Make me an island


Images of St Cuthbert

Feast Day (new calendar): 
April 2nd
Feast Day (old calendar): 
March 20th

St Cuthbert turns three waves of the sea into blood in order to prevent his followers from taking his relics out of England. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordSt Cuthbert turns three waves of the sea into blood in order to prevent his followers from taking his relics out of England. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford Cuthbert, Lindisfarne and Durham

Cuthbert is, with little doubt, one of the better-known British saints, his holy sites on the island of Lindisfarne and in Durham have proved remarkably popular pilgrimage destinations both historically and up to the present day. Such popularity can be attributed to a number of factors: to the community gathered round him during his lifetime and the preservation and recording of stories from his life, to the discovery of his incorrupt body after his death, and to the monastic and ecclesial centre built around his relics. The association between his life and the British landscape is, however, equally significant: the Island of Lindisfarne where he spent a period of his life is both beautiful and relatively accessible, feeding into attractive Romantic ideals of Celtic spirituality, whilst the Cathedral at Durham which houses his relics dominates the landscape of the city, its Norman styling constantly reminding passers-by of the long history of Christianity in the region. The holy lives of Cuthbert and the monks which surrounded and succeeded him have come to shape experiences and imaginings of the landscape where they dwelt, and as such have worked their way into the very fabric of the area. 

Lives of Cuthbert

Our main sources for the life of Cuthbert are two lives of the saint—one metrical, one prose—written by Bede, and an earlier, anonymous life of Cuthbert—likely documenting tradition at Lindisfarne—written by a local monk towards the end of the 7th century. In addition to purely written texts, we are also lucky that illustrated editions of the saint’s life were produced and have survived. A manuscript currently in the possession of University College Oxford (Univ MS 165) and another in the possession of the British Library (Yates Thompson 26) both contain full cycles of illustrations to go alongside Bede’s prose. Whilst the British library manuscript is somewhat more elaborate, and can be viewed online, it is the earlier, Univ illustrations which we use in this post. The manuscript was produced in Durham in the late 11th century, possibly as an aid to private devotion. The illustrations alongside the text serve both to illuminate and to interpret the life of the saint, drawing out spiritual meanings and helping the reader (as they will also do here) to contemplate the events of the narrative.

Hermit and Pastor 

Of the habitation which he made for himself in the Island of Farne, when he had expelled the devils. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordOf the habitation which he made for himself in the Island of Farne, when he had expelled the devils. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

Whilst Cuthbert’s principal goal seems to have been to live a life of solitary devotion to God, this life is often in tension with the demands of, and his service to, those around him, most notably when he somewhat reluctantly accepts the pastoral role of Bishop. His move from Lindisfarne to the more-isolated island of Farne is a physical demonstration of his desire to focus on his own solitary path. 

Univ 165 contains an illustration of Cuthbert’s eremetic life full of depth and symbolism. Magdalena Elizabeth Carrasco explores the rich Christian tradition connecting church, God and individuals with architectural imagery. In this image, the curvature of Cuthbert’s body conforms to the shape of the cell, drawing on long Christian tradition that the cell plays a crucial role in shaping the monk through his devotion to and within such a space. She suggests, at the same time, that the depiction of stones in the image, alongside the close association of an individual stone with the saint, draws on the idea of the church as living stones, representing the saints which, shaped and formed into polished and refined blocks, together form the building blocks of God’s church (see, for example, 1 Peter 2 or Ephesians 2). 

The image in the Oxford Vita Cuthberti… establishes Cuthbert himself as a squared stone, but it also makes clear how that spiritual perfection may be achieved by others who follow his example. Taken by itself, the large square block of stone would serve as a metaphor for Cuthbert’s own spiritual perfection. Yet there is clearly more at stake here than a celebration of Cuthbert’s isolated asceticism. By depicting a building composed of many stones, as well as the process of construction itself, the artist celebrates the life of the Church as it develops through time, both historically and spiritually. 

