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

[NB: This is a saint outside our timeframe of interest and post-schism]

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 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 pirate 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 realised that the landowner was acting unjustly toward his poorer neighbours. 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 Walsingham, 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 offer the Holy Sacrifice in his chapel and would send strangers to him to ask his advice. These visitors included Aelred and Robert of Newminster, and the monk named Reginald who wrote the included biography. Thomas a 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 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 labour 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 marvellously 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 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 the monastery at Durham were sent out to him to celebrate the divine office with all due honour. 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 marvellous 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 clamour 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, with a stag by him (Roeder, White). He is venerated especially at Finchdale, County Durham, and Walpole, Norfolk, England (Roeder).

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