mercredi 20 mai 2015

Saint GODRIC de FINCHALE, pèlerin et ermite

Saint Godric

Ermite ( 1170)

Colporteur, il en profita pour se rendre en pèlerinage à Rome et en France. Il alla même jusqu'à Jérusalem. A son retour, il se retira dans la forêt de Finkley. Sa retraite fut découverte par des chasseurs qui pourchassaient un cerf. Ils l'épargnèrent à cause du saint. A partir de ce moment, nous dit son hagiographe, les animaux poursuivis vinrent se réfugier auprès de saint Godric. Sa renommée fut si grande qu'on le vénéra dès le lendemain de sa mort.

A découvrir aussi:
- Little-known Saints of the North (en anglais) site internet 'la sainte île de Lindisfarne'


Saint Godric de Finchale

D'après sa biographie, écrite par le moine Reginald de Durham, Godric naquit dans une famille pauvre mais vertueuse du Norfolk. Il devint colporteur, puis marchand, et enfin marin. Il passa de longues années en mer, voyageant, faisant commerce, et évita miraculeusement plusieurs fois une mort certaine. À Lindisfarne, saint Cuthbert apparut à Godric. Cette vision le décida à consacrer sa vie à la religion. Godric prit la croix et partit en pèlerinage à Jérusalem, Rome, ainsi qu'au sanctuaire de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle en Espagne. À son retour en Angleterre, il continua à errer, vivant reclus dans des grottes et dans la forêt. À la fin du siècle, l'évêque de Durham, Flambard, lui fit don d'un ermitage à Finchale, où il vécut jusqu'à sa mort, soixante ans plus tard. On dit que Thomas Beckett et le Pape Alexandre III faisait partie de ceux qui venait lui demander conseil.

May 21

St. Godrick, Hermit

HE was born of very mean parents at Walpole in Norfolk, and in his youth carried about little peddling wares which he sold in villages. Having by degrees improved his stock he frequented cities and fairs, and made several voyages by sea to traffic in Scotland. In one of these he called at Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, where he was charmed and exceedingly edified with the retirement and religious deportment of the monks, and especially with the account which they gave him of the wonderful life of St. Cuthbert. He inquired of them every particular relating to him, visited every corner of that holy solitude and of the neighbouring isle of Farne, and falling on his knees, prayed with many tears for grace to imitate the fervour of that saint in serving God, resolving for that purpose to give up all earthly pretensions. He entered upon a new course of life by a penitential devout pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and visited Compostella in his way home. After his return into Norfolk he accepted the charge of house steward in the family of a very rich man. The servants were not very regular, and for their private junketings often trespassed upon their neighbours. Godrick finding he was not able to prevent these injustices, and that the nobleman took no notice of his complaints about them, being easy so long as he was no sufferer himself, left his place for fear of being involved in the guilt of such an injustice.

After making a pilgrimage to St. Giles in France and to Rome, he went to the north of England in order the better to carry into execution his design of devoting himself wholly to a retired life. A fervent servant of God, named Godwin, who had passed a considerable time in the monastery of Durham, and by conversing with the most holy monks and exercising himself in the interior and exterior practices of all virtues, was well qualified to be a director to an inexperienced novice, joined our saint, and they led together an austere anchoretical life in a wilderness situated on the north to Carlisle, serving one another, and spending both the days and nights in the praises of God. After two years God called Godwin to himself by a happy death after a short sickness. St. Godrick, having lost his companion, made a second painful pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After his return he passed some time in the solitude of Streneshalch, now Whitby; but after a year and some months went to Durham to offer up his prayers before the shrine of St. Cuthbert, and from thence retired into the desert of Finchal or Finkley, three miles from Durham, near the river Wear. St. John Baptist and St. Cuthbert he chose for his principal patrons and models. The austerities which he practised are rather to be admired than imitated. He had his regular tasks and devotion, consisting of psalms and other prayers which he had learned by heart, and which he constantly recited at midnight, break of day, and the other canonical hours, besides a great number of other devotions. Though he was ignorant of the very elements of learning, he was too well experienced in the happy art of conversing with God and his own soul ever to be at a loss how to employ his time in solitude. Whole days and nights seemed too short for his rapturous contemplations, one of which he often wished with St. Bruno he could have continued without interruption for eternity, in inflamed acts of adoration, compunction, love or praise. His patience under the sharpest pains of sicknesses or ulcers, and all manner of trials, was admirable; but his humility was yet more astonishing. His conversation was meek, humble, and simple. He concealed as much as possible from the sight and knowledge of all men whatever might procure their esteem, and he was even unwilling any one should see or speak with him. Yet this he saw himself obliged to allow on certain days every week to such as came with the leave of the prior of Durham, under whose care and obedience he lived. A monk of that house was his confessor, said mass for him, and administered him the sacraments in a chapel adjoining to his cell, which the holy man had built in honour of St. John Baptist. He was most averse from all pride and vanity, and never spoke of himself but as of the most sinful of creatures, a counterfeit hermit, an empty phantom of a religious man: lazy, slothful, proud, and imperious, abusing the charity of good people who assisted him with their alms. But the more the saint humbled himself the more did God exalt him by his grace, and by wonderful miraculous gifts. For several years before his death he was confined to his bed by sickness and old age. William of Newbridge who visited him during that time, tells us that though his body appeared in a manner dead, his tongue was ever repeating the sacred names of the three Divine Persons, and in his countenance there appeared a wonderful dignity, accompanied with an unusual grace and sweetness. Having remained in this desert sixty-three years he was seized with his last illness, and happily departed to his Lord on the 21st of May, 1170, in the reign of Henry II. His body was buried in the chapel of St. John Baptist. Many miracles confirmed the opinion of his sanctity, and a little chapel was built to his memory by Richard, brother to Hugh Pidsey, bishop of Durham. See William of Newbridge, l. 2, c. 20; Matthew Paris, Matthew of Westminster, his life written by Nicholas of Durham his confessarius, and abridged by Harpsfield, Sæc. 12, c. 45; see also the English Calendars, and those of the Benedictins, especially Menard’s and Edw. Maihew; likewise Henschenius, t. 5, Maij. p. 68.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.


