941 Pilgrimage

March 11, 941 (a Thursday) St. Constantine’s feastday,  Govan

            Aldred gazed across the chancel at the holy man opposite him.  The older man’s eyes were cast downward as he chanted the psalm almost in a whisper, seemingly unconscious of Aldred’s stare. 

            Cathroe had arrived at the Govan church yesterday, fording the river Clyde at low tide and leaving behind the royal entourage that had brought him from Alba.  It was said that King Constantine mac Áeda himself had escorted the holy pilgrim from his seat at Scone, and was now resident with King Dyfnwal at his Partick fort across the river.

            Aldred had no desire to spend time in the company of men who had fought alongside the notorious Anlaf Guthfrithsson against Wessex King Athelstan so disastrously at Brunanburh, despite each of their apparent territorial successes since then and no retaliation, yet, from Wessex under its new king, Edmund.  Anlaf was even back in control of York.  Constantine, mourning the death of his son at the battle, was said to be considering retirement to a monastery, but here he was bringing his holy man Cathroe to his Strathclyde ally.  Dyfnwal had inherited the Strathclyde kingship from his father Owain, who died not long after the battle.  For the two years he had spent in Govan, Aldred had assiduously avoided Owain’s son and his warriors, not wanting to answer any questions about his own presence before and at the battle.  What political undercurrents this visit from King Constantine represented, Aldred did not want to know.

            However, Aldred was curious about this honored pilgrim who chanted Lauds with the small band of clergy resident in the walled precincts of the Govan church this side of the river.  What kind of man merits a royal escort on his pilgrimage, and yet displays such a humble bearing as to wade barefoot and in a tattered robe across a cold river to stay in an even colder cell and eat weak porridge, rather than feast on roasted flesh in the warm hall of his royal host?

            A holy man.  Aldred did not suppose that he had ever met one, although he would count Abbess Bega, his sister’s namesake and their godmother as one who would one day be celebrated as a saint.  Truly only after death could one determine who might merit such an epithet, once God had verified the saint’s placement near enough to the throne of grace to interecede for those still struggling in this life, and achieve miracles at their petition.  Yet, he knew many who strove for holiness, and he aspired to emulate them—his own mother, his uncle Tilred now gone, his godfather Aldest, and some (though not all) of the monks at Glendalough. 

            Since coming to Strathclyde two years ago, he had watched the brothers here to see their way of life and ponder whether he might follow in taking their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  But holiness did not appear with a glow around it, as some paintings showed the saints with haloed heads.  Instead, daily life was grubby and full of toil, and a certain amount of grumbling.  So it had always been in every religious community where Aldred had lived—Chester-le-Street, Hexham, Glendalough, and now Govan. 

            Chanting the office, seven times throughout the day and also in the middle of the night, was as close to holiness as any community could get:  a time to sing, to meditate, to focus on God, to forget those things outside the walls of their enclosure while looking heavenward.  Daily Mass was a more serious affair:  a time to consider their sins on the cross, and decide whether to take the body and blood of Christ on their lips or simply watch the dramatic transformation unfold, the embodying of Christ, in the hands of the celebrant.

            But this man, Cathroe, some ten years older than himself, had resolutely set himself on a path of holiness by going on pilgrimage from a place of known comfort to an unknown and uncertain destination.  According to the stories Aldred was hearing, Cathroe already had a reputation for saintly wisdom and faced great opposition from his family and those of his community who clamored for him to stay.  Yet here he was, aided by kings to fulfill his intent to cross the sea to the Frankish and Saxon realms. 

            Pilgrimage was a time-honored way of seeking holiness, at least in all the saints’ lives Aldred had read.

            Aldred supposed that he himself was on a kind of pilgrimage, but without such clear-eyed intent as Cathroe.  His was more a kind of wandering, and wondering, perhaps waiting for a sign.  Here was a man, though, from whom he might learn more about the pursuit of holiness in daily life.

            Aldred knew the psalms well enough to chant without thinking about the words, while his mind wandered and his eyes gazed at the holiness across from him.  Nonetheless, the start of Psalm 89 [90], a prayer of Moses, drew his attention back:  “Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation; before the mountains came into being, or the orb of earth was formed, from age to age you are God. Lest man be turned aside in humiliation, you have said, be converted, son of man.  For a thousand years before your eyes are like the days of yesterday that have passed by, like a watch in the night.”[1]  [intersperse psalms above, between reflections?]

            It may be that for God in his infinite eternity the slaughter on the battlefield of Brunanburh is a day quickly passed by, but not in Aldred’s memory.  Four years of his life, and still the sights and sounds continued to burn in his nightmares, set against the psalms and hymns chanted daily, their words of lament and praise drumming into his mind and heart a different way of thinking about this laene lif.  He could not reconcile the two easily:  the refuge in which he found himself, this sanctuary of God, and the warlike men across the river and the blood they could so easily spill.  How did Cathroe walk his holy pilgrimage amongst such men?  That was the question Aldred would ask him, later.

            The conclusion of Lauds raised the sun, and they moved into the service of Prime at full daybreak.[2]  Throughout, Aldred compared himself to the holy Cathroe.  The Scotsman was a few inches taller than Aldred, and leaner.  His hair and skin were both dark, a fringe of short black curls around his tonsure, a weathered face of deep brown.  Once he looked back at Aldred, holding his gaze for a moment before smiling gently and looking down again.  But the dark eyes, even in the gloom of the church, had a piercing quality, like a hawk Aldred had once seen on the arm of a noble.  If Aldred had met this man on a battlefield in armor, he would have thought him fierce.  Aldred wondered what kinds of battles went on inside that holy soul.

            Mass followed Prime, normally followed by the clerical community’s Chapter meeting, but today was different.  Unusually for a weekday, a  number of lay people came to the Mass, including the two kings, Dyfnwal and Constantine.  The small nave was crowded, anticipating the procession to the nearby Domes mound. 

            Today was the feastday of St. Constantine, the patron of this church—not the great Roman emperor famous for his conversion, but son of a Strathclyde ancestor.  According to the brothers here, St. Constantine was the son of Rhydderch Hael (the Generous), king of Alt Clut.[3]  He was purportedly tutored by the great Columba, founder of the Iona monastery, itself the mother of the Lindisfarne community to which Aldred belonged.  Aldred had never heard of this saint before coming to Govan, but certainly anyone connected to Columba was bound to have pursued a holy life.

            The bones of this saint rested in the east end of the church in a stone sarcophagus intricately carved, a much more solid edifice, if less angelic, than the carved wooden coffin of St. Cuthbert back at Chester-le-Street.  Alded had examined the sarcophagus soon after his arrival, discovering that it was of recent construction—its motifs reminiscent of the viking hogback stones dotting the landscape, rather than the older style of Iona two centuries before.

            To be sure, the sarcophagus had interlaced vines similar to many an Irish cross or Northumbrian gravestone.  But between the blocks of entangled vines were carvings not of saints or angels, but of animals, mostly powerful horses.  In the center of the side facing the nave, a decidedly warlike horseman rode after a stag, while a frame near the head on that side depicted a horse trampling a beast underfoot, which, Aldred supposed if you stretched it, might be Christ trampling the devil. 

            To Aldred’s mind, it would be a very fine coffin for a king named Constantine, a common  enough royal name, rather than a saint.  The Govan brothers had given only sketchy answers to his polite queries about what the carvings represented in the life of their patron. 

            Aldred guessed that the saint’s bones had been moved into this glorious stone coffin as the result of some kind of dispute between the churchmen and the rulers across the river, perhaps over their alliances with the Gall-Gáidhil, “foreigner-Gaels.”  Whether the Gallgael were viking foreigners become Gaels, or Gaels become vikings was unclear, but their warrior ethos was abundantly clear.  Aldred had seen similar bands—and alliances—in Northumbria and in Ireland. 

            Was this magnificent stone sarcophagus a peace offering from the Gallgael, a gesture toward being more Christian?  If so, their ideas about sanctity and warfare differed from his own community’s.  Aldred pitied St. Constantine his new stone home and thought longingly of St. Cuthbert.[4]

            The sarcophagus also seemed to have captured the holy man Cathroe’s attention.  Aldred saw him between Prime and the Mass running his finger thoughtfully over the cross-shaped interlace gracing its lid, the only clear symbol of Christ on the coffin. 

            Aldred came to stand beside him.  Cathroe bent to look at the the side facing the east, where four horses appears in a square, two of them upsidedown reflecting as in a still sunlit pond the two above them.  Toward the foot on that side, two horses stood with their necks entwined in a loving gesture.

            Cathroe spoke, and Aldred for the first time heard his deep baritone voice.  “My father loves his horses.” 

            Aldred replied, “I suppose most warriors do, they are such fearless and faithful animals carrying the armored man and weapons to the place of battle.”

            “My father’s favorite horse died because my father would not let me go for schooling.  The wise old man Bean, my tutor, prayed for a replacement son, which God in his mercy granted, my brother Matadan.  But still my father refused to let me go, so Bean prophesied the death of the best horse in my father’s stable.  It died.”  Cathroe sounded sad, whether at the needless death of the fine horse or the stubborn unbelief of his father, or both. 

            “Pater meus mortem est” (My father is dead), Aldred blurted out, surprising himself.  “Before…as I was born.”

            They were speaking Latin, since Cathroe knew little English and Aldred not much Gael.  Cathroe put his arm around Aldred’s shoulder and whispered, “God is our Father.” [Deus pater noster est]  Together they returned to the other clergy to prepare for Mass.

            After the Mass in honor of St. Constantine, the clergy led the procession from the church door and out along an ancient eastward path that led to Domes mound, the place of judgment.  Clearly it was built by men, encircled by a ditch, and with two levels, the summit flat.  The Govan brothers had warned him never to set foot there except for these special occasions, as it was reserved for high meetings of kings and churchmen, and great feasts such as this one for St. Constantine. 

            It was also a special day to have this holy man with them, and the Scots king Constantine accompanying his ally King Dyfnwal.  Altogether it was quite a procession.  Aldred did not envy the bishop who had to negotiate who went in what order.

            As it was, the religious led, with the acolyte carrying the cross in front of the bishop and abbot walking together, followed by the priests in double file, deacons, subdeacons, and other tonsured clergy.  When they arrived at the flat summit, they split the line and allowed the royals and nobles to process through their midst so that both kings, side by side, arrived to stand by the bishop and abbot.

            When that symbolic arrangement had been achieved, the clergy moved to the right hand side behind the bishop and abbot, while the lay nobles arrayed themselves on the left behind the two kings.  The acolyte remained in the center holding the cross.  Both the bishop and the abbot carried croziers symbolizing their office, the bishop’s topped by a silver interlace shepherd’s crook, the abbot’s with a tau-shaped cross.  The two kings, and the nobles, wore their swords, which they must have put on outside the church after mass, since carrying such weapons inside the church was frowned upon.

            Aldred looked out from his place among the subdeacons and saw the folk coming up the hill.  They were led by Dyfnwal’s queen and her ladies, who then stood on the stepped edge of the hilltop, completing the circle.  It was only men arrayed on the summit in formation, but the laypeople following the royal women included old and young, male and female, freedmen and slaves, gathered on the incline of the mound. 

            Startled, Aldred saw that Cathroe was in the crowd of laity, holding a squalling baby he must have taken from a woman who had two small children in tow.  And Aldred was not the only one who noticed Cathroe’s odd arrival—some murmuring swept through the two sides of clergy and laity on either side.

            It subsided quickly, and the bishop began the prayers, followed by the abbot, then the rest of the clergy joined in a litany of the saints, culminating in St. Constantine, whoever he had been. 

            The illiteratus, those who knew no Latin, which was pretty much all of the royals and nobles as well as the gathered folk, were accustomed to hearing the chanted words without comprehension of the individual words, but understood their significance.  God was listening to these words that gave shape to their own wordless prayers.  The warriors inclined to be restless followed the example of the kings and stared across the horizon as if watching for a host, of warriors or perhaps of angels, to arrive.

            When the litany reached its end with the name Constantine, they began the Lord’s prayer in Latin.  This, some of the laity who attended church services more frequently or had been schooled by a priest could recite in Latin, while others muttered it in their own tongue.

            Then it was the turn of the kings to speak.  Dyfnwal welcomed his ally Constantine, embracing him the way that warriors do, clasping shoulders without clashing swords.  Constantine was taller and older, but Dyfnwal, a young man of 21, more muscular. 

            King Dyfnwal then proclaimed in honor of the saint the forgiveness of debts owed to him this last year by his tenants, at which the people of his lands cheered.  Some of the slaves who had sold themselves to pay their debts looked hopefully for manumission, but it was not forthcoming.

            King Constantine then stepped forward and spoke. First he honored the saint, making a humorous play on their common name and claiming sidewise thereby kinship—and perhaps overlordship in relation to his Strathclyde host, at which Dyfnwal shifted uneasily.  But Constantine had spoken with a tone of jest, so no offense could be taken. 

            Aldred could not understand the Gaelic tongue well enough to follow the niceties of the speech, but a Govan brother who spoke English whispered to him what was said.  Given the uneasy tension evident between the two kings, Aldred did wonder why else Constantine had come from Alba down to Strathclyde, surely not just to escort one holy man, no matter how revered for his wisdom.

            Then the king beckoned for Cathroe to come forward.  Handing the now sleeping infant back to its mother, Cathroe wound his way through the crowd and up to the summit level to stand between the two kings.

            Constantine placed his hand on the holy man’s shoulder and turned him toward Dyfnwal.  It was clear that Constantine was handing his Scots sage over to Dyfnwal to escort further on his pilgrimage. 

            Dyfnwal greeted the holy man as a long-lost cousin (apparently they were related through some marriage).  Then the Strathclyde king called out to his people, asking who would go on this pilgrimage to escort their brother Cathroe on his journey? He himself would take the man as far as the southern border of his lands with the northmen, at Loida, and see him on his way.  Ten of his warriors, by prior arrangement, also stepped forward, as did five of the Govan brothers joined by the five who had come with Cathroe from Alba with the intent of accompanying him all the way to the Frankish lands, if they could. 

            Cathroe, facing toward the clergy, stared directly at Aldred.

            Without a thought, Aldred stepped out and joined the others.  He wasn’t sure why, but he knew he wanted to spend time in conversation with this man. 

            At that point, the bishop and abbot set about blessing the pilgrims and their escorts.  This required some re-arranging on the hilltop.  Dyfnwal stood at the center with Cathroe and the acolyte holding the cross, with the ten chosen warriors on one side and the ten clergy on the other.  Two adolescent boys also joined the group, one beside the king, presumably his page or a son; and an untonsured boy serving Cathroe.  The rest of the laity and clergy formed a circle around the edge of the mound, even King Constantine stepping back with his warriors into the circle behind Dyfnwal and Cathroe.

            Then the bishop and the abbot used the tips of their croziers to draw a circle sunwards around the pilgrim company, chanting as they did so a journey blessing. Aldred was familiar with variations on this Latin prayer from his many departures from religious communities.[5] 

Deus, indulgentissime pater, qui tam uelociter in auxilium supplicantium uenis, ut adsistas, antequam depreceris, qui Tobiam sanctum itinera incerta subeuntem angelo duce saluasti: presta his famulis tuis talem uiam, ne periculis fluminum aut periculis latronum aut periculis ferarum forte subiaceant, et cum securi atque saluati ad loca sibi desiderata peruenerint, ymolent tibi hostiam laudis, future semper gratie debitores.[6]

The prayer asked for angelic protection from all dangers, invoking the example of Tobit, who was guided on his marital journey by the angel Raphael in disguise.  Aldred looked around at the two dozen pilgrims, half of them armed, and thought that none looked like an angel in disguise.  The prayer listed the possible dangers awaiting them on the road, from high mountains and floods to venomous serpents and wild beasts, but these seemed less likely to Aldred than armed brigands.  Of course, if they traveled as unarmed clerics without valuables, they would probably arrive unmolested.  As it was, they were traveling with goods and riches liable to attract attention.  Hence the armed men. Aldred would prefer an angel.

            Cathroe, on the other hand, seemed mildly amused at all of the fuss.  He had had the same send off from Abernethy, where he had been staying at St. Brigid’s monastery near Scone, the seat of King Constantine. 

            Later, as they walked back to the church precincts side-by-side, Cathroe told Aldred the story of how he was held captive at St. Brigid’s by King Constantine and the people, who did not want him to leave Scotland.  So he refused to eat or drink.

            Aldred looked at the man.  Now that took courage, to defy a king and go hungry and thirsty.  Yet Cathroe recounted the story lightly, as if he found the whole thing rather humorous, or embarrassing.

            Fortunately, Cathroe’s friend and king’s counselor Abbot Maelodair convinced the king that it would be unwise to hinder the holy man, and that they would all receive a blessing if they helped the pilgrim on his way.  So with the impetuosity of the noble-born, King Constantine threw all of his resources into the holy man’s proposed journey, showering Cathroe with gold and silver, rich clothes and swift horses, which of course then necessitated an armed escort.  Hence the arrival of the poor pilgrim at Govan surrounded by the baggage of this world that he sought to leave behind.

            Because of all of these festivities surrounding the saint’s feastday and the pilgrimage blessing ceremony, the group would not be departing until the following morning.  While slaves worked to pack and sort all that was needed for such a journey—requiring a large group of servants and baggage—the kings and churchmen feasted.

            So that the ladies of the royal household might be included, the feast was held across the river in Dyfnwal’s hall at Partick.  The Govan monastery was small and male-only.  Unlike Chester-le-Street served by some married clergy and deaconesses, Govan had only monks who had taken a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. 

            Aldred wondered how different this center of Strathclyde power would be if there was at Govan a female house and abbess, such as those founded by his godmother Abbess Bega throughout Northumbria, including that place of refuge recently established by his mother and sister on their manor.  Women were usually the peace-weavers in households, tempering the aggressions of their menfolk.  Aldred thought Dyfnwal’s young queen would do well to found a haven for women in these troubled times.

