Abbot and Confessor of Wearmouth and Jarrow
Saint Ceolfrith, or Geoffrey, the friend and spiritual son of Saint
Benedict Biscop (January 12), was born about the year 642, and was
probably a native of the kingdom of Northumbria.
He is first mentioned in 674 as aiding Benedict in the foundation of the
abbey of Wearmouth, and about the year 678 he accompanied him to Rome. A
little later - about the year 681 - Ceolfrith was an active, learned and
zealous man, and worthy to be the successor of Benedict. He doubled the
large library which had been formed by his predecessor, and increased
the number of monks to six hundred. He also enriched the monastery, by
obtaining from King Aldfrith a grant of lands on the river "Fresca,"
which were afterwards exchanged for an estate nearer the monastery, at a
place then called "Sambuce." By some monks whom he sent to Rome,
Ceolfrith obtained from Pope Sergios a new charter of privileges for the
monastery, or rather a renewal of those which had been given to Benedict
by Pope Agatho.
Saint Ceolfrith continued to preside over the two monasteries of
Wearmouth and Jarrow during twenty-six years, and he appears to have
occupied himself exclusively with his monks in study and teaching. The
celebrity of his school, in which Bede imbibed his great learning, was
very extensive; and in 701, the Pope sent a messenger to invite one of
his monks to advise him in deciding certain ecclesiastical questions of
A few years afterwards (about 710), Ceolfrith's advice was sought by
Naitan, King of the Picts, who had become a convert to the Orthodox
Pascha and the Roman form of tonsure; and, at the earnest solicitation
of that prince, he sent him a letter setting forth the arguments on
which this was founded, and along with it architects to build a stone
church after the West Roman style. This letter has been preserved by
When age and sickness announced to Ceolfrith the near approach of death,
he was suddenly seized with the desire of ending his days in the
Apostolic city of Rome. Bede, who was probably one of the actors in it,
describes very particularly the emotional scene of parting. The monks
urged Ceolfrith to stay, for they saw that he lacked the strength for so
long a journey, and they feared that he would die on the way; but their
efforts were in vain. On Thursday, the 4th day of June, 716,
immediately after the first liturgical service of the day had been
celebrated, Ceolfrith prepared for his departure, amid the lamentations
of those with whom he had passed so many tranquil years.
The monks, about six hundred in number, were assembled in the church at
Wearmouth, and Ceolfrith, after having prayed, stood by the altar,
holding in his hand the censer with burning incense, and gave them his
peace. Then they left the church and moved towards the shore, their
chants being frequently interrupted by loud sobs. When they came to the
dormitory, Ceolfrith entered the oratory of Saint Lawrence, which stood
there, and delivered his last admonition, urging the monks to persevere
brotherly love, to keep strict discipline, and to be constant in their
duties to God, and he ended by requesting their prayers for himself.
On the bank of the river Tyne he gave them severally the kiss of peace,
and they then fell on their knees and received his blessing. He was
accompanied across the river by the deacons of the church, bearing
lighted tapers and the cross of gold. When he reached the opposite
shore, he venerated the cross, and then mounted the horse which was to
carry him to the place of embarkation.
On their return to Wearmouth, the first care of the monks was the
election of a successor, and their new abbot, named Hwaetbert, was
immediately dispatched, with a few of the brethren, to see Ceolfrith for
the last time. They found him on the coast waiting for a ship; since his
departure from amongst them, he approved their choice and confirmed
their election, and
then received from the new abbot a commendatory letter to Pope Gregory.
The apprehensions of the monks were soon verified; for after journeying
slowly through Gaul, as he was approaching the city of Langres
(Lingonas), in the diocese of Lyon, on the 25th of September of the same
year, Ceolfrith became suddenly so feeble that his attendants were
obliged to halt in the midst of the fields, where he died almost
His body was deposited in the monastery of the Twin Martyrs, in the
southern suburb of the city, and his companions returned to England to
bear the tidings to his friends. Bede, who gives the date of Ceolfrith's
death, tells us that he was then seventy-four years of age, and that he
had been forty-seven years a presbyter and thirty-five years an abbot,
including, of course, the period during which he presided only over the
monastery of Jarrow.
His holy relics were afterwards removed from Langres, and carried to
Wearmouth; and at a subsequent period, on the approach of the Danes, who
reduced that monastery to ruins, they were again taken up by the monks,
and, with those of the Abbess Hilda, finally deposited at Glastonbury.
"When the Church in the British Isles begins to venerate her own saints,
the Church will prosper" ~ Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia
Ceolfrith would merit a place among the Anglo-Saxon writers if he had
written nothing but the letter, or tract, on the observance of Pascha,
addressed to the King of the Picts. It is distinguished by clearness of
style, and remarkable vigour and perspicuity, if we consider that the
writer was then in his sixty-eighth year, relatively a much greater age
then than now.
Saint Ceolfrith is commemorated on the date of his repose, September 25.
The translation of his relics is celebrated on October 8.
The above Life from
Icon of St. Ceolfrith-Geoffrey
Troparion of St Geoffrey
Rejoice, Christians of Northumbria, for the Lord hath brought forth a
holy one from your midst. He tended monasticism and learning as a
precious vine, bearing abundant fruit to the glory of God. Now that the
name of Saint Geoffrey is inscribed in the Book of Life, pray with us
that he may intercede for us all.
These Lives are archived at:
content © 2008, Ambrose Mooney
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Page last updated: 8 October 2008
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