"Life of St. Godric, " & The Abbots of Crowland.

From Reginald of Durham, "Life of St. Godric, "


The growth of trade in the middle ages is of overwhelming significance. By the 13th century towns and trade, even though comprising a minority of the population, dominated the Western economy. This has widespread ramification - the monetization of life, the possibility of communally rather than aristocratically sponsored art, the possibility of urban subcultures and so on. On a wider level, it was this expansion of trade which in a later age pushed European states to establish the world system of the modern period.
Since literature was long the domain of aristocrats and clerics, we sometimes miss direct early accounts of merchant'a lives. One merchant, Goderic, became a saint and hence we do have an account of his life.
This holy man's father was named Ailward, and his mother Edwenna; both of slender rank and wealth, but abundant in righteousness and virtue. They were born in Norfolk, and had long lived in the township called Walpole.... When the boy had passed his childish years quietly at home; then, as he began to grow to manhood, he began to follow more prudent ways of life, and to learn carefully and persistently the teachings of worldly forethought. Wherefore he chose not to follow the life of a husbandman, but rather to study, learn and exercise the rudiment of more subtle conceptions. For this reason,' aspiring to the merchant's trade, he began to follow the chapman s way of life, first learning how to gain in small bargains and things of insignificant price; and thence, while yet a youth, his mind advanced little by little to buy and sell and gain from things of greater expense. For, in his beginnings, he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighborhood; but, in process of time, he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. Hence, within a brief space of time, the youth who had trudged for many weary hours from village to village, from farm to farm, did so profit by his increase of age and wisdom as to travel with associates of his own age through towns and boroughs, fortresses and cities, to fairs and to all the various booths of the market-place, in pursuit of his public chaffer. He went along the high-way, neither puffed up by the good testimony of his conscience nor downcast in the nobler part of his soul by the reproach of poverty....

Yet in all things he walked with simplicity; and, in so far as he yet knew how, it was ever his pleasure to follow in the footsteps of the truth. For, having learned the Lord's Prayer and the Creed from his very cradle, he oftentimes turned them over in his mind, even as he went alone on his longer journeys; and, in so far as the truth was revealed to his mind, he clung thereunto most devoutly in all his thoughts concerning God. At first, he lived as a chapman for four years in Lincolnshire, going on foot and carrying the smallest wares; then he travelled abroad, first to St. Andrews in Scotland and then for the first time to Rome. On his return, having formed a familiar friendship with certain other young men who were eager for merchandise, he began to launch upon holder courses, and to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay around him. Thus, sailing often to and fro between Scotland and Britain, he traded in many divers wares and, amid these occupations, learned much worldly wisdom.... He fell into many perils of the sea, yet by God's mercy he was never wrecked; for He who had upheld St Peter as he walked upon the waves, by that same strong right arm kept this His chosen vessel from all misfortune amid these perils. Thus, having learned by frequent experience his wretchedness amid such dangers, he began to worship certain of the Saints with more ardent zeal, venerating and calling upon their shrines, and giving himself up by wholehearted service to those holy names. In such invocations his prayers were oftentimes answered by prompt consolation; some of which prayers he learned from his fellows with whom he shared these frequent perils; others he collected from faithful hearsay; others again from the custom of the place, for he saw and visited such holy places with frequent assiduity. Thus aspiring ever higher and higher, and yearning upward with his whole heart, at length his great labours and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he laboured not only as a merchant but also as a shipman ... to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland; in all which lands he found certain rare, and therefore more precious, wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be least familiar, and coveted by the inhabitants beyond the price of gold itself; wherefore he exchanged these wares for others coveted by men of other lands; and thus he chaffered most freely and assiduously. Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth in the sweat of his brow; for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.
Then he purchased the half of a merchant-ship with certain of his partners in the trade; and again by his prudence he bought the fourth part of another ship. At length, by his skill in navigation, wherein he excelled all his fellows, he earned promotion to the post of steersman....

