Posted by: anna | September 19, 2010

St Bega, abbess of Copeland

Icon of St Bega by the hand of Aidan Hart, image from WSIP. The first saint in ages (on this blog) to have an icon! More icons of British saints are needed, and more available images of extant icons…

Today (6 September) we commemorate St Bega, first abbess of Copeland in Cumbria (7th C).  From Miss Dunbar:

St. Bega (Oct 31, Sept 6) (BEE,BEES, BEEZ, BEZ, BEGAGH, BEGGA, BEGHA, BEYA, BHEGA, VAYA, VEE, VEGA, VEYA), V. 7th century. Patron of the north west of England, where she first landed; and of Norway. Probable patron of places called Kilbucho, Kilbees, Kilbegie, Kilbagie, etc., and founder of a nunnery near Carlisle, where the priory of Copeland was afterwards built.
The legend is that St. Bega, commonly called St Bee of Egremont, was the daughter of an Irish king, and was the most beautiful woman in her country. She was to be married to the King of Norway, but she had from her infancy vowed herself to a religious, ascetic life, and in token of her betrothal to Christ had received from an angel a bracelet marked with the sign of the cross. The night before her wedding-day, while the guards and attendants were revelling or sleeping, she fled, taking the bracelet with her. Finding no ship, she cut a turf, and on it crossed the sea to the opposite coast. She landed on a promontory in Cumberland, then part of the kingdom of Northumbria. Here she lived in prayer and charity for a long time, and finally moved further inland for fear of pirates. In the Middle Ages she was especially appealed to against oppressors of the poor and against Scottish rievers. In the 12th century her bracelet was kept as a holy relic, on which persons were called upon to swear, as it was believed that a false oath made on that relic would be immediately exposed and incur a dreadful vengeance. It is not impossible that, having moved inland for fear of marauders, she went further and further, and finally settled on the eastern coast of Northumbria, where Christianity was established and protected. On this supposition she is identified by some authorities, among them the Aberdeen Breviary, with ST. BEGU and ST. HEIU. She may be Begu, but I cannot see that she can be Heiu also.


  • St Bees Priory, now an Anglican parish church and an English Heritage site
  • celt-saints – which recommends a novel by Melvyn Bragg! and explains the confusion of two Bees (and a Heiu) here
  • Baring Gould expands on the confusion and gives more details of her legend here
 Holy Mother Bega, pray to God for us.

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