Mrs. (Anna) Jameson.

Legends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art online

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was unknown ; there were very few books, and fewer
pictures. Bennet made no less than five journeys to
France and Italv, and brought back with him cunning-
architects and carvel's in stone, and workers in metal,
whom he settled near his monasterv : he brought erla-
ziers from France, for the art of making glass was then
unknown in England. Moreover, he brought with him
a great quantity of costly books and copies of the Scrip-
tures, and also many pictures representing the actions
of our Saviour, in order, as it is expressly said, "that
the ignorant might learn from them as others did from
books." (Bede.) And further, it is related that he
placed in his monasterv at Wearmouth, " pictures of
the Blessed Virgin, of the twelve apostles, the histoiy
of the Gospel, and the visions of St. John (i. e. the
Apocalypse). His church of St. Paul at Jarrow he
adorned with many other pictures, disposed in such a
manner as to represent the harmony between the Old
and the Xew Testament and the conformitv of the fisr-
ures of the one with the reality of the other. Thus,
Isaac carrying the wood which was to make the sacrifice
of himself was explained by Christ carrying the cross
on which he was to finish his sacrifice ; and the brazen
serpent was illustrated by our Saviour's crucifixion."
(From this we may gather how ancient, even in this
country, was the system of type and antitype in Chris-
tian art, of which Sir Charles Eastlake has given a most
interesting account in the notes to Kugler's Handbook,
page 216.) And further, St. Bennet brought from



Rome in his last journey a certain John, abbot of San
Martino, precentor (or teacher of music) in the pope's
chapel, whom he placed at Wearmouth to instruct his
monks in the chanting the divine services according to
the Gregorian manner, which appears to be the first in-
troduction of music into our cathedrals. He also com-
posed many books for the instruction of his monks and
of those who frequented the schools of his monastery.
Among the pupils of St. Bennet was the Venerable
Bede, who studied in his convent during seven years.
(a. d. 735.)

After a long life of piety, charity, and munificence,
embellished by elegant pursuits, this remarkable man
died about the year 703.

He is represented as bishop, wearing the mitre and
planeta, and bearing the pastoral staff; in the back-
ground, the two monasteries are seen, and the river
Tyne flowing between them ; — as in a little print by

In association with this enlightened bishop, we ought
to find St. Cuthbert of Durham ; a saint, in that
age, of far greater celebrity and more extended influ-
ence, living and dead ; yet, looking back from the point
where we now stand, we feel inclined to adjust the
claims to renown more equitably. Perhaps we might
say that St. Cuthbert represented the spirituality, and
St. Benedict of Wearmouth the intellect, of their time
and country.

Cuthbert began life as a shepherd, in the valley of
the Tweed, not far from Melrose, where a religious
house had recently sprung up under the auspices of St.
Aidan. One of the legends of his childhood seems to
have been invented as an instructive apologue for the
edification of school-boys. As St. Cuthbert was one
day playing at ball with his companions, there stood
among them a fair young child, the fairest creature
ever eve beheld ; and he said to St. Cuthbert, " Good


brother, leave these vain plays ; set not thy heart upon
them ; mind thy book ; has not God chosen thee out to
be great in his Church'?" But Cuthbert heeded him
not ; and the fair child wrung his hands, and wept, and
threw himself down on the ground in great heaviness ;
and when Cuthbert ran to comfort him, he said, " Nay,
my brother, it is for thee I weep, that preferest thy vain
sports to the teaching of the servants of God " ; arid
then he vanished suddenly, and Cuthbert knew that it
was an angel that had spoken to him ; and from that
time forth his piety and love of learning recommended
him to the notice of the good prior of Melrose, who in-
structed him carefully in the Holy Scriptures. And it
is related that on a certain night, as Cuthbert watched
his flocks by the river-side, and was looking up to the
stars, suddenly there shone a dazzliug light above his
head, and he beheld a glorious vision of angels, who
were bearing the soul of his preceptor St. Aidan into
heavenly bliss ; whereupon he forsook his shepherd's
life, and, entering the monastery of Melrose, he became,
after a few years, a great and eloquent preacher, con-
verting the people around, both those who were pagans,
and those who, professing themselves Christians, lived
a life unworthy the name, and he brought back many
who had gone astray ; for when he exhorted them, such
a brightness appeared in his angelic face, that no man
could conceal from him the most hidden secrets of the
heart, but all openly confessed their faults and promised
amendment. He was wont to pi-each in such villages
as, being far up in the wild and desolate mountains,
were considered almost inaccessible ; and among these
poor and half-barbarous people he would sometimes re-
main for weeks together, instructing and humanizing
them. Afterwards removing from Melrose to Landis-
farne, he dwelt for some years as an anchorite in a soli-
tary islet, on the shore of Northumberland, then bar-
ren, and infested by evil spirits, but afterwards called
Holy Island, from the veneration inspired by his sanc-
tity. Here he dug a well, and sowed barley, and sup-