Interpreted literally, as a straightforward narrative act, the right-hand portion of the illustration is illogical, since the hermitage appears to be complete and there is no open space into which the stone may be inserted. In one sense the saint, the stone, and the hermit’s cell are discrete units, yet Cuthbert holds the stone in a way that suggests their commonality, even identity. He is as large as the cell, and the curvature of his body conforms to its shape, as though the cell has formed him physically as well as spiritually. Both saint and stone overlap the cell to suggest the equivalence of all three elements: the smooth, regular stone conveys the spiritual perfection of the man of God, achieved through the disciplined life of the hermit’s cell. The architectural imagery is neither a (relatively) realistic illustration of medieval building practices, nor an explicit statement of corporate institutional power, as might be the case with other illustrated vitae, but rather a multivalent visual metaphor, encompassing both the nature of Cuthbert’s spiritual perfection and the means by which that perfection might be emulated by others

Of his manner of life in his bishopric. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordOf his manner of life in his bishopric. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford In the illustration of Cuthbert as monk and bishop we see again not just an illustration of an event, but an image with a clear spiritual purpose. Whilst Otto Pächt emphasises the way in which the illustrations of miracles in Univ 165 depict sudden temporal changes by their layering of multiple moments side by side, Carrasco draws attention to the way in which the illustrations often seem to lean in the opposite direction, depicting simultaneity rather than sequential change, thereby emphasising “the saint’s ability to transcend conventional limitations of historical time and partake of the timeless wisdom of God”. 

In many cases the emphasis is not on sudden change ... but rather on notions of continuity and permanence. Cuthbert’s exceptional virtues enable him to intervene, as God’s agent, in the temporal affairs of men; in Cynthia Hahn’s words, he functions as a “lightening rod for the power of God.” But in addition to showing the effects of Cuthbert’s spiritual grace on the members of his community, the artist is also interested in characterizing the specific attributes of Cuthbert’s spiritual personality. Some of these, such as the gift of prophecy, are unique to Cuthbert as a saint, whereas others constitute a model of behavior accessible to the members of the monastic community entrusted with preserving Cuthbert’s legacy. In both cases, the narrative structures minimize or negate the notion of change over time in favor of portraying that which is permanently valid. This is fully in keeping with the attitude of the Durham monks, for whom Cutherbert’s incorrupt body, as well as the saint’s spiritual ideals, remained a continuous living presence. 

In the case of this image we are therefore shown qualities as applicable to those succeeding Cuthbert as to the saint himself. We are shown that, despite taking on the role of bishop, Cuthbert remains steadfast to his solitary monastic path, the connected arches symbolising the unity he brings to the dual ideals of monk and bishop. He neither becomes so involved in the affairs of the community as to neglect his path of spiritual formation, nor so closed-in on himself as to become unavailable to those around him.

How he entertained an angel, and whilst ministering to him earthly bread, was thought worthy to be rewarded with bread from heaven © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordHow he entertained an angel, and whilst ministering to him earthly bread, was thought worthy to be rewarded with bread from heaven © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

How Cuthbert passed the night in the sea, praying; and when he was come out, two animals of the sea did him reverence. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordHow Cuthbert passed the night in the sea, praying; and when he was come out, two animals of the sea did him reverence. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

How the crows apologized to the man of God for the injury which they did him, and made him a present in compensation. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford How the crows apologized to the man of God for the injury which they did him, and made him a present in compensation. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

How, at a time of sickness, he restored a dying boy in health to his mother. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford How, at a time of sickness, he restored a dying boy in health to his mother. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

People, Animals and Angels

Anne Lawrence-Mathers highlights a number of themes in the illustrations of Univ 165: Cuthbert’s contact with angels and animals, his gift of prophecy, his role as healer and protector of his community, and his role as teacher, true monk and scholar. Whilst the lives of Cuthbert are filled with miracles from end to end, these are not arbitrary accounts of the supernatural but, rather, serve to depict specific trajectories and characteristics of Cuthbert’s life as a saint. Mathers, for example, draws attention to the depiction of Cuthbert’s act of hospitality unwittingly offered to an angel, through which he is rewarded with bread from heaven:

The miniature shows St Cuthbert seated companionably beside the angel, holding only the latter’s hand in his bosom [rather than washing his feet]. This had the effect of emphasising St Cuthbert’s equality with the angel, even at the expense of his humility.

Bede’s narrative similarly seems to reconfigure Cuthbert's relationship with animals. As a result of his spiritual gifts and development animals do Cuthbert service and obey him, whilst simultaneously performing roles and comprehending instructions which seem to bring them out of an entirely subordinate animal kingdom and into the realm of personal relationships. Otters attend Cuthbert whilst praying, warming and drying him as he keeps vigil through the night, and Cuthbert honours an eagle who brings him food as an equal, rebuking his companion for not giving the eagle its due share in return for her ministrations. Likewise he has stern words to offer for birds feeding on the crops that he, and not they, has sown. Such things do not belong to the birds unless God had offered them specific permission. On a second occasion, when he rebukes some birds for taking thatching from a hut for their nest, the birds subsequently atone for their offence by making an offering in return.