·         St. Godric of Finchale
St. Godric of Finchale


We know a good deal about medieval saints (and non-saints) who came from upper-class families. Godric of Finchale is one of those rare men of humble origin about whose varied career a good deal is known. It took a long time for him to find his true calling. Many of us are late bloomers, and it is consoling to know of a saint who was a peddler, a pilgrim, a sailor, a ship's captain, a bailiff, and a sacristan before he discovered that God wanted him to be a hermit.

Godric was born in Norfolk, England, of Anglo-Saxon peasant stock. Normally he would have stuck to small farming. Instead, he chose to be a travelling peddler. Apparently he had gifts as a bargainer. In 1089 he made his first pilgrimage to Rome. (There was always this piety in his makeup.) On returning to England, however, he decided to expand his commercial efforts. Now he went to sea, trading in Scotland, Flanders and Denmark. He was so successful that he bought a share in two ships, becoming a captain of one of them. In 1101 he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, presumably in his own ship. On the return trip he visited the shrine of St. James at Compostela in Spain. Back in England he took a job as a bailiff (property manager), but before long he was again a pilgrim to Rome and Saint-Gilles in southern France. He made yet a third pilgrimage to the Eternal City, this time with his aged mother as companion. It is a fair guess that he got his piety from this dauntless old lady, who is said to have made the journey barefoot!

After that Roman pilgrimage, Godric finally gave signs of having made up his mind - partially, at least. He sold all his goods and began to experiment with a hermit's life in a forest in northern England. To better learn the eremitical ropes, he returned to the Holy Land, spent some time with other hermits in the desert of St. John the Baptist, and worked for a while in the crusader hospital in Jerusalem. Back in England, he became a peddler again for a while. Then he went to Durham, was engaged as sacristan of a local church, and attended school with the choirboys at St. Mary-le-Bow. Finally he settled down for good in the woods of Finchale on the River Wear. He was by then over 40.

The life of a solitary is pretty drastic. St. Godric made it even more so, doing penance for the sins of his youth. He had no spiritual guidance at first. That was remedied when Roger, the prior of the monastery at nearby Durham, gave him a rule of life to follow.

The routine was typically eremitical. Long prayers of the liturgy were followed by silent contemplation of the mysteries of faith, all carried on in penitential austerity. Loneliness itself had its challenges: not from the wild beasts of the forest, which he quickly befriended, but from diabolical manifestations; grave illnesses; a near-drowning; and even being beaten up by Scottish soldiers who believed he had a hidden treasure. Godric stuck to his rule nevertheless. Gradually he won the respect of neighboring villagers and monks, and even received a letter of encouragement from Pope Alexander III.

How did the Hermit of Finchale appear to those who received permission to speak with him? A contemporary writer noted that he was "strong and agile, and in spite of his small stature his appearance was very venerable. He had a broad forehead, sparkling grey eyes, and bushy eyebrows that almost met. His face was oval, his nose long, his beard thick. " Visitors found him a good listener, always serious, and sympathetic to those in trouble. Among his charismatic gifts were prophecy and the knowledge of distant happenings.

St. Godric also became noted as a writer of hymns. His lyrics are among the oldest to employ rhyme and measure rather than the alliteration characteristic of Anglo-Saxon verse. The tunes to which he set the poems were simple ones, taught him, he said, in various visions. Four of these melodies and texts have been preserved in the British Museum and were recorded in 1965.

Stricken with a long illness at the end of threescore years in his little hermit's cell, Godric died May 11, 1170. His tomb then became a shrine at which many miracles of healing were performed, especially on women. Like many ancient saints, Godric was never formally canonized, but his cult has continued at Finchale, at Durham, and among the Cistercian monks.

Men and women called belatedly to the religious life should find in St. Godric of Finchale a sympathetic patron. Before he finally settled down, he, too, had been around!