ported himself by the labor of his hands ; and here, ac-
cording to the significant and figurative legend, the an-
gels visited him, and left on his table bread prepared in
Paradise. After some years, Cuthbert was made bishop
of Landisfarne, which was then the principal see of the
Northumbrians (since removed to Durham), and in this
office he was venerated and loved by all men, being an
example of diligence and piety, " modest in the virtue
of patience, and affable to all who came to him for com-
fort " ; and farther, many wonderful things are recorded
of him, both while he lived and after his death, — mirac-
ulous cures and mercies wrought through his interces-
sion ; and the shrine of St. Cuthbert became, in the
North of England, a place of pilgrimage. It was often
plundered, and on one occasion his relics were carried
oft' by the Danes. Their final translation was to the
cathedral of Durham, where they now repose.

St. Cuthbert is represented as bishop, with an otter
at his side, originally signifying his residence in the
midst of waters. There is, however, an ancient legend,
which iv'ates that one night after doing penance on the
shore i.t ihe damp and the cold, he swooned and lay as
one dead upon the earth ; but there came two otters out
of the water, which licked him all over, till life and
warmth were restored to his benumbed limbs. In this,
as in so many other instances, the emblem has been
translated into a fact or rather into a miracle. The
proper attribute of St. Cuthbert is the crowned head of
king Oswald in his arms ; of whom as associated with
St. Cuthbert, and often represented in early Art, I will
say a few words here.

St. Oswald was the greatest of our kingly saints
and martyrs of the Saxon line. His whole story, as
related by Bede, is exceedingly beautiful. He had re-
quested that a teacher might be sent to instruct him and
his people in the word of God ; but the first who came
to him was a man of a very severe disposition ; who,
meeting with no success in his mission, returned home.


Then Aidan, afterwards prior of Melrose, rebuked this
missionary, saying, he had been more severe to his un-
learned hearers than he ought to have been ; which good
man, Aidan, being indued with singular discretion, and
all the gentler virtues, undertook to preach to the sub-
jects of king Oswald, and succeeded wonderfully.

One of the most beautiful and picturesque incidents
in the life of Oswald is thus related by Bede.

Having been dispossessed of his dominions by Cad-
walla (or Cadwallader), king of the Britons, who be-
sides being a bloody and rapacious tyrant, was a heathen
(this, at least, is the character given him by the Sax-
ons), he lived for some time in exile and obscurity, but
at length he raised an army and gave battle to his ene-
my. And the two armies being in sight of each other,
" Oswald ordered a great cross of wood to be made in
haste ; and the hole being dug into which it was to be
fixed, the king, full of faith, laid hold of it, and held
it with both hands, till it was made fast by throwing in
the earth. Then raising his voice, he cried, ' Let us all
kneel down, and beseech the living God to defend us
from the haughty and fierce enemy, for he knows that
we have undertaken a just war, for.the safety of our na-
tion.' Then they went against the enemy and obtained
a victory as their faith deserved."

This king Oswald afterwards reigned over the whole
country, from the Humber to the Frith of Forth, Brit-
ons, Picts, Scots, and English ; but having received the
word of God, he was exceedingly humble, affable, and
generous to the poor and strangers. It is related of
him, that he was once sitting at dinner on Easter-day,
and before him was a silver dish full of dainty meats ;
and they were just ready to bless the bread, when his
almoner came in on a sudden, and told him there
were some poor hungry people seated at his door, beg-
ging for food ; and he immediately ordered the dish of
meat to be carried out to them, and the dish itself to be
cut in pieces and divided amongst them. And St. Ai-
dan, who sat by him, took him by the right hand, and



