Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Paulinus, missionary to Northumbria
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Paulinus, missionary to Northumbria
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Paulinus (20), the first Christian missionary from Rome to Northumbria, and the bishop who begins the recognized succession in the archiepiscopal see of York.
He was sent from Rome by Gregory in 601, with Mellitus, Justus, and Rufinianus. They joined Augustine in Kent, and would take an active part in evangelizing that kingdom.
In 625 Edwin, king of Northumbria, wished to marry Ethelburga, daughter of Eadbald, king of Kent, who objected to a pagan son-in-law. A second embassy revealed Edwin's eagerness. He promised to allow the princess and her suite entire freedom in their religious worship, and even that he himself would adopt her faith, if his wise men should consider it right and just. Here was an opportunity for evangelizing Northumbria, and Eadbald sent his daughter. Paulinus accompanied the princess as her religious adviser, and, to add dignity and importance to his mission, Augustine consecrated him bishop before he set out, on July 21, 625.
At first, however, Paulinus found the king quiescent though respectful, and that the people paid no attention; while his own little party was in danger from the taint of heathenism. At the feast of Easter, 626, an attempt was made upon Edwin's life. That act probably accelerated the birth of Ethelburga's first child, a daughter, and Paulinus thanked God for the preservation of his master and mistress with such fervour that Edwin, touched at last, promised to become a Christian if he could be avenged upon those who had sent forth the assassin, and, to shew he was in earnest, permitted Paulinus to baptize the new-born princess, with eleven courtiers who chose to accompany her to the font.
Edwin obtained his revenge, but loitered over the fulfilment of his promise. Paulinus reminded the hesitating monarch of what had taken place twelve years before at Redwald's court. He laid his hand upon Edwin's head, and asked him if he remembered that sign and his pledge. Now was the time for its fulfilment. Whether Paulinus was the stranger himself, or had gathered from the queen, or some courtier, that Edwin had seen and heard all this in a dream, is a matter of doubt. A national gathering took place at Goodmanham, near York, to consider the subject, and resulted in the king, court, and many of the people becoming Christians.
Northumbria was now opened to the missionary work of Paulinus, and his time fully occupied. He made a convert of Blecca, the reeve of Lincoln, and through his means a church was erected on the summit of its hill in which Paulinus consecrated archbp. Honorius in 627. He is said soon after to have founded Southwell minster, and his appearance was described to Beda as he stood in the river baptizing convert after convert in king Edwin's presence.
Mark him, of shoulders curved, and stature tall,
Black hair, and vivid eyes, and meagre cheek.
At Donafeld, probably the modern Doncaster, amid the remains of the Roman camp, there was a Christian basilica with a stone altar, which may be ascribed to Paulinus. At Dewsbury was a stone cross with an inscription stating that he preached there; whilst at Whalley in Lancashire and near Easingwold, close to York, there were other crosses connected with his name. He is said to have baptized very many at Brafferton and Catterick. In Bernicia a streamlet called Pallinsburn in the N. of Northumberland retains the great preacher's name. He is said to have been occupied in instructing and baptizing for 36 consecutive days at Adgebrin or Yeavering. There would yet be very few churches, and these at first chiefly baptisteries on river banks. There the catechumens were taught, and thence went down with their instructor into the water below.
In 633, after six years of unceasing and successful exertion, the labours of Paulinus in the north came abruptly to a close. Edwin fell in battle at Hatfield, near Doncaster, and the disaster was so complete that the newborn Christianity of the north seemed utterly overwhelmed by the old idolatry. Paulinus thought that he owed his first duty to the widowed queen who had come with him into Northumbria, and he took her back, with her children and suite, to Kent. There he was made bp. of Rochester, which see had been vacant some time. In the autumn of 633 he received from the pope, who had not heard of the great disaster in the north, a pall designed for his use as archbp. of York. Whether or no, by virtue of the gift of this pall, he has a just claim to be considered an archbishop, he never went back to Northumbria. He is said to have been a benefactor to the monastery of Glastonbury, rebuilding the church and covering it with lead, and to have spent some time within its walls. He died Oct. 10, 644, and was buried in the chapter-house at Rochester, of which place he became the patron saint. Lanfranc translated his remains into a silver shrine, giving a cross to hang over it. Among the relics in York minster were a few of his bones and two teeth, but nothing else to commemorate his great work in the north, save an altar which bore his name and that of Chad conjoined.
His life has been carefully related in Dr. Bright's Chapters of Early English Church History, and in the Lives of the Archbishops of York, vol. i., for which see a full statement and sifting of the authorities.