--Father Robert F. McNamara


Also known as
  • Godrick

Oldest of three children born to a freedman Anglo-Saxon farmer. An adventurous seafaring man, Godric spent his youth in travel, both on land and sea, as a peddler and merchant mariner first along the coast of the British Isles, then throughout Europe. Sometime sailor, sometime ship’s captain, he lived a seafarer’s life of the day, and it was hardly a religious one. He was known to drink, fight, chase women, con customers, and in a contemporary manuscript, was referred to as a “pirate”. Converted upon visiting Lindisfarne during a voyage, and being touched by the life of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

Pilgrim to Jerusalem and the holy lands, Saintiago de Compostela, the shrine of Saint Gaul in Provence, and to Rome, Italy. As a self-imposed austerity, and a way to always remember Christ’s lowering himself to become human, Godric never wore shoes, regardless of the season. He lived as a hermit in the holy lands, and worked in a hospital near Jerusalem. Hermit for nearly sixty years at Finchale, County Durham, England, first in a cave, then later in a more formal hermitage; he was led to its site by a vision of Saint Cuthbert. It was a rough life, living barefoot in a mud and wattle hut, wearing a hair shirt under a metal breastplate, standing in icy waters to control his lust, living for a while off berries and roots, and being badly beaten by Scottish raiders who strangely thought he had a hidden treasure.

Noted for his close familiarity with wild animals, his supernatural visions, his gift of prophecy, and ability to know of events occurring hundreds or thousands of miles away. Counseled Saint Aelred, Saint Robert of Newminster, Saint Thomas Beckett, and Pope Alexander III. Wrote poetry in Medieval English. The brief song Sainte nicholaes by Godric is one of the oldest in the English language, and is believed to be the earliest surviving example of lyric poetry. He was said to have received his songs, lyrics and music, complete during his miraculous visions.



Reginald of Durham: Life of St. Goderic [12th Cent]

The growth of trade in the middle ages is of overwhelming significance. By the 13th century towns and trade, even though comprising a minority of the population, dominated the Western economy. This has widespread ramification - the monetization of life, the possibility of communally rather than aristocratically sponsored art, the possibility of urban subcultures and so on. On a wider level, it was this expansion of trade which in a later age pushed European states to establish the world system of the modern period.

Since literature was long the domain of aristocrats and clerics, we sometimes miss direct early accounts of merchant'a lives. One merchant, Goderic, became a saint and hence we do have an account of his life.

This holy man's father was named Ailward, and his mother Edwenna; both of slender rank and wealth, but abundant in righteousness and virtue. They were born in Norfolk, and had long lived in the township called Walpole.... When the boy had passed his childish years quietly at home; then, as he began to grow to manhood, he began to follow more prudent ways of life, and to learn carefully and persistently the teachings of worldly forethought. Wherefore he chose not to follow the life of a husbandman, but rather to study, learn and exercise the rudiment of more subtle conceptions. For this reason,' aspiring to the merchant's trade, he began to follow the chapman s way of life, first learning how to gain in small bargains and things of insignificant price; and thence, while yet a youth, his mind advanced little by little to buy and sell and gain from things of greater expense. For, in his beginnings, he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighborhood; but, in process of time, he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. Hence, within a brief space of time, the youth who had trudged for many weary hours from village to village, from farm to farm, did so profit by his increase of age and wisdom as to travel with associates of his own age through towns and boroughs, fortresses and cities, to fairs and to all the various booths of the market-place, in pursuit of his public chaffer. He went along the high-way, neither puffed up by the good testimony of his conscience nor downcast in the nobler part of his soul by the reproach of poverty....

Yet in all things he walked with simplicity; and, in so far as he yet knew how, it was ever his pleasure to follow in the footsteps of the truth. For, having learned the Lord's Prayer and the Creed from his very cradle, he oftentimes turned them over in his mind, even as he went alone on his longer journeys; and, in so far as the truth was revealed to his mind, he clung thereunto most devoutly in all his thoughts concerning God. At first, he lived as a chapman for four years in Lincolnshire, going on foot and carrying the smallest wares; then he travelled abroad, first to St. Andrews in Scotland and then for the first time to Rome. On his return, having formed a familiar friendship with certain other young men who were eager for merchandise, he began to launch upon holder courses, and to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay around him. Thus, sailing often to and fro between Scotland and Britain, he traded in many divers wares and, amid these occupations, learned much worldly wisdom.... He fell into many perils of the sea, yet by God's mercy he was never wrecked; for He who had upheld St Peter as he walked upon the waves, by that same strong right arm kept this His chosen vessel from all misfortune amid these perils. Thus, having learned by frequent experience his wretchedness amid such dangers, he began to worship certain of the Saints with more ardent zeal, venerating and calling upon their shrines, and giving himself up by wholehearted service to those holy names. In such invocations his prayers were oftentimes answered by prompt consolation; some of which prayers he learned from his fellows with whom he shared these frequent perils; others he collected from faithful hearsay; others again from the custom of the place, for he saw and visited such holy places with frequent assiduity. Thus aspiring ever higher and higher, and yearning upward with his whole heart, at length his great labours and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he laboured not only as a merchant but also as a shipman ... to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland; in all which lands he found certain rare, and therefore more precious, wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be least familiar, and coveted by the inhabitants beyond the price of gold itself; wherefore he exchanged these wares for others coveted by men of other lands; and thus he chaffered most freely and assiduously. Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow; for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.