blessed him, saying, " May this hand never perish ! "
which fell out according to his prayer. This most
Christian king, after reigning justly and gloriously for
nine years, was killed in battle, fighting against the pa-
gan king of the Mercians. A great proof of the char-
ity attributed to him, and a much greater proof than
the sending a dish of meat from his table, was this, —
that he ended his life with a prayer, not for himself, but
for others. For when he was beset with the weapons
of his enemies, and perceived that he must die, he prayed
for the souls of his companions ; whence came an old
English proverb, long in the mouths of the people,
" May God have mercy on their souls, as Oswald said
when he fell." His heathen enemy ordered his head
and hands to be cut off, and set upon stakes, but after-
wards his head was carried to the church of Landis-
farne, where it was laid as a precious relic in the tomb
of St. Cuthbert, lying between his arms (hence in many
pictures, St. Cuthbert holds the crowned head as his
attribute) ; while his right hand was carried to his castle
of Bamborough, and remained undecayed and uncor-
rupted for many years. " And in the place where he
was killed by the -Pagans,' fighting for his country, in-
firm men and cattle are healed to this day." " Nor is
it to be wondered at, that the sick should be healed in
the place where he died, for whilst he lived he never
ceased to provide for the poor and infirm, and to bestow
alms on them and assist them." In the single figures
he wears the kingly crown, and carries a large cross.

The whole story of St. Oswald is rich in picturesque
subjects. The solemn translation of his remains, first
to Bardney in Lincolnshire, by Osthrida, queen of the
Mercians, and afterwards to St. Oswald's, in Glou-
cestershire, by Elfleda, the high-hearted daughter of
Alfred, and her husband Ethelred, should close the

In those devotional effigies which commemorate par-
ticularly the Christianizing of Northumbria by the early



Benedictines, we should find St. Benedict as patriarch,
with St. Paulinus of York, and St. Cuthbert of Dur-
ham. Or, if the monument were to be purely Anglo-
Saxon, we should have St. Oswald between St. Cuth-
bert and St. Bennet of Wearmouth : where female saints
are grouped with these, we should find St. Helena, St.
Hilda of Whitby, and St. Ebba of Coldingham. •

"In those early times," says a quaint old author
(Dugdale), "there were in England, and also in France,
monasteries consisting of men and women, who lived
together like the religious women who followed and ac-
companied the blessed apostles, in one society, and trav-
elled together for their advancement and improvement
in a holy life. Erom these women these monasteries
were derived, and governed only by devout women, so
ordained by the founders in respect of the great honor
which they had for the Virgin Mary, whom Jesus on
the cross recommended to St. John the Evangelist.
These governesses had as well monks as nuns in their
monasteries, and jurisdiction over both men and wo-
men ; and those men who improved themselves in learn-
ing, and whom the abbess thought qualified for orders,
she recommended to the bishop, who ordained them.
Yet they remained still under her government, and of-
ficiated as chaplains until she pleased to send them forth
upon the work of ministry. And among these were
Ebba, abbess of Coldingham ; and St. Werburga, ab-
bess of Repandum in England ; and St. Bridget of Kil-
dare, in Ireland, who had many monks under their
charge. " " And more particularly Hilda, great-
grandchild to king Edwin, and abbess of Whitby, fa-
mous for her learning, piety, and excellent govern-
ment in the time of the Saxons, when, as Bede relat-
eth, she held her subjects so strictly to the reading of
the Scriptures and the performance of works of right-
eousness, that many of them were fit to be churchmen
and to serve at the altar ; so that afterwards, saith
he, we saw bishops who came out of her monas-
tery, and a sixth was elected, who died before he was


ordained. She was a professed enemy to the extension
of the papal jurisdiction in this country, and opposed
with all her might the tonsure of priests and the cele-
bration of Easter according to the Roman ritual. She
presided at a council held in her own monastery, and
in presence of king Oswy, when these questions were
argued, but being decided against her, she yielded."
" She taught," says Bede, " the strict observance of
justice, piety, chastity, and other virtues, and especially
peace and charity, so that, after the example of the
primitive Christians, no person was there rich, and
none poor, all being in common to all, and none having
any property ; and her prudence was so great, that not
only private individuals, but kings and princes, asked
and received her counsel in religious and worldly affairs.
The people adored her ; and certain fossils which are
found there, having the form of snakes coiled up, are
commonly supposed to be venomous reptiles, thus
changed by the prayers of St. Hilda. And in the year
of the incarnation of our Lord 680, on the 17th of No-
vember, this most religious servant of Christ, the Ab-
bess Hilda, having suffered under an infirmity for seven
years, and performed many heavenly works on earth,
died, and was carried into paradise by the angels, as was
beheld in a vision by one of her own nuns, then at a dis-
tance, on the same night : the name of this nun was
then Bega ; but she afterwards became famous under
the name of St. Bees."