For he was vigorous and strenuous in mind, whole of limb and strong in body. He was of middle stature, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with a long face, grey eyes most clear and piercing, bushy brows, a broad forehead, long and open nostrils, a nose of comely curve, and a pointed chin. His beard was thick, and longer than the ordinary, his mouth well-shaped, with lips of moderate thickness; in youth his hair was black, in age as white as snow; his neck was short and thick, knotted with veins and sinews; his legs were somewhat slender, his instep high, his knees hardened and horny with frequent kneeling; his whole skin rough beyond the ordinary, until all this roughness was softened by old age.... In labour he was strenuous, assiduous above all men; and, when by chance his bodily strength proved insufficient, he compassed his ends with great ease by the skill which his daily labours had given, and by a prudence born of long experience.... He knew, from the aspect of sea and stars, how to foretell fair or foul weather. In his various voyages he visited many saints' shrines, to whose protection he was wont most devoutly to commend himself, more especially the church of St Andrew in Scotland, where he most frequently made and paid his vows. On the way thither, he oftentimes touched at the island of Lindisfarne, wherein St Cuthbert had been bishop, and at the isle of Farne, where that Saint had lived as an anchoret, and where St Godric (as he himself would tell afterwards) would medit' ate on the Saint's life with abundant tears. Thence he began to yearn for solitude, and to hold his merchandise in less esteem than heretofore....

And now he had lived sixteen years as a merchant, and began to think of spending on charity, to God's honour and service, the goods which he had so laboriously acquired. He therefore took the cross as a pilgrim to Jerusalem, and, having visited the Holy Sepulchre, came back to England by way of St James [of Compostella]. Not long afterwards he became steward to a certain rich man of his own country, with the care of his whole house and household. But certain of the younger household were men of iniquity, who stole their neighbours' cattle and thus held luxurious feasts, whereat Godric, in his ignorance, was sometimes present. Afterwards, discovering the truth, he rebuked and admonished them to cease; but they made no account of his warnings; wherefore he concealed not their iniquity, but disclosed it to the lord of the household, who, however, slighted his advice. Wherefore he begged to be dismissed and went on a pilgrimage, first to St Gilles and thence to Rome the abode of the Apostles, that thus he might knowingly pay the penalty for those misdeeds wherein he had ignorantly partaken. I have often seen him, even in his old age, weeping for this unknowing transgression....

On his return from Rome, he abode awhile in his father's house; until, inflamed again with holy zeal, he purposed to revisit the abode of the Apostles and made his desire known unto his parents. Not only did they approve his purpose, but his mother besought his leave to bear him company on this pilgrimage; which he gladly granted, and willingly paid her every filial service that was her due. They came therefore to London; and they had scarcely departed from thence when his mother took off her shoes, going thus barefooted to Rome and back to London Godric, humbly serving his parent, was wont to bear her on his shoulders....

Godric, when he had restored his mother safe to his father's arms, abode but a brief while at home; for he was now already firmly purposed to give himself entirely to God's service. Wherefore, that he might follow Christ the more freely, he sold all his possessions and distributed them among the poor. Then, telling his parents of this purpose and receiving their blessing, he went forth to no certain abode, but whithersoever the Lord should deign to lead him; for above all things he coveted the life of a hermit.


From: 'Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of St John Baptist & St Godric, Finchale', A History of the County of Durham.


