him by his masters when some merchants came and drew some water from the tomb of St. Ivo. They poured into a big jug and placed it on the fire. However, when the meat which was supposed to have been boiled in the water was placed before the diners, it was found to be raw. The cause was soon discovered: the water in the jug was found to be stone-cold. For the water of St. Ivo never changes state.
Again, “a monk of the Coventry community, Patrick by name, was making a journey, and he excited the horse he was riding on by rushing to and fro with youthful frivolity until suddenly it fell with him in such a way that he lay as if lifeless with fractured shoulder-bones. And so he was carried off to the nearest village. When at last a long time had passed during which he lay without speaking, he had an inspiration and remembered the miracles he had heard of which had been performed long ago by divine influence through the blessed Ivo; he was strong enough to find the words and asked that water for a bath be brought from Ivo’s tomb and poured over his bruised body. When this had been done, he got better at once and as if he had had not a single injury on his body, and he instantly set out for Ramsey to offer thanks for his health. He planned also to do this every year on the anniversary day of his cure.”
Goscelin himself was a beneficiary of the saint’s healing power: “The author of this text, no less, explains that he fled for help to the protection of this most merciful father when he was twisted with gout both in the feet and the hands, and he promised for the sake of his health thirty masses and the same number of psalms, and so, when the fetters and handcuffs of his illness were released, the joy of good health took over.
“Afterwards as well, he reveals, pierced by a sharp pain in his teeth, he spent a sleepless night giving out troubled sighs, psalms and prayers; his rest upset and pain breaking out again and again. He meditated painfully, then, at the time of lauds he took himself to the healer-saint Ivo, and having delivered a speech there, he bathed his limbs in the saint’s consecrated water and dipped in his mouth and teeth three times, and directly, among fellow-choristers of absolute trustworthiness, the pain ceased, and rejoicing in good health he proclaimed the saint’s power.”
Again, “a leprous woman, ulcerous, itching and bristling like a hedgehog with thorny prickling pains, had wandered all over the world looking for the protection of the saints. Then she came to St. Ivo’s health-giving tomb. She washed herself in the spring which flowed there by divine providence, and by her Christian perseverance, because the Saviour approved her cure on account of her faith, not long afterwards she cast off her leprosy, put on clean skin and flesh and, leaving with her health completely restored, she made known to everyone the great works of God through his saint.”
“The news of such a rare thing attracted the county of Huntingdon and its numerous people, because there emerged not only a clear spring from the saint’s sepulchre, but even one which cured sick people by a bath or a drink, Who was not glad, either healthy or feeble, to take home from there a little bottle full of such healthful liquid, the feeble for healing, the healthy for blessing?” “One man sent away his wife, having divorced her against the command in the gospels because she had become blind, which he considered her fault. She went in the direction of each and every of the saints’ dwellings in the hope of recovering her health, binding herself by a vow and a solemn oath not to return to her own husband ever again, nor ever to marry another man, if divine pity thought fit to give her back her sight.
“And when she had been around very many saints’ shrines praying to be made whole by their illumination, for about eight years, then she groaned that she could never be cured. And perhaps divine providence gave heed to this, so that blessed Ivo might grant with greater glory something other saints had denied. Ivo’s great and godly affection took pity on her sorrows, and at last gave her back the clear sight she had longed for. Therefore she was ordered in a dream to go on to the village of Slepe, to light up the home of blessed Ivo there. When she had set out according to the divine instruction, she poured out prayers and soon acquired her former eyesight. And now the new light made her more happy than her previous daily blindness had made her sad. For indeed delayed wishes are more happily received when granted, and things got with difficulty are held more dear. Moreover with her eyesight restored she set out with enormous joy and no one leading her, who had previously walked with such great grief and with another’s guidance. And just as she had vowed, as long as she lived she remained in widowhood dedicated to God.”
“A man from the neighbourhood was bent and twisted so that he walked on allfours, as would be more appropriate for two very little foot-stools. When this man had prevailed upon blessed Ivo in the place of his discovery, he was raised up, made whole, and turned into a biped. The brothers who were resident there in the saint’s service offered him daily alms for a few days afterwards.”