Cuthbert’s relationships with other people are perhaps most vividly illustrated through depiction of prophecy and of healing. Whilst Cuthbert's prophecies can sometimes provoke surprise and confusion, not always foretelling the most welcome of events, the depictions of healings provide somewhat pleasanter material. The illustration of Cuthbert’s restoration of a dying boy to his mother provides one of the warmest illustrations of the manuscript, and it is clear that Cuthbert, in the scene, provides a welcome presence to those around him, his saintly power serving not to elevate or separate him into a separate realm of detached devotion but to provide precisely the loving and restorative power that the community through which he passes is in need of. He is not simply a passing healer from whom power leaks accidentally but, holding the child in his arms, he adopts a similar pose to the child's mother, as, together, they care for the ailing boy. 

After his Death

His last instructions to the brethren; and how, when he had received the viaticum, he yielded up his soul in prayer. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordHis last instructions to the brethren; and how, when he had received the viaticum, he yielded up his soul in prayer. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

Cuthbert’s miracles continue after his death, and the healings seem to be of much the same character and power after he has been buried as during his life itself. Indeed, this is one of the characteristics of sainthood, the continued life of the saint in the kingdom of God reflected by a continued relationship with the world in which they once lived. In MS 165 this is reinforced by a continuation of the same mode of illustration both after Cuthbert's death and even further, into supplementary material documenting events beyond the frame of Bede's original narrative. Such continuity seems to be especially evident in the drawing depicting Cuthbert’s last instructions to the brethren and his yielding up of his soul in prayer. Whereas the majority of illustrations throughout the manuscript depict figures in contrasting colours, at this final moment we are offered an illustration of three monks all clothed in blue around his deathbed. Whilst it is far from clear whether all three should be seen as representations of Cuthbert or as different members of the monastic community, this illustration seems to offer a suggestion that Cuthbert’s life is one that is reproducible, offering the saint as an object of emulation whose presence and example continues to flourish within the community of monks.

St Cuthbert's body divides the sea. © The Master and Fellows of University College, OxfordSt Cuthbert's body divides the sea. © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

Cuthbert himself, however, is not the originator of this spiritual line, and Magdalena Carrasco points to a number of illustrations which connect him with the earlier figure of Moses and of Benedict. These connections are drawn out most vividly in the illustration depicting a post-Bedan episode; the division of the sea by Cuthbert’s body as it is carried forth on dry land at high tide as the guardans of his body flee the army of William the Conqueror. The illustration is clearly drawn to resemble the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea, and the similarity of the cask bearing Cuthbert's body to the ark of the covenant reinforces this connection to the long line of saints within which Cuthbert and his community stand. This event bestows upon Cuthbert a great deal of power and status as a saintly worker of miracles, able to achieve the same miracles as a great figure such as Moses. At the same time, however, Cuthbert's saintly status belongs to him not as a new pioneer showing a path previously undiscovered, but in his faithfulness to the continued pattern of saints before and after him. In devoting himself to the tradition which he has inherited he gives this tradition fresh momentum for those who follow in his footsteps. 


While still in your youth, you laid aside all worldly cares, and took up the sweet yoke of Christ, and you were shown forth in truth to be nobly radiant in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God established you as a rule of faith and shepherd of His radiant flock, Godly-minded Cuthbert, converser with angels and intercessor for men.

We are grateful to the librarians of University College Oxford, Elizabeth Adams and Emily Green, for their enthusiastic and helpful assistance in viewing Univ MS 165 and for granting permission to reproduce images from the manuscript. All images are copyright © The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford

Sources for Further Reading:

The Illustrated Lives:
Malcom Baker (1978), Medieval Illustrations of Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 41, pp.16–49.

