Posted by: anna | April 24, 2010

St Guthlac of Crowland

The image is taken from the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts – Harley Roll Y.6, Roundel 5: Angel visits Guthlac.
Today (11 April) we commemorate St. Guthlac, Hermit and Wonderworker of Crowland (714). From Stanton’s Menology:

Guthlac was a descendant of the royal house of Mercia, and born in the region of the Mid-Angles. His childhood was remarkably innocent and devout; but as he advanced towards man’s estate, he eagerly took up the profession of arms, collected a band of followers, engaged in many feuds and petty wars with his rivals and opponents, and from these encounters fathered abundant spoil. At the age of twenty-four his conversion took place, in conseequence of his serious reflections one night on the vanity of the world. This call from God he obeyed without hesitation and without reserve, and leaving all he had, betook himself to the double monastery of Repton, then governed by the Abbess Elfrida. There he received the monastic habit; and though the brethren were a little displeased with what they considered his singularities and excessive austerities, still he was greatly esteemed, and lived with much edification.

Guthlac spent two years at Repton, during which he studied assiduously, and then resolved to retire into perfect solitude. For this purpose he chose the Island of Croyland, in the midst of a vast marsh, and began that wonderful life in which he persevered to the end of his course. He experienced frequent and most violent assaults from evil spirits, but was victorious over all, by the grace of God and the help of St Bartholomew, on whose festival he had taken possession of the island. Many miracles were wrought by him; and by a singular privilege, beasts and birds and things inanimate were obedient to him. He received frequent visits from Prince Ethelbald, then a persecuted exile, but afterwards the powerful King of Mercia. Guthlac, whose gift of prophecy was most remarkable, predicted his future greatness, but solemnly warned him to forsake his vices, and rule with moderation and justice.

Many others came to visit him for their spiritual benefit, and among them was St Hedda, the Bishop of Dorchester. Sweet and consoling was the conference of the two saints, and at its conclusion St Hedda consecrated the oratory at Croyland, and insisted on promiting St Guthlac to the priesthood, which was done before he quitted the island. Some time before St Guthlac was called to his eternal rest, the holy Edburga, who was now Abbess of Repton, sent him a leaden coffin and a shroud for his burial. After spending fifteen years in his solitude, he was seized by his last short sickness on the Wednesday of Holy Week. He sent a message to his sister, St Pega, to say that it had been no lack of brotherly love which had kept him from seeing her in this life, but a desire that they might meet with more joy in the world to come; but that she should now come and preside at his burial. He predicted the exact day of his death, and left with his attendant a secret message for his sister and his friend Egbert, to the effect that for a long time he had been visited morning and evening by an angel, from whom he had received great light and the knowledge of future events.

On the Wednesday of Easter Week, he himself took the Holy Viaticum from his altar, and, as he foretold, gave up his soul to God with great joy. Angelic songs were heard in the island, and the sweet odours of sanctity were sensibly perceived by those present. St Pega came, as invited, to order the burial of the Saint. Ethelbald was overwhelmed with sorrow at the loss of his saintly father, and when the sacred body was translated after twelve months, and found entirely incorrupt, erected a beautiful monument over it; and a little later, when he was King, founded the great Abbey of Croyland (Crowland). St Guthlac had four holy disciples living in separate cells near him. They were Cissa, from whom Feliz the writer of his life gained much information; St Bethlin, honoured at Stafford; Egbert, the saint’s especial friend; and Tatwine. They continued to live in the same way even after the foundation of the Abbey.

Troparion of St Guthlac (Tone 4)Father Guthlac you followed the ways of the prophet Elijah,/ and the straight path of the Forerunner./ You became a dweller in the cisterns* of Croyland/ and in that wilderness brought forth fruit an hundredfold both conquering the demons and healing the sick./ Intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion of St Guthlac (Tone 2)

You abandoned royal estates and the life of a warrior to live by silence and prayer,/ by this you inspired the English peoples, holy Father Guthlac./ Wherefore we acclaim you/ as the father of English monasticism.

* cisterns? really? Is this a translation issue, or an important part of the story that I’ve missed? I can’t find an icon of Guthlac, but the British Library turns up a wealth of manuscripts relating to his life and monastic life at Crowland Abbey:

I haven’t included several medieval calendars and litanies, if that is the manuscript’s only reference to him.

Holy St Guthlac, pray to God for us.
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