Early in the twelfth century the hermit Godric settled at Finchale under the auspices of Bishop Flambard. The place was then exceedingly wild, overrun with snakes, and used by the bishop merely as a hunting-ground. (fn. 1) Here St. Godric lived for half a century, accompanied at first by a poor sister, but after her death entirely alone; and here he cultivated the ground and erected a chapel which he dedicated to St. John the Baptist, an oratory of St. Mary, and other buildings, (fn. 2) and when this had been done Bishop Flambard granted the reversion of the hermitage, its fishery, and its possessions to the prior and convent of Durham. (fn. 3) Godric died in 1170, (fn. 4) and soon afterwards Bishop Pudsey confirmed to the monks the gift of his predecessor, (fn. 5) and conferred upon Reginald (fn. 6) and Henry, the two Durham monks in possession, and their successors, the tract of land near the hermitage which now chiefly constitutes the Finchale farm. (fn. 7)
Such was the state of Finchale when in 1196 Henry Pudsey, son of the bishop, was compelled by the jealous monks to transfer to it the possessions of the New Place at Baxterwood. (fn. 8) There was a small church, a salmon fishery in the Wear, dwelling-rooms for two monks and their attendants, and nearly the whole of the present Finchale farm, 3 acres of land at Bradley, (fn. 9) and 2 bovates at Sadberge, (fn. 10) for their maintenance. (fn. 11) Henry Pudsey reserved to himself and his heirs the privilege of appointing the prior, and chose Thomas, sacrist of Durham, to be the first to hold that office; (fn. 12) but he afterwards conceded the right to the prior and convent of Durham. (fn. 13) Bishop Kellaw conferred upon the house land on Finchale Moor. (fn. 14) Other donations included the advowson and impropriation of the churches of Wicton [? Wigton] and Giggleswick, (fn. 15) and land at Yokefleet (fn. 16) and Hetton (fn. 17) (Heppedun), all given by Henry Pudsey; land at Bradley, (fn. 18) Woodsend, (fn. 19) Brandon, (fn. 20) Hutton, (fn. 21) Softley, (fn. 22) Spirlswood, (fn. 23) Lumley, (fn. 24) Ferimanside, (fn. 25) Newton, (fn. 26) Amerston, (fn. 27) Castle Eden, (fn. 28) Thorpe Thewles, (fn. 29) Hollinside, (fn. 30) Iveston, (fn. 31) Yupeton, (fn. 32) Smallees, (fn. 33) and Little Stainton; (fn. 34) a fishery in the Tyne at Crook; (fn. 35) land and a fishery at Cocken; (fn. 36) land and a mill at Coxhoe; (fn. 37) common of pasture at Baxterwood; (fn. 38) a house in the North Bailey at Durham; (fn. 39) rents in Sunderland, Hartlepool, and other places, (fn. 40) and the church of Bishop Middleham granted by Bishop Robert Stichill in 1268. (fn. 41)
Most of these endowments were conferred within the first fifty years after Henry Pudsey established the monks at Finchale. As the revenues of the house increased, the monks, no longer content with St. Godric's chapel, resolved in 1241 to build a new church, and the archbishop of York granted an indulgence of thirty days to all who should contribute to this work. (fn. 42) In the following year the church was begun, (fn. 43) and it appears to have been completed in or about 1264. (fn. 44) In 1266 the monks added a chapel dedicated to the honour of St. Godric, in the south transept. (fn. 45)
About the year 1350 the prior of Durham severely reproved the Finchale monks for keeping a pack of hounds, (fn. 46) but they did not waste all their time in sport. In 1381, Uthred of Boldon, prior of Finchale, himself the most learned man of his day, brought to his church a foreigner, one William du Stiphel, of Brittany, and employed him in transcribing Jerome's Eusebius and Bede's Ecclesiastical History. (fn. 47) There is also a record of at least one boy lodged, boarded, and clothed at Finchale, and sent to Durham Grammar School for six or ten years as his case might require. (fn. 48) Two aged bedesmen were also maintained. (fn. 49)
There were usually eight monks at Finchalebesides the prior, of whom (by an ordinance made by the prior of Durham in 1408) four were constant residents, and the other four visitors from the convent. The natural beauties of the place made it very suitable as a sort of holiday home for the Durham monks. Each set of four were allowed three weeks' furlough, and their time was divided by the following rules:—Two were every day to be present at mattins, mass, vespers, and the other services in the choir, while the other two had liberty to ramble in the fields 'religiously and honestly,' provided that they were present at mass and vespers. All four visitors were to sleep in the dormitory with the four resident monks, but they were allowed a special chamber with a fire and other comforts, to which they might resort when they pleased, and the prior assigned a servant to wait on them. Each of the visitors was to celebrate high mass at least once a week, and on Sunday all were to be present in the chapter and at the Lady-mass. (fn. 50)
There was in the priory a room known as the 'player chamber,' which is supposed to have been appropriated to dramatic representations, such as mysteries or miracle plays, and to such amusements as listening to the minstrels and gleemen who visited the house. (fn. 51)
In 1453 the prior of Durham again found cause of complaint in the laxity of the brethren at Finchale. They had taken to wearing linen shirts, instead of the linsey-woolsey injoined by their rule. The prior sternly forbade the practice. (fn. 52)
Finchale Abbey was so completely under the control of the prior and convent of Durham that it has practically no independent history.
In 1535 its revenues were valued at £122 15s. 3d. (fn. 53) At its suppression, nearly all its lands, except the site of the priory and a portion reserved for the seventh stall in Durham Cathedral, reverted to lay hands. The site formed part of the endowment of the new cathedral. (fn. 54)
Priors Of Finchale (fn. 55)
Thomas, sacrist of Durham, app. 1196
John, contemp. with Henry Pudsey
Ralph, occ. 1242 (fn. 56)
Robert Stichill, elected bishop of Durham, 30 September, 1260
M. . . . (fn. 57)
Geoffrey, occ. 1265 (fn. 58)
Robert of Holy Island, elected bishop of Durham, 12 Sept. 1274
Richard de Escrick, occ. Whitsuntide, 1284
Henry de Teesdale, occ. 1295
Walter de Swinburne
Geoffrey de Burdon, occ. 1303, 1307; prior of Durham, 1313-22
Adam de Boyvill (fn. 59)
Henry de Stamford, occ. 1312; elected bishop of Durham, 1316
Walter de Scaresbreck, prior of Coldingham in 1341
John de Laton, 1317, prior of Holy Island in 1324
Henry de Newcastle, occ. 1318
Richard de Aslakby, admitted prior, 1324; occ. 1331
Thomas de Lund, D.T., 1333
Emeric de Lumley, occ. 1341, 1342; prior of Lytham in 1333
John de Beverley, before 1345; removed to Holy Island
John Barneby, occ. 1345
Nicholas de Luceby, occ. 1346-9
John Wawayne
John de Norton
Thomas Graystanes, occ. 1354
William de Goldisburgh, 1354-60; prior of Holy Island in 1367
John de Newton, 1360-3
John de Tykhill, occ. 1363
Uthred de Boldon, S.T.P., 25 Aug. 1367
Richard de Birtley, 1372; master of Farne in 1380
John de Normanby, 1373; prior of Holy Island in 1379
Uthred de Boldon (again), 1375
John de Beryngton, occ. 18 May, 1384
Uthred de Boldon (again), occ. 1390
Roger Mainsforth
Robert Rypon, occ. 1397
Thomas D'Autre, 1405 to Christmas, 1411
William de Pocklington, 1411-23
William Barry, 1423; d. 1439
Henry Feriby, app. 13 Feb. 1439-40; held office till Sept. 1450
John Oll, (fn. 60) app. 16 Sept. 1450; d. before 1452
Thomas Ayer, 1451-7
Richard Bell, S.T.B., 1457-65; bishop of Carlisle, 1478
Thomas Ayre, occ. 26 Nov. 1464 (sic)
Thomas de Hexham, occ. 11 Sept. 1465
William Burdon, 1466-79
Robert Weardale, or Wardell, 1479-91
John Swan, app. 1 Aug. 1491, with clause of removal
Richard Caley, app. 29 Sept. 1502
William Cawthorne, app. 1506; occ. 1514, 1520
Richard Cayley, occ. 1525-7
John Haleywell, occ. 1528
William Bennett, occ. 12 Sept. 1536 (fn. 61)
No perfect example has yet been found of the seal of Finchale Priory. In the time of Prior John, who was contemporary with Henry Pudsey, the prior's seal was (apparently) oval in shape, and bore the three-quarter length figure of a man in a long robe, with a book in his hand. (fn. 62) The seal appended to a charter of Prior Ralph (c. 1242) bears the winged figure of an angel, presumably St. Michael, with a long spear, in the act of killing the dragon. Legend (defaced)—
? Angelico . . . . . . . Carmina . Signo. (fn. 63)