Magdalena Elizabeth Carrasco (2000), The Construction of Sanctity: Pictorial Hagiography and Monastic Reform in the First Illustrated Life of St Cuthbert (Oxford, University College MS 165). Studies in Iconography 21, pp. 47–89

Otto Pächt (1962), The Rise of Pictorial Narrative in Twelfth Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Anne Lawrence-Mathers (2003), ‘Pictorial narrative and the cult of St Cuthbert' in Manuscripts in Northumbria in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Barbara Abou-El-Haj (1996), ‘Saint Cuthbert: The Post-Conquest Appropriation of an Anglo-Saxon Cult’ in Paul Szarmach (ed) Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints’ Lives and Their Contexts. Albany: State University of New York Press.

The Lives of St Cuthbert:
Sally Crumplin (2004), Rewriting History in the Cult of St Cuthbert from the Ninth to the Twelfth Centuries. PhD Thesis: University of St Andrews.

Bertram Colgrave (1939), Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert. New York: Greenwood Press.

The Cult of Cuthbert:
Dominic Marner (1963). St Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham. University of Toronto Press.

Gerlad Bonner, David Rolason, Clare Stancliffe (eds 1989). St Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD 1200. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

William Aird (1998), St Cuthbert and the Normans: The Church of Durham, 1071–1153. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Paul M Collins, Lindisfarne – technology and poetry: the construal of a Celtic destination.

Sigebert of East Anglia

Feast Day (new calendar): 
January 29th
Feast Day (old calendar): 
January 16th

St Sigebert and St FelixSt Sigebert and St Felix Conversion and Abdication

Sigebert converted to Christianity whilst during a period in exile in France; having fled, according to Bede, from the enmity of Rædwald, one of his predecessors. Whilst Rædwald was baptised as a Christian, his identification with the faith is less clear than for later rulers. Alongside Christian worship he also maintained altars dedicated to pagan gods, and it is Sigebert, therefore who, upon his return, is often seen as the first truly Christian king of East Anglia.

Sigebert, however, did not remain as king. After a period in power, he chose to abdicate, taking on the life of a monk. According to Bede:

This king became so great a lover of the heavenly kingdom, that quitting the affairs of his crown, and committing the same to his kinsman, Ecgric, who before held a part of that kingdom, he Went himself into a monastery, which he had built, and having received the tonsure, applied himself rather to gain a heavenly throne

This was a remarkable act, and Barbara Yorke highlights that ‘such voluntary abdications to enter monasteries are very rare in early medieval Europe’. It is therefore important to ask about the reasons for such a decision. Yorke suggests a number of possibilities: his emulation of an enthusiasm for monasticism he had earlier experienced amongst the French nobility; the influence of the preaching of Irish missionaries who emphasised the transience of earthly power, and the need for penance; and the potential that monastic life might not have been such a severe existence. Her most intriguing suggestion, however, is that the ‘short-lived phenomenon of saintly and monkish kings’ may have been a result of the unbalancing of pagan models of kingship as conversion to Christianity begins to take hold. Whilst kings had once maintained both spiritual and temporal power together, they now faced a situation in which such dimensions didn’t necessarily sit so well together, and therefore faced a period of experimentation with different alternative models. We find, in other words, the theological world of Christianity unsettling and upsetting established models of political and spiritual power: no longer do these two sit quite so easily together, but rather there begins to be a crucial tension between the two, and in Sigebert we see the beginnings of this tension being enacted in a particularly decisive way. 

Kingdoms at War

King/Saint Sigbert stands at a point of both spiritual and political tension in Britain. Not only does he stand at a tipping point between paganism and Christianity, but also between the existence of a relatively independent East Anglia (contemporary Norfolk and Suffolk), and its subsequent invasion by the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia. Sigebert occupied a number of different roles throughout his lifetime, and his association with any one place often therefore seems somewhat provisional. A period of exile in France is followed by his return to East Anglia as king, and a subsequent period in a monastery is interrupted by the call of his people to lead them in battle. The twelfth-century Liber Eliensis associates his time as a monk with a place called Betrichesgueorde, later to become Bury St Edmunds, a place where his history (if the identification is accepted) is obscured by the fame of Edmund. 

St FurseySaint Fursey East Anglian Mission

Richard Hoggett (among others) draws attention to the fact that, whilst surviving documents often portray the conversion of a ruler as leading directly to the conversion of their subjects, in reality such events were part of much wider processes of acquaintance, mission and institution or consolidation. Sigebert's conversion did not entail the automatic and immediate conversion of the East Anglians, indeed, such an immediate change would leave us somewhat sceptical that it was anything more than superficial in the first place. During his period in power, Sigebert sought to use his position in order to put mechanisms in place to establish Christianity in East Anglia. In cooperation with such saints as Felix and Fursey, Sigebert established a bishopric at Dommoc, founded a school in order to teach the reading and writing of Latin and assisted in the foundation of a monastery at Cnobheresburg. Through such gestures Christian missionaries were enabled to bring Christianity to the East Angles, the conversion of the king providing important space in which the gospel could flourish.

