St. Guthlac of Croyland, Hermit
St Guthlac, tormented by demons, is handed a scourge by St Bartholomew, Guthlac Roll, 1210, British Library-By Unknown – British Library , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32907827]
Born in Mercia, c. 673; died at Crowland, Lincolnshire, England, in 714; feast day formerly on April 12; feast of his translation is August 30 and there is a commemoration on August 26.
As a young man of royal blood from the tribe of Guthlacingas, Guthlac had been a soldier for nine years, fighting for Ethelred, the King of Mercia. At age 24, he renounced both violence and the life of the world and became a monk in double abbey at Repton, which was ruled by an abbess named Elfrida.
Even in these early years his discipline was extraordinary. Some of the monks in fact disliked him because he refused all wine and cheering drink. But he lived down the criticism and gained the respect of his brothers. After two years in the monastery it seemed to him far too agreeable a place. On the feast of Saint Bartholomew about 701, he found a wet, remote, unloved spot on the River Welland in the Fens, which could be reached only by boat, and lived there for the rest of his life as a hermit, seeking to imitate the rigours of the old desert fathers.
His temptations rivalled theirs. Wild men came out of the forest and beat him. Even the ravens stole his few possessions. But Guthlac was patient, even with wild creatures. Bit by bit the animals and birds came to trust him as their friend. A holy man named Wilfrid once visited Guthlac and was astonished when two swallows landed on his shoulders and then hopped all over him. Guthlac told him,
Hast thou not learned, brother, that with him who has led his life after God’s will, the wild beasts and birds become more intimate, just as to those who leave the world, the angels approach nearer?
Apparently, Guthlac was also had a vision of Saint Bartholomew, his patron. Nor was he entirely alone in his refuge: He had several disciples, Saints Cissa, Bettelin, Egbert, and Tatwin, who had cells nearby. Bishop Hedda of Dorchester ordained him to the priesthood during a visit. The exiled prince Ethelbald, often came to him for advice, learned from Guthlac that he would wear the crown of the Mercians.
When he was dying, Guthlac sent for his sister, Saint Pega, who was a hermitess in the same neighbourhood (Peakirk or Pega’s church). Abbess Edburga of Repton sent him a shroud and a leaden coffin. A year after his death, Guthlac’s body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. Soon his shrine, to which his sister had donated his Psalter and scourge, began popular. When both King Wiglaf of Mercia (827-840) and Archbishop Ceolnoth of Canterbury (who was cured by Guthlac of the ague in 851) became devotees, Guthlac’s cultus grew and spread. A monastery was established on the site of Saint Guthlac’s hermitage, which developed into the great abbey of Crowland, to which his relics were translated in 1136. There was another translation in 1196.
One can go on pilgrimage to the site, which has much of interest, but nothing of the saint’s era remains, for it was destroyed by pagan raiders who ravaged the region at that time. Persons linked with Cambridge will recall that their University was founded under the inspiration of the abbot of Crowland, thus Sabine Baring-Gould has said, making St Guthlac the University’s spiritual father.
Guthlac’s vita was recorded in Latin by his near contemporary Felix. Several others were composed in Old English verse and prose. Together with Saint Cuthbert, Guthlac was one of England’s most popular pre-Conquest hermit saints (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Farmer, Gill, Husenbeth).
In art, Saint Guthlac is depicted holding a scourge in his hand and a serpent at his feet. At times he may be shown (1) receiving the scourge from Saint Bartholomew; (2) being ordained priest by Saint Hedda of Winchester; or (3) with devils molesting and angels consoling him (Roeder). A magnificent pictorial record of his life survives in the late 12th-century Harleian Roll Y.6 at the British Museum, which is usually called the Guthlac Roll. This is a series of eighteen roundels, cartoons for stained glass windows, based on Felix’s vita and the pseudo-Ingulph’s history of Crowland.
Crowland also has several 13th-century sculptures of his life. Abbot Henry of Crowland’s 13th-century seal depicts Guthlac receiving a scourge from Saint Bartholomew for fending off diabolical attacks (Farmer). He is venerated in Lincolnshire (Roeder).
o The Deserts of Britain
o Four places of ascetical struggle in Britain and the saints who laboured there: St Gwyddfarch, St Melangell, St Cadfan, and St Guthlac:
Alternative Tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/eo3yz
o Akathist to our Holy Father Guthlac:
o Saint Pega and Saint Guthlac in the South English Legendary
by Alexandra H. Olsen