In a healthy country, Orthodox Church life penetrates every aspect of a people’s daily life in the world, so much so that one might say that Church life is the same as the national life. This being so, when holy men and women - saints - appear in a þeod (nation), we should expect them to leave lasting impressions upon its life. And this is what we have seen throughout Christian history, so much so that many places throughout Christendom, in some way or another, have saintly men and women at the root of their culture. Here are a few ensamples from the Irish and British Islands, from where so much of Southern life has its beginnings, that show how the lives of the saints influenced local and national life.
St Edith of Wilton, England
St. Edith is still much venerated at her birthplace, in the picturesque large village of Kemsing in Kent. The ancient holy well in the center of the village bears the name of St. Edith. Its water has been known for its healing properties, especially for eye diseases, and local farmers also used its water to bless fields and for rich harvests. Recently the ancient tradition of annual “well-dressing” has been revived there. Local communities organize annual processions to the well. The village’s parish church is dedicated to the Mother of God; it has two beautiful stained glass windows depicting St. Edith and a banner dedicated to her. The front of the Kemsing village hall (a local club) is beautifully adorned with a clock and a statue of St. Edith, who is honored by the villagers. There is another ancient holy well dedicated to our saint—in the Herefordshire village of Stoke Edith in the very west of England. This well was once famous for its curative properties, and pilgrims flocked to it for bathing and healing as late as the mid-nineteenth century. Now it is on private property and not accessible to pilgrims. The local village church is again dedicated to the Mother of God. Thus the memory of the royal princess and virgin Edith of Wilton, who rejected taking up both secular and spiritual power and chose to live in humility and holiness, is preserved in the English land.
Source: Dmitry Lapa, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/97360.htm, opened 1 Oct. 2016
St Ethelwold’s (Bishop of Winchester, England) many remarkable works
. . . At Abingdon, Ethelwold worked with his own hands, growing vegetables in the garden, and as the builder of the monastic church—once he even fell from scaffolding and broke his ribs; by the grace of God he was soon cured. At Winchester, he and some of his monk-builders built a very powerful organ. It was played by two people and had 400 pipes and thirty-six bellows. This organ could be heard from a great distance. It was used only for royal ceremonies. Not only was he a skilled builder and cook, he also excelled in metalwork; he himself cast bells for Abingdon, made censers, chalices, and candlesticks of gold and silver for its church. Following the example of his ninth-century predecessor, St. Swithin, who had built the first bridge over the river in Winchester, St. Ethelwold constructed the first aqueduct (water supply system) at Winchester to provide monastery brethren and neighboring city residents with piped water.
'Baptism of the Lord' - a miniature from the Benedictional of St. Ethelwold(photo from Wikipedia).
. . . Numerous disciples and followers of St. Ethelwold from Winchester, Abingdon and other monastic centers he restored would become celebrated abbots, bishops, and missionaries in the future. Some of them, in the following eleventh century, went to Scandinavia as missionaries and were later listed among the saints of God.
Ethelwold built the first scriptoria at Winchester and, under his influence, the Winchester style of manuscript illumination was introduced into many English monasteries and cathedrals. These, according to evidence of that time, even surpassed products of many scriptoria in continental Europe. One of the high points of tenth-century illumination is the Benedictional of St. Ethelwold. The scribe of this Benedictional was monk Godeman from Abingdon, whom St. Ethelwold commissioned to produce this masterpiece at Winchester, after which the latter became Abbot of Thorney. It is very richly and lavishly decorated and has twenty-eight page miniatures. The Latin text contains blessings uttered by a bishop during the Liturgy. Each day of the liturgical year and each saint’s feast-day had a separate blessing. There were highly-ranked feasts of Sts. Swithin of Winchester, Etheldreda of Ely, and Vedast (a French saint). It also contains a blessing of candles for the feast of the Meeting of the Lord. Several distinctive blessings were composed at Winchester itself. Today this precious Benedictional, which experts regard as one of the best examples of early English art, is kept at the British Library in London.
