18 April 2009


In his "History of the Kings of Britain", Geoffrey of Monmouth briefly tells the story of King Bladud, the founder of Bath:

Next succeeded Bladud his son, in whose hands the kingdom remained for twenty years. He builded the city of Kaerbadon, that is now called Bath, and fashioned hot baths therein, meet for the needs of men, the which he placed under the guardianship of the deity Minerva, in whose temple he set fires that could not be quenched, that never turned into ashes, but as they began to fail became as it were round balls of stone. At that time did Elijah pray that it might not rain upon the earth, and it rained not for the space of three years and six months. Bladud was a right cunning craftsman, and did teach nigromancy throughout the realm of Britain, nor did he stint of his subtle sleights until he had fashioned him wings and tried to go upon the top of the air, when he fell upon the temple of Apollo in the city of Trinovantum, and was dashed into many pieces.
(public domain 1904 translation by Sebastian Evans from sacred-texts.com)

Geoffrey's version is discussed on this Bath site. Charles Dickens tells a later version of the story in Chapter XXXVI of The Pickwick Papers, and then lets us in on the secret of what really happened.

The illustration at the top shows a statue of King Bladud in the King's Bath at Bath, and Laurence Tindall explains the conservation work he did on it in 1982 (photo by Andrew Dunn from wikicommons under a creative commons licence).

The Royal Academy has Benjamin West's 1807 picture Bladud in Exile.

11 April 2009


The island of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island as it is also known, is a tidal island on the East coast of England near the Scottish-English border.

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A Youtube slideshow of photos from Lindisfarne, with Era's Avemano as soundtrack:

At the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria, St. Aidan came from Iona to build a monastery at Lindisfarne to serve as a basis for the evangelisation of Oswald's pagan subjects. Bede's account of Aidan's work in Lindisfarne and Northumbria can be seen in Book III of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Chapter III describes Lindisfarne and tells how Aidan came there, Chapters V and VI tell us about Aidan's way of life and his relationship with King Oswald. Chapters XIV - XVII give some more anecdotes about Aidan and tell us about his death on 31 August 651.

You can read the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on St. Aidan, an Anglican account, and how he is remembered on Lindisfarne itself.

Another saint closely linked to Lindisfarne is St. Cuthbert. As a young man at the time of Aidan's death, Cuthbert is said to have seen a vision of Aidan's soul being taken up to heaven by angels and decided to enter a monastery, first at Melrose Abbey, and then at Lindisfarne. Cuthbert died in 687. Eleven years after his death his grave was opened and his body was found to be still undecayed. This led Bede to write a Life of Cuthbert.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article on Cuthbert, an Anglican view can be read here, and the view from Lindisfarne here. A triptych by Ernest Duez showing episodes from Cuthbert's life is now in the Musee d'Orsay. Haliwerfolc is a blog devoted to St. Cuthbert.

Bede's "Life of Cuthbert" is dedicated to Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne, who was the scribe and illustrator for Lindisfarne's most famous product, the Lindisfarne Gospels -- or so a note at the end of the gospels says, though not everyone believes it. The Lindisfarne gospels are now in the British Library, which has information on them online with links to more detailed information and highlights from the book. For more information see this course on the Lindisfarne Gospels. Much later, in 970, Aldred wrote an interlinear translation of the Gospels into Old English. This article discusses Aldred's translation.

The Lindisfarne Gospels' current location in the British Library in London has been a source of some controversy, and a deal has now been worked out whereby the Gospels will now spend some time in their homeland of Northumbria. Here are reports on this issue from the BBC and The Independent.

It was in 793 that the Lindisfarne suffered the first in a series of Viking raids. Eventually, the monks decided their situation on Lindisfarne was untenable and they moved to the mainland, taking the body of St. Cuthbert with them. Eventually his body ended up in Durham cathedral, where it it still is today. (all illustrations in the public domain from wiki commons, unless otherwise noted)