Then he purchased the half of a merchant-ship with certain of his partners in the trade; and again by his prudence he bought the fourth part of another ship. At length, by his skill in navigation, wherein he excelled all his fellows, he earned promotion to the post of steersman....

For he was vigorous and strenuous in mind, whole of limb and strong in body. He was of middle stature, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with a long face, grey eyes most clear and piercing, bushy brows, a broad forehead, long and open nostrils, a nose of comely curve, and a pointed chin. His beard was thick, and longer than the ordinary, his mouth well-shaped, with lips of moderate thickness; in youth his hair was black, in age as white as snow; his neck was short and thick, knotted with veins and sinews; his legs were somewhat slender, his instep high, his knees hardened and horny with frequent kneeling; his whole skin rough beyond the ordinary, until all this roughness was softened by old age.... In labour he was strenuous, assiduous above all men; and, when by chance his bodily strength proved insufficient, he compassed his ends with great ease by the skill which his daily labours had given, and by a prudence born of long experience.... He knew, from the aspect of sea and stars, how to foretell fair or foul weather. In his various voyages he visited many saints' shrines, to whose protection he was wont most devoutly to commend himself, more especially the church of St Andrew in Scotland, where he most frequently made and paid his vows. On the way thither, he oftentimes touched at the island of Lindisfarne, wherein St Cuthbert had been bishop, and at the isle of Farne, where that Saint had lived as an anchoret, and where St Godric (as he himself would tell afterwards) would medit' ate on the Saint's life with abundant tears. Thence he began to yearn for solitude, and to hold his merchandise in less esteem than heretofore....

And now he had lived sixteen years as a merchant, and began to think of spending on charity, to God's honour and service, the goods which he had so laboriously acquired. He therefore took the cross as a pilgrim to Jerusalem, and, having visited the Holy Sepulchre, came back to England by way of St James [of Compostella]. Not long afterwards he became steward to a certain rich man of his own country, with the care of his whole house and household. But certain of the younger household were men of iniquity, who stole their neighbours' cattle and thus held luxurious feasts, whereat Godric, in his ignorance, was sometimes present. Afterwards, discovering the truth, he rebuked and admonished them to cease; but they made no account of his warnings; wherefore he concealed not their iniquity, but disclosed it to the lord of the household, who, however, slighted his advice. Wherefore he begged to be dismissed and went on a pilgrimage, first to St Gilles and thence to Rome the abode of the Apostles, that thus he might knowingly pay the penalty for those misdeeds wherein he had ignorantly partaken. I have often seen him, even in his old age, weeping for this unknowing transgression....

On his return from Rome, he abode awhile in his father's house; until, inflamed again with holy zeal, he purposed to revisit the abode of the Apostles and made his desire known unto his parents. Not only did they approve his purpose, but his mother besought his leave to bear him company on this pilgrimage; which he gladly granted, and willingly paid her every filial service that was her due. They came therefore to London; and they had scarcely departed from thence when his mother took off her shoes, going thus barefooted to Rome and back to London Godric, humbly serving his parent, was wont to bear her on his shoulders....

Godric, when he had restored his mother safe to his father's arms, abode but a brief while at home; for he was now already firmly purposed to give himself entirely to God's service. Wherefore, that he might follow Christ the more freely, he sold all his possessions and distributed them among the poor. Then, telling his parents of this purpose and receiving their blessing, he went forth to no certain abode, but whithersoever the Lord should deign to lead him; for above all things he coveted the life of a hermit.
From Reginald of Durham, "Life of St. Godric, " in G. G. Coulton, ed. Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918), pp. 415-420

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996


St Godric of Finchale

Godric was born at Walpole in Norfolk (England) around the year 1065. He was a peddler of some sort – a traveling salesman, indeed – whose wanderings led him to sea for a period of around sixteen years, during which time he became a part-owner of a number of vessels, one of which he went on to captain. There is, in fact, some indication that he may have been operating more or less as a pirate, and that his lifestyle was as far removed from the ways of Christian living as that of pirates generally is.

Godric’s maritime exploits brought him to the island of Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast, and here he became acquainted with tales of St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne’s greatest saint. Godric’s life was transformed by his encounter with Cuthbert (who, even centuries after his death, must have remained an almost tangible presence on Lindisfarne), and he experienced a profound conversion.

Ever the seafarer, his conversion of heart manifested itself in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the early Middles Ages as in Late Antiquity, the idea of pilgrimage exercised a powerful hold over the imaginations of the holy, symbolizing as it did both the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert as they passed from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the wanderings of Christians exiled by sin from Paradise and living in this world as “strangers and pilgrims” en route to the New Jerusalem. Christ himself, who had “nowhere to lay his head”, was essentially a pilgrim, and pilgrimage was understood as a way of conforming oneself with Christ and of following in his footsteps.

