Godric (DNB00)

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GODRIC (1065?–1170), the founder of Finchale, was born ‘in villula Hanapol,’ or, according to another account, at Walpole in Norfolk (Reg. c. 2; Capgrave, fol. 167, b 2). His father's name was Ailward, his mother's Ædwin; and Godric, their first-born son, was called after his godfather. After a boyhood spent at home, Godric began to peddle small wares in the neighbouring shires (Reg. c. 2). Later, as his gains increased, he took to frequenting castles and the town and city markets. A narrow escape from drowning while he was attempting to capture a stranded ‘dolphin’ or porpoise near the mouth of the Welland (c. 1082) seems to have given a serious turn to his thoughts (ib. c. 3; Galfrid, c. 1). Four years later, after a preliminary visit to St. Andrews and Rome, he took to the sea (c. 1086), and for several years sailed as a merchant or shipowner between England, Scotland, Denmark, and Flanders. He owned the half of one vessel, and was partner in the cargo of a second. So great was his nautical skill that his fellows made him their steersman, and his quickness in forecasting weather changes not unfrequently saved his ship from damage (Reg. c. 4; cf. Capgrave, fol. 168, a 1).

After sixteen years of seafaring life he determined to visit Jerusalem (Reg. c. 6), which had just been won by the first crusaders; and, when we consider the close relationship that in those days existed between piracy and commerce, there is no need to doubt his identity with the ‘Gudericus, pirata de regno Angliæ,’ with whom Baldwin I of Jerusalem, after his great defeat in the plains of Ramlah, sailed from Arsuf to Jaffa on 29 May 1102 (ib. c. 6; Galfrid, c. 1; cf. {[sc|Albert of Aix}}, ix. c. 9; Ord. Vit. iv. 134; Fulcher of Chartres, ii. c. 20; for the exact date see Chron. Malleac. p. 217). On his return he visited St. James of Compostella, and then, after a stay in his native village, became ‘dispensator’ to a rich fellow-countryman. Shocked at having unwittingly partaken of stolen banquets with his fellow-servants, he threw up his post and went on a second pilgrimage to Rome and St. Gilles in Provence (Reg. c. 6; Galfrid, c. 1). On his return he stayed a while with his father and mother, after which the latter accompanied him to Rome. Near London the travellers were joined by an unknown woman ‘of wondrous beauty.’ Every evening, as Godric himself told Reginald, the stranger would wash the travellers' feet; nor did she leave them till they neared London on the way back (Reg. c. 8; Galfrid, c. 1).

While a sailor Godric had made offerings at St. Andrews, had constantly prayed at St. Cuthbert's Island of Farne (Reg. c. 5), and ‘had worn a monkish heart beneath a layman's clothes’ (ib.) He now settled at Carlisle (c. 1104), where he seems to have had some kinsmen, one of whom gave him a copy of Jerome's psalter, a book which he constantly read till the end of his life (ib. c. 9; cf. cc. 92, 100). To avoid his friends he withdrew to the neighbouring woods, having taken John the Baptist for the model of his wandering life. At Wolsingham (ten miles north-west of Bishop Auckland) an aged hermit, Ælrice, allowed him to share his dwelling. Some two years later, when Ælrice was dead, a vision bade Godric visit Jerusalem a second time (c. 1106): on his return St. Cuthbert would find him another hermitage, Finchale, in the woods round Durham (ib. cc. 11–13). Not till he had worshipped in the holy sepulchre and bathed in the Jordan did Godric take his rotten shoes from his ulcerated feet. Then he spent a few months at Jerusalem, waiting upon other pilgrims in the hospital of St. John, before returning to wander over England with his wares in search of the Finchale of his dream. Tired of his life, he settled in Eskedale-Side, near Whitby, whence he passed to Durham. At Durham he became doorkeeper and bell-ringer to St. Giles, outside the city, and later transferred himself to the cathedral church of St. Mary. Here he would take his place, listening to the boys as they repeated their psalms and hymns. A chance conversation revealed the vicinity of Finchale on the Wear near Durham (c. 1110). The land belonged to Rannulf Flambard, whose son and nephew, both named Radulf or Rannulf, took the hermit under their protection (ib. cc. 13, 20; cf. c. 170). From this day Godric never left Finchale except three times: once when Bishop Rannulf sent for him, and twice for a Christmas service or Easter communion (ib. c. 213).