Ethelwold founded a famous and important school for vernacular writing in Winchester. Its scholars, among other things, made accurate and distinct linguistically relevant translations of sacred and spiritual texts from Latin into their native Old English. This huge task was absolutely vital, especially for English priests and bishops who were not monks. This contributed to Old English becoming the literary language of the English state. The most prominent scholar connected with this school is, beyond doubt, Aelfric of Eynsham (c. 955-c. 1020), a celebrated spiritual writer, homilist, and hagiographer of the age; he was a pupil at Winchester. (Aelfric of Eynsham is not to be confused with St. Aelfric of Abingdon (+1005, feast: November 16/29), who was a monk and abbot of Abingdon and was later raised to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury).
Ethelwold was a talented writer, poet, and translator; some of his written works survive. His work includes: a treatise on the circle, glosses on St. Aldhelm’s work On Virginity, the gloss on the Royal Psalter in Old English, and his translation of the Rule of St. Benedict and of “Regularis Concordia” (a sort of a handbook of monastic practice, see below) into Old English. Ethelwold also created works of Church art, but, unfortunately, none of them survive.
Liturgies at Winchester monasteries were rich and varied. Ethelwold’s Winchester was famous for producing the first collection of polyphonic singing in England (in two or more parts each having a melody of its own), called the “Winchester Troper.” The Troper (from the Greek “troparion”) probably contains the earliest large collections of two-part music in all Europe. Firstly, it comprises more than 160 examples of two-part pieces, probably composed by Wulfstan the Cantor, whom St. Ethelwold knew. For a long time, it was thought that the music in the Troper could not be deciphered and sung. However, modern scholars have enabled this music to be both played and performed, even publishing recordings available today on CD. Secondly, it comprises a complete liturgical drama with music, making it the earliest extant European play with music! The Troper is comprised of two separate manuscripts, one of which is kept at the Bodlean Library in Oxford, and another kept at Corpus Christi College of Cambridge University.
St. Ethelwold served as Bishop of Winchester for twenty-one years. Whatever he undertook was blessed by God, which is why his works had such a lasting effect. Three remarkable events marked the final years of his ministry. The first was the promulgation of the document called “Regularis Concordia” in 970, a code of monastic rules, compiled and developed mainly by St. Ethelwold, with the participation of Sts. Dunstan and Oswald, for the thirty reformed English monasteries. It was based primarily on the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursea, with some minor additions according to customs existing in Ghent (Belgium), Fleury (France), and Glastonbury. The second event was the translation of the relics of the wonderworker, St. Swithin of Winchester, in 971, into the magnificently restored Old Minster Cathedral of Winchester. From that time on, St. Swithin’s shrine was the destination of thousands on annual pilgrimages from all England and Europe, throughout the Middle Ages. The third event was the consecration of the Cathedral in Winchester in 980. This cathedral was destined to be one of the largest and greatest in all Europe and also a center for the arts. The grandeur and scale of that Cathedral have only recently been duly appreciated by scholars.
Each of these three events was marked by a large, solemn assembly of clergy, laity, and royalty, and the consecration of the Cathedral brought together nine bishops. The monasteries established or revived by Sts. Dunstan, Oswald, and Ethelwold in the second half of the tenth century provided up to three quarters of all the bishops in England, right up until the Norman Conquest. Over the span of twenty to thirty years, the spiritual picture had changed radically in England; monastic life, Church activities, family piety, education, various crafts, and the ascetic life were raised to a very high level. This was the “Silver Age” of English Orthodoxy.
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Source: Dmitry Lapa, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/96173.htm, opened 14 Aug. 2016
St Winifred and her holy well
St. Winifred, whose name in her own language was Gwenfrewi, was born in North Wales in the early seventh century, when Christendom was still whole, and many great saints where living on the British Isles. . . .