St. Hilda should wear a rich robe over her Benedic-
tine habit, and hold in one hand her pastoral staff as
abbess ; in the other hand a book or books. St. Hilda
and St. Benedict of Wearmouth, on each side of St.
Cuthbert, might express the sanctity, the learning, and,
what modern authors would style, the " female element
of civilization," proper to this early period.*

* In Hutchinson's History of the Cathedral of Durham, there is
a curious and interesting catalogue of the subjects which filled
the large stained-glass windows, before the wholesale destruction
of those glorious memorials. Among them wc find, separately or


Of St. Ebba it is related, that when attacked in her
monastery by a horde of Danish barbarians, she coun-
selled her sisterhood to mutilate their faces, rather than
fall a prey to the adversary; and they all consented.
" And when the Danes broke through the gates and
rushed upon them, they lifted their veils and showed
their faces disfigured horribly, and covered with blood :
then those merciless ravishers, starting back at such a
spectacle, were about to flee ; but their leaders, being
filled with fury and disappointed of their prey, ordered
the convent to be fired. So these most holy virgins,
with St. Ebba at their head, attained the glory of mar-

St. Ebba should bear the palm, and, being of royal
lineage, she would have a double right to the crown as
princess and as martyr.

In the monastery of the abbess Hilda lived Casdmon
(a. d. 680) the poet, whose paraphrase of Scripture
history, in Anglo-Saxon verse, is preserved to this day.
A copy exists in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, illu-
minated with antique drawings, most extraordinary and
curious as examples of Saxon art. (v. Archceologia,
vol. xxv.)

The story of Casdruon, as related by Bede, appears
to me very beautiful. " He did not," says Bede, " learn
the art of poetry from men, but from God ; for he had
lived in a secular habit till he was well advanced in years,

in groups, and often repeated, St. Helena ; St. Aidan (the instruc-
tor of St. Cuthbert and St. Oswald), as bishop ; St. Cuthbert, as
patron saint and bishop, bearing the head of St. Oswald in his
arms ; St. Oswald himself, in princely attire, carrying a large cross,
— and, again, St. Oswald " blowing his horn " ; and the Venera-
ble Bede, who, at Durham, is Saint Bede, in a blue gown, and
carrying his book. I have observed, that, in the ancient stained
glass, dark blue is often substituted for black in the dress of the
monks 5 black, perhaps, being too opaque a color. The figure of
St. Bede still exists as a fragment.


being employed as one of the servants in the monas-
tery." And he knew nothing of literature, nor of verse,
nor of song ; so that when he was at table, and the
harp came to him in his turn, he rose up and left the
guests, and went his way.

And it happened on a certain occasion, that he had
done so, and had gone into the stable, where it was his
business to care for the horses ; and he laid himself
down to sleep. And in his sleep an angel appeared to
him, and said, " Caedmon, sing to me a song " ; and he
answered, " I cannot sing, and therefore I left the enter-
tainment, and came hither because I could not sing."
And the other, answering him, said, " You shall sing,
notwithstanding." He asked, " What shall I sing ? "
And the angel replied, " Sing the beginning of created
beings." Thereupon, Credmon presently began to sing
verses in praise of God, the Father and Creator of all
things. And awakening from his sleep, he remem-
bered all he had sung in his dream, and added much
more to the same effect in most melodious verse.