            Cathroe and all of the pilgrims were expected to be at this feast, but the brothers of Govan and Aldred crossed the river reluctantly.  They knew the kind of carousing the warriors engaged in would be raucous, even as the king tried to tamp it down because of the clergy’s presence.  Fortunately, Dyfnwal’s queen had sense enough to have only male slaves serving food, and she herself and her noble maids brought the cup of mead around to the pilgrims first and then the other men.  No matter how drunk, no warrior would dare leer at or touch these high-born women, some of them their sisters or cousins attending the queen.

            When she came to Cathroe, the holy man took a bare sip of the cup, to be polite.  Aldred noticed that he and the brothers who had come from Alba ate only bread and vegetables, of which there were few.  Aldred and the Govan brothers followed his example, although as a saint’s feastday even in Lent, they were allowed meat.  Cathroe slipped some of the uneaten meat to the boy attending him, who did have that scrawny chicken look of hungry adolescence, his bones growing taller before his flesh could catch up, save for his right arm, which was withered as if from some accident of birth. 

            The red-haired boy spoke English mixed with Norse. Aldred learned later that although his Norse name was Frijal, he gave his name in English as Frith, meaning peace.[7] 

            All of the pilgrim brothers took their leave early, the Govan and the Alba brothers crossing with Cathroe, Frith, and Aldred back over to the monastery.  As they left, Aldred noticed that the ten escort warriors set to depart with them in the morning remained at table, loudly calling for more drink.  They clearly did not see themselves as pilgrims, but merely escort for their king and his favored holy man.  Hopefully they would be ready for an early start in the morning.

            Before Compline and bed, Cathroe gathered those who would accompany him on this leg of the journey.  They formed a band of twelve tonsured, plus Frith.  Aldred gradually learned the names of the Alba brothers:  Domnall, Brude, Conall, Gabrán          , and Nechtan. Those of Govan he already knew: Eochaid, Máel, Neithon, Hywel, and Áedán.  Some were as young as Aldred, others were elderly, and a few were hard to guess, appearing weathered from outdoor labor but with youthful eyes.

            Cathroe suggested that they form brotherly friendships to encourage and help each other along the way, pairs of one Alba and one Govan brother each, just as the Savior sent his twelve disciples out in pairs.  Such spiritual friendships were common in monastic houses, and on pilgrimages.  Aldred had never had a spiritual friend, except his godfather and namesake Aldred, who was more a spiritual father.

            They were sitting in a circle in the chapter house.  Cathroe looked each brother in the eye for a long time, searching.  Some dropped their eyes.  After a silence, he chose the pairs. The Govan brothers seemed surprised, but the Alba brothers who knew Cathroe seemed to trust his insight.

            Once he had the brothers sorted, they stood in a line of pairs and processed into the church for Compline.  Aldred and Frith stood aside, but Cathroe took Aldred’s hand and placed his arm around Frith.  We three will journey together, he whispered. 

            In the church, where the remaining Govan clergy had already gathered, the group of pilgrims paused at the altar to make their vows to their spiritual brothers.  Holding, hands, each promised on the altar relics to maintain the holy spirit of unity and bond of faith, to uphold and sustain their brother on the journey, to pray for, comfort, and as needed, forgiving each other.  As Paul urged the Ephesians, Cathroe reminded them, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

            Aldred, Cathroe, and Frith made no vows to each other, not yet.

            Aldred over the coming days marvelled at how well Cathroe had partnered the Alba and Govan brothers.  Yes, some were of different ages, the older intended to mentor the younger, the younger to serve and help the older on the way.  But Cathroe did not put those likeminded together or of the same temper.  Two hothearted ones might easily clash, two meek ones might not be bold in speaking up as needed.  Yet, he also seemingly made sure that the quick or loud did not dominate the slow quiet ones.  The first few days were a bit difficult as they got to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes throughout the journey they would fall into disputes, especially when tired.  But eventually they began to love and stand up for their spiritual brother when conflicts came, as they always do when traveling and living closely. 

March 12, 941 Friday, St. Gregory the Great Feastday.  To Arran Holy Isle of St. Molaise

            The warriors were indeed quite hung over at dawn and probably had not slept except in a drunken stupor, when Aldred, Cathroe, and the other pilgrim brothers saw them at the riverside after Matins (6:30 a.m. sunrise).  The warriors’ slaves, who had not had much more sleep than their masters, had started loading their gear into the boats at dawn when the monks had begun Matins.

            To Aldred’s surprise, since he had not paid much attention to the holy man’s travel plans and volunteered only belatedly, they were taking ship, not going overland.  That solved the problem in Aldred’s mind as to whether they would walk or ride, guessing that the warriors on horseback would find escorting pilgrims on foot over hill and dale rather tedious, not to mention the length of the journey–probably several weeks compared to less than a week by boat to Carlisle and then on foot to Loida.

            Aldred knew the Carlisle area well, but not the overland routes to the north where they now were.  He had come to Govan across the Irish Sea two years ago, to the Isle of Man and then up the River Clyde. Now they would presumably sail from the Firth of Clyde along the coastal headlands around to Carlisle.

            The three boats that would take them down the Clyde to a larger ship were bobbing on the high spring tide.  This close to the equinox and the full moon, the water was high enough to be just under the wooden jetty (pier? wharf?) where the shallow boats were tied.  At low tide, the exposed mudflats made it easy, if messy, to ford the river but impossible to navigate by any but the smallest coracle.

            The boatmen were anxiously ordering the slaves to finish loading the warriors’ gear and hastening the passengers to prepare to board. The tide was turning and they sought to ride it out toward the sea.  With any luck, they could meet 30 miles downriver the larger ship that would still be able ride this same ebb tide out to sea rather than fight against the incoming tide when it turned in the afternoon between Sext and None. (tide turns at 2 p.m.). 

            From there, they would make for the isle of Arran with a pilgrim stop at its small Holy Island (50 miles).  The warriors grumbled at this, since it meant Lenten food and cold beds, unless they simply stayed on board while the more spiritually minded pilgrims went into the small chapel there and visited the handful of monks and their cave retreats. 

            King Dyfnwal gave the men a stern look of warning.  Aldred was curious whether the king would set aside his royal tastes and act the pilgrim.

            To the relief of the three boatmen, they cast off only ten? 30? minutes after the tide turned.  In a line, the three boats rode the increasingly fast ebb flow with minimal use of oars, the lead boatman watching for the shallows to avoid running their heavy laden boats aground in the treacherous and shifting mudflats.

            Aldred relaxed a bit, as much as he could crowded betwixt and between the Govan and Alban brothers, keeping his hood up to keep off the light rain.  Their second boat held the tonsured, except Cathroe, who rode with the king and his men in the lead boat.  The third held most of the baggage and the slaves.

            After about an hour, Aldred saw Dyfnwal gesturing to the shore on the north bank and explaining something to Cathroe.  He could not hear what was said, and it was in Gaelic in any case, but he guessed that the king was pointing to Alt Clut, the looming Rock of Clyde, on which sat the ruins of the ancient hillfort site of his Clyde British ancestors, abandoned after the viking assault of 870. 

            Aldred shivered at the stories he had heard of the event, recounted and recorded with astonishment on both sides of the Irish Sea. After a four-month siege by Dublin-based Norse brothers Anlaf and Ivar, the Clyde Britons’ once impregnable fort fell to the invaders, the proud but long-suffering defenders surrendering to thirst.  The two Norse leaders with their warbands then plundered and destroyed the site, enslaved the inhabitants and took them back to Ireland, including Dyfnwal’s great-great-grandfather Artgal, who died soon thereafter. With this obstinate hillfort now overthrown and the Alt Clut Britons powerless, the Norsemen dominated the Irish seaway access to North Britain and Scotland.  Thereafter, the re-named Strat Clut kings, under Dyfnwal’s great grandfather Rhun, re-established their rule upriver at the sacred site of Govan.  With viking allies. 

            Looking up at the double headed rocky hill at the juncture where the river Leven flowed into the Clyde, Aldred could make out the remains of the hillfort on the right peak of the massive rock, and wondered if it was still held and defended, and by whom.  He was not about to ask King Dyfnwal or any of the Strathclyde men. 

            Another hour, and the River Clyde widened further, and then as Aldred knew from his journey to Govan two years ago, the river would turn southward around Inverclyde.  Aldred supposed they were making for one of the fishing ports on one side or the other, either Kilcreggan on the Rosneath peninsula on the steorbord or Gourock on the bæcbord Inverclyde side.

            As they came into the straits between the two ports, the lead boatman held his vessel in the center of the river, with a view equal distance to each shore, about a mile away. In the distance beyond Rosneath across the loch, snow still sat on the highest mountains. But at a call from King Dyfnwal pointing left, the boatman ordered the men to row toward Gourock, and the other two vessels followed.

            As one of the younger and fitter men in the boat, Aldred took a turn at the oars, helping keep the boat aiming for the bay of Gourock, where they could see several ships anchored.  It took them another hour to reach the ship carrying the king’s standard, delivered by messengers the day before in preparation for this journey. 

            By the time they had transferred themselves and their baggage, no easy feat using a rope ladder, it was almost midday.  The warriors, who although they had feasted the night before were now hungry for a meal, grumbled when the ship captain insisted on getting underway immediately.  But, he warned them, they only had two more hours of ebb tide to ride to sea and reach Arran, unless the men wanted to row against the tide?  This stopped the grumbling, the anchor was raised, and a dozen men, mostly slaves, set to on the oars.

            Once out of the bay, they rounded the headland and rode the Clyde toward the sea.  At first the ship travelled fairly smoothly in the current, but after an hour they emerged out of the river headlands and into the Firth of Clyde seaway, where the waters grew rough.  A straight run from there to Holy Island on the southeast end of Arran should take only a few hours of sailing on this outbound current, but the wind was against them, lashing rain.

            Instead, the captain steered the ship directly to the nearest, northern end of Arran, then turned to beat their way south in the lee of the island down to the holy site.  This took a lot of rowing, mostly by the slaves but also by any able man who could take a shift.  Aldred knew what it took, having taken the oars on his two previous crossings of the Irish Sea.  This was a mere jaunt by comparison.

            Nonetheless, they were hungry, wet, and tired when they arrived at the Holy Island off Arran, the current no longer in their favor. They rowed into the bay, and the warrior men were all for landing on Arran in a village where they were likely to find food, fire, and other comforts.  But Cathroe was clear on his pilgrimage aim, and King Dyfnwal supported the holy man.

            So they made for the landing on the northwest side of Eilean MoLaise, the isle of St. Molaise.  Unfortunately, the receding tide made their journey perilous through the strait between the north end of the rocky isle and Arran, then they found the water too shallow for their draft as they neared the monastic site.  They ended up having to beach on the mud flats and then wade/walk up the rocky shore to the small chapel. 

            Many of the warriors stayed on board, and if not for the warnings of the king and the iron will of the captain, Aldred would have been worried that they would push off and find a more comfortable port.  As it was, he saw the slaves opening a cask of mead and parcels of bacon and griddle cakes.

            Those eager for spiritual sustenance, or solid ground under their feet, arrived at the chapel in time for the service of Nones.  The small community of six monks and three pilgrims already there welcomed them with dry robes and footwear, then ushered them into the dark stone building for the chanted psalms. 

            Their voices blended well, except for stumbling over words:  the brothers of this isle, like the Irish churches, used the Gallican Latin psalter while the Alban and Govan brothers, like Aldred’s Northumbrian homeland, knew the Romanum.  Aldred had encountered this problem at Glendalough and learned the Gallican wording, but here found himself switching back and forth, since he heard the Gallican in his left ear and the Romanum in his right.

            Most of them had only had a swallow of watered ale and a bite of bread on the voyage, so they were grateful after Nones for the offer of bread and cheese.  On the hills, Aldred saw goats and sheep, probably the source of milk and wool for the small community. 

            Cathroe sat with their oldest brother, there being no abbot, and learned that several hermits lived in small beehive huts or cave scattered in the remoter parts of the island.  But what Cathroe wanted to see was St. Molaise’s cave.  The old brother, Dungal by name, said that they were welcome to walk along the shoreline to the cave and spend the night in prayer there, but warned them to go soon, before Vespers, as the path could be treacherous in the dark.

            Cathroe, Aldred, along with the Alba and Govan brothers decided to make the trek, while King Dyfnwal and four of his men who had come ashore chose to stay at the stone church for Vespers and the chance of a bed and fire for the night in one of the nearby stone huts.  The boy Frith stayed behind as well—he had not fared well his first time back on a ship, its rocking motion bringing back evil memories.

            The twelve men walked single file southward along the path, following the old man’s instructions, looking for  caves on their left.  The westering sun made it easier to spot holes in the rocky shelf, otherwise they would never have seen the crevices.

            To their surprise, the cave was inhabited by a man even older than their host, with a gray beard trailing down the front of his faded gray robe, a bald head, and piercing blue eyes.  He was actually standing in front of the cave, enjoying the sunlight that had broken through the clouds as it descended in the west.

            He welcomed them in and showed them the place where St. Molaise, after whom the island had been named, had spent his time in isolation, before returning to Ireland.  The wide shallow cave was not really big enough for 12 men, but they crowded together for warmth and then began the Vesper psalms from memory. [different versions?]

            When they finished there was silence for a time.  Aldred drifted off, then woke with a start when the old hermit began to speak.

            “You would like to hear of Mo Laise and his saintly life,” he asked.

            Cathroe answered for them.  “Yes, we know somewhat of his fame in Ireland, but little of his holy way of life.”

            “It began here, in this cave,” said the hermit. And then he fell silent.

            Cathroe and the brothers waited, thinking the old man had dozed off.

            The the hermit abruptly began again, “So. You have heard how he came from Ireland as a boy, then found his way to this holy island, before going back to the place of his birth in Ireland.”

            Cathroe answered, “We know that he became a revered bishop and abbot in his homeland.”

            Aldred was having difficulty following the conversation because it was in a mixture of Latin and Gaelic, which the old man seemed to prefer, a mode of mixing languages that Aldred had heard at Glendalough as well.  Even with the Govan brother whispering explanations in his ear, he still was struggling to piece together the sentences.  He had never been good at hearing and speaking languages other than those two he learned as a child, English and Latin.

            But he asked, in Latin, “I have heard that St. Molaise went to Rome and helped bring the Irish monasteries into line with celebrating Easter at the same time as other churches, just as our St. Cuthbert brought peace over this matter in Northumbria.”

            The hermit grunted, but Cathroe filled in with Latin. “Indeed, I believe St. Molaise was made a bishop by the pope and sent with that task.”

            Silence again.

            One of the younger Govan brothers filled it.  “I have also heard some stories about Molaise and his family, and about his death….”  He drifted off, not sure how to prompt someone else to relay the more interesting, if less instructive, stories of the saint.

            The hermit had sat up at this and seemed to glare at the young man.  But Cathroe intervened and said, “perhaps such stories illustrate his humility, the hard path of learning we all must follow.”

            Aldred could tell that Cathroe came from a noble family and had learned peaceweaving ways in contentious conversations, and that his wisdom included the ability to find a positive lesson in anything.

            The young Govan brother asked timidly, “what happened to his sister?”  Now Aldred knew this story from hearing it at Glendalough in the life of St. Fursa, who had cause to rebuke St. Molaise.  It was a story that made Aldred uncomfortable because it portrayed a lustful woman sacrificing herself for love, and worried him too, as he thought about his own sister Bega.

            “The story of St. Molaise’s sister,” the hermit said, “tells of the power of reciting the Beatus, the long psalm extolling God’s law, which she broke.”

            The brothers waited expectantly.

            The old man sighed.  “It is a sad story, but a common one.” 

            “St. Molaise’s sister followed him in a holy life and came to visit him at his monastery in Ireland. But as she waited to see him at the church, she fell into a conversation with a young deacon.”

            Here the hermit peered around at the brothers, his eyes glinting in the light of the one torch. Most of them, like Aldred, were ordained subdeacons or deacons.

            “Never a good idea, such things between young men and women.  They should be kept separate.”

            One of the Alba brothers, Gabrán, said, “they say women are much more lustful than men, so we should stay away from them.”

            Aldred thought to himself, “rather, keep the women safe from the lustful men.”  He remembered his own shameful lust with the serving girl, and his sister Bega’s rebuke.

            The hermit did not like being interrupted.  After a pause, he went on.

            “As these things happen, she was got with child.”  They sucked in their breaths.  They knew that unwanted pregnancies ruined women more than the men who begot the child on them.

            “Molaise was furious and would have killed the man, but his sister restrained him, sending her lover away and taking the blame for the sin.”

            “She said, ‘as lor, ar si, mu mhudhugudh so.’” Aldred did not understand this last phrase in Gaelic, but the Govan brother put her words into English: ‘It is enough, that I should be ruined.’

            Meanwhile, the hermit went on, “Molaise cursed his sister, barring her from entry into heaven.  She died in childbed, her fate uncertain, so Molaise buried her in a bog outside the church, not in consecrated ground.”

            Aldred could not bear it.  “I have a sister,” he choked and stopped.  “I do not think women are more lustful than us men.  Whatever happened to her, if some man touched her…I would not do such a thing to her.”  Cathroe grasped his hand.  “Brother, we do not condemn women, without first condemning ourselves.”

            The hermit was now quite annoyed.  “Well, as you will hear, St. Molaise had cause to repent.”

            “The sister’s lover, father of her child, was so grief stricken that she took his punishment on herself, that he built a hut over her grave in the bog, and went there every day, reciting seven times the Beatus, as well as the other psalms, prostrating himself in the boggy ground until he was as filthy on the outside as he was on the inside.”

            This fearful image he allowed to stay in their minds for a brief silence.

            “He did this for a year, and then miraculously, she appeared to him over her grave, blessed him for his prayers, and let him know that she was almost free to make her way to heaven.  She told him the long Beatus was the psalm that most eased her path.”