Holywell first enters written history in 1093, when ”Haliwel” was presented to St. Werburgh's Abbey, Chester. In 1240, the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Llewelyn, once more in control of this area in Wales, gave the holy well and church to the newly-established Basingwerk Abbey; and the Cistercian monks cared for the well and its pilgrims until the Reformation.
Winifred's fame, and with it the fame of the Well, continued to spread throughout the middle ages, but little is factually recorded about the pilgrimage. By 1415, her feast had become a major solemnity throughout Wales and England. Kings could be found among her pilgrims. Henry V came in 1416. Richard III maintained a priest at the Well. But it was during the reign of the Welsh Henry VII that devotion reached its pinnacle, with the building of the present well-shrine under the patronage of Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort.
Such glory was short lived, though the Well's fame was never eclipsed. The Reformation swept away shrines and pilgrimages; but no attempt ever quite succeeded in destroying devotion to St. Winifred at her Well. Through all the years of religious persecution, pilgrims, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, continued to visit Holywell. It became the centre of Catholic resistance. James II and his queen visited the Well in 1686, to pray for an heir. But James was exiled, and the persecution renewed. Through these long years, Holywell and its pilgrims were served by the Jesuits. They wrote popular Lives of the saint; and even kept inns in the town, where Mass could be said in comparative safety.
In the nineteenth century, after Catholic Emancipation, it was the Jesuits who oversaw and directed the spectacular renaissance of the pilgrimage. A church opened in the town in the 1840's was constantly enlarged and enriched. A pilgrim's hospice was erected shortly afterwards. And under Fr. Beauclerk in the 'nineties, the pilgrimage underwent a revival of medieval proportions. Pilgrims came literally in thousands, necessitating a branch rail line into the town. The popular press gave account of each reported cure. And the sick reported cures in such numbers that Holywell came to be called the 'Lourdes of Wales'. Despite the alterations to pilgrimage patterns caused by the increasing secularism of 20th-century life, and by devotional changes within Catholicism itself, the Jesuit's heritage continues: people are still coming to Holywell on pilgrimage.
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Source: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/42777.htm, opened 10 May 2016
St Ciaran’s monastery at Clonmacnoise
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St. Ciaran reposed in the Lord in about 545 (or about 549), dying from the plague, living only until the young age of 33. Several other Irish saints also died of the same plague at that time. His abbacy lasted for less than a year, but over his short life Ciaran attained sainthood and remained for many centuries a father to thousands of Irish monks. St. Columba of Iona, a friend of St. Ciaran who had studied together with him in Clonard, called him “a lamp shining with the light of true wisdom.” St. Kevin, a great hermit and wonderworker of Glendalough, was also among Ciaran’s friends. Alcuin (c. 735-804), an English scholar at the Frankish court, who had studied in Clonmacnoise, referred to St. Ciaran as “the glory of the Scots (i.e., the Irish)”. Many noted chroniclers, poets, theologians, artists, architects, sculptors, historians were educated in this renowned monastic centre; for example, Dicuil, a brilliant geographer.
The monastery of Clonmacnoise, founded by St. Ciaran, at first with only his ten disciples, grew very rapidly and by the eight and ninth centuries had become the largest Irish monastery and centre of learning and culture. The same fame was enjoyed by its school-seminary, which had been founded by the abbot himself and afterwards became “a smithy of saints”. Researchers stress that this seminary was not merely of regional, but of national importance. In the eleventh century the site of the original small wooden monastery was dominated by a massive new stone monastery, in which already some 1500-2000 monks lived. In the seventh-twelfth centuries—the monastery’s period of particular prosperity—hundreds of learned monks flocked to Clonmacnoise from the whole of Europe.