Refusing to Fight

Regardless of such acts of patronage, however, It is Sigebert’s final act which marks out his Christian conviction most strongly. During an attack by the pagan Mercian king Penda, Sigebert was entreated to join the battle in order to encourage and rally the soldiers, his previous reputation as a commander serving as a potential boost for morale. Despite such entreaties he remained steadfast in his refusal and eventually had to be thrown out of his monastery in order to join the army; and despite his previous experience he refused to carry any weapon into battle except a wand. Having refused to fight, Sigebert was killed in battle, his dedication to his monastic vows and allegiance to a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom granting him the role of Martyr. More than a simple act of pacifism, this act served as testimony to Sigebert's chosen path. Having been taken out of the monastery where discipline might oblige him to follow his vows, he maintained his conviction even in the face of imminent death. His true identity rested not with the power struggles and claims for territory, but rather in devotion, obedience and service to the way of Christ.  


Sources for further reading:
Bede, Eccliastical History of the English people,

Richard Hoggett (2010), The Archaeology of the East Anglian Conversion, Woodbridge: Boydell Press

Richard Hoggett (2010), ‘The Early Christian Landscape of East Anglia’ in Nick Higham and Martin Ryan (ed) The Landscape Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, Boydell & Brewer

Barbara Yorke (1990), Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, London: Routledge

Barbara Yorke (2003), ‘The Adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon Royal Courts to Christianity’ in Martin Carver (ed) The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, AD 300–1300, Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer

Francis Young, ‘St Sigebert: East Anglia’s first martyr king’

Justinian of Ramsey Island

Feast Day (new calendar): 
December 18th
Feast Day (old calendar): 
December 5th

Ramsey IslandRamsey Island Tradition reports that the priest Justinian set up his hermitage on the island of Ramsey, or Ynys Dewi, off the western coast of Wales as early as the 6th century, after receiving a revelation from God that he should leave his home in Bretagne. His name appears very early in Welsh calendars. 

Friends, Separation and Conflict

His choice to renounce the world through an eremetic existence did not mean, for Justinian, rejecting friendship. We know that on the island he met a hermit, Honorius, who had already established himself on Ramsey and became friends in Christ with him. He is also said to have had a community of monks who followed him to the island to live under his spiritual guidance. His other connection is with the archbishop, saint David who was impressed by Justinian's holy life and chose him to be his confessor and spiritual father. It is interesting that the connection between the two saints can be traced also in the name of the island which is called in Welsh Ynys Dewi after David. At the same time Justinian was not always  friendly and easy-going. He came into conflict with the monks in St David's community, prompting him to move further away, to the hermitage of Ramsey island and, once there, he persuaded Honorius to send his sister and the female part of the monastic community away from the island. According to one version of the legend he was even murdered by his own monks who were outraged by the strict regime he imposed on them.

Ascetic Struggle

Justinian’s story shows clearly the nature of the ascetic path as a struggle against temptation, and against the different forms that this can take in the world around. The story of Honorius’ sister is one instance of Justinian's attempt to pursue such a struggle. Another story tells of how, later in his life, five men come to Justinian, telling him that his good friend saint David is very ill and wants him to visit. Justinian leaves the island and begins the journey to David in a boat before realising that the men are actually demons who, following his chanting of psalm 69 (70 in Hebrew numbering)—which likely he knew by heart through habit of reciting the psalms in prayer—reveal their true nature and fly away in the form of crows. Similar stories are common within ascetic narratives, and we find similar tales of temptation as far back as the desert fathers. Temptation for the ascetic, is firstly a matter of internal struggle, and a battle with thoughts within, but this often spills out into the world around, sometimes becoming associated with demons, or often with other people - not only women, but family members. It is a particular danger for the monk when he is tempted away from his cell and his chosen existence into the world around him, momentarily stepping away from his single-minded path. Often the form of the temptation seems a worthy one, and the monk will seem foolish or arrogant for turning away from it—as might be the case in either of the stories above, however often the wisdom of his decision and the potential dangers of abandoning it are made clear. The choice to remain steadfast to his choice despite the normal patterns and expectations of the world is part of what sets the ascetic existence apart as a distinct pathway that conforms to an alternative order and worldview.