Foot notes
1 Vita Sti. Godrici (Surt. Soc.), 62-7.
2 Ibid. 126, 152.
3 MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. iii, 274; Orig. 2, 1; Pont. i, 1.
4 Vita Sti. Godrici (Surt. Soc.), 326, 330.
5 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 21.
6 Probably Reginald the historian.
7 MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. 3, 7ae, H. 1.
8 Wharton, Angl. Sacr. i, 727. See below, Baxterwood.
9 MS. Treas. Dur. 1a, 1ae, T.
10 Collect. Topograph. pp. xiii, 79.
11 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), pref. p. xiv.
12 Angl. Sacr. i, 727.
13 MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 6ae, Spec. M.I.
14 Reg. Palat. Dun. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 1144.
15 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 61.
16 MS. Treas. Dur. 2a, 2ae, 16.
17 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 54.
18 MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. 1a, 1ae, T. This gift appears to have been made to the monks at Finchale before Pudsey's foundation, and to have been lost before the dissolution; Priory of Finchale, pref. p. xv.
19 MS. Treas. Dur. 4a, 3ae, 4.
20 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 79.
21 Ibid. 101.
22 Ibid. 107.
23 MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. ii, 108.
24 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 111-16.
25 Ibid. 117.
26 MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 7ae, Spec. 3a, 1ae, 28.
27 Ibid. 3, 6, Spec. K. 1.
28 Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 2. See 3, 8, Spec.
29 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 137-47.
30 Ibid. 151-2.
31 Ibid. 154.
32 Ibid. 155.
33 Ibid. 157.
34 MS. Treas. Dur. 2a, 3ae, 4.
35 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 82. See Raine, North Durham, App. No. cx.
36 Ibid. 86-96.
37 MS. Treas. Dur. 3, 6, Spec. O. 1, &c.
38 Ibid. 3, 6, Spec.
39 Ibid. 3a, 2ae, 26.
40 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 127-31, &c.
41 Reg. i, fol. 28b.
42 MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 1ae, 32.
43 Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 38.
44 Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 47.
45 Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 46.
46 B. M. Cott. MS. Faust. A. vi, fol. 8.
47 B. M. Burney MS. 310, p. 178.
48 A.D. 1387, Reg. ii, fol. 272.
49 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxv.
50 Reg. ii, parv. fol. 8b.
51 Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxli.
52 Reg. iii, parv. 60.
53 Valor Eccl. Hen. VIII; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxvi. Speed says, £146 19s. 2d., taking the gross sum. Stevens (vol. i, 26) gives the clear value at £120 15s. 3d. only. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. (ed. 1846), iv, 331.
54 Ibid.
55 The following list of priors is taken from Mr. Raine's preface to the Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), where references are given to a good many of the names, chiefly from the Finchale charters and account rolls. The fifth and sixth names, though not mentioned by Mr. Raine, occur in the charters which are printed in the same book.
56 MS. Treas. Dur. 1a, 3ae, 5.
57 In a charter apparently of about this date there is mention of 'M. Prior of Finchale'; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 88.
58 Ibid. 143.
59 One of three monks who ran away from Durham Priory in 1303, and were brought back by command of the pope. The others were Henry of Luceby and Henry of Stamford. It is remarkable that all three subsequently became priors, and one was elected bishop, though not confirmed. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. iii, 184b.
60 He was a native of Brancepeth parish, and when there was a charge against him that he was born in a servile condition, and therefore unable by law to hold office in the church, it was proved in his favour that his father was a freeman and had a silver knife; see Raine, North Durham.
61 In Dugdale, Mon. Angl. (ed. 1846), iv, 331, Christopher Hapworth is mentioned as the last prior, but there was no Durham monk of that name at the period. Bennett was the last who held office, and he married as soon as he was discharged from his vow. 'In the time of James I and before that there was an old proverb or saying—
The Prior of Finkela hath got a fair wife,
And every monk will have one';
Mickleton MS. i, 92; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), pref. pp. xxxi, xxxii.
62 Engraved, Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 63.
63 Ibid. 67.