“In the same way a young boy from Hampshire, who had been crippled in his hands and feet from his mother s womb, was carried by his relations to the shrine of the martyr-king [Edward] in Shaftesbury where he was straightened out as far as the hands were concerned. At St. Ivo’s shrine, indeed, he was restored as to the other disability which remained, and walked on his own. When he Stretched out his loosened sinews while the brothers sang psalms, St. Ivo appeared to him as an unknown man of remarkable dignity, who was eager to draw him towards him and to straighten out the bend in his knees, while in the meantime the boy, who found it unbearable, protested at the severity of the pain. Then standing on his feet and walking upright, and already giving thanks because he could go back to his family as himself, he encouraged everyone into divine praises.
“But yet one night when he had arranged to depart as a hired man according to an accepted agreement, or at least to escape the favour of learning which was perhaps urged on him, look what happened to him after Vespers! He was attacked by an unbearable weakness, and he began to fill the walls of the monastery with loud shouts. And when the brothers, who put it down to his sins, kept on prostrating themselves for him in the chapel, the boy got his health back there, all his torments flew away, and in the same place, where he was now to serve the saint, he was taken in as a scholar.”
“We know an elderly monk of Ramsey, honoured and loved by all, whose name we shall keep quiet out of respect. Along with God’s examining and His corrective scourge the name is bequeathed to the time of Satan (i.e. Judgement Day).
“The glory of the first martyr Stephen distinguishes the day following the Lord’s birthday: this day the old monk fell ill and was put in a cell in the infirmary. About evening he began to rave, to gape horribly, to gnash his teeth, to attack the people there with bites. Everyone was upset and rushed in; the hostile patient’s strength was enormous; twenty men could hardly overcome him, and one body was not big enough for so many hands, so many hands could not be effective on one rebel. At last however he was subdued and, with his hands bound to his knees like a ball, he was knocked out with a crowbar. The pitying brothers blessed a large wine jar with water and put him in. The enemy’s rage grew, detesting holy water more than fire.
They hung round the monk’s neck all sorts of religious charms, and the madness of the enemy was thereby increased rather than tamed and the devilish anger threw more graspings and attacks. In fact the man could not be set free there to wait for the power of remedy entrusted to blessed Ivo.
“At last, on the advice of the brothers, he was carried down into the church to the saints’ shrine. And as they were making for the choir through the chapel of God’s holy Mother, the man they were carrying began to sing out this Christmas song: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Lord God shine upon us.’ One voice of a friend hurrying to him and suffering with him chimed in, ‘O most holy guardians of this sacred cloister, come quickly to the aid of your servant’s difficulties, and allow him no longer to be ruled by the enemy.’ The well-wisher was checked by brotherly arms, just as if he were bound, in the presence of St. Ivo’s health-giving memorial. Then indeed after he had hastily spoken, he took up the linen which had been placed upon the saint, and the cloak was ritually displayed more splendidly. The sick man shouted with unclouded mind and renewed health, ‘I see you and I recognize you, most holy father Ivo, and now I pray to you with a sound mind that your holy intervention will bring me full health.’
“As he declared these things in a rational manner, and persisted with calm feelings, the brothers suddenly released him from his outer bonds with great promptness on all sides. The free man was praying devoutly, and doing everything sensibly, and he gave quite surely proof of his deliverance. Who in that place was then able to cease from God’s praises, when such a sudden calm had been created from an enemy storm? The sound of praise resounded through the whole church, and so did the offering of thanks from people blessing the Lord in His saint Ivo, and praising highly in great jubilation with hymns and cymbals. And so in this way, for the sake of our most delightful father, joy was restored more happily from this disturbance of the Lord’s birthday.”
