Posted by: kljolly | March 20, 2019

Ubi sunt

I am trying to fill in a ten year gap in Aldred’s story, from the battle of Brunanburh in 937, when Aldred is 19, to the ill-fated bishopric of Sexhelm in 947, after which Aldred becomes a priest.  Since the inspiration for this fictional biography came from Aldred’s scribal activities later in life as priest and provost, I began with stories built around those texts of circa 950-970, and then began filling in his earlier life experiences.  These ten years, Aldred in his twenties, are crucial for his spiritual formation and later vocation.  Here are my current ideas:

937-39 Glendalough, Ireland


Glendalough tower, author photo 2013

I may make the ending of the previous chapter at Brunanburh a bit more ambiguous in terms of his vocation, and also have him scooped up by Anlaf’s retreating group and taken on the ship to Dublin, sort of but not quite as a hostage.  Traumatized by these events, Aldred enters a period of doubt and depression, but is befriended or redeemed by monks at Glendalough, where he studies for two years.  My plan is to make this an “interlude” chapter of letters he exchanges with his mother, sister, and godfather Aldred at Chester-le-Street.  Models for such letters include those of Boniface and Alcuin, but I intend to make Aldred’s letters macaronic in the best Irish style, a mix of Latin and English, drawing on his own colophon marginalia.  Those to his godfather Aldred include ubi sunt reflections from Isidore of Seville’s Synonyma, a popular lament akin to the psalms and a common teaching text.


Whithorn cross, author photo 2015


939-41 Strathclyde and Scotland

Aldred returns to the north on a viking ship from Dublin, ends up primarily in Strathclyde under King Dyfnwal, but also travels in the Scottish realm of King Constantine, who beat a hasty retreat from Brunanburh.  Aldred might travel in the entourage of Anlaf Guthfrithsson, who returned from Dublin after the death of King Athelstan of Wessex in 939 and became king of Northumbria, followed by the other Anlaf, Sihtricsson.  While in Strathclyde and Scotland, Aldred connects with long-lost family, visits Whithorn and Govan, experiences he may relate looking back in a later chapter.  To find my way through the tangle of politics in this region, not to mention the chaos in Northumbria and York in relation to Wessex, I will be relying heavily on the books and posts of Tim Clarkson (Senchus), especially Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age.

941-42 Back to Northumbria

Stainmore Pass 045

Stainmore Pass, author photo 2013

Too good to pass up, I am going to attach Aldred to the pilgrimage of St. Cathroe of Alba to get him back in his Northumbrian homelands.   According to the Vita Kaddroe, Cathroe was given an escort by Scots king Constantine to “Cumbria,” where he was welcomed by Strathclyde king Dyfnwal, who gave him safe conduct to his border at “Loida” (which Clarkson identifies as Lowther, just south of Penrith, possibly a religious institution).  The nobleman of Loida, Gunderic, then leads Cathroe over the Pennines to York, presumably via Stainmore Pass, a road familiar to Aldred, so I can add him to the entourage.  Cathroe befriends Aldred, who is still puzzling over his vocation, and they discuss Aldhelm’s De virginitate.  At some point before this, Aldred becomes a subdeacon, marking the formal end of his education, but is hesitating on pursuing the diaconate, generally but not absolutely marked by celibacy, and then the priesthood, which would tie him to an altar, ending his travels.  From York, Aldred is finally able to return “home” to Easington to see his mother and sister, and Chester-le-Street, the heart of the Cuthbertine community.

942-44 Easington

For two years, Aldred serves as subdeacon in his own family’s church at their Easington estate, which his mother Tilwif and sister Bega, under the influence of abbess Bega, have turned into virtually a women’s religious enclosure for refugees.  Aldred is tempted to marry the young woman he briefly had an encounter with when he was 16, but I do not think I will have him marry.  This is a period of quiet restlessness for Aldred, who misses the travel and the books.  These years may also be recounted in the next chapter, looking back.

944-47 Exile or Pilgrimage

Northumbria 006 Jarrow Lawson Bede

Jarrow,  Bede by Fenwick Lawson (author photo, 2013)

The accession of Bishop Uchtred at Chester-le-Street (944-47) brings some trouble for Aldred.  Uchtred is firmly pro-Wessex, especially with the gifts that King Edmund drops off at Chester-le-Street in 944 after he expels Anlaf Sihtricsson and Ragnall from York, and then moves against Strathclyde.  Aldred’s long sojourn and family ties to Strathclyde bring him under suspicion, undermined by Seaxhelm the Wessex spy and Aldred’s nemesis from the battle of Brunanburh.  Aldred warns his godfather Aldred at Chester-le-Street about Sexhelm’s duplicity, and his godfather speaks up for Aldred with the bishop against Seaxhelm’s insinuations.  But the bishop remains doubtful, so his godfather sends Aldred away (elevating him to deacon first).  Where he goes, I am not sure yet, perhaps the continent, but eventually Cuthbertine communities in Norham (where he was educated earlier), or Hexham.  Or he could be assigned to Crayke as a remote poor site, deacon to the priest there.

947-48 Chester-le-Street

Northumbria 002 Chester-le-Street2

Seaxhelm becomes bishop in 947, a disastrous two or six month episcopacy marked by avarice and tyranny, not to mention Northumbria switching allegiances between Wessex King Eadred and Erik Bloodaxe under the machinations of Archbishop Wulfstan of York (I do wonder if these two episcopal upheavals, at Chester-le-Street and York, are connected).  Godfather Aldred replaces Seaxhelm as bishop and attempts to restore the community of St. Cuthbert, entering into a period of repentance from Lent 947, which I plan to explore with Rogation Days.  With the accession of his godfather as bishop, my Aldred returns to Chester-le-Street, bringing some relics of bishop Acca he “borrowed” from Hexham in a bit of furta sacra (a story told about a later Aldred at Hexham transposed here, see PASE Aldred1 and Symeon of Durham, Historia Regnum).  His episcopal godfather rebukes Aldred as being no better than Seaxhelm, and makes him return the relics to Hexham.   After Aldred’s year-long penance for relic theft, he is ordained priest on Ember Saturday after Pentecost, 948, and assigned to Crayke. That King Eadred, retaliating for the Northumbrian and York betrayal, comes north in 948 and sacks Ripon may figure in Aldred’s story at nearby Crayke.

From there, I have chapters written on his experiences in Crayke (viking attack, field prayers) and return to Chester-le-Street.  The above scenarios for Aldred in his twenties helps explain not only his vocation but also why he needs to “buy” his way into a home at Chester-le-Street in 950 by glossing the Lindisfarne Gospels.



  1. […] battle of Brunanburh in 937, Aldred is taken to Ireland, as I described in my previous post, Ubi Sunt.  This interlude chapter of the novel consists of letters he exchanges with his godfather and […]

  2. […] period from Aldred at the Battle of Brunanburh to his return to Northumbria in an earlier post, Ubi Sunt, that set out my spring sabbatical writing agenda.  That was followed by an account of […]

  3. […] Ubi Sunt, filling in the timeline […]

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