            The hermit paused, since this was for him the point of the story.

            “Why didn’t her brother pray for her soul over her grave,” Aldred blurted out. It was what he would have done.  Cathroe again pressed his hand.

            “Indeed, the Beatus did smooth her path to heaven.  The repentant deacon saw angels ascending from her grave, flashing like lightening.”  Aldred tried to imagine lightning bolts coming from the ground rather than from the sky. 

            “But Molaise saw the lights, and thought it was the devil’s work.”  Aldred knew this part of the story from the Life of St. Fursa.

            “When Fursa came to visit, he saw the lights over the bog and asked Molaise what saint rested there. ‘An idol,’ Molaise answered, ‘a diabolic nun.’”

            Aldred began to weep.  “How could he call his own sister diabolic.”  Cathroe put his arms around him.  Even though Aldred knew what happened next, this was the evil moment in the story that he could not get over.

            “Well,” said the hermit, “Fursa set him straight and made Molaise go and look, and there they saw the service of angels ascending over the grave.  So they took her out of the bog and buried her in the churchyard.”

            “What happened to her lover,” the young Govan brother asked.

            The hermit had given up on telling his story without interruptions. “Fursa took him under his protection.”

            “You mean got him away from Molaise’s murderous hands,” Aldred muttered, but only Cathroe heard him. 

            The hermit concluded, “so, the lesson of the story is this:  saying the Beatus is better than any other prayer for saving a soul from the Devil.”

            “And,” Cathroe added, “by his actions, Fursa became a holy man.”  He did not say it, but Aldred thought, “instead of Molaise.”

            With this salutary story, it was now time for Compline, and then sleep for those who were not going to keep a vigil until Nocturns.

            The same three familiar psalms were recited nightly at bedtime.  Psalm 4 urged them toward compunction, to consider the thoughts of their hearts while lying in bed, and be sorry for them.  Psalm 90 (91) was a comforting psalm of refuge, like this cave, of sheltering under God’s wings, invoking His guardian angels.  Psalm 133 called on them as servants of God in his holy house to bless the Lord.  As the psalm said, so they did, lifting up their hands, praising the Creator who made heaven and earth. 

            In the darkness they sang the hymn, Te lucis ante terminum, a song that asks God to protect them in their sleep from night terrors and illusions.

            The hermit recited a closing prayer:  Illumina domine tenebrosa corda nostra et totius noctis insidias inimici tu repelle ut te protegente ad auroram itervm mente et corpore incolomes peruenire mereamur, asking God to illuminate the darkness of their arts and repel all insidious enemies of the mind and body.

            They ended with the Nunc dimittis, the song Simeon sang when he saw the baby Jesus.

            It was quiet for a while, then they heard the slow breathing, and some snoring, of those who had fallen asleep after the long days’ travel from Govan.

            But Cathroe, the hermit, and Aldred, as well as two of the younger Govan brothers stayed awake, sitting with their backs to the cave wall.

            “I will tell you a ghostly story.”  The hermit said after a bit.

            “A vision of hell granted to Molaise.”  Aldred thought it quite appropriate that, after cursing his sister to hell, Molaise be given a tour of the place he consigned her to, as a warning.  They let the hermit tell the story without interruption, despite the creeping horror that came over them in the dark cave as the vision took shape in their minds.

            Once upon a time Laisrén [Molaise] went presumptuously from the monastery of Clúain in order to purify Clúain Cháin, a church which is in the territory of Connaught. He fasted thrice three days while purifying the church. At the end of the third three days’ fast sleep overpowered him in the oratory, and in his sleep he heard a voice saying to him: ‘Arise!’ The first time he did not move. When for the second time he heard the voice he raised his head and made the sign of the cross over his face. Then he saw the church in which he was, all alight, and yet there was still a part of the night. And between the chancel and the altar he saw a shining figure.

            Said the figure to him: ‘Come towards me!’ At that voice the cleric’s whole body from crown to sole shook. Then all at once he beheld his soul hovering over the crown of his head, and knew not which way she had come out of the body. And he saw the church open above towards heaven, and two angels taking the soul between them and rising into the air.

            Thereupon he beheld a host of angels coming to meet her. And he saw another host of demons with fiery hair about them and fire coming out of their every limb. On those demons he discerned three shapes. Some had a very black shape, and had fiery bulging spears in their hands; others had a dark brown shape and had fiery darts in their hands. A third number had a shaggy shape, and fiery hair growing through them like the hair of a thistle, and fiery javelins in their hands.

            Now these three bands formed a single array of battle to wrest the soul from the angels. And one of them, as long as his breath would last, and without change of speech, charged the soul in one charge with what she had done of misdeeds since she was born. That one charge seemed as terrible to the soul […] and the demon said nothing but was true, nor did he charge her with anything of which she had made confession to a confessor before leaving the body.

            An angel of the great host answered the demon on behalf of the soul and said ‘Now thou hast charged thy whole charge.’ The demon answered and said: ‘I have not. I have not charged the greater part of it.’ The angel answered: ‘Thy charge can do us no harm, since before leaving the body it has been confessed and atoned for by penance according to the will of a confessor. Be off!’ said the angel, ‘You have no share in this man.’ ‘If God’s word be true,’ said the demon, ‘we shall not part this way; for this man has not made a little child of himself as God commanded him’ dicens: Nisi conuersi fueritis et efficiamini sicut paruuli, non intrabitis in regnum caelorum.’’ [Matth. 18, 3.]

            ‘God’s word is true,’ said the angel, ‘for this man has not come […] to stay with demons, for he will give warning before us to his friends.’ ‘Depart from us now!’ said the angel. Forthwith they departed from them.

            Thereupon the angel of the great host said to the two angels who were around the soul: ‘Now take this man that he may see Hell.’ Thereupon he is let down northward into a great glen. It seemed as long to him as if he saw from the rising of the sun to its setting. He sees a great pit as it were the mouth of a cave between two mountains, which they entered above. For a long time they went along the cave, until they came to a great high black mountain before them at the mouth of Hell, and a large glen in the upper part of that mountain. This was the nature of that glen: it was broad below, narrow above. That cave was the door to Hell, and its porch.

            And he saw the folk of the island whosoever of them were when in the body, under the displeasure of God. They were in the middle of the glen wailing. ‘Woe, O God!’ said the soul. ‘Has a plague come after us, since all these hosts have perished after us since we find them here?’ ‘Not so,’ said the angel, ‘but whoever is under the displeasure of God during life after thee, here do they behold their souls, and this is their certain fate unless they repent.’ ‘May I speak to each soul whom I see here?’ the man asked. ‘No’ said the angel, ‘lest they despair. Tell them, however, to repent, for whoever shall make repentance and end in it shall not be in this place, but will be in a place of comfort away from this evil, and his repentance will take him past it. And again, he who shall live in righteousness, he sees life while he is in the body, and he shall be in life if he is steadfast in righteousness. Tell them also,’ said the angel, ‘that he who lives in righteousness be steadfast in it, for there is not much time to consider until death comes to them. He, however, who is under the displeasure of God accepts repentance if it be done from a pious heart, and God’s mercy will help him’

            Thereupon the man’s soul went into Hell itself, even a sea of fire with an unspeakable storm and unspeakable waves upon it. And he saw the souls aflame in that sea, and their heads all above it; and they wailing and lamenting, crying woe without ceasing throughout the ages. Some of the souls had fiery nails through their tongues, which were sticking out of their heads; others through their ears, others through their eyes.

            Again, he saw others with their mouths gaping, and the demons compelling them with fiery forks like the other three hosts. The man desired to know the difference of the torments. The angel answered at once, in the way that the guardian angel has always answered thoughts and reflections. ‘The folk whom thou seest with the fiery nails through their tongues, those are they who have not been praising God or blessing and worshipping Him, and’[…] ‘and perjuring themselves and blaspheming and talking vaingloriously and’ […] [8]

            At this point, Aldred drifted off to sleep.  He was unable to follow the Gaelic tongue, and though he recognized bits of the vision from having heard a similar one at Glendalough, he thought Molaise deserved this hideous nightmare. 

            In that dreamspace between sleep and waking, it seemed to Aldred that his own soul was lifted out of his body and he was looking down at himself and the other men in the cave, as if he were a bat or a spider hanging from the roof.  The hermit droned on, the three who were still awake had wide eyes fixed on the hermit, while the sleeping men shifted and snored.

            His soul floated, looking at the shadows on the wall of the cave, shadows cast only by light from outside the cave.  But the moving shapes were not those of the motionless men, but something else.

            He was drawn toward the cave entrance to pursue the light shimmering on the phosphorescent waves of the bay.  The sky was cloudless, the stars bright, the unseen waxing moon on the eastern horizon behind him, its reflection on the water broken the by shadow of the island.  He no longer heard the hermit’s voice, just that of the steady waves. 

            He was awakened by the voice of the young Govan brother, “How did St. Molaise die?”

            Aldred realized he was standing in the entry of the cave, with his back to the group, not knowing how he had gotten there.  He turned and saw Cathroe looking at him.

            As Aldred returned to his place, the hermit answered.

            “Ah, that would be my third and last tale of St. Molaise, as we sit here in his cave and prepare for Nocturns.”

            “It also involves another saint, Sillan of the Hair.”

            The oddity of this name got their attention. 

            “Sillan of the Hair was sought out by those who were suffering illness and wished to die. Because, Sillan had this hair in his eyebrow.”  Here the hermit tweaked his own bushy brow.

            “The weird thing about this hair, was that whoever saw it in the morning, died at once.”  The brothers, those who were awake, gasped.

            “One day, Sillan had come to Lethglenn. But Molaise rose early in the morning and went round the graveyard, where he meets Sillan.”

            They were silent.

            “What does he do?  He plucks that hair right out of Sillan’s eyebrow, saying ‘this hair shall not be killing everyone,’ and dropped down dead.”

            His listeners pondered this.  The older Govan brother repeated the story in Aldred’s ear, a tale he had not heard before.

            “So that is why he is called Sillan of the Hair.”

            More silence.

            Cathroe smiled.  “You would think most people would avoid meeting Sillan in the morning hours, and perhaps that is why he was alone in the graveyard.”

            “I suppose,” the hermit mused, “that the dying would be too ill to seek him out, or perhaps they could send for him.” 

            Then Aldred, having now heard the story in English, spoke up in Latin.  “So, Molaise wanted to prolong the agony of the dying, by ending the merciful death Sillan granted them?”

            Cathroe answered, “I suppose that Molaise himself wished to die, and went to the graveyard for that purpose.”

            The hermit had not considered this in the story, but Aldred thought it made sense.  If Molaise was ill and had made himself ready to die, then why not?  But then why would he deny others the same choice?  Why condemn his sister to hell but deny a peaceful path to heaven for others?  Or is their suffering part of their purgation in preparation for death?  Aldred had seen enough dying men at Brunanburh to question whether in those last agonizing moments a man can turn his thoughts to God.  It is the job of clergy by their prayers to guide the dying over that brink.  Is that not what Sillan’s eyebrow offered them?  The dying would look him in the eye, see the forgiveness of the Savior, and pass on.

            Cathroe must have been thinking the same. “It seems to me that Saint Molaise struggles with death and hell, just as we do.”  Aldred turned toward him.

            “All three stories of Molaise tell us that there is a place between life and death, between heaven and hell, perhaps a painful place, but a time to consider one’s life and deeds, and to turn towards God.  How do we help each other through this painful life and death?  By the prayers we say together.”

            At this they wakened the others to begin Nocturns.

March 13, 941, Saturday To Galloway

            Matins followed Nocturns, and as dawn broke they walked back on the sea path to the chapel and landing place.  King Dyfnwal and his companions were ready to leave, so after a blessing they made their way to the ship, which was now bobbing in the water as the tide was now more than half risen.[9] 

            The rising tide allowed them to cast off more easily, but they had to row out of the bay.  They traveled south along the holy isle, alongside the path they had walked.  Aldred squinted up and could see the dark entrance to the cave where they had spent the night and heard ghostly stories of St. Molaise.

            Frith, feeling better on this day’s journey, looked out the other side into the waters toward Arran, peering at a fin sticking above the waters.  It was a large fish (shark) almost as long as their boat, basking near the surface and moving parallel to them.  Its huge mouth was open, swallowing the sea.[10]  He said nothing.  Such creatures he knew did not harm men, but others were frightened of them. 

            Once when he was at sea with some Christians who had been captured by the northmen as slaves or for ransom, the captives had a great debate about a whale they saw off the side of the ship.  The water was boiling like a pot with bubbles and schools of fish, when all of a sudden the whale lunged into the air, its mouth open wide, giving off an overpowering smell that engulfed them.  Some were terrified the Leviathan would swallow them in its hellmouth, while the more book-learned claimed that if they were thrown overboard like Jonah, the whale would deliver them to shore. Another warned that the “sweet” smell lured small fish to their death, as it would them if they listened to the devil.  An Irishman then told them the story of St. Brendan landing on the back of a whale, thinking it was an island, further evidence of the deceptiveness of the devil.  The vikings laughed at their terror, and said if they were not already fully loaded down with human flesh they might hunt the creature. 

            Firth was simply curious about how these animals consumed so much water while getting their food, and how they might expel the water they swallowed.  The whale had made bubbles in the water, like a net for the fish.  He had also seen a whale spout water out of the top of its head.  So he watched this basking shark, and noted how water streamed out of its gills.

            As they rounded the tip of the small island, they could see a cluster of stone huts, sea birds circling over them and calling.  The older brother at the chapel had told them it was a community for women religious.  On Sundays, the women would walk the long path to the chapel for Mass; otherwise the women celebrated the Divine Office on their own.  The men never went there.

            Once out of the bay and into the Firth of Clyde, the captain steered them southeastward toward Galloway, to follow the coast southward.  Depending on the wind and current, it might take them all day to reach the the Mull of Galloway.  But once they rounded the headland the next day, they might hope for winds and rising tide to carry them up to Whithorn, where Cathroe wanted to visit the community of St. Ninian.

            Unfortunately, the prevailing headwinds from the southwest and the strong northward current worked against them, and the rowing along the Rhins of Galloway was slow.  King Dyfnwal hoped to reach the Mull, but the captain knew they would be lucky to anchor off Portpatrick midway down the Rhins. 

            At midday on their southeastward course, they approached a rocky craig [Ailsa Craig] sticking up from the sea, a landmark the captain used as a guide, knowing that it stood directly west of Girvan on the Galloway coast.  They passed the craig on the west side. 

            Aldred looked at it curiously.  It looked like a huge rock thrown from heaven into the sea.  A beachhead was visible on this side, but with no sign of humans.  Instead, thousands of sea birds circled above its cliffs, probably their nesting grounds.  Others dove from the sky into the sea, fishing for their midday meal.   Beautiful creature, Aldred thought, the ganot (gannet).  Some poets called the sea “ganot-bath”.   Aldred watched one that came up near their boat, a fish in its beak.  Its golden head and white body reminded him of angels.

            Frith also was watching the sea, and pointed.  Aldred thought he might be tempted to grab a bird, since they made a good meal.  Instead, the boy saw under the surface a pair of large fish, as Aldred thought, black and white, big bodied, with a long snout. 

            Frith called them geirfugl, which confused Aldred.  “Gar-fugel?,” he asked.  In English, that would be spear-bird. [great auk, extinct]

            Frith said yes, these were birds they saw often in the northern waters, but they did not fly. 

            “How then can they be birds, without wings?”

            Frith struggled to explain.  “They have wings, but they are like my arm, small and useless except for flapping to keep their balance when they waddle on their webbed feet.”

            “So they appear on land?”

            Frith shrugged.  “Only to lay their egg in the spring, and them people catch them.”  “Good eating,” he added.

            They seemed to be excellent swimmers, rapidly disappearing from their sight.  If they had not been straining to reach Galloway and round the Mull, some of the men might have tried to catch either of the birds for supper.

            As it was, they made it only to the Loch of Ryan as the sun was westering, short of their goal. 

            Here at the entrance to the Loch some debate ensured.  Given the rough seas, the king was for sailing into the loch to Innermessan, where they might rest and resupply the ship. The captain, not wishing for the delay of sailing into and back out of the Loch, recommended they anchor where they were and continue southward at first light.

            Aldred, longing for land under his feet, was relieved when Cathroe intervened, addressing the king, “Sir, is there not a pilgrim’s way overland from Innermessan to Whithorn?”

            Dyfnwal consulted with one of his men, who knew Galloway well. 

            “Indeed, if you wish it, we could disembark pilgrims at Innermessan this evening.  It will be a sabbath’s walk to Chapel Finian, where you might find brothers who will give you rest.”

            The warrior added, “From Chapel Finian the next day you could make it Whithorn, inland, unless you wished to follow the coast to St. Ninian’s cave.”

            Cathroe looked keenly at this Galloway man, “Would you be our guide, then?”

            The man looked at the king first, who nodded. “Yes, I will guide you.”  Then he added, “the path is rough and lonely, but the only danger is from nature’s outbursts, not men.”

            The king turned to the captain, “How long will it take us from Innermessan to round Galloway and reach the coastal isle of Whithorn?”  He meant not the monastic compound further inland, but the southern port that served as a gateway to the sea.

            The captain sucked in a breath, “Given the weather as it is, I would say a day and a night.” [65 miles]

            “So, we could wait for the pilgrims at Whithorn isle.”  The king’s warriors, lacking the pilgrim spirit and prefering to row than walk, were relieved.  The king himself seemed disinclined to visit another hermit retreat.

            The captain turned the ship into Loch Ryan, and they rode the rising tide pretty easily in just over an hour to the small port of Innermessan, arriving at sunset.  As at Arran’s holy isle, the same warriors decided to stay near the ship with the captain, commandeering a local inn and ordering ale and an evening meal.  Aldred saw King Dyfnwal give the local village leader a bag of coins, with presumably the promise of more in the morning, as needed. 