Godric of Finchale [St Godric of Finchale] (c.1070–1170), trader and hermit, was born at Walpole in Norfolk to a poor, Anglo-Saxon, farming couple. His father's name was Æilward, his mother's Aedwen (Eadwenna), and he was subsequently joined by a brother, William, and a sister, Burcwen. At an early age, perhaps in 1085 or 1086, he became a pedlar, travelling for four years in northern Lincolnshire. After initial visits to St Andrews in Scotland and to Rome, he ventured into international commerce, trading with Scotland, Denmark, and Flanders. Success brought a half share in one merchant vessel and a quarter of the profits of a second, his skill as a sailor also earning him the position of ship's captain.

Godric's voyages had always been pilgrimages to some extent, however, and among the places visited was Farne Island, off the coast of Northumberland. Here, where St Cuthbert had lived as a solitary, he began to conceive of the idea of becoming a hermit himself, his chief aim being to atone for the misdeeds of his earlier life. But first, having by now spent sixteen years in commerce, he decided to visit Jerusalem. He may thus have been the ‘Guderic, a pirate from the kingdom of England’ (Albert of Aix, 595–6), who in May 1102 assisted Baldwin I of Jerusalem after his defeat at the battle of Ramlah. On his journey home Godric also visited the great shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. His ideas were still somewhat confused and he next took a position as steward, but left his post in horror when he discovered that members of the household were engaged in activities such as cattle rustling. To atone for any guilt he had incurred, he made further pilgrimages, to St Gilles in Provence and to Rome.