This last aspect of following in Christ’s footsteps was one which Godric interpreted with a certain literalness. While in Jerusalem he visited the river Jordan, and, contemplating his own feet, vowed: “Lord, for love of your name, who for men’s salvation walked barefoot through the world, and did not deny to have your naked feet struck through with nails for me; from this day I shall put no shoes upon these feet”. Godric always remained faithful to this vow – even in old age (he lived to be around 100) amid the biting winters of the North East of England.

Further pilgrimages took him to Santiago de Compostella, the shrine of Saint Giles in Provence, to Rome, to Cumberland in North West England (where he obtained a copy of the Psalms which was to provide the material and inspiration for his life of prayer and contemplation), and back to Jerusalem, where he spent time working in a hospital and living with the hermits of Saint John the Baptist and worked in a hospital for several months.

Cuthbert remained his inspiration, however, and it was a vision of Cuthbert in which the saint promised him a hermitage in England that promoted him to return to the land of his birth – this time to Durham, where Cuthbert lay buried – and eventually became a hermit in the forest around Finchale (just outside Durham) in the hunting grounds of the rather disreputable Bishop Ranulf Flambard (the first man to escape from the Tower of London).

Godric embarked upon a life of austerity and mortification, wearing a hair shirt under a metal breastplate, under the guidance of the prior of Durham. Many people sought his advice either in person or from a distance (the latter group included both St Thomas à Becket and Pope Alexander III), and Godric developed a reputation for miracles, for prophecy and for an affinity (characteristic of hermits) for the wild animals among which he lived.

His gift of prophecy extended to foretelling not only his own death both also the deaths of others. Though he seafaring days were now behind him, his prophetic charism enabled him to know when a ship somewhere was in danger of being wrecked, and he would cease from whatever he was doing in order to offer up a prayer.

Godric’s prophetic visions were also the occasion for the Blessed Virgin (among others) to teach him songs, and the four which are recorded by his biographer Reginald are the oldest examples of English verse for which we possess the original musical settings survive, and also the first to favour rhyme and metre over traditional Anglo-Saxon techniques of alliteration.

He died in 1170, tended and mourned by the monks of Durham, having given expression during the course of his extended life to the vocations of both the pilgrim and the hermit. 


Godric of Finchale, OSB, Hermit (AC)

Born at Walpole, Norfolk, England, c. 1065; died in Finchale, County Durham, May 21, c. 1170.

I came upon a contemporary biography of Godric, written by Reginald of Durham, which I'm sending in a separate post, and below I've taken excerpts from this and other biographies detailing some of the unusual stories about the saint.

The short version of the tale is that Godric was a peddler who travelled extensively and, like Saint Brendan, was eventually attracted to the sea for 16 years. He managed to purchase part ownership in several ships and even to captain one. One historian indicates that he may be the Gudericus pirata who carried Baldwain to Jaffa in 1102. In short, his life was not always a holy one. Having experienced many difficulties at sea, Godric was forever troubled on stormy night for ships at sea, even when he lived inland.

His conversion apparently came when he visited Lindisfarne and was touched by an account of the life of Saint Cuthbert. Thereafter he changed his ways. He immediately went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he visited the Holy Sepulchre. Coming out of the Jordan River, and looking down at his feet, he vowed, "Lord, for love of Your name, Who for men's salvation walked barefoot through the world, and did not deny to have Your naked feet struck through with nails for me: From this day I shall put no shoes upon these feet." He kept this vow until his death, even in the snow.

Returning to England via Santiago de Compostella, he became a house steward until he realized that the landowner was acting unjustly toward his poorer neighbors. Upon resigning he went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Giles in Provence and to Rome with his mother.

In Cumberland he acquired a Psalter, which became his most valued possession, and learned it by heart. In 1105, he sold all his goods and travelled to Wolsingham, where he joined up with an elderly hermit named Aelric, with whom he spent two years. After Aelric's death, Godric made another pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he lived for a time with the hermits of Saint John the Baptist and worked in a hospital for several months.

In a vision, Saint Cuthbert promised Godric a hermitage in England, so he returned and spent some time in Eskedale and Durham, where he acted as a sacristan and went to school with the choirboys at Saint Mary-le-Bow. Then he found his hermitage in Bishop Flambard's hunting grounds on the River Wear near Durham.

He spent the next 60 years in the Finchale forest living an austere life of mortification. At first he lived on berries and roots, but later he grew vegetables and milled and baked his own barley. He wore a hair shirt under a metal breastplate. Godric built a wattle oratory and later a small stone church dedicated to Saint Mary. Twice he nearly died, once when he was caught in a flood, and once when Scottish soldiers beat him on the assumption that he had hidden valuables.