            The brothers hastily disembarked to say their Vesper prayers in the open air, the setting sun at their backs. It was certainly easier to say the psalms on land than on shipboard, as they had done for the little hours of the day.

            In the dim light, they could not see a church or chapel nearby.  But after their prayers, they made their way to a small house that a fisherman pointed out.  It was indeed the priest’s house, attached to a small wooden chapel. The elderly priest, unaccustomed to pilgrims, allowed them to sleep on the chapel floor but had little food, so they shared what they had with him, and his sister or wife, they were not sure which and did not ask.

            The Galloway guide the king gave them, whose name was Cináed, stayed with a distant cousin of some sort whom he recognized.

            Their Compline prayers were full of yawns, and only Cathroe came awake for Nocturns and roused the others.  Aldred had forgotten how tiring sea voyages were.

Sunday, March 14, 941 to Chapel Finian St. Pope Leo and St. Hilarius

            After Lauds, they attended Sunday mass, doubling the congregation with their presence.  They took a quick meal, and then prepared to begin their pilgrimage to Chapel Finian.  Aldred had some doubts about walking on the Lord’s Day, but Cathroe assured him that pilgrims often traveled on Sunday, but at a restful pace. 

            Nonetheless, both Aldred and Cathroe were shocked to find the harbor busy with loading and unloading two viking ships, their own having already departed.   Although the local fishermen took the day of rest, the shipfaring Northmen were less pious, or still pagan. 

            Aldred noticed their cargo, stacks of small pelts.  Peering closely, he drew back quickly.  At first he thought they might be squirrel, but they were too big. The fur had the unmistakable shape and markings of cats.

            Aldred was accustomed to cats around the manor, in the barn and around the dairy, as well as at monasteries, and had enjoyed playing with kittens as a boy.  They were good at keeping the rodent population down.  In Ireland, they were highly valued as hunters, and some monks even kept a purring cat as a companion, a “pet” they called it.[11]

            Cathroe had also stopped with him and saw the cat pelts.  He explained to Aldred, “The Northmen prize cat fur and skins for warm winter wear, especially for the making of ladies’ gloves.  Whithorn is known for producing them.”[12]

            Frith spoke up, “When the goddess Freyja of the Æsir goes on a journey, she travels in a chariot drawn by two cats.  She is very beautiful and helps in love affairs.”

            Aldred thought that Cathroe would rebuke the boy for this pagan tale.  But Cathroe merely laughed and patted the boy’s shoulder, saying “The Lady Mary, mother of our Savior, blessed the cat that curled up in the manger to quiet the baby Jesus. Look at a cat’s face, and you will see the mark of her blessing, the letter M.”[13] 

            Most striped cats that Aldred had seen up close did have an M shape above their eyes, although Aldred wondered about this story since the Blessed Virgin would have used the sacred Hebrew letters, one would think.  Still, Cathroe’s animal stories reminded him of his godfather Aldest, and he missed him.

            The Sunday pilgrims made their way slowly, stopping for prayers, and rest for the elderly and infirm brothers, two of whom leaned heavily on their staffs.

            Their guide did not mind the slow pace and seemed to be enjoying the landscape of his childhood, pointing out his favorite trees and plants.  Once they reached the coast, they stopped to look westward.[14]  It was a surprisingly beautiful day, cold but clear, so they could almost see all the way to Ireland.

            They reached Chapel Finian on the coast before Vespers.  To Aldred’s eyes, this site looked new built.  It consisted of a small chapel and a well, surrounded by a low stone wall forming a square site open to the ocean view.[15]

            They were not the only pilgrims.  Gathered around the well was a group of six Irish monks who had beached their small boat on the sand, pilgrims to Whithorn like themselves.  They greeted each other with Latin blessings, the language of prayer they shared.  The Irish monks were listening to the local priest tell them in Irish about the healing waters of this well, dedicated to Saint Finian. 

            Aldred could not follow much of the miracle stories, but he knew from his stay at Glendalough that Saint Finian was the master teacher of the twelve great apostles of Ireland, including Columba who brought the faith to these shores. 

            From the well, they processed into the church for Vespers, led by the local priest, his deacon, and a young acolyte.

            The stonebuilt chapel was a single rectangular room, which they entered from a door on the south into a space lit only by slit windows angled to keep the wind out, and candles in tall stands. The walls were painted in a style Aldred had seen in Ireland, brightly colored scenes of angels and saints. Combined with the three local clergy, and Cathroe’s party of 12, as well as their patient Galloway guide who stood in the doorway, the church was packed.

            Unlike the busy port of Innermessan, this small isolated settlement was prepared for pilgrims, usually arriving by sea.  They had good but plain fare to eat—bread and cheese, some vegetables, clear water from the well.  And before Compline, they set up tents for them, heavy waxed cloth that kept out wind and rain.

            It was raining when they arose for Nocturns in the chapel, so they stayed through to Lauds. 

Monday, March 15, 941 to Whithorn

            After morning mass and a pilgrim blessing from the priest, the whole troop set out for Whithorn led by their warrior guide:  six Irish monks, five Alba and their Govan brothers, Cathroe, Frith, and Aldred. 

            They followed the coast all morning, stopping only for Terce and then Sext.  At midday they rounded a headland and walked along a rocky southfacing shore.  [Monreith] It was then that their guide Cináed directed them onto a path going inland. 

            “We cannot go any further along the coast.  It becomes too rocky and although the tide is going out it is still too high.”

            Cathroe asked him about visiting St. Ninian’s cave.

            “We would still need to go inland, then in about an hour, we will have to decide whether to turn back to the coast on the path to his cave, or go further on to Whithorn monastery.”

            And so as they headed east on their path, the coastline and sussurating tide sound dropped away, although they felt the sea breezes and heard the birds.

            After they stopped for None, the guide gave them a choice [past Glasserton]:  head to Ninian’s Cave, a half hour’s walk, or turn towards Whithorn Priory, about the same distance but in the opposite direction.

            Aldred did the calculations in his head:  it was after 3 p.m. now, it would take half an hour to get to the cave, then an hour from there to Whithorn, so even if they only stayed an hour at the cave, they would get to Whithorn just before sundown, unless Cathroe favored another night in a cave? 

            The six Irish monks were all keen to see the cave.  Cathroe looked at his fellow pilgrims with compassion.  Several of them walked with pain, saying nothing.  Others never slept well and seemed tired.

            He smiled at the Irish monks.  “Would you mind if a few of my companions joined you?  I would like to lead my brothers to Whithorn sooner.  We have been in St. Molaise’s cave already, just two nights ago.”

            Aldred hesitated.  He wanted to see the cave, and he was not yet limping with tiredness, as many were.  He looked at Frith, who gave him a shrug.

            So Aldred and Frith went with the Irish monks, while the rest of the Govan and Alba brothers went with Cathroe to Whithorn.  Their guide decided it best to lead the cave group, and directed Cathroe the short distance to Whithorn.

            They reached the pebbled shoreline fairly quickly.  The view was still clear across the water, and they thought they could make out even the coast of Ireland gray in the distance.  The Irish monks faced west toward their homeland and stopped to say a prayer, crossing themselves.  Aldred, remembering his two year sojourn at Glendalough, further south, joined them.

            Then they turned their steps to walk north up the shingle.

            The tall narrow fissure that served as the entrance to St. Ninian’s cave was very different from St. Molaise’s wide low shelf. [16]  A huge stone hung unevenly from the top of the fissure.  Aldred wondered if there were ever rock falls.

            They climbed up a rocky shelf to the entrance.  Aldred stared at the huge blocks of grey and yellow stone, wondering what cataclysms of creation had formed this promontory, and whether God had designed this cave for his saints.

            They paused in the broad entrance, where four could walk abreast, looking up and around at the massive stones.  They could make out crosses incised into the walls, the marks of previous hermits and pilgrims.  Aldred wondered if Saint Ninian himself had carved any of them.

            As they moved further into the rocky cave, it narrowed to single file, then widened a bit but became very dark.  One of the Irish monks used a flint to light a torch left in a stand, and in its smoky light they could see that the cave ended perhaps 30 feet from the entrance.

            Also in the torch light they could see leaning against the walls crosses carved on stones of various sizes, some rough hewn.  Two of the Irish monks examined them closely and talked excitedly in their tongue about the style of carvings.

            The Irish brothers gathered in particular around a tall cross carved with intricate interlace, a style found in both Ireland and Northumbria.[17]  Aldred was no expert on carving, but he guessed that this was the work of a master, one that the Irish recognized.

            But many of the others were simpler, perhaps done by pilgrims with great devotion but less skill.  Aldred and Frith stood in front of one that they found unusual, a tall stone that looked orange in the torch light.  With plain incised lines, the carver had made three circular designs vertical.[18]  But they tricked the eye. 

            The middle circle had four petals or leaves radiating from a central dot, the outer points almost touching the circle.  The bottom one was almost identical, but when Aldred looked at it he saw instead an equilateral cross with enlarged finials, a common style of cross on coins and stone monuments, and very similar to St. Cuthbert’s bejewelled cross brought out of his coffin once a year for celebrations.  The top circle was definitely a cross of that type, the leaflike petals found on the other two now merged into the circle so the cross stood out.  In the center, someone had carved a plain equilateral cross.

            As he traced the forefinger of his good left hand over this simple cross, Frith asked, “Master Aldred, did one man carve these?  Maybe he was practicing his designs?  Or did he not finish?”

            Aldred answered slowly, “I think one man did this, and perhaps intended to make us look at the cross but also see something else.”

            “What?” the boy asked.

            “I am not sure.”

            Frith said, “The Northmen often carve stories of the gods on stones. Perhaps this is a story.”

            Aldred, recalling his duty to preach the gospel, answered, “Yes, you are right, this is the story of the one true God who took on flesh and died for our sins.”

            Aldred touched the bottom circle.  “The cross on which our Lord suffered and died was made of wood, this is stone.” 

            He touched the middle circle that looked like a flower.  “Wood grows from seed to tree, then is cut down and shaped by men’s hands, into an instrument of torture and death.”

            He paused, and then place his finger on the top cross, “But in His resurrection, the cross becomes a sign of victory over death, and is often glorified with jewels, like the heavenly Jerusalem.”

            Aldred looked at Frith, who though he served a monk did not bear a tonsure himself. “Do you know the Pater noster?”

            “I am not good with the Latin, and have not been washed in the water,” the boy confessed.

            “You speak English well enough with your Norse tongue, so perhaps that might be easier for you.”

            So together they recited the Our Father in English, Frith echoing the phrases Aldred said first. 

            When they were done, the Irish monks told Aldred in Latin that they intended to stay the night in the cave, and perhaps longer.  The two carvers had tools and were considering a way to leave their own mark in the cave.[19]

            By now the sun was far enough down in the west that Aldred and Frith needed to pick their way back down the shore and walk fast to Whithorn if they wanted to get there in time for Vespers, as their guide warned them.

            Once they were off the shore and headed inland, the eastward path was clear to see, cutting through a glen where spring flowers, bluebells [ck database], were beginning to appear.

             About half way to the monastery Aldred heard them.  Cats meowing.  Lots of cats.  A farmstead on their right had a low shed similar to a long chicken coop that must have been full of cats.  Nearby was a covered work area with tables of pelts lying flat for scraping and oval lead troughs for soaking them.

            Aldred looked away from the slaughter and skinning area further back, but couldn’t help noticing cat skulls lined up along the wall.  Their guide walked fast and would not stop to explain a practice he found disgusting.

            But Frith lingered, quite curious about the work.   He informed Aldred that the brains were probably cooked and rubbed on the hides, to soften skins.  The smell, familiar to Aldred from calfskin parchment preparation, was an appalling mix of rancid blood, excrement, and lime.  He held his breath as long as he could.

            As they neared the monastery, they could see the church glowing in the late afternoon sunlight coming over their shoulders.  Aldred understood now why it was called Candida Casa, the White House.  The stone-built church was whitewashed. 

            The three of them entered the monastic compound on a narrow path through a gateway in a low stone wall.  Nearby, Aldred saw a stake-built house similar to those the Northmen built for themselves in Dublin and York.[20]

            Aldred and Frith arrived just in time to join the Whithorn brothers for Vespers, who greeted them with warmth and offered them water to wash their dusty hands, faces, and feet.  Cathroe and the brothers of Alba and Govan looked more rested than when they had parted earlier in the afternoon.

            As they neared the white church, Aldred noticed the number of carved stone crosses near the doorway, some with the curious broken interlace and swastika-crosses he had seen in both Cumbria and now Galloway, done by viking carvers working on both sides of the Solway Firth.[21]  Perhaps the Northmen who pilgrimaged here from their trading ports were beginning to understand the sacrifice of Christ on the tree—or they thought of Woden, Aldred wondered.

            The style of the church inside was very familiar, of the type found in his homeland of Northumbria.  It had a large high nave, which they entered from a doorway on the south side.  The tonsured processed up the center past the main altar to the chancel, where the brothers arranged themselves on either side in ranks for the service. 

            As he processed with the other brothers, Aldred noticed that a number of lay pilgrims, men and women, were standing in the nave looking expectantly toward the brothers, perhaps awaiting a blessing from the sound of Vespers.

            The men’s voices resounded in the stone built hall.  Despite their differing tongues of Gaelic and English or even Norse, their voices blended well in the Latin chant.  Aldred prayed that the sounds, if not the words, would bring hope and comfort to the pilgrims, many of whom looked as if they had experienced much hurt and sorrow. 

            Among them stood Frith, rubbing his withered right arm with his left hand.  Aldred guessed that it pained him, especially toward the end of the day. It looked as if he had been born with this misshapen arm, and its bones never grew.

            After Vespers, the Whithorn brothers brought the clerical pilgrims to their table in the monastic refectory, while the lay pilgrims ate food offered to them in a separate tent near their accommodations.  During the monastic meal, after a blessing, a brother read from the Life of St. Ninian.

            Aldred was pleasantly surprised, as was Cathroe sitting next to him it seemed, that the life was in poetic verse, recounting primarily the miracles attributed to the saint.   Bede had similarly written a verse life of St. Cuthbert, following on his prose life of their patron saint.  That Ninian had such a poem dedicated to him spoke to the reverence in which he was held here at Whithorn.

            From Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Aldred remembered some few facts about Ninian, that he was a Briton and missionary to the Picts, had traveled to Rome, founded the bishopric of Galloway, and built the first stone church.  But Bede had not recorded any of Ninian’s miracles.

            The Latin poem as chanted slowly by the Whithorn lector was beautifully written.  It opened with a heavenly image of the eternal God-king coming down out of of the starry heavens into human flesh in the person of Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, as the light of the world.  When Christ the King ascended back into the heavenly sphere, his saints carried on the work of bringing people from darkness into the starry light of God.  Such was Ninian.

            It was Ninian who brought the light of the gospel to the Picts, building for them a white church, shining like a star.  His miracles healed blindness both physical and spiritual.  And when he died, Ninian, like his Savior, was carried upward into the stars amidst a shining host of angels.

            Even after his death, miracles continued at his tomb in his church here at Whithorn. The final miracle of the poem took Aldred’s breath away.  He realized he had stopped chewing his bread.

            The priest Plecgils, a name Aldred vaguely recognized from Bede’s History, while conducting mass at this very site a few feet away from them in the refectory, was granted a vision of the body of Christ turned into the baby incarnate.  Thanks to St. Ninian, the humble priest was even able to take the infant Christ into his arms, as Simeon did at the temple when Mary and Joseph brought him there for his dedication.

            It was more than just the beauty of the imagery and the symmetry of the poem that pierced Aldred’s heart.  The mind-picture of holding the infant Christ stirred in him a profound loneliness, a longing, a desire for something else that he could not name.  Ocassionally he had such feelings when taking the Eucharist, but they were brief, gone before he could grab hold of whatever it was.

            Ubi sunt. Vanity of vanities.  Læne lif.  Everything good, all joy, was fleeting, especially in comparison to the evils of this world.  And yet I long for those brief flashes, Aldred thought.

            The poem had ended, but all sat in silence.  Then the Whithorn monks rose and sang a hymn to St. Ninian. Aldred realized a few verses in that it was structured alphabetically, similar to the hymn to Queen Æthelthryth Bede composed.[22]  Each verse started with a letter, A to Z, while the last four verses spelled out AMEN, Jesus the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Images of stars and light were strewn throughout the hymn, just like the poem. 

            Aldred wished he had an opporutnity to copy down both.

            They had time before Compline evening prayers, so after the meal Aldred and Cathroe approached the Whithorn abbot, who was English.  Aldred asked if he might be able to copy the poem and hymn to Ninian.  The abbot said that they would have to wait for daylight, but that they had a book of Whithorn prayers from which Aldred could copy.  Aldred, always on the look out for new prayers, carried a rough parchment booklet as well as ink and quill for such occasions.

            In the meantime, the abbot led the two of them, joined by Frith who had come to wait on his master Cathroe, to his room where they sat beside a small fire while he recounted more stories of Ninian and the foundation of Whithorn. He spoke primarily in Latin, for Cathroe’s sake, but sometimes mixed with English, most of which Cathroe could follow.  Unlike Aldred, Cathroe easily picked up spoken languages, a blessing on his long pilgrimage through other lands across the sea.

            The abbot also told them where to find the various holy places touched by Ninian, not just the cave Aldred and Frith had visited, although whether they would have time to visit any of them before the king and his entourage arrived was doubtful.

            Nearby was Farres Last, the English name for the Footprint of the Bull, from the poem’s account of a cattle protection miracle Ninian performed for his community through the power of his prayers.  When thieves came, thinking the cattle unprotected by wall or barking dog, a massive bull charged them, goring their leader and leaving him dead.  But Ninian not only healed the wretch but blessed the terrified cattle rustlers trapped by the mad bull. The animal was so powerful in its attack, it left its hoofprint in a stone, marking the place of the miracle.