“There was a youth whose parents’ devotion had led them to entrust him to the abbot of Ramsey to be directed to share in the brothers’ life. He detested the rather severe rule of monastic life and tried to run away overseas, namely to Flanders where the school was that he had come from some time before. While he was working on this he went for a walk one day in a garden near the church and suddenly an evil spirit took possession of him and excited him and he ran to and fro until in a frenzy he ran into a house which happened to be next to the garden. The family of the house of course wondered sadly at his sudden madness, and held him down there with great force to see if the spirit would leave him. Almost at midnight or thereabouts when he had already started to get better, he saw two hideous men come towards him, who said to him, ‘Because you want to run away from that place of yours, we have come here to carry you off with us to the cloisters of hell.’ When he heard this he was roused and he sprang up and, once the doors of the house were opened, he flew swiftly to the monastery, shouting often ‘Kyrie eleison’. The brothers were woken by these shouts, and they ordered him to be caught and taken to the infirmary and guarded till morning.
“When morning came he was distressed again. So the brothers ordered the priest to be sent for, and an exorcism for the calming of madness to be recited over him.
But the exorcism could not be of any use, because the power of God wanted to demonstrate how great were the merits of blessed Ivo. So the suffering youth saw a person standing near who looked to him like blessed Ivo, and the figure painted on him the sign of the cross and promised him health in the future. When he shouted this out with frenzied mouth to the brothers who were there they brought him all the way to the patron Ivo’s health-giving tomb, where prayers were uttered for him and a potion given to him made up of a scraping from the tomb mixed with water, and in a very little while he was at peace, with his frenzy calmed. Then, with the demon put to flight, he was returned at the same time to a whole mind in a healthy body and got up. And having thus been punished he promised he would never leave the holy place to which he had been bound by his father’s presentation, and he took religious vows and joined the society of the brothers.”
“A young man from Venice, of the rank of count on his father’s and mother’s sides, and from a very famous family, was inspired by the devil to kill his sister, who was pregnant. Oh, monstrous grief of his parents! They could not avenge their daughter on their son, and for one eye blinded tear out the one that was left-for one eye suffer the loss of two. The bishop bound the culprit with iron chains; he was tied up with iron from his shoulders to his kidneys; his Stomach and his arms were girdled with iron; and thus, handed over to Satan for the destruction of his body and the salvation of his soul he roved through hot and cold regions of the world in suffering and hardship.
“After a long exile, after various dangers, after visiting countless shrines of the saints, at last he sailed to Britain for the favour of English saints. At St. Dionysius of Paris just one chain fell off; the rest were kept for blessed Ivo to loosen. When at last he came to the monastery of our holy father Benedict he was weak to the point of death: we believe the holy doctor arranged this so that he might be cleansed from his crime through the furnace of illness and so might be given bodily health and absolution. (So the Lord relieved the punished paralytic from his former sins, and soon said to the cured man, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’) “Therefore on the feast of St. Maurus, who is the shape and likeness of blessed father Benedict, in the evening, when this verse of the hymn of God’s holy mother was being sung in canon, ‘And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation,’ the young man in chains who was praying at St. Ivo’s tomb was suddenly seized by an invisible force, raised up completely from the ground, and then quite quickly put down. His iron bonds burst, not that they had been done up with a key, they had been made continuous. The chains themselves, once cast off, were scarcely to be found. Praise to the Lord, with songs and the ringing of bells, and with all the windows lit up, praise re-echoed in a loud voice of rejoicing! The miracle is correctly ascribed to blessed Ivo, with St Benedict and all the saints supporting him.
“This account is not enough to tell of the young man, rejoicing thus in his freedom and complete health: with what humility he dedicated himself to his holy liberator; what thanks he poured out to the abbot and brothers, very great because they had revived him when ill with such great kindness; and, when the abbot had given him clothing to suit his rank, how happy he returned to his own country.
“There was a rich and faithful man in this neighbourhood, Godric by name, who had friends and relations in for a festive gathering. The walls were bright with coloured tapestries, the ceilings and floors were green with garlands of leaves, the couches were adorned with hangings, the tables with banquets, and the house, full of people reclining at table, was a riot of purple and gold ornaments.