He lived mainly alone under the guidance of the prior of Durham, who supplied him with a priest to say Mass in his chapel and would send strangers to him to ask his advice. These visitors included SS. Aelred and Robert of Newminster, and the monk named Reginald who wrote the included biography. Saint Thomas à Becket and Pope Alexander III also sought his advice. Godric's sister Burchwen lived with him for a time but then became a sister in the hospital at Durham.

Godric had the gift of prophecy. He foretold the death of Bishop William of Durham and Saint Thomas a Becket--whom he had never met. He often saw visions of scenes occurring at a distance and was known to stop mid-sentence to pray for ships in danger of shipwreck.

He suffered a long illness during which the monks of Durham nursed him, but he died after foretelling his own death. His biographer, Reginald, recorded four songs that Godric said had been taught to him in visions of the Blessed Virgin, his dead sister, and others. They are the oldest pieces of English verse of which the musical settings survive, and are the oldest to show the use of devices of rhyme and measure instead of alliteration.

Godric was remarkable for his austerities, supernatural gifts, and his familiarity with wild animals (Benedictines, Delaney, White). 

Saint Godric at Finchale

Finchale is difficult to find: in a valley bound by the teeming Wear River on the east, north, and west, and by a dense wood in the south. In this valley "the man of God began to build the tiny habitations of his going out and coming in . . .

[At his first coming he had built an oratory, and one day saw above the altar two young and very lovely maids: the one of them, Mary Magdalene, the other the Mother of God: and the Mother of God put her hand upon his head and taught him to sing after her this prayer:

Mary Holy Virgin, mother of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Hold, shield and help thy Godric, Take him, bring him soon to the Kingdom of God with thee.]

"Thereafter with more devotion than ever he served the Lord: and called upon the most blessed Mother of God, even as he had promised her, in all distress that came about him, and found her most swift to aid. A long time thus spent in solitude, his friends compelled him to take some one to wait on him, and have a better care of his outward affairs. For so intent was he upon his prayer, meditation, and contemplation that he would spend no labor on things out of doors.

"At first, therefore, a little boy, his brother's son, came to wait upon him, and was with him for 11 years. At that time the only living thing he had about him was a single cow; and because the boy was yet but small and of very tender years, he would often be so drowsy with sleep in the mornings that he would forget to take the beast to pasture, or fetch her again in the evenings; or indeed perhaps the familiar task became a weariness to him.

"So one day the man of God went up to the creature, and putting his girdle about her neck, spoke to her as if to one that had reason and intelligence. 'Come,' said he, 'follow me, and go on with me to thy pasture.' She went on, and the youngster, looking and listening, followed after them. And again the saint spoke. 'I command thee, in the Lord's name,' said he, 'that every day at sunrise thou shalt go forth alone, with no guide, to thy pasture; and every noon and evening at the fitting time, come home, with no servant to lead thee; and when thine udder with fullness of milk needs easing come to me, wherever I shall be, and when thou art milked, go lightened back to thy pasture, if yet there is time.'

"And, marvel as it is, from that day and thence forward, the cow went and came at the proper hour, and whenever through the day she was heavy with milk she would come to him; and if by chance he were in church she would stand outside, by the door, lowing and complaining, calling him. And he, his hour of prayer ended, would come out and milk her, and she then go away, wherever he bade her. The boy who saw this, told it; for he grew up, and is now a very old man.

"In after days, a little lad came to serve in the house of the man of God, and was set to these outside tasks. And not knowing that the cow was accustomed to obey the Saint's command, and finding her one day grazing in the meadow, he began to harry her and prod her with a goad. And she, incensed, turned on the youngster and catching him between her horns, charged off with him in a great heat of indignation, to the door of the house where the man of God was busy within. He came out, took the boy in his arms and lifted him from between her horns, rescuing him unhurt from the wrath of the irate beast.

"In this are three works of God which we find singularly admirable: first, that the animal feared to injure or inflict any wound on the servant of her master, but, nonetheless, by terrifying his boldness and presumption, administered well-deserved punishment; second, that Christ Himself would not have the guileless and ignorant youngster killed, but preserved him by the help of His servant; third, that He made manifest to us the merits of the man of God, in that by his intervention he saved one set amid death from death's very jaws.

"This same youngster, now indeed an old man, would often tell the story with thankfulness, praising God who so marvelously deigned to snatch him by the merits of his master from sudden destruction" (Reginald of Durham).

Saint Godric's Garden and the Wild Deer

There are other fantastic stories written of Godric. As a break from prayer, Godric grafted some cuttings from visitors' fruit trees to create an enclosed orchard. The sweetness of the crop drew all the local animals, who nibbled away at the tender shoots and destroyed Godric's painstaking work.

"So one day coming out of his oratory he saw a wild stag from the wood cropping the tender leafage of his trees, scattering and spoiling with all its heart; and making his way towards the creature, he bade it with a crook of his finger not to run away from the spot, but to wait till he came, without stirring. Oh strange and stupendous mystery! The stag, this wild thing of the woods, that knew no discretion, understood the will of the man of God from his gesture alone, and standing still it began trembling all over, as if it knew that it had offended the soul of the man of God.