            But Aldred was more interested in the protective prayers Ninian performed to accomplish this miracle, since cattle thievery was a frequent problem, especially from the Northmen.  Aldred knew several methods used to ward off thieves and other harm by surrounding the field with crosses and prayers, so he asked the abbot how Ninian had brought about the invisible protection of the cattle. 

            Ninian, the abbot answered, had drawn a furrow with his staff in a circle around the cattle pen.  Aldred remarked that this was a similar practice to the journey blessings given the pilgrims, and wondered if the same prayers could be used—not, he added, that men were cattle, but they were sheep under the great Shepherd!

            The abbot replied that certainly, many prayers in their ritual books had multiple uses, including some labeled for “whatever you will.”[23] Aldred was eager to see the Whithorn ritual book, more than he was to see holy sites.  He wanted to collect more such prayers for practical use.

            The abbot also told them about the healing powers of the holy spring of Ninian, where the saint’s staff grew into a tree.  This story was not in the poem they had heard, but had a good moral for the young.  Here the abbot looked meaningfully at Frith, and switched into English.

            “The holy man, like all good abbots, was aware of each of his brothers’ failings and sought to remedy their sins with discipline.  As is usual with boys, the switch works well to punish faults.”[24] 

            “One young boy, though, was so afraid of the switch that he ran away, but took Ninian’s staff with him as comfort, depriving the saint of something to lean on.”

            Aldred ruefully reflected on the floggings he had received at Chester-le-Street and Hexham for various infractions, usually being late for prayers or inattentive at his books.  Most of these switchings were more humiliating than painful, but he recalled other boys severely beaten caught in illicit activities of a sexual nature.  He wondered what this boy’s fault had been.

            “Staff in hand,” the abbot went on, “the lad took sail in a small bowl of a boat he found at the shoreline that could barely hold two or three.  Being ignorant, he did not realized that the boat woven of branches was not yet covered in waterproof hide, so it was leaky.”  Frith snorted at this idiocy.

            The abbot paused to raise an eyebrow at the young Northman, then went on.  “Carried out to sea by the tide, the boat began to sink, too far from shore and the seas too rough for the boy to swim.”

            “Then he repented, and treated the staff as if it were his father Ninian, praying to it for forgiveness and mercy.  Then he jammed the staff into one of the leaky holes in his boat.”

            “The first of three miracles the staff performed,” the abbot explained, “was this: the sea was repelled by the divine power of the staff and did not come in anymore through the holes.”

            “Just as the Savior,” Cathroe noted, “protected his disciples from the wind and waves overwhelming their boat.” 

            The abbot nodded approvingly. 

            “Moreover,” he added, “the staff worked as both sail, rudder, and anchor, directing it toward the safety of shore, where watchers were amazed at this odd craft.”  Frith started to speak at this oddity, but then decided he had better not.

            “The second miracle occured after the boy landed and planted the staff on the shore and asked God to bless it.  The dry and dead wood reverted to its former state of life:  it put down roots to draw moisture from the soil, and then grew branches, leaves, and flowers.”

            Aldred spoke up, “The dead cross is also a living tree, is it not?”  He was thinking of the crosses at Ninian’s cave that he had explained to Frith, who nodded when Aldred glanced at him.  Maybe the boy was beginning to understand.

            “Indeed,” the abbot said, “from the cross flows the water of life in baptism.  The third miracle of Ninian’s staff is that a spring of fresh water burst from the root of the tree and into a clear brook.  This spring,” the abbot told them, “is a place where those in need of healing may find refreshment, just as the lame man waited at the pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, but was then healed by the Master himself.”

            “Our Ninian,” the abbot continued, “brought healing both physical and spiritual to the heathen Picts of this land.  Even that haughty king who opposed and harrassed the missionary, after God struck the vain man with blindness, Nennius took pity on and healed both body and soul.”

            Unlike, as Aldred reflected on it, Cuthbert striking down that evil Onlaf on the doorstep of his church at Chester-le-Street.

            “So what do you think of our Saint Ninian, my sons?” the abbot asked them.

            “It does seem,” Aldred noted, “that Ninian was more inclined to heal and reconcile evildoers than condemn them to hell.”

            Cathroe agreed, and said what Aldred was thinking but hesitant to say, “St. Ninian seems more gentle, and performs happier miracles, than those we heard of St. Molaise in his cave on the holy island named for him.”

            The abbot smiled, fortunately.  Perhaps he loathed Molaise as much as Aldred now did.

            “For example,” Cathroe pursued, “Molaise condemned his pregnant sister, and she and the babe died; only after death was she redeemed by her lover’s prayers, despite Molaise’s blindness to angelic blessings.  But in the poem of Ninian, a similarly unhappy woman of lesser character fares better.”

            The abbot then told them more of that story.

            “Yes, this weak serving girl was seduced by some arrogant man, but she blamed the pregnancy on a priest.”

            Aldred interrupted.  “Might she not have done so to gain sympathy, by blaming someone in authority that others might think she was forced?”

            The abbot nodded.  “It may be so, but to burst into the church at the baptism and thrust the babe under the nose of the innocent priest and accuse him publicly was ill done.”

            He went on.  “Then Ninian took the infant in his arms, looked in his eyes, and commanded the babe to speak if his father was not the priest.”

            Frith squirmed in his seat, clearly he thought this a bold prayer.  What if the accusation was true?  But he held his tongue.

            Aldred’s mind flashed to Plecgils holding the infant Christ at the Eucharist, and Simeon.  Why were images of babes in arms drawing his attention?

            “And such a miracle!” the abbot exclaimed. “The day old infant spoke clearly, exonerating the priest, even pointing with his tiny finger toward his true father.  The infant did not speak again until the normal age for speech.”

            Cathroe added drily, “for which his mother must have been grateful.”  They all laughed, but also wondered if the possibility her son might rebuke her again helped reform her life.

            Cathroe then asked for more details on Ninian’s journey from Rome through Tours, since he hoped to follow a similar path.

            The abbot answered, “times have changed in the centuries since Ninian traveled.  I do not know if any remember him in the Frankish lands.  If you should make a pilgrimage to St. Martin’s shrine in Tours, remind them that our church, build by Ninian of white stone by masons the good bishop of Tours sent here, is a sister church dedicated to St. Martin’s memory by his friend St. Ninian.”

            Cathroe agreed to do so, if he made it as far as Tours.  Indeed, Aldred heard years later that although Cathroe spent most of his life serving at monasteries in Metz, he had become a monk at Fleury, near enough to Tours that he must have paid his respects to St. Martin on pilgrimage there.

            Before they went back to the church for the evening prayers, the abbot told them one last story that he suspected Aldred the book lover would enjoy. 

            “Ninian,” the abbot explained, “loved to read his psalter outdoors, but even when it rained heavily, it never fell on Ninian and his book, almost as if he were under a divine roof.  One time while doing so on a journey, Ninian’s mind strayed from the text into some less wholesome thoughts, planted by the devil.  Immediately he and the book were soaked!”

            “But when his brother companion gently rebuked him, Ninian’s thoughts were recalled to Scripture, and the overhead protection restored.”

            With a flourish, the abbot pulled a book from his reading shelf, and showed them how the leather-bound psalter fell open to pages dark-stained by water.

            Peering closely, Aldred saw that the text was Psalm 50, David repenting for his sin with Bathsheba after Nathan the prophet rebuked him.  He thought he could guess what stray thoughts Ninian might have had.

            It was time for Compline, so they followed the abbot as he carried the precious psalter over to the church for the evening prayers.

            “That,” Aldred said to Cathroe as they moved toward the church, “is the kind of miracle I would love.” 

            “Ah,” replied Cathroe, “but I fear for myself that the rain would fall far too often on me and my book, my thoughts stray so often, as the wise father Augustine warns us we are prone to do.”

            Aldred sighed.  “You are right. But might not the coming of the rain train my thoughts not to stray?”

            Cathroe laughed.  “Some brothers slap themselves when their thoughts go astray, or do other painful things to their bodies to call them away from sin.  I myself have not found that helpful, but hard work and long days of walking, enduring pain, seem to help keep me from wandering in mind.  Or make me tired,” he added as he yawned.

            Aldred appreciated Cathroe’s light humor, which seemed more like Ninian’s way of treating others with compassion than Molaise’s heavy judgments.

Tuesday, March 16 Eugenia

            The next day just after dawn the king and five of his warriors arrived at the monastery, having walked from the Whithorn isle port. [5+ miles].  They had sailed and rowed their way from Innermessan around Galloway to the southeast side, where the captain, not wanting to battle the rough seas to round the Mull, chose to draw the ship across the short waist from east to west Tairbeart (tarbat, meaning portage way).  The warriors who had remained on the ship hoping for an easy ride while slaves rowed regretted not going with the pilgrims on their leisurely walk.  Instead, they helped draw the heavy ship along the admittedly short distance (500 meters).  The slaves did much of the work, unloading and loading the ship and preparing the mast, while the warriors merely added their muscle to hauling on the staves run through the oar holes as the ship glided along log rollers greased ahead of time.[25]  All told, the maneuver took about an hour, while rowing around the Mull, the captain warned them, would have taken several hours and risked capsizing.

            Once they reloaded and launched into Luce Bay, the ship rode the tide into Whithorn isle in the evening.  After the captain secured at the small jetty on the island, the high tide prevented them from crossing the causeway to the mainland.  But the villagers had a ferry to take them across, where the king, his entourage, and the crew spent the night.

            The king now urged Cathroe and his group of pilgrims to leave the monastery immediately, so that they could travel in the daylight across the Solway Firth to St. Michael’s on the Derwent. Apparently the king and the ship captain had argued about the best route to take Cathroe to the southern border of his kingdom, south of Penrith at Loida/Lowther where he could entrust the pilgrim to his ally Gunderic, who would escort their group over the Pennines to York.  The king had thought they could sail up the Solway further and walk to Carlisle, where he had men, then go south to Penrith and on to Lowther. 

            However, the captain had his eye on the currents and winds.  The tides were running strong and high because of the full moon and the spring equinox. He pointed out that they would save little time reaching Lowther by landing at Silloth nearer to Carlisle, since they would have to row a good deal of the way against the tide, with no great winds to fill their sails, and then contend with the mudflats exposed at low tide in the Solway Firth. The captain did not like his ship trapped at low tide, in case of attack and a need to get out to sea rapidly.   However, he advised, they could ignore the tides and simply row the shorter distance directly eastward from Whithorn Isle to Workington at the mouth of the river Derwent, perhaps making it in eight hours or so, if the winds did not oppose them.[26]

            To this the king had finally assented.  He told Cathroe that even if their ship took them part way up the Derwent on the evening tide, it would then take at least two days on foot to reach Penrith, and then a short walk down to the border at Lowther. 

            Cathroe consented, even though he would have been just happy to stay another day at Whithorn.  He was careful to pick his battles with kings, and this fight was not worth the trouble. At least at Workington they would be able to visit St. Michael’s, which Aldred told him, is a holy site for the community of St. Cuthbert, a story which undoubtedly the current brothers would be glad to tell them this evening when they arrived, or Aldred himself was able to recount it.

            However, their rapid departure from Whithorn meant that Aldred did not have time to copy the miracles of Ninian that the abbot had promised him. But the abbot gave them generous provisions and a blessing to send them on their way, reminding them that today was St. Eugenia’s feastday. 

            Aldred tried to remember Eugenia, one of those virgin martyrs, he thought, who dressed as a man.  Or was that St. Euphrosyne?

            The short distance from the monastery to the coast where the ship lay took only an hour for them to walk at the fast pace set by the warriors, although it was difficult for some of the older and less able Alban and Govan brothers. 

            Without stopping, they boarded the ferry to Whithorn Isle, but even so Aldred and Frith saw more catskins being traded on the docks.  Dynfwal saw their stares and mistook them for interest in purchasing the furs. 

            “I will show you the beautiful cat furs I bought for my queen, to edge her cloak and make soft gloves for next winter.”

            Aldred shuddered, being somewhat of a cat lover, but thanked the king anyway.

            The voyage to St. Michael’s on the Derwent was uneventful.  The two dozen slaves rowed the twelve oars on each side, spelled by some of the other men, including Aldred.  But most of the time, he and Cathroe along with the other brothers sat and watched the sea, some of them muttering psalms and prayers in rhythm with the oars as called out by the boatswain.

            About midday, halfway across the Solway, Cathroe told the story of St. Eugenia as he had heard it.  Those not rowing were huddled in the hold under a tent to keep the scattered rain off.  Cathroe spoke in Latin for the benefit of both the Govan and Alba brothers, but Aldred translated the story into English for Frith and other illiterates, speaking loud enough even for some of the rowers to hear. 

            “Although St. Eugenia’s natal, that is her birth in Christ on the day of her martyrdom, is celebrated on December 25 (vii Kalends January), same as the birth of our Lord, in our calenders she is also honored on this day, xvii Kalends of April (March 16).”

            “Eugenia is one of our many virgin martyrs:  she died both for her faith in Christ and to preserve her virginity, the two causes united in her life and love for the Lord Jesus.  As Aldhelm tells us, holy virginity is next in beatitude to the angels, superior to marriage just as gold is more precious than silver.”

            Aldred thought about his choices.  Would he pursue the gold?

            “Eugenia was born of a noble family, her father Philip a pagan Roman thane sent as a high reeve to the great city of Alexandria in Egypt, city of great schools and books.  There Eugenia became learned in worldly wisdom, both Greek and Latin thought.  But in her wide reading, she also came across the teachings of St. Paul and she was drawn to the sacred learning of Christ.  Knowing full well that her father had driven Christians out of the city, she nonetheless asked her father to allow her to leave Alexandria to find Christian teachers.  Desiring his daughter to be wise in thought, he granted permission, sending with the maiden two loyal and learned servants, eunuchs.” 

            Firth nudged Aldred, who whispered to him, “belisnod.”  When the lad still looked confused, he said, “geldingr,” a Norse word beginning to be used among the English.  Frith sat back shocked.   Horses and cattle, yes, but men?

            Cathroe had gone on, so Aldred had to catch up.  “Eugenia heard the Christians singing in praise of God the Creator and was deeply moved.  She took her two servants aside, whom she now called brothers, and asked them to make her into a boy so that she might stay with the Christians without betrayal.”

            Frith was wondering how this change could happen, whether the servants might use magic potions to transfer their lost manhood to this woman.   But Aldred explained quickly that the maiden asked them to cut her hair short like a man’s and give her men’s clothes to wear. 

            “So the three ‘brothers’ joined the community of Christians praising God.  A great bishop named Helenus came to the minster, doing many wonders.  He had a vision from God revealing Eugenia’s secret, so when she came with the other two before the bishop to request baptism, he foretold that her viriginity would be preserved, despite persecution.  And so she was baptized with her two brothers, who were named Protus and Jacinctus.

            “Eugenius lived in that minster with a man’s mind in a maid’s body.  The three of them grew in wisdom and learning.”

            “What about her parents?” one of the Govan brothers asked.

            “Ah,” said Cathroe, and Aldred translated, “they searched for her far and wide, and finally went to drycrafty men who falsely prophesied that she had been taken by their gods and was now to be worshipped as a goddess.  So they made a golden idol of her to worship, little knowing that her living gold was in virginity.”

            “At the minster, Eugenia excelled in wisdom and humility so much so that when the abbot died, she was chosen to replace him.  No one knew she was a maiden, and she was reluctant to govern men, but she submitted to their appeal. She governed well, healed the sick, and drove out demons, through true faith.”

            Aldred knew the story could not end there, and waited for the tragedy.

            “It was a woman who attacked Eugenia’s virginity,” Cathroe declared. 

            “This widow, named Melantia, Eugenia healed of a demonic fever.  She vomited all the evil from her after Eugienia marked her with the sign of the cross in holy oil.”  Aldred had done this ritual over the sick and dying, but had never seen demons vomitted forth.  Just blood and bile.  Perhaps all the same evil.

            “Melantia came often to the minster, enamoured by this young man, as she thought Eugenia was.  Eugenia ignored her suggestive comments, so Melantia pretended to be sick.  When Eugenia came to pray for her, the widow tried to bribe, flatter, and seduce Eugenia into marryig her.  When Eugenia resisted, citing the deceits of lust, the woman even tried to embrace her.  Then Eugenia blessed herself and rebuked Melania for her demonic lust.”

            Frith privately thought that the saint’s earlier healing of the woman’s demonic fever must have failed, since she was still possessed of devilish desires.

            “The evil woman was now worried that others would hear of her shameful attempt, so to prevent such gossip, she accused Eugenia of attempting to rape her.”

            “She brought her accusation and false witnesses before the governor, who was of course Eugenia’s father Philip.  He was outraged and had Eugenia and the brothers bound in a dark prison.  When his daughter Eugenia came before him, he did not know her.  He accused him/her of using the disguise of a physician to seduce an upright noblewoman.”

            “Eugenia said she could easily clear herself, but said she would only do so if Philip guaranteed that the false accuser would not be condemned, to which he agreed.  See her humility and grace!”

              “Then false testimony was given, both by Melantia and her servants, accusing Eugenia of adultery and attempting to rape Melantia, saved only by her servants when she screamed for help.”

            Cathroe and Aldred’s hearers waited expectantly for the big moment.

            “Eugenia revealed herself as a woman who had kept her body secret to save her virginity for Christ alone.  Then she bared her breasts to Philip, declaring ‘you are my father!’”

            “Speaking to her father, mother, and brothers there, she told them that she had abandoned them all for love of Jesus, despising as shit the lusts of the world.”

            Frith smiled when Aldred said “shit” with “lust,” both words the same in English as in Norse, but not ones that he would equate. Christian saints were strange.

            “Having revealed herself and the two brothers Protus and Jacinctus, the reunited family rejoiced.  They bedecked their daughter with gold, despite her protests, and set her up beside them.  Everyone marveled and desired to know this Christ.”