In the morning he was conducted before the abbess
Hilda, by whom he was ordered to tell his dream, and
recite his verses ; and she and the learned men who
were with her, on hearing him doubted not that heav-
enly grace had been conferred on him by our Lord :
wherefore, the abbess Hilda received him into her com-
munity, and commanded that he should be well in-
structed in the Holy Scriptures. As he read, Csedmon
converted the same into harmonious verse. He sang
the creation of the world, and the origin of man, and
many other histories from Holy Writ ; the terror of fu-
ture judgment, the pains of hell, and the delights of
heaven. And thus he passed his life happily ; and as
he had served God with a simple and pure mind, devot-
ing his good gifts to his service, he died happily. That
tongue which had composed so many holy words in
praise of the Creator, uttered its last words while he
was in the act of signing himself with the cross ; ami
thus he fell into a slumber, to awaken in Paradise, and

ST. CHAD. 103

join the hymns of the holy angels, whom he had imi-
tated in this world, both in his life and in his songs.*

St. Cuthbert and St. Hilda, with Caedmon the poet
and Bede the historian on either side, would form a
very beautiful and significant group. I do not know
that it has ever been painted : if not, I recommend it to
the attention of artists, — particularly those who may be
called upon to illustrate our northern worthies.

Quitting the Northumbrians, we will take a view of
the Benedictine foundations in the midland districts
among the Mercians and East Anglians. Here we find
a group of saints not less eminent, and even more
picturesque and poetical.

In those days lived four holy men, who were broth-
ers, all of whom had been educated in the monas-
tery of St. Cuthbert. The eldest of these, whose name
was Cedd, was desired by Ethelbald, the son of King
Oswald, to accept some land, on which to build a mon-
astery. Cedd, therefore, complying with the king's re-
quest, chose for himself a place among craggy and dis-
tant mountains, which looked more like lurking-places
of robbers and retreats for wild beasts than the habita-
tions for men ; — n that the words of the prophet might
be fulfilled, and that where the dragons were wont to
dwell the grass and corn should grow, and the fruits
of good works should spring up where beasts inhab-
ited, or men who lived after the manner of beasts."
There arose the priory of Lastingham, in the district of
Cleveland, in Yorkshire.

* " As Caedmon's paraphrase is a poetical variation mixed with
many topics of invention and fancy, it has also as great a claim
to be considered as a narrative poem as Milton's Paradise Lost has

to be deemed an epic poem In its first topic, the

' fall of the angels,' it exhibits much of a Miltouic spirit : and if
it were clear that our illustrious bard had been familiar with Sax-
on, we should be induced to think that he owed something to the
paraphrase of Caedmon." — Turner's History of the Jnylo-
Saxons, vol. iii. p. 356.


And, after many years, Ce<M died of the plague, and
his younger brother Chad became abbot, (a. d. 659.)
And Chad was very famous among the people for
his holy and religious life ; and being of mode.-t be-
havior, and well read in the Holy Scriptures, he was
chosen to be bishop of the Mercians and Northumbri-
ans ; and he set himself to instruct the people, — preach-
ing the Gospel in towns, in the open country, in cotta-
ges, in villages, and castles. He had his episcopal see
in a place called Lichfield, — " the field of the dead " :
there he built a church, in which to preach and baptize
the people; and, near to it, a habitation for himself,
where, in company with seven or eight brethren, he
spent, in reading and praying, any spare hours which
remained to him from the duties of his ministry. And
after he had governed the Church there gloriously for
two years and more, he had a vision, in which his
brother Cedd, accompanied by the blessed angels, sing-
ing hymns and rejoicing, called him home to God ; and
the voices, after floating above the roof of the oratory,
ascended to heaven with inexpressible sweetness. So
St. Chad knew that he must depart ; and having rec-
ommended his brethren to live in peace among them-
selves and towards all others, he died and was buried.

Such was the origin of the see and the cathedral of
Lichfield, where, since the year 1148, the shrine of St.
Chad was deposited, and held in great veneration by
the people. Over the door of the present cathedral
there is a figure of St. Chad throned as a bishop, re-
stored from the old sculpture ; but every other vestige
of the saint perished at the time of the Reformation, or
during the ravages of the civil wars. I do not know
that St. Chad has any attribute proper to him in his
individual character : as founder and first bishop of the
see of Lichfield, he ought to wear the mitre and pasto-
ral staff, and to hold the cathedral in his hand. A
choir of angels singing, as they hover above his head,
would be appropriate ; or a storm and lightning in the
background, — for it was his custom, when there was a



tempest, to pray for mercy for himself and all mankind,
considering the thunder, and the winds, and the dark-
ness as prefiguring the day of the Lord's judgment ;

Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 9 of 41)