"Its extreme tremor and fear went to his heart, and he checked the wrath in his mind and the blows he had meant to inflict; and the creature dropped on its knees as he came, and bowed its head, to ask pardon as best it could for its bold trespass. He ungirt his belt, and put it round the neck of the kneeling animal, and so led him beyond the bounds of his orchard, and there releasing him bade him go free wherever he willed. . . .

"It was not long after when lo! a herd of the woodland creatures came crowding again; they leapt across the fence, they tore off the tender flowers and delicate leaves, and every one of the slips of apple trees that he had watched over from the beginning and planted or grafted in his garden, they set themselves to root up and break off and trample underfoot.

"He came out of the house, and ordered the whole mob to leave the place; and seizing a rod, he struck one of them thrice on the flank and leading her to the trees that lay along the ground, he showed her rather by signs than by any spoken word what damage her herd had done to his planting.

"Then, raising both hand and voice, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth,' said he, 'be off and away as quickly as ye may, nor be so bold as to come near this garden of mine to its hurt, until these trees are full grown; for the slips of fruit trees that I have grafted on these trunks I meant for the food of men and not of beasts.' And so saying, he threatened the rest of the dumb creatures with the rod that he held in his hand. And thereupon the whole herd, with heads down bent and stepping delicately, went out; and where they had rioted, prancing here and there, and leapt in great bounds, they now went forth stepping as it were on tiptoe, with swift-hurrying hoofs.

"He drove the whole herd to the depth of the forest; and such as lagged behind in weariness, he set his arms about and gently brought them out, making a way for them by lifting a hurdle from his fence. From that time forth never any forest creature dared to trespass the bounds which he had fixed. . . .

"Bears, too, would come from the depths of the forest to eat the honey of his bees, and he would find them out and chastise them with the stick that he always carried in his hand. And at a word from him the unwieldy creatures would roar and run, and creatures that no steel blade could daunt would go in terror of a blow from his light rod" (Reginald of Durham).

Saint Godric and Saint John the Baptist's Salmon

"It was the serene and joyous weather of high summer, and the turning of the year brought nigh the solemn feast of Saint John the Baptist. And because the man of God had begged it, and it was the familiar custom, two brothers from he monastery at Durham were sent out to him to celebrate the divine office with all due honor. The office reverently said, and this most solemn Mass ended, the folk who had come for the Feast made their way home; and the brethren came to him to ask his blessing, and leave to return to their monastery.

"'Ye may have God's blessing,' said he, 'but when Saint Cuthbert's sons have come to visit me, they must not go home without their dinner.' And, calling his serving-man, 'Quick, beloved,' said he, 'and set up the table, for these brethren are to eat with us this day.'

"The table was set up, and oat cake laid upon it, such as he had, and bowls of good milk. Yet when he looked at the feast, it seemed to him but poor, and he bade the serving-man bring fish as well.

"'Master,' said he in amaze, 'where should we get fish at a time like this, in all this heat and drought, when we can see the very bottom of the river? We can cross dry shod where we used to spread the seine and the nets.' But he answered, 'Go quickly and spread my seine in the same dry pool.' The man went out and did as he was told; but with no hope of any sort of catch.

"He came back, declaring that the pool had dried up till the very sands of it were parched; and his master bade him make haste to fill the cauldron with water, and set it on the hearth to heat, and this was done. After a little while he bade his man go to the bank and bring back his catch; the man went and looked, and came back empty-handed; he did it again a second time; and then in disgust, refused to go any more. For a little while the man of God held his peace, and then spoke. 'Now go this time,' said he, 'for this very hour the fish has come into the net, that Saint John the Baptist promised me; for never could he break a promise by not doing what he said, although our sluggish faith deserved it little. And look you,' said he, 'but that salmon that is now caught in the seine is a marvelous fine one.'

"So in the end his man went off, and found even as he had been told; and drawing it out of the net he brought the fish alive to where his master sat in the oratory, and laid it at his feet. Then as he was bidden, he cut it into pieces and put it into the pot now boiling on the hearth, and cooked it well, and brought it and set it before the brethren at table, and well were they fed and mightily amazed.

"For they marvelled how a fish could come swimming up a river of which the very sands were dry; and, above al, how the man of God, talking with them and sitting in the oratory could have seen, by the revelation of the spirit, the very hour when the fish entered the meshes of the net. To which he made reply, 'Saint John the Baptist never deserts his own, but sheds the blessing of his great kindness on those that trust in him.' And so he sent them home, well fed and uplifted at so amazing a miracle; praising and glorifying God, Who alone doeth marvels, for all that they had seen and heard" (Reginald of Durham).

Saint Godric and the Hare

To feed the poor Godric had planted vegetables, which a little hare used to devour stealthily. One day Godric tracked down the culprit and bade the hare to stop as tried to bolt away. He chastised the trembling animal, bound a bundle of vegetables on its shoulder and sent it off with a warning, 'See to it that neither thyself nor any of thy acquaintance come to this place again; nor dare to encroach on what was meant for the need of the poor.' And so it happened (Geoffrey).

