Friday 2 December 2016

St Godric

Godric was an English hermit who lived from c1065 to 1170 which must have been something of a record at the time. He was born in Norfolk and became a sea-faring merchant, possibly travelling as far as the Holy Land in his own ship so presumably he was a reasonably wealthy man. But then at some point he visited the island of Lindisfarne and there he is said to have met St Cuthbert (see my previous post) who, however, had been dead for several hundred years. As you might expect, the meeting inspired Godric to devote himself to the spiritual life and he went on several pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem before eventually settling down at a hermitage at Finchale on the river Wear. There he lived for the remaining sixty years of his long life, gaining a reputation for wisdom and holiness. Like many saintly people who live almost embedded in the natural world there are stories of his kindness to animals. He once saved a stag from hunters and, on another occasion, let snakes warm themselves at his fire. His life was recorded by a contemporary called Reginald of Durham and there is a wonderful description of him which I have taken from Wikipedia.

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.

But the main reason I wanted to draw attention to him here is because of three songs he is supposed to have received in visions. The first, Sainte Marie viergene, was given him by the Virgin Mary who appeared to him in the chapel of his hermitage accompanied by Mary Magdalene. Then a second song was given him by his recently deceased sister Burgwen, for whose soul he had been praying. She visited him with two angels who added the Kyrie Eleison refrains to her song, Crist and Sainte Marie. The third song may have been given him by Saint Nicholas as Reginald writes that the saint  (who was eventually to be transformed into Santa Claus/Father Christmas) visited him one night and they sang loudly together. Apart from being very beautiful, and they are, these songs are of special interest in that they are the earliest English songs with surviving music. In the performance here by the group Sequentia the melody of the last song has been given a slight polyphonic decoration using techniques of the time.

The words of the three songs plus their translations are as follows.

Sainte Marie viergine                                                    
moder Jesu Cristes Nazarene                                      
onfo schild help þin Godrich                                           
onfange bring heȝilich wið þe in Godes riche                    
Sainte Marie Christes bur
maidenes clenhad moderes flur
dilie min sinne rix in min mod
bring me to winne wið þe selfd God                                  

Saint Mary, Virgin,
Mother of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
Receive, shield, help your Godric.
And received, bring him on high with you to God’s kingdom.

Saint Mary, bower of Christ,
Purest of maidens, flower of mothers,
Blot out my sins, reign in my mind,
Bring me to bliss with that same God.

Note the pun on his name at the end of the first verse.

Crist and Sainte Marie swa on scamel me iledde    
þat ic on þis erðe ne silde wid mine bare footen i tredde
Christ and Saint Mary so carried me with a crutch
That I never had to tread on this earth with my bare feet.

Sainte Nicholas Godes druð
tymbre us faiere scoone hus
At þi burth at þi bare
Sainte Nicholas bring vs wel þare

Saint Nicholas, God’s beloved,
Build for us a fair bright house
By thy birth, by thy bier, 
Saint Nicholas, bring us safely there.

Godric was never officially canonised but as he received the favour of the Virgin Mary I think that's enough for him to be considered worthy of sainthood.


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing. I love these lyrics. They are very English, very humble, simple, straightforward, and beautifully constructed.

In the first verse of Sainte Marie viergene, might this line: "onfo schild help þin Godrich" be translated as "Receive, shield, thy servant Godric"?

William Wildblood said...

It might but I'm afraid I wouldn't know! I took the translations from a CD insert I have. I'm not any kind of authority on old English but, like you, I do love the look of it and the rich, wholesome, outdoors sort of sound it has.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Thanks to this post, my family will soon be making 'a pilgrimage' (15 minute drive!) to see the remains of Godric's adjacent monastery at Finchale.

William Wildblood said...

I assure you, Bruce, it's a complete coincidence that my last two posts have been on people in your neck of the woods!

Nathaniel said...

Absolutely beautiful music. I am very glad you shared this!

William Wildblood said...

It comes from a CD called English Songs of the Middle Ages recorded in the 80s but I think still available.Most of it is probably on YouTube too if you search under the ensemble's name of Sequentia.