Clonmacnoise developed into a real monastic city and was considered to be the most famous in Ireland. The monastery could boast of its school, a scriptorium for copying manuscripts, and numerous churches. Masters from Clonmacnoise created the most excellent artworks from stone and metal in all Ireland. Many kings of Connacht and Tara were buried and rested within the monastery. By 1408 the brethren had completed writing The Annals of Clonmacnoise, which was a chronicle of historic events in Ireland from the prehistoric period till 1408. The monastery possessed a large number of high and round Celtic crosses; most of them, sadly, were destroyed by the Vikings, and in 1552 by radical Protestant-iconoclasts who ravaged and desecrated Clonmacnoise Cathedral. This holy monastery existed until the sixteenth century, and over its history suffered from forty different raids! The shrine with the saint’s relics was also subjected to desecration and pillaging more than once. However, St. Ciaran’s staff did survive and is now kept at the National Museum of Dublin.
Today in Clonmacnoise, Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims visit the well-preserved ruins of the ancient monastery. On this old monastic site (the nearest town to Clonmacnoise is Athlone, some twelve miles away) very ancient churches partly survive as well, and some of them have been restored in recent times. The ninth century St. Ciaran’s Church contains the former grave of St. Ciaran. In Clonmacnoise you can also visit the Cathedral, which was originally built in 909 and partly restored not long ago. A number of unique Celtic crosses, which are of a special interest, miraculously survive here to this day. One primary school in Dublin is dedicated to St. Ciaran.
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Source: Dmitry Lapa, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/73745.htm, opened 18 Oct. 2016
St Finbarr of Cork, Ireland
. . . But the man of God’s main achievement was the foundation on the river Lee of his most important and influential monastery, on the site called Cork, which in the tenth century would become a thriving town. Now it is a very beautiful city in the south of Ireland. In effect the city of Cork grew and developed around the saint’s monastery. Thus, Finbarr, the first Abbot of Cork, was one of many early saints of the British Isles and Ireland who contributed to formation of future large settlements with their churches or monasteries at the center of the community.
About the year 600, St. Finbarr was consecrated the first bishop of Cork. The celebrated Monastery of Cork became a center of monasticism in southern Ireland, and many pious men gathered there from all over Ireland in order to be trained in monastic life and to live in holiness. St. Finbarr gained general love and respect as a brilliant and experienced teacher and a loving father of his flock. At the school-seminary that was founded at Cork Monastery, spiritual and secular sciences were taught and students prepared for priesthood. This place became known as a center of learning, a seedbed of saints, a sanctuary of Christian virtues, a refuge for the oppressed, a shelter for the sick and the poor. St. Finbarr did not stop his activities as a builder – he erected no fewer than twelve more churches in the Cork region during his ministry there. He preached the Gospel tirelessly throughout his life, and as a bishop he trained and ordained many deacons, presbyters, bishops. He baptized many people, and became known as a great wonderworker. Fintan often visited the monasteries and churches he had founded as part of his pastoral care, especially Gougane Barra – his most favorite creation – where he sometimes withdrew for quiet prayer.
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Source: Dmitry Lapa, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/97682.htm, opened 9 Oct. 2016
The South claims to have a Christian culture, and in some respects this is so. But when measured against the life of her Orthodox forebears, she still has a lot of work to do. If the South truly wants to have a Christian culture in the fullest sense of the words, she must start cultivating saints again. But to do this, she will have to reject pluralism and move as one people into the Orthodox Church, where Christ in His fulness dwells. For - to borrow an analogy from Fr Evan Armatas - if all the oarsmen of a boat are not rowing together in harmony, the boat goes nowhere. And this is what has been happening in the South since the time of the Great Revival in the early 19th hundredyear (though there are some praiseworthy things about Southern Christianity, which we have touched on elsewhere): Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and all the rest have been teaching different doctrines about the Church, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Ghost, etc. When this is the case, no great progress will be made spiritually in a nation, for there is constant argument, factionalism, and disharmony. So has the South been adrift for many years now. But when all share the same life in Christ in the Orthodox Church, then will the South know true blessedness and show it forth in manifold ways in a sanctified culture.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the South!
Anathema to the Union!