            “So Eugenia may have given up her family for love of Christ, but now they and all their household joined her in baptism.”

            Thinking this was the happy end of the story, Frith asked, “what happened to the evil false woman?”

            Cathroe replied, “Melantia may have been protected from Philip’s wrath by Eugenia’s plea, but not from God’s wrath.  Christ himself sent fire down from heaven on her house, burning up all her worldly goods.”

            The story was not over, as Aldred knew, since Eugenia was a martyred saint. 

            “For a time, the Christians in Alexandria could safely rejoice in God, free of persecution.  Philip himself told the emperor that Christians were a benefit to society.  Thus the church grew with many Egyptians becoming Christians.”

            “Yet, his enemies accused him before the emperor or undermining the gods of Rome, and the emperor put Philip to the test:  worship the gods or lose all.  Philip, though, wisely gave away all of his worldly goods to the poor and unfortunate; giving up his worldly position as governor, the Christians chose him as their bishop.”

            “The emperor sent a new governor with orders to kill Philip, but the new man could not because of all the people who supported Philip.  So instead the governor sent wolves in sheep’s clothing, men who claimed to be Christians but once close to Philip, attacked and killed the saintly bishop while he was praying.”

            Frith thought this good enough reason never to bow one’s head and close one’s eyes when enemies are nearby.

            “Eugenia and her mother buried him at their minster for nuns.  Then Eugenia with her mother and her two brothers went to Rome.”

            Aldred raised his eyebrows.  This seemed an exceedingly foolish thing to do, given that the emperor had ordered their father killed.

            “The nobility of Philip’s family was honored by the Roman senators, so they put the two brothers, by name Sergius and Avitus, in charge of two big cities in Africa.  Eugenia lived in Rome and gathered other virgins to live in devotion to Christ.”

            “One who wished to hear Eugenia was a princess named Basilla, but her pagan family made it difficult for her to approach anyone of this abhorrent religion.  So Eugenia sent her faithful Protus and Jacinctus to instruct the young woman, remembering her own difficulty as a young woman seeking knowledge of Christ, and how Portus and Jacinctus helped her.  Basilla received the good news with joy, and was secretly baptised by the bishop Cornelius.”

            “And so these holy ones met in secret, Eugenia and Basilla with the bishop Cornelius.  Over time, many heard the good news from these two women, and Eugenia’s mother brought many widows to belief in Christ, and many young people came through the testimony of Protus and Jacinctus.”

            “Now here is what happened to Basilla.”

            Aldred was beginning to feel like this was three saints rolled into one story, Eugenia, Philip, and Basilia, not to mention the two eunuchs.

            “A heathen suitor of noble birth sought to marry this princess, and the emperor, as was his right, gave her to him.  But Basilla was already a bride of Christ and so would not accept him.  Her suitor appealed to the emperor and the senators, and accused the virgins Eugenia and Basilla.”

            “The emperor ordered Basilla to accept this suitor or face death.  He also ordered Eugenia to sacrifice to their false gods, or she too would face the sword, as would all the other Christians who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods.  Strong in faith, they all refused.”

            “First, then, Basilla was put to death in her own house.  Then Portus and Jacinctus were sacrificed to the gods since they refused to sacrifice to them.  However, when they were offered before the idol, the statue fell at their feet and crumbled at their prayers.  Thinking this was drycraft, the judge had them beheaded, so they departed quickly and victoriously to Christ.”

            “Last then, Eugenia was dragged with threats to the heathen temple to offer worship to the goddess Diana.  And like her sacred brothers in Christ, her prayers to the one true God caused destruction, the idols falling and the temple collapsing into the earth.  Then the emperor tried to drown her with a stone hung around her neck, but the stone split and she sat on the water, just like St. Peter who walked on the water with Jesus.  From water they then turned to fire, attempting to boil her in a vat, but the fire went out and the waters cooled.  Finally they threw her in a dark prison for twenty days without food or water.  But the light of the world, Jesus, came into that place of darkness and fed her white bread, his body.  He comforted her that her martyrdom and ascent into his presence was soon, on the very day of his Incarnation.”

            And so it was, that on Christmas day, the executioner came and killed the maiden.  Her Christian friends buried her, while her mother mourned until, that is, she saw a vision of her daughter adorned with gold among the heavenly host of angels, where, as Aldhelm teaches, all virigns reside.  Comforted by her daughter’s assurances that her husband Philip was even now among the patriarchs, and that she herself would join them on Sunday, the mother passed happily into that eternal bliss on the Lord’s day, leaving her two sons, Eugenia’s brothers, to continue their testimony of faith, a story we tell to this day.”

            Cathroe ended his story, and Aldred rested from his labor of translation.  After a silence, Frith, as yet just coming into manhood, asked “so does one have to remain a virgin to go straight to heaven?”

            He asked the question of Cathroe in his limited Gaelic, but also of Aldred in English.  Aldred deferred to Cathroe, who replied in Gaelic but with Latin words, that according to Aldhelm, God honors three states:  virginity, which is gold; chastity, silver; and conjugality, bronze.

            These Latin words had to be explained in simple English to Frith, which Aldred attempted to do.  “A virgin is hehsteald, a high standing, someone who has never hæmed with a woman.  A chaste person is hægsteald, a man without his own hamsted and wifman; this hægsteald, according to God’s law, must abstain from hæmed, lying with a woman, until such time as he is gehammetan, that is, has his own hamsted.  Last is that hæmedceorl who is gehammetan and can haemed with his own wifman, lying with her only for begetting children and abstaining from hæmed at other times or with other women.”

             “Therefore,” Aldred struggled to make clear to Frith, “hæmed outside of gehammetan is sin-shit that would need driting or bescitan before entering heaven.” 

            The link between shit and sexual lust had struck Frith as odd earlier, but then as he thought about it in his juvenile mind it seemed logical since the body parts involved were located next to each other.  But he did not speak this aloud, fearing to offend these strange men, who would seemingly rather gehammetan with each other but without hæmed.

            The rest of the voyage was conducted in silence, each keeping their thoughts to themselves.  Aldred and Frith took a turn rowing, sharing an oar between their three good arms, the physical exertion a welcome distraction.

            As they neared the mouth of the Derwent near sunset, they saw two ships of Northmen approaching them, seeking to pass on either side of them, a common boarding manuever of sea raiders.  The captain ordered the tiller turned to broadside one of them should they think to attack.  Meanwhile, King Dyfnwal stood on the prow fully armed with sword and spear, flanked by a shieldwall of warriors and bowmen, with his boy holding his standard.  This display of royal strength seemed to discourage the captains of the smaller ships from a random act of piracy, and they rowed away from reach of the Strathclyde arrows and spears. 

            Aldred wondered if they had plundered Workington or were just ordinary coastal traders who at sea sometimes seek to enhance their cargo with some free booty if it could be gotten without much of a fight. 

            St. Michael’s church at Workington stood on a tidal island at the mouth of the Derwent.  With the setting sun, the tide was rising, cutting the island off from the mainland.  They tied up at a jetty.

            The brothers were content to spend the night with the community of St. Michael’s church, where they could pray on solid ground and have plain, solid fare that would not break Lenten rules.  However, the king and his warriors crossed on a ferry to the town of Workington, where Dyfnwal had a fortification and supplies.  The weary slaves who had done most of the hard rowing were kept on board the ship, overseen by the captain, the boatswain, and the steersman, but the brothers sent food and ale for them from the church.

            Warmed and fed after Vespers, the Govan and Alba brothers with Cathroe and Aldred sat around the priest of St. Michael’s to hear whatever news he had as well as share stories of their own journey.  They spoke in Latin, since it was the one language they had in common. Frith fell asleep by the fire.

            Cathroe wished to hear more of St. Cuthbert, of whom Aldred spoke so often, now that they were among that saint’s folk.  Aldred was now in familiar territory, having traveled from Carlisle through Workington and on south to Heysham on that ill-fated book-collecting trip.

            Aldred did not recognize the St. Michael’s priest, who was relatively new.  His name was Michael, but did not look much like his archangelic namesake, being short and hunchbacked.  The priest told the story of how St. Cuthbert’s body was launched from this place to take him and his relics to Ireland, only to be miraculously turned back by the hand of God and the will of St. Cuthbert.

            Aldred knew the story well, having heard it many times at Chester-le-Street and in his own home from his uncle Tilred, who had been abbot at Heversham, nearby. 

            But Aldred was surprised at the account the priest gave of the loss and recovery of the Holy Gospel book, now safely on display at Chester-le-Street with the coffin of St. Cuthbert.  Aldred as a boy had frequently tried to get access to that gloriously illuminated Word made flesh, but it was usually kept locked in its bejeweled case.

            The priest Michael told how the Gospelbook fell into the seawater when the ship was assailed by high waves, and the holy guardians of St. Cuthbert returned in despair to the Cumbrian coast.  Having just rowed through that sea when it was relatively calm, the audience could imagine how much harder it would be in a storm.

            The priest then recounted how the guardians of St. Cuthbert sailed the seapath Cathroe and his brothers had just come over, to Galloway where they found the Gospelbook miraculously landed at Whithorn. Aldred startled and stared at the priest. 

            Cathroe said, “We were just at Whithorn, and no one told this tale of the Gospelbook coming there.”

            Aldred spoke up, “We of the community of St. Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street who guard his body and that holy book have a different story.”

            Priest Michael looked uncomfortable.  “I was told the Gospelbook was found at Candida Casa, that is the name, is it not, of St. Ninian’s church in Galloway from which you have come?”

            “Indeed,” Cathroe answered, “but although they speak of Cuthbert with the same reverence as they accord to their St. Ninian, they tell no story of his coffin or Gospelbook residing there.”

            “Besides,” he added thoughtfully, the book would have come to shore presumably at Whithorn Isle, but the Candida Casa is five miles inland from there.”

            Aldred then recounted his family’s tale.  “My mother’s brother Tilred, bless his soul, was abbot at Heversham, southeast of here.  He crossed the Pennines with my parents when the vikings marauded this coastline.  With them came Bega, a saintly Irish woman, after whom my sister is named.”

            “Bega often told us the story of how she was on a headland south of here, where God had brought her across the Irish Sea when she fled from her wedding to a wretched Northman, protected by her gold armring.  From that headland, she saw the Gospelbook fluttering in the waves, guarded by seabirds.  It was traveling south, against the current.”

            “Later, when she met my uncle and parents, she heard the story of St. Cuthbert and the lost Gospelbook, and knew that she as a young woman was a witness to the miracle, and praised God.”

            “Uncle Tilwif says that the guardians of St. Cuthbert traveled south from Derwentmouth, and guided by a vision granted to Hunreth, followed the divine signs across Morecambe Bay at low tide, where they found the Gospelbook resting on the sands.”

            Priest Michael looked doubtful.  “What of the Candida Casa?”

            “My Uncle Tilred says that there is, or was, a ruined church at Conishead named after Whithorn, the White House.  There the guardians stayed and Hunred received his vision.  That dream described the region very well, for I have traveled from here, along the coast to Morecambe Bay and around it to Heysham on the other side.” Aldred veered away from telling them about his experiences there and at the Battle of Brunnanburh.

            He went on.  “Moreover, it would make sense that the guardians would then leave from Morecambe Bay to travel over the Pennines to the place God was leading them, finally to Chester-le-Street, where both St. Cuthbert and the Gospelbook reside in honor.” 

            One of the Govan brothers agreed, “It would seem unlikely that the monks of St. Cuthbert would have traveled to Galloway looking for the book, and then somehow be lead from there back to Northumbria.  Certainly we at Govan have no tales of such a journey, although St. Cuthbert is known and revered.”

            The priest considered this, and seemed to accept this revision.  “As for Bega, I have heard that she returned to that headland you described and is buried there.  We call it St. Bee’s, and wonder where her miraculous gold armring is now.”[27]

            Aldred cried out.  “Abbess Bega is dead?”

            The priest answered, “a year ago, I hear.  She founded a community of vowed men and women on the headland, and is now buried in a stony grave there.  But I have not been to see it.”

            Aldred did not speak, but Cathroe put his arm around him.

Wednesday, March 17 St. Patrick’s Day, Workington to Keswick

            The next morning after the service of Prime, they made ready to depart on their overland journey.  The king arrived in the middle of the service and stayed for morning Mass, listening respectfully from the back of the church.  His men wandered around outside the church, staring at the carved stone crosses and other monuments with their intricately painted interlace designs. 

            King Dyfnwal seemed anxious to reach Penrith. He was all for rowing up the Derwent to Bassenthwaite Lake, then down through the lake to Keswick, which would bring them closer to Penrith, and perhaps even further along the smaller river Greta to Penrith. But the ship on which they came to Derwentmouth had too deep a draft for the inland rivers.  Its captain said he was a seagoing man, not a river rafter, and his crew in any case would not row upriver.

            Even if they found smaller boats for their large group of warriors and pilgrims, such as they had taken from Govan to Gourock, it would be hard rowing the whole way against the current.  As it turned out, horses and wagons were easier for the king to commandeer than river boats. Dyfnwal still grumbled that if they had sailed up Solway close to Carlisle, they would have had an easy road from there to Penrith.  As it was, the road from Workington northeast to Cockermouth along an old Roman way was easy enough, but from there they would have to make their way eastward to Bassenthwaite Lake and then follow a winding path southward along the west shore of the lake to Keswick, where they could overnight before heading the next day directly east to Penrith. This circuitous route from Workington avoided the steep hills and narrow passes of the fells.

            Cathroe consented to using animal labor rather than walking, partly because some of the less able brothers were footsore, and had already pilgrimaged on foot enough on Galloway that they could now be carried to their next borderland handoff.

            So the slaves of the king loaded his baggage into an ox-drawn cart.  Dyfnwal and his warriors sat on fine warhorses that he kept ready at various fortifications in his kingdom, including Workington.

            The five Alba and five Govan brothers, Cathroe, Frith, and Aldred rode in two ox-drawn wagons with their own meagre baggage as cushions. The warriors looked with disdain at the cart-riding men as something beneath their honor, too womanly. 

            Aldred was in the wagon with the brothers Domnall and Eochaid, and Conall and Neithon, while Cathroe and Frith were in the other with Brude and Máel, Gabrán and Hywel.  Ocassionally those more able got down to walk, but for the most part the brothers enjoyed the rest and used the time to tell edifying stories.  It was St. Patrick’s feastday.

            Eochaid and Neithon claimed that Patrick grew up right near here in Strathclyde, before the Saxon invasions, when the British inhabitants still remembered the Romans.  The sixteen year old Patrick was captured as a slave by Irish pirates. His six years serving as a shepherd in Ireland drew his heart toward God, according to his own confession of faith.  Then God provided visions and miracles for Patrick to return home, where he devoted his time to studying sacred texts.

            Aldred reflected on his experience captured by a northern ship captain and his much happier stay at Glendalough.  Had he drawn closer to God in that time, and at Govan?  Would his mother, sister, and godfather see a different man returning home to Northumbria, sometime soon?

            Patrick, Eochaid said, felt the call of God to return to the land of his imprisonment and preach the Gospel.  In a vision, he heard the voice of the Irish calling for him.

            Aldred wondered aloud, “if I were a slave of pagan vikings and escaped their grasp, would I return as a missionary to those same people?”

            The Govan brother answered, “who better than a slave would know how to preach to such heathens?”

            Aldred prayed fervently that God would not call him as a missionary to northern lands.  The few missionaries he had heard of who went to Denmark had very bad experiences, which did not surprise him given what he knew about the northmen he had met in Northumbria and Ireland, save those few who were Christian.

            He spoke up, “Ireland is a green and fair holy island compared to the frozen lands up north and their cold-hearted people.”

            None of the Govan brothers had been to Ireland, so they looked expectantly at Aldred, who had told them little of his sojourn at Glendalough during the two years he had spent with the community at Govan.  Indeed, he was known for being quiet and devoted to books.

            Aldred reflected a moment.  He found that his image of Ireland was as much taken from Bede’s description as it was his own experience, the two having merged in his mind.

            “It is warmer than Britain, because the setting sun is closer to them in the west.[28]  In winter, there is litte snow and they cut and store no hay for their beasts since they can forage outside.  It does rain a lot, and the skies are gray all winter as here, but in spring the sky is bright blue and the grass deep green, the trees and flowers fragrant. It is like the promised land of God, flowing with milk and honey, and other things to sustain life.  People do not sicken as much in such a climate, and many come there for cures.”

            “I heard,” a younger Govan brother said, “that Saint Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland.”

            Aldred smiled.  “There are no venomous snakes in Ireland.  Bede reports that even if someone brings a poisonous reptile on a ship, the creature dies as it smells the sweet scent of that land.  I never saw a serpent, although I did see frogs and other water creatures.”

            The older Govan brother went on, “Does not Bede also say that any produce from Ireland cures poison, even scraping leaves of an Irish book into a drink as an antidote?”

            Aldred the librarian had read that account in Bede and found it deeply disturbing.  Who would scrape a precious manuscript page, marring its letters and words?

            He answered, “I have copied an efficacious prayer against all venoms and devilish snares, the prayer of St. John recited when he was given a poison cup by the enemy.  The Irish have it in their prayerbooks, and some have copied it in Northumbria.  This prayer may be what Bede is referring to.”

            As he said this, Aldred pulled out of his bag one of the booklets he carried with him for gathering prayers and other texts, a softbound set of rough pages made from the less desirable cuts of sheepskin parchment.  He opened it to a middle page.

             “You don’t need to scrape the actual words off the page,” he added hastily, “just recite them.”