A third visit to Rome, this time on foot and in the company of his elderly mother, seems to have clarified Godric's ideas: he sold all his goods and set out in search of a hermitage. He reached Carlisle, perhaps in 1104 or 1105, apparently hoping that so far from home he would be able to live an anonymous life of poverty and prayer. After a while, however, he discovered relatives there, one of whom furnished him with the psalter of St Jerome, apparently an abbreviated version of the psalms and later his favourite book. Fearing the distracting influence of his relatives, he then sought the solitude of the woods, living on wild fruit and nuts until he reached Wolsingham in upper Weardale. Here, perhaps in 1106, he met another solitary, an elderly man named Ælric, with whom he now served a period of apprenticeship. After almost two years the death of Ælric brought this to an end and Godric next undertook a second pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He travelled on foot and lived on dry barley bread and water. On reaching the Jordan he removed his shoes, which he never replaced. He also visited the holy places and worked for a time at the Hospital of St John.

On his return, Godric's search for a hermitage resumed and he visited unfamiliar parts of England, supporting himself by his original trade. He first settled at Eskdale Side, near Whitby, perhaps in 1110 or 1111, but moved on, deterred by the hostility of local lords. He came next to Durham where he became door-keeper and bell-ringer at the church of St Giles, newly founded in June 1112 outside the city. Then St Mary's, within the walls, attracted him because of its school; here he learnt such psalms, hymns, and prayers as he would need in his vocation. While in Durham he heard of Finchale, a few miles downstream on the Wear, and having won the approval of Ranulf Flambard, bishop of Durham, whose land it was, he finally settled there. This was perhaps late in 1112 or early in 1113 and he may have briefly occupied the spot now known as St Godric's Garth before moving permanently to the nearby site where the ruins of Finchale priory now stand.

Godric's early life as a hermit was almost unbearably severe. At first he lived on roots and leaves, later growing barley, oats, and vegetables, which were consumed, however, only when dry and mouldy. He undertook rigorous fasts and worked hard at clearing the forest (even at night, when there was a moon, in order to keep sleep at bay). He often prayed immersed in cold water, either in the Wear itself or in a barrel set in the floor of his oratory of St Mary. He wore a hair shirt and a coat of mail, and he shunned human company. But within a few years of his arrival his family also travelled north, his sister, Burcwen, even coming to live at Finchale as a solitary. His younger brother William worked in a small boat on the Wear until he was drowned, between 1147 and 1153. A little earlier, between 1133 and 1141, Godric himself was in danger of drowning, when the Wear burst its banks. The concern expressed on this occasion indicates that by now the strict recluse had mellowed into a local ‘holy man’. He was also attacked, probably in 1138, by marauders from the army of King David of Scotland, who were searching for treasure; he was lucky to escape with a severe beating.

The most significant change in his career as a hermit occurred when Godric submitted to the authority of the Benedictine monastery of Durham. Perhaps informally under Prior Roger (1138?–1149), and more rigidly after his death, Godric became linked to the convent, being regarded as an ‘associate monk’. His way of life now became more monastic: for example, he adopted strict rules of silence, while members of the community instructed him and said mass. As he became increasingly infirm in old age, one or more of the monks came to live at Finchale.

Although tightly bound to the monastery of Durham, Godric was on good terms with other religious, such as the Cistercian abbots Robert of Newminster and Ailred of Rievaulx. Bishops of Durham also patronized him, continuing the tradition established by Flambard. Godric is even alleged to have been consulted by the embattled Archbishop Thomas Becket and he received a personal letter from Pope Alexander III. Kings also took notice of him: William the Lion of Scotland visited him personally and Malcolm IV of Scotland and Henry II of England presented gifts.

As his two careers indicate, Godric was a man of courage and intelligence, possessed of great mental and physical stamina and abundant common sense. Although lacking in formal education, he obviously had some acquaintance with reading, could follow a conversation in Latin and express himself in French. He was also noted for his sympathy for animals, offering shelter to deer and other beasts of the chase and in winter rescuing creatures overcome by the cold. Contemporaries also believed him to possess gifts which were supernatural in origin. He was thought able to foretell the future and was credited with powers of healing. Tormented by all too apparent demons, he was also consoled by saints. More conventionally, in extreme old age he suffered from depression and could be very irritable.

Perhaps surprisingly, Godric possessed a talent for music and he was responsible for the words and melodies of the first Middle English songs to have been preserved. The best known is a two-verse invocation of the Virgin, the second a hymn sung to him by his sister when she appeared to him in the company of angels after her death. The third recalls Godric's earlier career, as it honours St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors.