Godric's kindness, however, extended even to the reptiles. "For in winter when all about was frozen stiff in the cold, he would go out barefoot, and if he lighted on any animal helpless with misery of the cold, he would set it under his armpit or in his bosom to warm it. Many a time would the kind soul go spying under the thick hedges or tangled patches of briars, and if haply he found a creature that had lost its way, or cowed with the harshness of the weather, or tired, or half dead, he would recover it with all the healing art he had. . . .

"And if anyone in his service had caught a bird or little beast in a snare or a trap or a noose, as soon as he found it he would snatch it from their hands and let it go free in the fields or the glades of the wood. So that many a time they would hide their captive spoils under a corn measure or a basket or some more secret hiding-place still; but even so they could never deceive him or keep it hidden. For without telling, and indeed with his serving- man disavowing and protesting, he would go straight to the place where the creatures had been hidden; and while the man would stand by crimson with fear and confusion, he would lift them out and set them free.

"So, too, hares and other beasts fleeing from the huntsmen he would take in, and house them in his hut; and when the ravagers, their hope frustrated, would be gone, he would send them away to their familiar haunts. Many a time the dumb creatures of the wood would swerve aside from where the huntsmen lay in wait, and take shelter in the safety of his hut; for it may be that by some divine instinct they knew that a sure refuge abided their coming" (Reginald).

Saint Godric and the Hunted Stag

"In the time of Rainulf, Bishop of Durham, certain of his household had come out for a day's hunting, with their hounds, and were following a stag which they had singled out for its beauty. The creature, hard pressed by the clamor and the baying, made for Godric's hermitage, and seemed by its plaintive cries to beseech his help.

"The old man came out, saw the stag shivering and exhausted at his gate, and moved with pity bade it hush its moans, and opening the door of his hut, let it go in. The creature dropped at the good father's feet but he, feeling that the hunt was coming near, came out, shut the door behind him and sat down in the open; while the dogs, vexed at the loss of their quarry, turned back with a mighty baying upon their masters.

"They, nonetheless, following on the track of the stag, circled round about the place, plunging through the well-nigh impenetrable brushwood of thorns and briars; and hacking a path with their blades, came upon the man of God in his poor rags.

"They questioned him about the stag; but he would not be the betrayer of his guest, and he made prudent answer, 'God knows where he may be.' They looked at the angelic beauty of his countenance, and in reverence for his holiness, they fell before him and asked his pardon for their bold intrusion.

"Many a time afterwards they would tell what had befallen them there, and marvel at it, and by their oft telling of it, the thing was kept in memory by those that came after. But the stag kept house with Godric until the evening; and then he let it go free. But for years thereafter it would turn from its way to visit him, and lie at his feet, to show what gratitude it could for its deliverance" (Reginald).

In art, Saint Godric is depicted as a very old hermit dressed in white, kneeling on grass and holding a rosary, with a stag by him (Roeder, White). He is venerated especially at Finchdale, County Durham, and Walpole, Norfolk, England (Roeder).



* 21 May


Oldest of three children born to a freedman Anglo-Saxon farmer. An adventurous seafaring man, Godric spent his youth in travel, both on land and sea, as a peddler and merchant mariner first along the coast of the British Isles, then throughout Europe. Sometime sailor, sometime ship’s captain, he lived a seafarer’s life of the day, and it was hardly a religious one. He was known to drink, fight, chase women, con customers, and in a contemporary manuscript, was referred to as a “pirate”. Converted upon visiting Lindisfarne during a voyage, and being touched by the life of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

Pilgrim to Jerusalem and the holy lands, Saintiago de Compostela, the shrine of Saint Gaul in Provence, and to Rome, Italy. As a self-imposed austerity, and a way to always remember Christ’s lowering himself to become human, Godric never wore shoes, regardless of the season. He lived as a hermit in the holy lands, and worked in a hospital near Jerusalem. Hermit for nearly sixty years at Finchale, County Durham, England, first in a cave, then later in a more formal hermitage; he was led to its site by a vision of Saint Cuthbert. It was a rough life, living barefoot in a mud and wattle hut, wearing a hair shirt under a metal breastplate, standing in icy waters to control his lust, living for a while off berries and roots, and being badly beaten by Scottish raiders who strangely thought he had a hidden treasure.

Noted for his close familiarity with wild animals, his supernatural visions, his gift of prophecy, and ability to know of events occurring hundreds or thousands of miles away. Counseled Saint Aelred, Saint Robert of Newminster, Saint Thomas Beckett, and Pope Alexander III. Wrote poetry in Medieval English. The brief song Sainte nicholaes by Godric is one of the oldest in the English language, and is believed to be the earliest surviving example of lyric poetry. He was said to have received his songs, lyrics and music, complete during his miraculous visions.


* 1069 at Walpole, Norfolk, England


* 1170 at Finchale, County Durham, England of natural causes