            He read it aloud:

Deus meus et pater et filius et spiritus sanctus qui omnia subiecta sunt et cui omnis creatura deseruit et omnis potestas subiecta est et metuit et expauescit et draco fugit et silet uipera et rubeta illa que dicitur rana torpescit scorpius extinguitur uincitur et spilagius nihil noxium operatur et omnia uenenata et aduc ferociora repentia et animalia noxia tenebrantur et omnes aduerse salutis humani radices arrescunt tu extingue hoc uenenatum uirus operationes eius mortiferas et uires quas in se habet euacua et da in conspectu tuo omnibus quos tu creasti oculos uduideant aures ut audiant cor et magnitudinem tuam intellegant.

            An older brother, peering over his shoulder in the bouncing wagon, said “all these reptilian names I have never seen and no one could ever remember.  Do you know what they are?”

            Aldred shrugged.  “Many of them do not live in our islands, but may be common in the east where this prayer comes from.” 

            Another brother said, “I can understand why some might scrape the words into a drink rather than try to recite them.”

            Aldred got a bit upset at this and spoke loudly and hotly.  “Books, especially those containing sacred words, should be treated with reverence.”  He closed his booklet and carefully tied its soft leather casing around it, then put it back in his strong leather bag.

            The brothers in the wagon saw his vehemence and were silent.

            He added, a bit more quietly, “Besides, manuscripts pages take so much work to produce from the skins of animals, and then the labor of writing on them, what scribe would want their hard work marred?  The words are to be read, not drunk.”

            Thereupon the brothers began a long theological argument about eating God’s words, which Jeremiah himself says he devoured, and of course they all ate the Word of God, Jesus, in the Eucharist, as he commanded them to.          

            Aldred did not participate.  He sat back and thought about the books and booklets he carried with him, texts that he had gathered over the last few years at different libraries.  So few he had, and so many lost along the way, including the precious copy of Boethius stolen by that wretch Seaxhelm at the battle of Brunanburh. 

            The rest of the day’s journey to Keswick was bumpy.  That morning, passing through the old Roman fort of Derventio had initially reminded Aldred of Chester-le-Street, whose church was built within the precincts of a similar fort—they all looked the same.  But as they wound along the shoreline of Bassenthwaite Lake, Aldred got out and walked staring at the dark water and wondering if it was time to return home to his mother and sister, as well as his brothers at Chester-le-Street.  The death of Bega weighed on him.  He prayed for her soul, but then wondered if rather she was praying for his.

            They arrived in Keswick mid-afternoon, those who had walked a bit footsore, those who had bumped along in the carts somewhat short-tempered, and the horse-back riding warriors looked forward to food and drink, among other entertainments. Keswick was so named for its cheese market, but also had a reputation for strong ale.

            The religious found a place to wash their dusty faces, hands, and feet, then entered Crossthwaite church looking for a quiet place to rest before Vespers.[29]

            Entering the nave from the back, Aldred faced the altar and crossed himself.  Raising his eyes, he saw that the wooden walls of the church were hung with brilliantly embroidered tapestries, as they appeared to be from a distance.[30]  The westering sun still cast dim light through the upper windows, but Aldred noticed an acolyte circling the sanctuary lighting lampstands between each of the hangings, which had wooden kneelers in front of them for the devout to comtemplate the pictures. There appeared to be three hangings on each side of the nave but turning to the back wall on his left, Aldred saw that the stations began there.

            In front of this first hanging, a woman knelt, looking up at the image.  Aldred stood behind her, his eyes adjusting to the light.  This wall hanging portrayed two women, one great with child, presaging a miraculous birth, but whether that of the Lord Christ or of a saint was not immediately clear.  Aldred knew that the Crossthwaite church was dedicated to Saint Kentigern of Scotland.

            Cathroe with the Alba and the Govan brothers joined him, the latter whispering excitedly since this was their bishopric’s patron saint.  But they called Kentigern, whose name meant the “hound lord,” affectionately “Mungo,” or dear one.

            When the old woman kneeling in front of them heard their northern voices speaking of Mungo, she rose painfully to her feet, bent with arthritis, and turned toward them.  They saw that her eyes were milkly blue, nearly blind. Aldred privately wondered what she saw when she was staring up at the wall hanging.

            In English, she asked if they would like to hear the stories of St. Kentigern told on the walls.  Aldred was eager, and Cathroe remained with him, while the Govan brothers took their Alba brothers around, prefering to interpret the scenes using their own stories of St. Mungo.

            As Aldred and Cathroe stared at the first tapestry, the woman, who gave her name as Mary, began the story of Kentigern’s miraculous birth.  Aldred was initially startled that she did so in cadenced Latin, but Cathroe simply nodded, grateful not to have to struggle with the English or have Aldred translate for him. 

            Aldred wondered why he was surprised at this woman’s fluency in the language of literacy, but realized he should not be, given that his own Abbess Bega was also Latin literate.  Again, his heart sank as he remembered that he had not said farewell to his beloved godmother.

            “His mother’s name was Thaney.  Despite her noble pagan upbringing, she was devoted to Christ and especially his blessed mother, Mary, whom she wished to emulate in all things, both her virginity and her maternity.”  Aldred understood that this aged nun named Mary was also such a devotee.[31]

            Once he looked more closely, he realized that the wall hanging was not of simple construction, woven cloth embroidered with thread.  It was more like a manuscript illumination.  As tall as a man and as wide as his arms outstretched, the base fabric was a fine white wool tightly woven, framed by tablet-woven bands with intertwined endless patterns, such as those his mother and sister made. Over the white wool was a central panel of pale yellow linen squares forming a heavenly background for the story.  But the whole center of the hanging was taken up with brightly colored figures—people and objects cut out of linen cloth—overlaid in a technique he recognized from his mother’s handiwork, appliqué.  Then over these, someone had stitched outlines, faces, and designs in various patterns his sister would be able to name—some stitches like feathers, others crosses or chains, some thick, others flat to produce the appearance of depth.[32] This embroidery reminded Aldred of a bishop’s stole, such as Cuthbert wore even now in his wooden coffin at Chester-le-Street.  The bright silk threadwork, silver, gold, blue, red, caught the flickering light of the lamps at different angles, bringing the people to life.[33]  It was stunning.

            Aldred wondered how many had worked on this craft and for how long. He and Cathroe privately surmised that this arthritic and nearly blind woman might very well have been one of the original artisans, who saw it in her mind’s eye as she had originally envisioned it.

            All of this Aldred pieced together later.  For now, he took in the picture that Mary wove with words as they stared in awe.

            The central image of this first wall hanging was of two women embracing, one clearly with child.  If Aldred had not been told this was the story of Kentigern’s mother Thaney, he would have thought that the image portrayed Mary the Blessed Mother of Jesus meeting her cousin Elizabeth, heavy with John the Baptist who leapt in her womb at the greeting.  Instead, their storyteller Mary explained that Thaney was the slim young woman clad in white kneeling and embracing the belly of the Virgin Mary clad in blue and with golden light around her head and her womb, thin rays of silk fabric.   

            Their guide Mary explained, “The mother of St. Kentigern was so devoted to Mary and her son, that she prayed that she might be like the Blessed Virgin in all ways, if not a God-bearer, then the bearer of a Christ-follower.”

            As they prepared to move to the next wall hanging, their guide had them pause first and chant the Canticum Sanctae Mariae, Mary’s song of praise.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;

et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.

Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suê;

ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.

Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est et sanctum nomen eius.

Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenie timentibus eum.

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;

dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.

Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltauit humiles.

Esurientes impleuit bonis: et diuites dimisit inanes.

Suscepit Israhel puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae.

Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius usque in saeculum.[34]

            The next two wall-hangings were carefully done to avoid impropriety.  The words of their storyteller were likewise circumspect about how it was that someone desiring to emulate Mary in virginity might bear a child without violating that innocence with sinful desire or blaspheming the one and only begotten Son of God by claiming a second divine conception. 

            The first event showed how the virtuous Thaney choose exile as a shepherdess when threatened by her pagan royal father, who wanted to marry her to a young nobleman.  This second wall hanging placed the heroic woman at the center of the image, humbly tending a flock of sheep in imitation of the great Shepherd, King Jesus.  In the background, two shadowed men stood, one with a crown, presumably her father, and the other a young warrior, the rejected suitor.

            Before moving on, Mary had them chant the familiar shepherd’s psalm (22).

            The third picture hanging in the middle of the north wall of the nave Aldred imagined was the most difficult for women artists to portray, since it must indicate the violation of what they held most precious as a gift from God and an offering to Him.  According to their storyteller, the young nobleman was so desirous of having Thaney for himself, that he went so far as to disguise himself as pious woman, befriend the young shepherdess, and then lure her into a remote wood on the pretext of soliciting help with a task, counting on Thaney’s generous nature and her naivety.  That he forced himself upon her nonetheless confused the innocent virgin, who still supposed that a woman was assaulting her.  In the picture, a large tree hung with fruit represented the remote wood, but might just as easily have been the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden.  On the right, Thaney emerged from this wood downcast with her hands on her belly, while her attacker fled the opposite way, no longer desiring the woman he had taken by force.  The artists had cleverly arranged the figures so that Thaney was larger in the foreground and clad in silvery white indicating her purity, with a white dove floating above as a guardian. Meanwhile, the vile young man in dark robe is seen escaping into the background, a small ignoble figure.

            This story of conception as told by Mary Aldred and Cathroe accepted silently, since they had no experience of what it was like to be a woman in such circumstances, although Aldred thought with shame of the incident where he had attempted to seduce a young servant, only to be stopped by his virtuous sister.  Silence, rather than singing a hymn or psalm, was the appropriate response to this scene.

            After a minute, their guide moved them to the last wall hanging on the north side of the nave, closest to the altar.  Here was a dramatic scene of martyrdom.  Thaney stood in a chariot teetering on the edge of a cliff, her hands raised in prayer and her eyes directed toward the church’s altar, where, as Aldred and Cathroe turned to follow her sight, they saw an image of the Virgin with Child woven into the altar cloth. 

            After their guide explained how this first attempt by her royal father to put his pregnant daughter to death failed, she led them in front of the altar, where they performed an Ave Maria, concluding with the Kyrie, petitioning the Lord Christ three times to have mercy.[35]

            Turning toward the south wall of the nave, the next wall hanging showed how Thaney’s vengeful father had her cast out to sea in a small coracle, even though, as the storyteller recounted, the people cried out at this double punishment for someone who clearly must be innocent, and they prayed for her.  Aldred and Cathroe saw the pregnant woman standing in the coracle, a light emitting from her belly guiding the boat toward a safe shore, which appeared to be in the direction yet again of the altar.  As their eyes followed the path of the beam of light, it led toward the bejeweled cross on the altar.  Turning back to the wall hanging, they noticed in the distance the king and his people standing on the shore with empty boats, like fishermen who have failed in their day’s catch and awaiting a Savior.  Curiously, a school of fish picked out in silver thread seemed to follow the coracle in which Thaney stood.  When Cathroe pointed to them, Mary explained that the abundant fish of that rivermouth fled out to sea following the innocent woman to a new fishing ground.

            Here they sang the song of Moses and Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea:  Cantemus Domino, gloriose enim magnificatus est: equum et ascensorem ejus dejecit in mare.

            This seemed to Aldred a curious conjunction:  the Egyptian chariots and horses thrown into the sea recalled Thaney’s first trial, and now the second, transiting a perilous sea.  Her third trial was yet to come.

            In the middle wall hanging on this side of the nave, the birthing mother was shown by a fire on the beach.  The fire was red and gold, the woman was clad in blue, and she held something swaddled in white. No midwives, their guide gently explained.  Instead, approaching from one side a group of timid shepherds were drawin to the light of the fire, just as long before shepherds were guided by a star to the birth of the Christ child.

            At this juncture, their guide had them sing the song the shepherds heard from the angels, the Gloria in Excelsis.  When they were done, she explained that the holy man St. Servanus in the next picture heard the angel voices in his church right as Thaney was giving birth out on the seashore.

            The last wall hanging on the south side of the nave therefore showed a holy man welcoming Thaney, who is miraculously standing on her feet looking radiant.  St. Servanus, Serbán, in their northern tongue, takes the infant in his arms as if he were Simeon at the temple receiving the baby Jesus from the arms of Mary.  St. Serbán appeared to be laughing, perhaps at some joke of God, that he would so often bring poor infants into the world under such conditions, just to make a point.  Mary their storyteller let them know that St. Serbán first spoke Kentigern’s pet name, Mochoe or Mungo, in joy at God’s gift to him, a child to raise and follow in his footsteps, like the prophet Samuel.  They sang the Nunc dimittis of Simeon, a familiar bedtime song of peace.

            Aldred thought it odd tthat the actual depiction of the saint honored in this church appeared only belatedly in the series on this wall hanging, and wondered what the last picture on the back of the nave showed.  A person ignorant of the story might be forgiven for thinking the dedication was to a St. Thaney, Kentigern’s mother, who was in the center of every wall hanging, albeit with the unborn Kentigern concealed in her womb.

            The three of them turned toward the back wall of the nave.  There indeed was St. Kentigern himself, depicted as a beardless young man with a bright red bird cupped in his open hands, his eyes lifted heavenward.  In front of this wall hanging they caught up with Nechtan and Áedán who had moved through the church more quickly and now lingered at this last image, while the other brothers moved up into the chancel in preparation for the services.

            Turning to Aldred and Cathroe’s aged guide, Áedán, who spoke English, asked her why only the birth narrative was depicted in this series?  What about the rest of the life of this important saint, about whom many stories of wise and kind behavior were told?

            Slowly she smiled.  Gesturing toward this last enigmatic picture of the saint, she told them that this one story from Kentigern’s childhood revealed his whole character.  Though they all knew the story well, even Aldred since he had lived at Govan for two years, they allowed her to repeat it. 

            She was clearly used to telling the story in Latin for mixed groups of clergy who visited.

            “St. Serbán had a pet bird, a redbird, that was so tame it ate from his hand, and it gave the saint great joy as one of God’s humble creatures.  Now some of the other boys in the school under St. Serbán were jealous of the holy man’s favortism shown to Kentigern and to this creature.  So they began to play roughly with the bird, grabbing it out of each others hand, until the poor abused bird was dead, its head torn away.  Now they were dismayed at this outcome, rightly expecting punishment from the old man, but they also found a way to abuse the other favorite, Kentigern, by blaming him for the bird’s death.

            “But the sweet boy Kentigern gently lifted the bird, put its head back on its body, and made the sign of the cross on it.  Lifting it into the air, he prayed that the Lord Jesus Christ would restore the breath of life into the little creature.  It took flight just as St. Serbán came from the church, who witnessed the miracle and blessed the child who worked this wonder.”

            Looking at the wall hanging, they saw that the redbird cupped in St. Kentigern’s hands had a lively look, its eye picked out with gold thread, its wings partly extended, ready to fly.  In the background on the left, St. Serbán emerges from the church, while on the right stands a woman watching over her son.  “For,” Mary explained, “she who gave him birth is not to be left out of his story, for surely he learned gentleness at her breast.”

            As for the story of his miraculous conception and birth in the first seven wall hangings, she begged their indulgence:  she was abbess here at Crossthwaite of a community of women religious dedicated to Mary and virginity, who used their craft to honor God and the church’s saint with the insights they brought to bear from a weak woman’s perspective.  This last phrase she said with a slight smile on her lips.  None felt able to gainsay her, certainly not Aldred or Cathroe, who had deep respect for holy women in their own lives–Cathroe St. Brigid and her community at Scone, and Aldred Bega and the community of women around his mother and sister.

            Satisfied, they moved up the nave to the chancel for Vespers.  The women’s community sat on one side of the choir, and the men on the other.  It was refreshing to once again hear the high sweet voices of women mingled with the deeper tones of men. 

Friday, March 19 Keswick to Penrith

            The journey from Keswick to Penrith the next day was short, but full of interesting sights.  Although Aldred had traveled this road before, he found it looked different when viewed through the eyes of his companions, as he tried to explain the various monuments along the way.  It was also a journey through time.

            Not far outside of Keswick on their eastward journey they passed a circle of standing stones off the south side of their path.[36]  Seen in bright early morning daylight, the worn and leaning stones did not look as mysterious as they might at dusk or in a fog.  Nonetheless, the warriors would not set foot in the ring, nor would Frith.  Dead men, they said, perhaps giants of old, Frith avered.

            However, the twelve pilgrim brothers, the five Alban and five Govan brothers along with Aldred and Cathroe were happy to prove them wrong, along with the superiority of Christian belief, by calmly pacing around the inner circle, chanting their morning psalms.

            They entered through a gap on the north side between two huge stones taller than a man and shaped like shields, or like a gap toothed mouth of an old person.  The monks first walked to the center, surveying the site while making the sign of the cross in all four directions.

            Aldred noticed that the circle fit perfectly in the center of the encircling mountain ranges.  He had no doubt that the ancient peoples who set up these stones chose the site for those very reasons. 

            The circle was made up of small and large stones, 42 in all—Aldred had counted them when he passed this way before.[37]  But over toward the east they saw an irregular set not part of the circle, perhaps the remains of some ancient temple.  They all knew that this site was very old, built long before the coming of the Christ himself or his missionaries.  Someone went to a lot of trouble to quarry these stones from far away and bring them here.  Who knew what sacrifices or rituals the builders and their descendants carried out in this place?  Perhaps they themselves were descended from these ancients, with some dim memory of them deep in their bones.

            Their procession for Terce (9 a.m.) was short, and they were back on the road, where the impatient warriors crossed themselves frequently while their horses stamped their hooves.

            They made a midday stop at Troutbeck, another Roman fort with camps like Derventio. It stood right on their path, which was clearly a road made by the Romans running straight and smooth, with mile markers still in place.  The warriors milled about the ruins and let their horses drink at the river, commenting to each other how the site was clearly chosen by military commanders who knew how to set up a strategic place for keeping an eye on the countryside.  Seeing a kestrel flying high over them, King Dyfnwal thought this a sign that he should establish an outpost here to hold the territory for Govan against invaders, whether viking, Northumbrian, or Wessexmen.