Relic casket at St David's cathedralRelic casket at St David's cathedral Supernatural Events

Justinian’s life is not one that is full of miracles, but nevertheless we find within it, at key moments, supernatural elements. In addition to the story of his temptation, the story of his death contains events in which the boundaries between the natural world and the supernatural are, if not always completely broken, at least substantially blurred. From the place where he was killed, a well is said to have sprung up to cure the sick, his killers were struck with leprosy, and his body is said to have picked up his severed head and walked with it to the place where he wished to be buried. The sources of his story are late, and it is possible, even reasonable and tempting, to write such elements off as late embellishments, particularly as they strike against many of our expectations of what such events should, ideally, look like. This, however, is precisely part of their challenge to us - they testify to an understanding of the world in which God and created reality intersect and interact in ways that are foreign to us. They remind us that there are other ways of conceiving this relationship that can speak to us of profoundly different ways of living and cut across our expectations to ask whether there are indeed other possible ways that God and the world might interact. 

Beyond Death

Even though under more-rationalist modes of thought the details of the saint's death would best be considered as simply a stereotypical medieval legend, there are are nevertheless a couple of observations worth making. The death of the saint is the day of his celebration in the church calendar because it is regarded as the most important event of his life, the final transcendence of the soul from the ascetic struggles to the Heavenly Kingdom of God – the ultimate goal of every Christian saint. Whereas for the saint this is the beginning of new life, for people it also marks the establishment of the saint's cult. The narrative about Justinian shows through miracles how the saint himself contributes to this: he chose the place of his burial which gave people the opportunity to build a church dedicated to the saint in Llastinan, near Fishguard. There the saint's body continued to serve people even after his death through miracles. David, Justinian's friend took care of the body, arranging a new tomb in his own church, now St David's cathedral in St Davids, Wales. The authenticity of relics always presents questions and challenges. The earliest of the remnants held in the casket in the Holy Trinity Chapel have been carbon-dated to the 12th century. Nevertheless, within the story the honouring of the relics is not simply a tale of an obscure medieval cult but is shown instead as a personal expression of love to the friend passed away and a testimony to Justinian's care towards the people living nearby his island and pilgrims. The holiness of the saint's soul, ensured by his relationship with God, extends to his body. This embodiment of Christian love in the cult of relics at the same time points towards the notion, in the eastern theological tradition, of sainthood as theosis, that the saints become God by divine grace.  


Doing battle with temptation, Holy Justinian, you followed in the narrow way of Christ.
Through your example you showed this path to others
and through your song, demons were scattered and Satan’s plans destroyed
Through your obedience you have won a place in the heavenly kingdom
Therefore we ask: Pray for the world, and for the salvation of our souls


Further Reading:

David Farmer (2011) Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sabine Baring-Gould and John Fisher (1911) The lives of the British saints (Vol III). London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.

John of Tynemouth. Nova Legenda Anglie

J Wyn Evans and Jonathan M Wooding (2007) St David of Wales: Cult, Church and Nation. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.

St Cadfan

Feast Day (new calendar): 
November 1st
Feast Day (old calendar): 
October 19th


Bardsey IslandBardsey Island

Bardsey, or Ynys Enlli in Welsh, is a small island near the Llŷn Peninsula—2.5km long and about 1km wide. Over the course of its existence, the island became a crucial location for the Celtic Christian Church, attracting many monks and pilgrims. It was the place where Saint Cadfan founded his famous monastery. The Celtic churches before the Norman conquest had a distinct monastic character, being relatively decentralised compared to the Roman church, and organised around monasteries and abbots rather than bishops residing in urban centres. By the early 6th century Wales had several tens of established monastic communities. The monastery was a focal point of evangelisation and education from which priests could reach out to the laity of the neighbouring daughter churches. Such centres of monastic devotion and pastoral care presented a special model known as clas, an autonomous community with the abbot as its leader. Later in the 11th century Celtic monasteries of the clas type complied with the Roman system and became Benedectine and Augustinian orders. 