“His daughter, a girl as yet unmarried, was among the banqueters, and she was caught like a fish on a hook when she tried to swallow down a morsel of bread dissolved in her mouth. For by a hideous mischance a pin had slipped from a young servant’s dress, and had been folded in and cooked when the bread was made. It stuck in the young girl’s throat so that it did not move, and nothing was left untried in the way of devilish trickery; only the Lord could save her. There was a bitter and pitiable struggle which was of no use to remove the embedded barb or to make it go down. The rose of her cheeks fled, a white bloodless pallor took over, her dying eyes failed her as her sight grew dim. The inextricable pinpoint blocked the entrance of life; death stood in the wings. Troubled groans and faint sighs were borne away, and great anguish wrenched loud screams from her instead.
“The poor father rushed in; the mother hurried in, screeching that she was wretched to have been preserved to see this day. Then the table was carried out in loathing, the festivities turned into lamentation, the lute became silent, and all music was turned into grief. The idea of a banquet fell into ruin. The father was confused by a double sorrow: both for the mortal suffering of his most beloved daughter, and for the spoilt happiness of his guests. The mother wanted to enfold her dear child in her arms, to lean against her breast, to stroke her face and throat with a mother’s hand, and by crushing her to comfort her in her alarm. But the girl, racked by internal pain as she was laid out for death on her bed, was afraid of it then because of a discussion among the Christians of her departing soul. Oh, nothing is more frail than human strength, nothing more destructible than man! Something so very small is big enough to be the difference between life and death! Thus stinging insects and gnats had conquered the Egypt of the Pharaohs, and likewise in Christian times had overthrown the innumerable chariots and horses of the king of Persia. But why do we hinder your decisions with many complaints, holy patron? “So, amid all these dangers, one man, remembering about the very healing water of St. Ivo, was sent out on a swift horse, and a small draught of the holy water was brought back as fast as possible. Oh, excellent Lord, to whom nothing is incurable, who takes people down to hell and brings them back, and makes deep sorrow into joy! Suddenly when the girl drank the divine liquid the iron was dissolved and was extracted from the bottom of her throat; it came up and she had it all bloody in her mouth and spat it out. Then when people saw her as if revived from the dead, they shed as many tears of joy as they had before of sorrow, and everyone praised the Lord in His saint with suitable wonder.
“Not long afterwards the daughter returned to the feast, very healthy with a rosy face, and the rejoicing which had been interrupted returned to everyone with increased interest. With what joy they were able then to exclaim, ‘Oh St. Ivo, very great priest of God, what may worthily be spread about as your advertisement, you who brought up iron against the downward flow and forced it to come out and dissolve! May your glory bless the Lord of glory for ever!’ St. Ivo appeared to many people. Thus “a countryman of Bluntisham reported one of these apparitions to Abbot Eadnoth. He said that Ivo had often considered him worthy to appear to and be seen by, and that long ago, appearing with his customary grace, Ivo had said these things to him, ‘I am Bishop Ivo. About five hundred years have now passed since I found rest in my memorial at Slepe.’ Then when they heard this the brothers were curious and they read over the chronicles where they found it was the year 580 of our Lord’s Incarnation, when the heavenly flower Gregory was in his prime as pope, he who sent Augustine, the morning star of the English, to those who were sitting in darkness. So about these times the blessed Ivo is supposed to have gone over to the Lord.”
There was a Norwegian monk who was on duty at the shrine of St. Ivo at Ramsey who “lapsed into apathy about his salvation, and he neglected the honour and reverence which he owed to blessed Ivo, or which it was fitting to display. For quite often as he crossed in front of the holy body he did not bother to bend his knee nor even simply to bow slightly.” St. Ivo appeared to him at night and reproached him, and had him beaten by one of his attendants. “When he told this to the brothers, his laziness abandoned, they became more careful of their own salvation and more devout towards God and St. Ivo. And so it happens that when one is reproached many may be improved.”
Towards the end of the eleventh century, “a certain monk of the Ely community was in charge of an estate under the abbey’s authority. He ordered the villagers to plough, to thresh or to get on with other jobs on the one day in the year when they had been accustomed to come to the memorial of blessed Ivo and his companions, that is Slepe church with sacrifices and gifts. One of their elders replied to him, ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘on this day all our villagers, along with the rest in the countryside round about, are accustomed to seek with prayers and offerings the support of blessed Ivo and his companions with God for their own safety, for peace and the earth’s fertility. Therefore they ask you to put off to another day the work you have ordered.’ The monk, like Pharaoh refusing to release the sons of Israel from hard labours and to let them leave his land in order to sacrifice to their own God, replied angrily, ‘Who is this Ivo, and where is his home, that you are eager to honour with such gifts? Who he might be I don’t know, and I’m certainly not letting peasants take a holiday from their tasks and go off to him.’
“But St. Ivo in his usual way did not let an insult to him and his faithful people go unpunished. For when by chance the man who had denied him was passing through the village of Slepe, …and as the monk came in front of the church dedicated in honour of blessed Ivo himself and his companions, he was weighed down with heavy sleep and said to those travelling with him, ‘I am too sleepy: until I have rested I can’t ride any further.’ And getting down from his horse, he went to sleep beside the road, on the ground in the open air while the rest kept watch. And he saw in his dreams a man Standing there, noble in Stature, distinguished by his grey hair, magnificent in looks, dressed in snowy white, holding a belt in his hand and saying to him, ‘Do you recognize me?’ When the quaking monk replied that he did not know him, he said, ‘I am Ivo, whom lately you said you did not know, and you forbade those who wanted to come to me. I have come just now to tell you who I am and where I stay.’ And, pointing out the church to him from a distance he said, ‘Look, my home and the place of my habitation.’ He also gave him the belt which he was holding in his hand, saying, ‘Wear this belt around you; and with this my token remember well from now on who I am.’ And he encircled him with the belt and left.
“The monk soon woke up, breathing heavily and feeling as if he had been tied round with a very tight iron chain, and told everything which he had seen in his sleep to his companions. With their help and with great difficulty he was placed on a litter and taken all the way to the estate where he had planned to go previously. For he was racked inside by a gripping of his vitals; outside indeed he was tormented by a poisonous swelling of decaying skin: the flesh which the saint’s belt had had covered was rotting away. And because he was afraid of ending his life tortured in this way, he called his friends and relations and confessed that he deserved to be punished with such an injury because he had sinned against St. Ivo, and he asked what task he might diligently perform in order to be made well. So they advised him to appease the saint’s anger with prayers and gifts and to spend money on alms for the poor; also, over and above all this, to make a great wax taper, and send it along to St. Ivo’s shrine for his health.
“When this had been done he gradually recovered and got back to his former well-being, and after his health returned he went devoutly to deliver thanks to the house of St. Ivo, whom he had formerly despised, and thenceforth he held him in not inconsiderable fear and love.”
Again, “a certain foreign abbot, when he was on a journey nearby the place of the saints’ discovery, heard news of the miracles done by them in that place and turned aside to the church to pray for their patronage. Then he also tasted the water of blessed Ivo’s spring which flowed in the very same place where once his holy body had lain, and which supplied a health-giving drink to people ill with a fever, and he went on with the journey he had undertaken.
“One of his monks, holding it worthless and reckoning it a falsehood, said it was not fitting for a wise and devout man to support the silliness or superstition of country people who, deceived by heathen error, worshipped the waters and the bones of any old dead people; led astray by certain imagined supernatural deeds of devils, they honoured them as if they were relics of saints many times proved.
“He had not yet finished his words when he was suddenly seized by so great a weakness that he was scarcely able at long last to reach the place he was making for, that is Ramsey. There with a very severe illness he paid the penalty for his blasphemy, and after many prayers had been poured out before the body of blessed Ivo, because he had perhaps done wrong through ignorance, at last he was restored to health.”
Again, “a certain slave, who had done something wrong and was terrified of an excessive beating from his furious master, fled for sanctuary to St. Ivo. His master pretended to make peace and forgave him for his wrong-doing, but not from his heart. For he nursed his anger inside him and not long afterwards he falsely accused the slave of a crime and satisfied his fury by cutting him with fearful lashes, and between lashes he reproached him saying, ‘Take that one for Ivo; or if you like just run off to him again.’
“When he had said this, at the very same hour, he was struck down by a serious illness and took to his bed. Then when his survival seemed hopeless he summoned the slave boy to him and asked for his forgiveness. And having dressed him and presented him with his own clothing the master made peace with him, and sent him to the blessed Ivo to beg for forgiveness. When the slave had prayed to Ivo for him, the master recovered from his illness straight away; and then he did not dare to inflict on the boy, who had now been given his freedom, any insult or annoyance, but from that time on he was keen to fear and honour the blessed Ivo, because he had personal experience of his Strength and power.”
“Once, when a wild and ungovernable tribe of Britons were rushing everywhere and ravaging Huntingdonshire, the inhabitants of Slepe took their possessions into the church of St. Ivo and entrusted them to the saint. When the wolfish greed of the raiders got to know of this they hurried there in ferocious spirits, broke down the church doors and carried off everything that had been put there for safekeeping. But then one of them, looking about, saw a pair of bells hanging from the beams in the church roof. And coveting them he climbed up to take them for himself. Just when he put out his hands to take them down, he suddenly slipped and fell to the ground.
All his limbs being broken, he died. When the rest saw this they were seized by a great terror let something similar happen to them, and realising the holiness of the place, and paying tribute to God and St. Ivo, they brought back humbly all the things they had arrogantly taken away.”
Again, “in Stanton, a village very close to Slepe, there was a young man by the name of Alwold, who is thought to be still living. He came once to this same town of Slepe with a devout crowd who were flocking to the miracle-working tomb of blessed Ivo. He was not seeking health but faithfully seeking faithlessly to mock. The stupid boy did not know that God is not mocked but rather the person who is pleased to mock.
“He put a snow-white hen on the holy altar, not as an offering but to stir up peasant gossip, as if she would settle there to hatch eggs. The boy was standing on his left leg and he bent his right at the joint onto his thigh, and shouted this in joking insolence: ‘Hey you, St. Ivo, do you see that I am brought here stunted by illness? Why don’t you put me onto the road to recovery?’ He talked thus because he wanted to put down his leg and foot in the usual position and raise a laugh from the people by saying ‘Look! You see a miracle, how your saint has cured me?’ But in complete accordance with God’s justice his pretended illness was made very real; for as he had bent, so he stayed for ever curved back stiffly. Then he believed indeed from true experience, and from true necessity; he demanded with deep groans what he had previously pretended did not exist – that the saint’s holy power should restore him, now he had thoroughly learnt his lesson, to his former strength.”
“One evening some people of Slepe and others from the adjoining countryside, when they were lingering agreeably over supper and drinks well into the night, suddenly saw a very bright light in the red sky; they went out to investigate such a great omen, and saw flashing pillars of golden light piercing the sky from the tomb of blessed Ivo and his companions and illuminating the outlines of things far and wide. . . Therefore while they were gaping there at the celestial light, some of the bolder ones rashly hurried to that place of the light, but as they arrived it disappeared like a lamp in darkness.”
Again, “a huge extent of light was often seen openly across the sky, that is from the church at Ramsey all the way to the memorial at Slepe, which here swelled up, there sank down. There were also faithful souls in abundance who testified that they had clearly seen our heavenly leader himself, with a numerous host dressed in white, and he had revisited one or other of his places by way of a Starry road, itself sparkling brightly with glittering ornaments. Generally, none the less, it was seen in broad daylight, a great procession of clergy and people following, all dressed in white, around the chapel at Slepe, and many candlesticks, and censers, and crosses, and shining banners were carried, which all proclaimed the supreme merits of the very famous Ivo.”
St. Ivo is commemorated on April 24.
Holy Father Ivo, pray to God for us!
(Sources: Goscelin, Vita S. Yvonis, P.L. 154, 84ff; S.D. Edgington, The Life and Miracles of St. Ivo, St. Ives, Cambs.: Friends of the Norris Museum, 1985; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, IV, 181; G.H. Doble, The Saints of Cornwall, Felinfach: Llanerch Publishers, 1997, pp. 43-52; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: Clarendon, 1978, p. 206)