At Finchale Godric built a wooden chapel, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. Later he erected a stone church ‘in honour of the Holy Sepulchre and St. John the Baptist,’ under whose special care he believed himself to be (ib. cc. 29, 67). In spiritual matters he submitted himself to the priors of Durham (ib. c. 58), and without their permission he would speak to no visitor. He invented a language of signs for his servants (ib. c. 58). At first he had but one attendant, his little nephew, who in later years gave Reginald much information as to his uncle's way of living (ib. c. 51). Afterwards he kept more servants, and before his death seems to have had a priest living with him (ib. cc. 58, 75). The stories of his austerities and his visions are told at length by his biographers, who, however, have preserved very few distinct details of his solitary life. When King David invaded England (1138?) his soldiers broke into Godric's church, slew the old man's heifer, and bound the saint himself, in the hope of finding out where he had hidden his treasure (ib. c. 49). The flooded Wear left his cell an island in surrounding waters (1133–c. Easter 1141) (Reg. c. 45; for date, cf. Roger Hoveden, i. 205, {{sc|John of Hexham}, ii. 309, and Preface, i. xliv). Even in extreme old age he took an interest in the outside world, and eagerly asked a visitor from Westminster about the newly elected (c. 1163) archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, ‘whom he had seen in dreams, and would be able to recognise in a crowd.’ He begged for Becket's blessing, and Becket, who asked for Godric's prayers in return, confessed in later years (1170) that Godric's predictions had been fulfilled (Reg. c. 116). He had a special admiration for King Malcolm (d. 9 Dec. 1165), and was in friendly communication with Bishop Christian of Galloway, Abbot Æthelred of Rievaulx (d. 1166), William de Sta. Barbara, bishop of Durham, whose death he foretold, and other men of note (ib. cc. 69, 105, 116; cf. GALFRID, c. 3). For the last eight years of his life he was confined to bed, and in this condition seems to have become clairvoyant. He would interrupt his conversation to utter prayers for the storm-tossed vessels of his dreams, while to others he would describe the glories of the new Jerusalem as she now appeared under her Angevin kings (Reg. cc. 56, 163). Almost his last recorded words, in which he told his knightly visitor that he was soon ‘to pass the borders of the Great Sea,’ showed that his thoughts were wandering back to the pilgrimages of his early life (ib. c. 167). He died, according to the inscription on his tomb, the Thursday before Whitsuntide, 21 May 1170, after ‘having led a hermit's life for sixty years’ (ib. c. 170). In the first days of his retreat his relations came to join him. His brother was drowned in the Wear (between 1136 and 1147); Burchwene, after remaining with her brother for some time, was transferred to Durham, where she died and was buried; but his mother seems to have died at Finchale (ib. cc. 60, 64, 61, 63; Galfrid, c. 4).

Godric was of moderate stature (Reg. c. 100; Galfrid, proem), broad-shouldered, with well-set, sinewy frame, and flowing beard. In old age his black hair turned to an ‘angelic whiteness.’ He was almost illiterate; but must have been able to read the Latin psalter, and perhaps he understood something of conversational Latin or French, though his biographers turn these accomplishments into miracles (Reg. cc. 38, 94, 79; cf. De Mirac. c. 12; Capgrave, fol. 168, a 1). He composed an English hymn to the Virgin Mary, to which, though ‘omnino ignarus musicæ,’ he seems to have fitted an air (Reg. c. 50; cf. cc. 11, 47, 158, 161). The few rude English rhymes attributed to Godric are printed from British Museum manuscripts by Ritson (pp. 1–4). These poems are addressed to the Virgin. Another, addressed to St. Nicholas, is among the manuscripts of the Royal Library (5, F. vii.), and is accompanied by the music to which it was to be sung (Ritson, p. 4).

