St. Bega, Anchoress of St Bee's Head Cumberland, Founder of a Monastery Near Whitehaven, Virgin
(Bee, Begh, Begha, Begu)

31 October

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Main day of commemoration is 6th September

Died in Cumberland, 681. This is another of those problematic saints, mixing fact and fiction and, perhaps, the stories of more than one person of the same name. One Bega is Irish; the other Anglo-Saxon. As always, there appears to be some basis for the stories, but it is impossible to sort or determine to whom each element of the story relates. So, I give you what each of the sources has said.

The Irish maiden Saint Bega, in legend a princess, fled on the eve of her marriage to a son of the king of Norway with a miraculous bracelet presented by an angel as a token of her betrothal to the Lord Jesus Christ. She was miraculously transported across the Irish Sea to Cumberland, England.

She lived as a hermit for a while but on the advice of King Saint Oswald (f.d. August 9), she received the veil from Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne (f.d. August 31). Thereafter she founded a convent on the promontory of Saint Bee's Head (Copeland), in Cumberland, which flourished for 900 years with grants from Kings Saint Oswald, Saint Oswin (f.d. August 20), and others. As an abbess, she was venerated for her aid to the poor and the oppressed. The abbey still perpetuates her memory, as does also the name of the village, Kilbees, in Scotland.

Two other saints of the same name are mentioned by hagiographers in Yorkshire and an abbess at Kilbees. An Anglo-Saxon nun, called Heiu or Begu, was also professed by Saint Aidan. According to Saint Bede (f.d. May 25), she abdicated her abbacy of Hartlepool Abbey in favour of the royal princess Saint Hilda (f.d. November 17). He also notes that while Begu was novice mistress in another convent, she saw a vision of her beloved Hilda, surrounded by heavenly light, ascend to heaven as the bells tolled to call the sisters to prayer. The community was immediately gathered in the chapel to pray for the repose of Hilda's soul. The following morning messengers arrived was the news of the death of the abbess of Whitby.

About 1125, the monks of Whitby sought relics to replace those of Hilda, who had been translated to Glastonbury (they possessed those of Saint Caedmon (f.d. February 11), but few were interested in him). Through a revelation, a sarcophagus was found at Harkness with the inscription "Hoc est sepulchrum Begu" and its contents transferred to Whitby, where miracles were reported.

The origin of the name of the village of Kilbees and headland on the coast of Cumberland is a matter of uncertainty. It seems more likely that they are named after the Irish Bega than after either of the two 7th century Northumbrian nuns, Begu and Heiu, mentioned by Bede. There is a medieval legend that oaths sworn on her bracelet were accepted without further question (Attwater, Benedictines, D'Arcy, Encyclopaedia, Farmer, Montague, Moran).

Through the intercessions of St Bee and of all the Saints of Britain, Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us!

The village of Saint Bees

A book to read about Saint Bee:--
CREDO by Melvyn Bragg

Two reviews:
alan.davies@... , August 14, 1997
Big, sweeping historical epic by a superior, literate writer

This is a huge book (780 pages in paperback) which sprawls across England and Ireland circa 650AD. It is a highly literate (Bragg is a prominent UK arts broadcaster) fictional exploration of Saint Bega and other real life characters set against the religion and politics of the time [and the key players at the Synod of Whitby.] It is very readable with plenty of action, believable characters and fascinating historical observation. It is however a big novel so strengthen those wrist muscles first!.

simonfunnell@... from London, England , July 11, 1999
7th century Britain's way of life is under attack...

Melvyn Bragg's Credo is astonishing. It is so well researched and so well written that the characters live in your head long after you have closed the pages for the last time.

It's a classical battle; between the Pagans and the Christians, and between the Christian Celts and the Christian Catholics, set in a violent and turbulent period of history.

This book has been reprinted as The Sword and The Miracle, but is also available as Credo.

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