Godric was not tall (just over 5 feet in height, as his coffin reveals), but broad-shouldered and very strong. His face was long and above sparkling blue-grey eyes were bushy eyebrows which almost met above his long nose. His thick beard, black in youth, became white in old age. The little finger of one hand came to be permanently bent towards the palm.

During his last years, when he was bedridden, Godric lived in his little stone church of St John the Baptist. Here he died, on 21 May 1170, aged about 100. He was buried in the same church, the site being still marked by a cross in the grass. For some years after his death his tomb enjoyed great popularity as a shrine and over two hundred miracles were recorded. Three contemporaries wrote lives, of which that by Reginald is the fullest and most interesting. Godric continued to be revered at Finchale, Durham, and further afield, even on the continent, the Cistercians in particular being important in spreading knowledge of him. The Roman Catholic church in Durham is dedicated to St Godric. By contrast, he has attained a certain celebrity in modern historical scholarship, since Henri Pirenne utilized him as an example of an early capitalist.

Victoria Tudor




Reginald of Durham, Libellus de vita et miraculis S. Godrici, heremitae de Finchale, ed. J. Stevenson, SurtS, 20 (1847) · Acta sanctorum: Maius, 5 (Antwerp, 1685), 70–85 · Albert Aquensis [Albert of Aix], ‘Historia Hierosolymitana’, Recueil des historiens des croisades: historiens occidentaux, 4 (Paris, 1879), 595–6 · R. Howlett, ed., Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, 1, Rolls Series, 82 (1884), 149–50 · V. M. Tudor, ‘Reginald of Durham and St Godric of Finchale: a study of a twelfth-century hagiographer and his major subject’, PhD diss., U. Reading, 1979 · H. S. Offler, ed., Durham episcopal charters, 1071–1152, SurtS, 179 (1968), 68–72 · C. R. Peers, Finchale Priory (1970) · J. Zupitza, ‘Cantus beati Godrici’, Englische Studien, 11 (1888), 401–32 · J. W. Rankin, ‘The hymns of St Godric’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 38 (1923), 699–711 · J. B. Trend, ‘The first English songs’, Music and Letters, 9 (1928), 111–28


Godric Abbot of Croyland (Crowland). According to the Crowland Chronicle.

Godric Abbot of Croyland (Crowland). According to the Crowland Chronicle

The name of two Abbots of Croyland.

Godric I (870-941)

He was the successor of the Abbot Theodore, who had been slain by the Danes. The heathen had sacked and destroyed the abbey, desecrating the shrines and driving out the monks. On their return they unanimously elected Godric abbot, in spite of his reluctance. Soon after his election, at the request of the prior of Ancarig, Godric went with his monks to clear away the ruins of Medehamsted Abbey (Peterborough), to bury the corpses of its abbot and eighty monks, whom the Danes had murdered, and to erect a memorial near their grave. Evil times fell on Croyland during his abbacy. Beorred, King of Mercia, under pretext of driving out the Danes, seized the lands and possessions of all the monasteries in his dominions, among which was Croyland. Beorred died in 874, and was succeeded by one of his servants, Ceowulf, who demanded a thousand pounds from the Abbey of Croyland, and reduced it to such poverty, that the monks were forced to sell nearly all their plate. So poor did the house become that none would join it, and, at Godric's death in 941, only five of its monks were left.

Godric II (1005-18)

Godric II was no less unfortunate than his namesake. King Ethelred the Redeless first exacted from it large sums of money, and in the fourth year of Godric's rule the Danish jarl, Turkil, arrived with a fleet, demanded a ransom, and ravaged the manors of the abbey. In 1013 the Danish king, Sweyn, devastated the neighbouring country. Croyland, which was luckily isolated by floods, became the refuge of monks, secular priests, and layfolk, whose support was a heavy burden on the resources of the abbey. Sweyn extorted two large ransoms within three months, while the king's officers threatened to complete its ruin because it supported the Danes. In despair Godric and his monks engaged as protector Leofwin, brother of Leofric, Earl of Leicester, who, in return for a grant of lands, protected them till his death in 1017. The same year the accession of Cnut brought peace to England, and some relief to Croyland. Godric was buried in the chapter-house of his abbey.

Edited By Michael B Goodrick 2003.