Godric had unique influence over animals. His heifer, the hare that was nibbling at his garden herbs, the frozen birds, the stag pursued by huntsmen, all found a friend in him; for, to use his words, when the fugitive stag, chased by Bishop Flambard's huntsmen, took refuge in his cottage, ‘proditor hospitis noluit esse’ (ib. cc. 39, 40, 148; Galfrid, c. 2; De Mirac. c. 21; cf. Galfrid, c. 2).

Godric's life was written by three contemporaries: his confessor, Prior German of Durham (1163–88), by Reginald of Durham, and by Galfrid, who dedicated his life to Thomas, prior of Finchale. Galfrid's life, which is almost entirely composed of extracts from German and Reginald, is printed in the ‘Acta Sanctorum.’ Galfrid, however, had when a little boy seen the aged Godric, and has left us a detailed description of the saint's personal appearance. German's account of Godric, except for the above selections, seems lost. Reginald was commissioned by Prior Thomas of Durham (c 1158–63) and Æthelred of Rievaulx (d. 1166) to visit the old man with a view to writing a life. At first Godric refused to countenance a biography, but he gradually yielded, and blessed the completed work when Reginald presented it to him a few weeks before his death (Reg. cc. 140, 166). Some incidents Reginald picked up from Godric's nephew and others of his attendants (cc. 48, 51). Stevenson recognises three recensions of Reginald's works: (1) Harleian MS. 322 (its short and earliest form); (2) Harleian MS. 153; (3) Bodley MS. Laud. E. 47.

The dates of Godric's active life are mainly conjectural, being based (1) upon the statement that he was sixty years at Finchale, and (2) upon his identity with Albert of Aix's ‘Gudric the English Pirate.’ This throws back the sixteen years of his seafaring life to 1086–1102; and, if he was from twenty to twenty-five when he gave up his pedlar's pack, he must have been born between 1060 and 1065. He was ‘mediocris ætatis,’ i.e. about thirty-five, when with Ælrice at Wolsingham (ib. c. 11; cf. Dante, Inf. i. 1). The chronology, however, would be much simplified if, taking the sixty years as a round number, we could put his settlement at Finchale a few years later, c. 1115.

[Libellus de Vita S. Godrici, ed. Stevenson (Surtees Soc.), 1847; Acta Sanctorum (Bollandus), 21 May, pp. 68, 85, where Galfrid's Life is printed; Capgrave's Nova Legenda Angliæ, ed. 1516, foll. 157, b 2–166, b 2; Historia Dunelmensis Scriptores Tres, ed. Raine (Surtees Soc.), 1837; Albert of Aix, ed. Migne, vol. clxvi.; Fulcher of Chartres, ed. Migne, vol. clv.; Chron. Malleacense ap. Labbe's Bibliotheca Nova, vol. ii.; Simeon of Durham, vols. i. ii. (Rolls Ser.), ed. Arnold; Roger of Wendover, ii. 340–59, &c., iii. 10, ed. Coxe (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Walter Map, De Nug. Curial. ed. Wright (Camden Soc. 1850), William of Newburgh (Rolls Ser.), ed. Howlett, i. 49–50; Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints, ed. 1847, v. 289–91, Baring-Gould's Lives of the Saints, ed. 1872, v. 322–31; Kingsley's Hermits, ed. 1875, pp. 308–28; Harpsfeld's Hist. Eccles. Anglic. ed. 1622, pp. 407–12; Orderic Vitalis, ed. Prevost (Soc. de l'Hist. de France); Casley's King's Library MSS. 89–98; Ritson's Bibl. Poet. 1–4; Morley's English Writers, ed. 1864, pp. 469–470; Englische Studien, xi. (1887–8), 401–32; Eng. Hist. Rev. (1902), 479–80.]

T. A. A.