Spotlight falls on north-eastern holy man St Godric

29 May 2015

KEITH BLUNDY

In St Godric's footsteps: the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler (third from left), and pilgrims at Finchale

In St Godric's footsteps: the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler (third from left), and pilgrims at Finchale

CELEBRATIONS have been taking place to mark the 900th anniversary of the start of the work of one of the north-east of England's most respected holy men.

St Godric was never formally canonised, but during the 60 years for which he lived as a hermit beside the river Wear at Finchale, near Durham, he became greatly revered.

Songs that he composed are said to be the earliest by an English lyricist. It is also said that those who sought his guidance included St Thomas Becket when Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Alexander III. His name lives on in churches and schools across the region.

Last Saturday, in the ruined priory of Finchale, which was built on the site of his hermitage, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, led an open-air service of remembrance.

The event was also attended by the Vicar General of the RC diocese of Hexham & Newcastle, Fr Martin Stempczyk; the Chairman of the Newcastle Methodist District, the Revd Leo Osborn; and the Regional Minister of the Northern Baptist Association, the Revd John Claydon.

A Salvation Army band played, and children from St Godric's RC Primary and Blue Coat C of E Primary schools in Durham sang Godric's songs, and blew bubbles to symbolise prayers rising to heaven. Afterwards, the congregation picnicked in the priory grounds.

Bishop Butler said: "It is great that we can celebrate Godric, because he was known as a man of prayer and was consulted by other people about prayer. To worship on the site was a fantastic way of reminding ourselves about the importance of prayer."

The regional officer for the ecumenical body North-East Churches Acting Together, which organised the service, Joanne Thorns, said: "It gave the church leaders an opportunity to spend some time reflecting and focusing on what our churches should be praying about for the north-east."

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Godric was born in Norfolk in about 1065. He became a sailor and trader, and went on several pilgrimages, to Jerusalem and elsewhere. In about 1106, he met St Aelric, a hermit who lived by the Holy Well in Wolsingham, Co. Durham, and soon after had a vision in which St Cuthbert told him to go to Finchale to establish his hermitage.

The Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant, presided at a eucharist for the saint's day in Durham Cathedral on Thursday of last week. It was followed in the evening by a performance of Godric's songs beside the Holy Well in Wolsingham.

Last Sunday morning, his songs were sung again at St Thomas's, Heatherycleugh in Weardale.

Vivien Welsh, a retired teacher from Wolsingham, who helped to organise the celebrations, said: "Godric was a bit of a forgotten hero up here in Weardale, but we have worked hard to let people know about him. I have given talks in schools named after him where the children knew the name but not who he was. We have also tidied up the Holy Well at Wolsingham.

"The service at Finchale was a wonderful day. It was a balmy spring evening, and more than 200 people enjoyed the event."

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