St CadfanSt Cadfan

Cadfan came over to Wales from Armorica (part of contemporary France) towards the end of the 5th century, as part of a large group of saints and learned men, with the desire to renew the faith of the local people. On arrival, Cadfan founded a church on the Welsh mainland, whilst later he went on to found a monastery on the nearby Bardsey Island. Having come to Wales as part of a large group (numbering several hundred), it is perhaps understandable that Cafdan, alongside a selection of companions, chose to move toward the relative isolation of Bardsey. Here the pressing political and military conflicts sometimes stirred up on the mainland would have become a more distant reality, the relatively treacherous sea crossing serving to create a place of solitude and retreat. It is impossible, however, to consider Cadfan’s story simply as an entirely solo undertaking, and it remains tempting to consider the later popularity of Bardsey in relation to the size of the group that came across with him, the influx of people able to make an impact beyond that of a single man on his own. Whilst we know relatively little of Cadfan’s life a later ode in praise of Cadfan by Llewellyn Fardd largely focuses on his legacy, the church he established standing as a monument dedicated to God, a place of worship that stands as a pillar of the Gospel, a place of devotion, belief and communion. Cadfan’s shaping of this area of Welsh landscape as a place of God comes down to us where much about the man himself has been lost to obscurity.

Church of fair Cadfan, brilliant to behold
Bright whitewashed church proudly whitened,
As though it had been fashioned by God himself
He fashioned for the Godhead a choice residence
When he came from Brittany to the community of Christendom
The blessed youth nurtured no sin:
May God bless the devout servant. [...]
Blessed the voyage of his company
When he came to the realm night by night, day by day,
When there came to the issue of Emyr the desire to gaze upon
Aber Menwenfer in the evening and in the morning [...]
The noble country of Cadfan where there coexist always
the noble gospel, humble guide, [...]
May the valiant wise God guard Cadfan's domain
(Song to Cadfan - Llewlyn Fardd I)


Bardsey has a particular reputation as a place of pilgrimage; firstly for the saying that three pilgrimages to Bardsey were equivalent to one journey to Rome, and secondly for its reputation as the burial-place of 20,000 saints. It is easy to be suspicious of mathematical calculation of the merits of pilgrimage, and in such wariness we find ourselves in good company. The fathers of the church, in their discussions of pilgrimage, are always keen to guard against its mis-use, and to outline what it does and doesn’t mean within a Christian worldview. A focus on the ability to approach God from any place is often combined with an emphasis on the Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage towards heavenly things, as a stranger no longer attached to or at home in the world. Nevertheless, within such an understanding it is clear that from an early stage pilgrimage became a crucial part of Christian practice. In one sense, pilgrimage represents precisely such dislocation from the world, abandoning the comforts of house and home in order to set out on a devotional journey of repentance and transformation mapped out by the things of God. For Saint Jerome it seems to represent the gathering together side by side of precisely those who are members of the scattered and non-localised kingdom of God in a beautiful and priceless vision of the church. Similarly, in their veneration of relics—a phenomenon often associated with pilgrimage—the early Christians are careful to steer clear of potential misunderstandings of this practice as something akin to the worship of idols, and to make it clear, instead that whilst the saints are honoured through acts of devotion it is ultimately the God whom they served who is being worshipped through such acts. Such veneration, and the potential for the granting of miracles through relics and saintly remains demonstrates the ongoing life of such holy men and women as part of the communion of saints—those who had united themselves to God in this life continue to unite themselves to him beyond the grave and continue to share fellowship with those remaining on earth. 


Leaving thy native Brittany for the love of Christ, O Father Cadfan,
thou dost teach us not to love places or things more than Him.
Wherefore, O holy one, intercede for us that we may be faithful to our calling and found worthy of great mercy


Cadfan and Bardsey:
Janet Burton and Karen Stöber (editors 2013) Monastic Wales: New Approaches. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Mark Redknap (1991) The Christian Celts: Treasures of Late Celtic Wales. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales.
G Hartwell Jones (1912) Celtic Britain and the Pilgrim Movement. London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.
Pippa Marland (2014) ‘Island of the dead’: composting twenty-thousand saints on Bardsey Island, Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism, 18:1, 78-90
WJ Rees (translator 1740) The Liber Landavensis. London: The Welsh MSS Society. 
Sabine Baring-Gould and John Fisher (1908) The lives of the British saints (Vol II). London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.  
Meryl Gover (2015) Cadfan’s Church: A History with Digressions. Leicester: Matador

Writings of the Fathers: