Posts Tagged ‘Celtic’

st-cuthbert-1-sizedToday (September 4th) is the feast of the Translation of St Cuthbert (born c. 635; died 20 March, 687). Probably born near Melrose in the Scottish/Northumbrian borders, Cuthbert was inspired from an early age by the monks of the local monastery where St Eata was abbot and St Boisil prior.

In 651 he experienced a vision in which angels bore up to heaven the soul of St. Aidan, and as a result of this he decided to become a monk at Melrose, though his entry seems to have been delayed by the requirement of military service – a consequence of the threat posed to the Kingdom of Northumbria by Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, who had already been responsible for the martyring of two Northumbrian kings, St Edwin and St Oswald.

Once peace had been restored, Cuthbert returned to Melrose, where he soon became known for his learning, holiness and miracles. He spent some time in the monastery of Ripon, but, along with other Ripon monks who felt a loyalty to the Celtic style of monasticism, left when St Wilfrid decided to enforce a stricter adherence to the Roman usage.

Back at Melrose he replaced St Boisil as prior, but, after the decision by the Synod of Whitby in 664 to accept Roman usage throughout the Anglo-Saxon church (most especially with regard to the date of Easter), St Eata sent Cuthbert to Lindisfarne as prior with a view to introducing Roman customs into what was by tradition a Celtic monastery.

Cuthbert’s success in this regard was due in large part to his own personal sanctity, and in the process he demonstrated that fidelity to all that was best in Celtic monasticism and commitment St Wilfrid’s program of bringing English Christianity more into line with continental Christianity were by no means incompatible with each other.

After a period devoted to evangelizing the people of Northumbria, Cuthbert retired (in 676) to lead the life of a hermit, finally settling on Farne Island off the Northumbrian coast. However, in 685 his life of prayer and asceticism was interrupted St Theodore of Canterbury insisted that Cuthbert be ordained Bishop of Lindisfarne, and for nearly two years Cuthbert devoted himself to preaching and pastoral work before returning to his cell on Farne Island to await his approaching death.

His tomb in the monastery at Lindisfarne was immediately associated with numerous miracles, giving rise to Cuthbert’s title of “Wonder-worker of England”.

During the Danish invasion of 875, Bishop Eardulf and the monks took Cuthbert’s body with them during a seven-year period of wandering around Cumberland and Galloway before returning to Northumbria where a converted Danish ruler who had a personal devotion to St Cuthbert gave the monks a church at Chester-le-Street a few miles to the north of Durham.

As the end of the first millennium approached, the fear of further Danish incursions resulted in the temporary transference of the shrine to Ripon. En route back to Chester-le Street (the threat of invasion having receded) the monks were persuaded by a sign from God to build a new shrine in Durham, which became the site for the original Durham Cathedral (completed in around 998/999).

After a brief sojourn on Lindisfarne (where he was removed for safety while William the Conqueror was ravaging the north in1969), Cuthbert’s shrine (containing his incorrupt body together with the head of St Oswald) was restored to the present Norman Cathedral in 1104.

Throughout the Middle Ages St Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham was one of England’s greatest centres of pilgrimage and devotion, but in 1542 the iconoclasm of the Reformers resulted in its despoliation. Happily, a group of Durham monks had the foresight to hide Cuthbert’s body in a secret location, which, according to tradition, is known to selected Benedictines who pass the knowledge on from one generation to the next.

For more information on St Cuthbert, the Haliwerfolc blog is heartily recommended.


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St Aidan of Lindisfarne

428px-Saint_AidanYesterday (August 31st) was the memoria of St Aidan and the Saints of Lindisfarne, who have a special significance for the Church here in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

The kingdom of Northumbria first embraced Christianity under St Edwin (d. 632/3) and his Kentish wife Æthelburga, but the conversion never went far beyond the royal household and the nobility, and, after Edwin’s death at the hands of Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, Northumbria reverted to paganism.

In 634, Oswald became King of Northumbria. From 616 he had lived in exile among the Irish of Dál Riata in Scotland, where he had converted to Christianity.

On becoming king, Oswald invited the monastery at Iona (founded by St Columba) to send missionaries for the purpose of converting the Northumbrian people.

(Oswald’s decision to Iona was not in any way a snub to the Rome-backed mission whose center of operations was based in Kent, but reflected his own personal connections with Irish Christians in Scotland.)

Iona initially sent a bishop named Cormán, whose methods proved harsh and ineffective. Irish/Celtic monasticism tended to be severe in its rigour and asceticism – more so even than continental monasticism – and Cormán’s approach appears to have been ill-suited to the task of evangelizing the Northumbrians.

He returned to Iona and was replaced by Aidan (together with twelve other monks) who settled on the island of Lindisfarne, which was close to Oswald’s fortress at Bamburgh on the North-East coast.

Here Aidan constructed an Irish-style monastery consisting of circular huts gathered around a small chapel and other communal buildings where he and his monks prayed, studied and gave themselves over to lives of austerity and asceticism, and from which they journeyed on foot in order to preach the gospel.

In the early stages of the mission, Aidan was actively assisted by Oswald, who functioned as an interpreter for Aidan who was unfamiliar with the local language.

Aidan also took care to provide for the education of future generations of monks and missionary bishops, and, initially bringing twelve boys to live in the monastery, turned Lindisfarne into the forerunner of a mediaeval monastic school.

Aidan, the “Apostle of Northumbria”, died at Bamburgh in 651, having assisted first Oswald (who, like Edwin before him, was martyred at the hands of the pagan King Penda) and later Oswin in evangelizing the Northumbrian people and in planting the structural, intellectual and spiritual seed which would flower most spectacularly in the age of Cuthbert and Bede.

The Orthodox Church had produced some very fine prayers for The Commemoration of Our Father among the Saints Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Enlightener of Northumbria.

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Image from the website of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, http://www.rcdhn.org.uk/about_the_diocese/saints/oswald.php

August 3rd is the feast of St Oswald, King of Northumbria. Oswald was born around 604, and was King of Northumbria from 634 until his death. Oswald’s father Æthelfrith ruled over Bernicia, and later over Deira, thus becoming the first to rule the two constituent kingdoms of Northumbria (Bernicia in the north, Deira to the south).

Æthelfrith was killed in battle around 616 by Raedwald, King of East Anglia, with the result that Oswald and his brothers were forced to flee to the north. Oswald himself grew up in the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata in northern Britain, where he was converted to Christianity.

Æthelfrith had been succeeded as King of Northumbria by St Edwin, but, after Edwin had been defeated and killed by Cadwallon ap Cadfan (King of Gwynedd) and the pagan Penda (King of Mercia) in the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 632/633, Northumbria was once again divided between its constituent kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira.

Oswald’s brother Eanfrith became king of Bernicia, but he too was slain by Cadwallon, whom Oswald confronted in 634 at Heavenfield near Hexham. Before the commencement of battle, inspired by a vision of St Columba the previous night (as recounted by Adomnán in his Life of St Columba), Oswald knelt before a large wooden Cross, commanding his army to join him in earnest prayer.

His council agreed that they would be baptised and accept Christianity after the battle, and, in spite of their greater numbers, the pagan British were heavily defeated by the soon-to-be-baptised Northumbrian.

As a result of his victory at Heavenfield, Oswald reigned over a united Northumbria, and was established as the most powerful king in the British Isles – Adomnán describes him as “ordained by God as Emperor of all Britain”), while Bede states that he “brought under his dominion all the nations and provinces of Britain”.

Edwin had converted to Christianity in 627, but Christianity had never really taken hold in the region. Oswald invited the Irish of Dál Riata to send a bishop – St Aidan – to help convert his subjects, and Oswald furnished Aidan with the  island of Lindisfarne to Aidan as his center of operations and episcopal see, often acting as his interpreter when he was preaching, as Aidan’s grasp of Anglo-Saxon was initially poor, whereas Oswald was a good Irish-speaker.

In 642 Oswald was killed in battle (probably at Oswestry) and dismembered at the hands of the pagan King Penda of Mercia. According to Bede he final act in the face of imminent death was to pray for the souls of his own soldiers.

The site of Oswald’s death soon came to be associated with miracles. Many regarded his death as a martyrdom, though Bede sees his sanctity as consisting more in his great personal holiness, and, in particular, in his love and compassion towards the poor.

Image from the website of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

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Saint_ColumbaJune 9th is the feast of St Columba (or Colum Cille – “Dove of the Church”), whose life was recorded and celebrated in the Vita Columbae by Adomnán (ninth Abbot of Iona) who died in 704, and in a poem written within a few years of his death which lays claim to be the earliest vernacular poem in European literature.

Born in what is now County Donegal in December 521, Columba was a direct descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th century Irish high king. By the time of his birth, Christianity was in the process of supplanting druidism, and thriving monasteries had become the centers of theological study.

Columba entered the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, where he was one of the twelve students of St Finian of Clonard known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. Having become both a monk and a priest, he found himself (according to the traditional account) embroiled in a dispute with St Finnian of Moville over a manuscript copied by Columba in Finnian’s scriptorium, and the disagreement spiraled so badly out of control that it resulted in the bloody Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561.

The upshot of this was that Columba was on the verge of excommunication until St. Brendan of Birr pleaded his case and obtained for him the lesser punishment of exile. Columba proposed that he should be exiled to Scotland, where his plan was to convert to Christianity a quantity of pagans equivalent to the number of people slain at Cúl Dreimhne.

In 563 he landed with twelve companions on the Mull of Kintyre before advancing up the west coast of Scotland, eventually obtaining a grant of land on the island of Iona. Iona became the base of Columba’s evangelistic operations, which were directed towards the Picts, to whom he brought both literacy and his gifts as a mediator (mediation between warring tribes being a constant necessity), and whose faith he stirred by his prodigious miracle-working. He traveled extensively, preaching the gospel, founding churches, and developing Iona as a school for missionaries. He was a prolific writer (of letters and hymns) and an even more prolific transcriber of books.

By the time of his death on Iona in 597, he had created a network of monasteries and missionaries which played a crucial part in the revival of Western Christianity by the Celtic part of the Catholic Church, filling a spiritual and intellectual vacuum created by the collapse of the Roman Empire and giving shape to a distinctive form of Catholicism which held sway throughout much of the British Isles and beyond until such time as Rome was once again in a position to evangelize (St Augustine of Canterbury landed in Kent in the very same year in which Columba died).

Scottish armies began to venerate him as a warrior saint, and it became customary for them to march behind a reliquary fashioned in Iona and known as the Brecbennoch in which were contained his relics – to which the victory at Bannockburn over a vastly stronger English army was traditionally attributed.

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