            The monks, meanwhile, used the time to say their midday (Sext) prayers and rested under a fragrant gorse tree (juniper) with its yellow cones and dark berries dropping around them.[38]  Brude, ne of the Alban brothers fond of carving looked for fallen branches, since its wood was a favorite for making crosses and spoons.  His Govan spiritual brother Máel, a young herbalist, gathered the berries for use in remedies.  Frith tried to catch a red squirrel climbing its trunk, but the animal was too quick for him.[39]

            The slaves drew water from the stream and served them all a meal of bread and cheese.  Aldred enjoyed the taste of the cold clear water and the pungent cheese of Keswick, even on the rough brown bread.  The warriors grumbled for meat.

            Less than an hour later they reached a crossing with a path leading south toward Dacre.  The king and his warriors seemed anxious to press on toward Penrith, another five miles straight east on their path.  King Dyfnwal appeared more interested in reaching Penrith first before approaching the contested borderland of the River Lowther to hand off the holy man to his ally. Dacre stood near the infamous Eamont bridge where the king’s recently departed ally King Constantine and his own father Owain had sworn allegiance to Wessex King Athelstan—twice and not all that long ago, in 927 and 934—before the massive catastrophe breaching that alliance four years ago at Brunanburh, where Dyfnwal’s father Owain died. [40] 

            But Cathroe had heard of the Dacre monastery from Aldred and wished to see the relic of St. Cuthbert’s hair, since it was the eve of the Saint’s feast day which they would celebrate in Penrith.  Aldred explained to Cathroe that from Dacre they could find a path toward Penrith following the river Eamont and arrive safely enough without their military escort, about a two hour walk.

            Tired of riding in the carts, the other ten brothers got down with Aldred and Cathroe.  They walked south along the path to Dacre, less than a mile. 

            Cathroe was delighted with the small church and its monuments.[41]  The boundaries of the monastery were marked in its four corners with four stones shaped as animals, sitting up.  Cathroe was fascinated by these, walking around each and patting them on the back.  Each seemed to show the same animal, perhaps a bear, although none of them had ever seen such a beast except in illustrations.  But the pose of each animal was different.  A young novice in the churchyard gave them the story his grandfather told him: the first one was a sleeping bear, while the second one shows the bear awakened by a cat attacking his back, with the bear looking back over his shoulder at the intruder; in the third corner the bear tries to dislodge the cat; while the fourth bear has eaten the cat and returned to its restful pose, holding its enlarged belly.[42]

            Frith, silently trailing them around as usual to avoid the rough young warriors who ordered him about or mocked him for his misshapen arm, asked the novice why this last bear looked like a lion, with a mane and tail.  The novice was mildly annoyed, but then Frith said “perhaps the bear in eating the cat has become a lion!” 

            Cathroe laughed.  “I like your story best, Frith.  These are better than the stone circle, because they have been fashioned by human hands to look like some of God’s marvellous creatures.”

            Aldred admitted that they did look friendly, rather than frightening.  Someone had placed them in the corners facing away from the church, as if guarding the compound from external threats. 

            Unlike Cathroe, Aldred was more intrigued by the stone crosses in the churchyard.  One of them was clearly of Northumbrian manufacture of a century ago, with a finely carved image of a winged lion that looked nothing like the bear-lions guarding the corners.  Another cross was newer and in a different style that looked somewhat like viking carving, but with scenes Aldred recognized from Northumbrian and Cumbrian monuments.  Between the two crosses and the bears, Aldred realized, the stylistic features of these stone monuments showed the mixed cultural heritages of the Dacre community—Gaelic, Anglian, Norse.

            Frith was drawn to the newer cross.[43]  Aldred pointed out the scene at the foot of the shaft showing Adam and Eve in the garden, a green tree separating them and a red snake curled at Eve’s feet. The boy knew the story, one of his favorites.

            “Why is Eve dressed,” he asked, “if this is before they eat the fruit?”

            Aldred nodded, “I think the sculptor is showing us different events of the garden all at once, since we already know the story.”

            He then pointed to the figures in the panel above, two men with a square between them.  “These,” Aldred said, “are Abraham and Isaac.  Do you know that story?”

            Frith nodded but looked down.  “Abraham was willing to kill his own son for the god.  We have such legends among my people, and some would sacrifice the weak….”  He did not finish but Aldred knew from Cathroe that Frith, born with his deformity and his mother dead in childbirth, had been suckled by an English slave woman, whom his viking father later sold, along with his rejected son.  When he was ten, Frith was sold away from his foster mother onto a ship, doing the most menial tasks.  When the ship ported last year in the Firth of Tay near Scone, Cathroe took pity on the abused boy and bought him.  For Frith, the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac was undoubtedly a painful reminder of his own father’s abandonment of him.

            “What about the animals here,” the boy pointed to the carving between the two human panels, showing a hart attacked by a dog.

            “Ah,” said Aldred, “I have seen this image before, showing how evil chases us, ever since Adam and Eve, tricked by the snake, were sent out of the garden.”

            Cathroe, following this conversation in English with some concentration, spoke up. “Or it is the hound of heaven, God in pursuit of our soul.”

            Aldred considered this and liked it better.  Or perhaps both explanations were present in the scene, just as the other two panels showed a whole story in one picture.

            Ever conscious of Frith’s unwashed soul, he added “See how these two stories of Adam and Eve and of Abraham and Isaac tell us the gospel.  Christ on the cross is Isaac, whom God sacrificed for the sins we inherited from Adam and Eve.”

            Frith still thought it unfair that he should be born in all innocence and ignorance into this evil legacy, but had to admit to himself that he and every person he knew was quite capable of doing vile and hateful things.  The trouble was, he could not see how washing in baptism would change him.

            After their circuit outside, they entered the wooden church and were greeted by the abbot, who was happy to receive a dozen brothers who would more than double their recitation of the None prayers to be conducted shortly.

            But first he showed them the treasured reliquary of St. Cuthbert that Aldred had told Cathroe and the others about.  Aldred allowed the abbot, as guardian of the relic, to tell the story, but it was the same account as Aldred had read in Bede’s history.[44]

            “One of the final miracles the venerable Bede told us about St. Cuthbert is a story he heard from the brother the blessed saint cured.  Our humble monastery was then ruled by Abbot Swithberht.  One of the young brothers had a horrible tumor on his eyelid that grew large enough to push against his eye and block his vision.  None of the usual remedies for such a growth had any effect, although one surgeon suggested the drastic measure of cutting away the tumor and eyelid to free the man’s eye and preserve his sight.” 

            All of them grimaced at this, having at one time or another faced the knife to pare away a diseased growth or infected sore, if only by their mothers.

            “One morning the priest Thrythred, later to follow Swithberht as abbot, opened the small casket containing some precious relics of St. Cuthbert brought to us by the brothers of Lindisfarne.” Here he gestured toward the bejeweled casket sitting on the side altar on the north side of the upper nave where they were standing.         

            “The priest was generously going to give one of the precious items to a friend to distribute the holy powers further to other churches.  The youth with the growth was assisting Thrythred in returning the rest to the reliquary.  But as he handled some hairs from St. Cuthbert’s saintly head, sewn up in an embroidered silk cloth, he had a sudden urge to apply the cool soft bag to his swollen eye, hoping to ease the pain.  After a time, he faithfully placed the silk-wrapped hairs back into the case, choosing to believe that some virtue had passed from the saint’s body into his own.”

            “Trusting in God, the young man went about his duties for the rest of the day, without bothering about his eye.  But at midday, he touched his eyelid and found the swelling completely gone, without any tumor or scar.”

            Frith spoke up.  “What was the young man’s name?”  Aldred smiled.  So often in these stories only the name of the holy man is given, not those cured, a form of humility in the community.  But the young viking always wanted to know people’s names in order to remember their stories.

            “Why, young man,” the abbot said kindly, “what is your name?”

            The boy answered with the English name the brothers all called him, “Frith.”

            “Pax domini,” the abbot replied, “the peace of the Lord be on you.”  Frith looked confused, until Aldred explained that “pax” in Latin meant peace, the same as his name in English.

            “Frithlaf[45] was the young brother’s name as marked in our Liber vitae,” and the abbot gestured toward a book beside the reliquary.  All monasteries kept such books to pray for their dead and remember their lives.  “Peace and love be upon you, young Frith.”

            Feeling emboldened by the abbot’s kindness, Frith asked “Could the bones of St. Cuthbert heal my bones?” and here he displayed his withered right arm.  Aldred looked uncomfortable.  Such miracles were rare, and who knew when they would be granted?

            But Cathroe put his arm around the boy whom he had brought on this long journey.  “Who knows,” he whispered in Gaelic to the boy, “when or how God will heal you in body and soul?”

            “But is the boy even baptized,” the abbot suddenly asked.  He had seen that the young man was not tonsured, although usually anyone his age serving in lower clerical orders would be.

            Cathroe shook his head.  “No, he has been among us on our pilgrimage from Scone to here, listening and learning, and faithfully serving.”

            The abbot looked Frith in the eyes and asked, “do you wish to be baptized and serve Christ, whether or not the Lord chooses to heal your arm?”

            Aldred held his breath.  He had discussed baptism with Frith, as had Cathroe, but the boy seemed dubious of the ceremony, in part because many of the viking warriors he knew who had been baptized behaved just as badly after as they had before.

            Firth looked up at Cathroe and then Aldred.  Both had become like fathers to him and he trusted them.  They did seem different from other men, kind and patient. Much as he loved the older Cathroe, he was drawn to the younger and seemingly sadder Aldred.

            Cathroe saw the conflict in the boy, having seen the transfer of his affections to Aldred on their journey.

            Looking across at Aldred, Cathroe said in Latin, “I would not want to be Philemon and have this slave run away like Onesimus, only to be freed of sin by Paul, who then rebuked Philemon.  Would you take him as your godson?”

            Aldred nodded.  It was a responsibility, but he saw much of himself in Frith and wanted to show him a better home and family, his own mother and sister.  Bringing Frith to Easington would also in some way ease the pain of returning home without his faithful servant Leáf, dead with so many others on the battlefield at Brunanburh.

            Cathroe turned to Frith and said, “at this altar of God, I declare that you are no longer a slave, though I bought you from those who would sell your body.  But your soul is still a slave to sin and can also be freed through baptism.  I commend you to my brother Aldred to oversee the care of your soul.”

            Aldred explained to Frith, “you may come with me to my home and serve me at your own free will, or you may go wherever you choose.” 

            Frith knew, as well as Aldred and Cathroe, that being freed did not leave him with many choices: his own family had sold him, andthe warriors in Dyfnwal’s entourage would take him only as a servant not much different from a slave, beholden to them for food and shelter.  Or, he could stay here at Dacre.

            Instead he turned to the abbot and said,  “I wish to go with Aldred and serve him.  Wherever he goes, I will go.”

            The three clergymen smiled at the boy’s unknowing echo of Ruth, ancestress of Jesus in the line of David. 

            Aldred’s eyes met those of Cathore, and he said in Latin, “he will be Ruth to my Naomi.  No longer servant, but godson.”

            The abbot watched all this with approval, taking note of the manumission and later recording it in his book, in the margin beside the name of Frithlaf.

            Frith was eager to be baptized now.  But as the abbot explained, a baptism takes great preparation on the part of the candidate.  Easter, coming soon, was the best time for baptisms.  Aldred fervently hoped that they would be at Chester-le-Street by then.  In the meantime, he would be responsible for instructing the boy in the faith.

            On their departure from the church after prayers, Aldred showed Frith the baptismal font and explained its meaning.  The Dacre church had a plain stone font, suitable for baptizing infants.  Frith worried that he was too big to be submerged in it, until it was explained that he could stand and have water poured over him.

            From Dacre after None prayers, it took them two hours to reach Penrith, following the more natural meandering riveside paths prefered by those on foot to straight hard roads built by the militant Romans. 

            As they approached the Penrith church on the estate, the setting sun lit the western side of a large carved stone cross, its painted interlace glowing in the redgold light.  This cross was familiar to Aldred, and about his age, done in the Northumbrian style.[46]  The side facing the sun showed the crucifixion of Christ, elaborated with interlace patterns in red and green. 

            However, as they entered the churchyard they saw in one corner a mason’s shed with large stones in various stages of being carved.  Four large hogbacks, the kind favored by local vikings that resembled their houses stood on one side.  Two massive stone crosses were also under construction, similar to the one they had just passed:  twice the height of a man, topped by a circled cross. 

            A mason with chisel in hand stood near one of the hogbacks looking at his day’s handiwork.[47]  This was a tall, narrow shaped “house” with people carved on the side, similar to ones Aldred had seen in Govan and throughout Cumbria. [48]   It was nearly complete by all appearances.

            Aldred stepped closer and peered at the scene on one side.  The stone mason had carved circular shapes along the base, reminiscent of curling waves, at least for someone who has recently traveled by ship.  Perhaps they were serpents. Or both.  The mason had also carved a crowd of human and animal figures above these swirling serpent waves.    

            He politely turned to the man and complimented him on the work.  “May I ask, whom does this monument honor?”

            The mason turned toward Aldred, then saw the group of brothers assembling behind him, rightly guessing that they were not all English speakers like Aldred.

            “Owain of Strathclyde,” he replied, “hero and king.” 

            One of the Govan monks muttered under his breath, “Now it comes out.  King Dyfnwal comes to honor his father?”

            Aldred wasn’t sure what this meant, but was glad they had arrived in time to refresh themselves and rest briefly before Vespers. 

            The clergy at the small manorial church made them welcome.  Penrith was an old estate of the Britons and recently transfered back to Cumbrian control from its previous Northumbrian English lord, who like Aldred’s parents had fled over the Pennines during the viking expansion in the Eden valley. 

            From what Aldred could tell from the circumspect priest, the current Cumbrian lord of the estate was in fact King Dyfnwal, whose arrival was not totally unexpected.  By bits and pieces and with prodding from Cathroe and the other brothers, they learned that Dyfnwal’s father Owain had retreated to Penrith after the Battle of Brunanburh.  Seriously wounded, he had resigned his kingship in favor of his adolescent son, whom he had kept out of the battle, unlike Scots king Constantine’s son who fell defending his father. 

            Owain had used his remaining weeks of life to adopt a monastic life, although he was not tonsured.  He spent his days at the Dacre monastery nearby.[49]  When he died, he was buried in the Dacre churchyard, marked by a small stone monument.

            His seventeen-year old son Dyfnwal, left behind in the north for his own protection despite his protestations of military prowess, was both ashamed not to have been at the battle to protect his father and eager to honor his memory here at Penrith.[50]

            Hence the order to build a monument in the Penrith estate churchyard commemorating Owain King of Strathclyde, right on the southern border of his kingdom only a few miles from the site of short-lived treaties sworn with their expansive Wessex neighbor to the south and at some distance from his northern ally Alba.

            Aldred reflected on the style of the monument he saw the mason finishing today.  It was beginning to make sense.  The mason was clearly Northumbrian-trained but using Cumbric and viking imagery and styles. That it looked like a viking house and was peopled with warriors above serpent waves suggested a precarious death struggling against the pull of hell mouth.

            The Penrith priest indicated that for the next day, St. Cuthbert’s feastday, the King planned to have his father reburied here in the churchyard andommemorated with these gravestones in a grand gesture meant to solidify this mixed cultural heritage, Northumbrian, Cumbrian, Scandinavian.  This explained his rush to reach Penrith for an auspicious day.

            Aldred now even more wished to return to Chester-le-Street and his family, but also still felt he had not yet learned all that he might from Cathroe.  He hoped that in the few days they had left before they parted ways, he might seek the holy man’s advice.

Saturday, March 20 St. Cuthbert’s Day

            St. Cuthbert’s Day, despite falling in Lent and not on a Sunday, turned out to be quite a feast of events.  King Dyfnwal honored his father Owain in an elaborate ceremony in the church and in the churchyard, and Aldred was called upon to recite stories of St. Cuthbert.  In many ways, the day was a fitting conclusion to the pilgrimage begun in the Domes hill ceremony at Govan celebrating St. Constantine.

            The Dacre monks processed from their monastic church to the Penrith estate with the body of Owain, the wooden casket drapped in a richly embroidered cloth and placed in front of the altar of Penrith church.  The priest conducted the morning mass as for the dead but also with prayers in honor of St. Cuthbert. 

            After the mass, the monks processed with the coffin out to the gravesite, where the priest carried out the prayers for the dead. The site was not far from the church walls, in a place of honor reserved for the lords of the manor.  Aldred saw that the hogback stone he had admired the day before was now set with three others, two on each side of the grave. 

            King Dyfnwal, flanked by his two chief thanes, advisors of his father older than himself, stood at the foot of the grave while the priest was at the head, saying the Latin prayers.  At the end, they all crossed themselves.  The secular warriors left the churchyard quietly, until they reached the hall where a feast awaited them.

            The clergy, including the monks of Dacre, Govan, and Alba, returned to the church for their own commemorations of Saint Cuthbert.  Aldred hoped for a quiet day meditating on his patron saint.  But instead of sharing stories with his fellow clergy, he found himself called into the lord’s hall to recite Cuthbert stories in honor of Owain.  Cathroe looked at him sympathetically, and agreed to go with him.

            So Aldred, Cathroe, and Frith with them, went to the hall where even from the churchyard they could hear raucous voices indicating that the warriors had already had a great deal to drink.  It was after the None prayers, and they hoped to return to the church for Vespers before dark.

            Aldred was afraid.  These men included some who had been at Brunanburh.  Given the suspicious looks some had cast on him during their journey, they undoubtedly remembered that he had been in the tent of Owain before the battle, and that he had disappeared on the road.  Only his association with Dyfnwal’s holy man Cathroe protected him from assault.  Few would recall his kinship with Owen and Aldred was unsure whether it was wise to remind them of his cousin’s death.

            What tale of Cuthbert should he tell?  He debated with himself as they walked.  Should he be bold and recount a story where viking warriors are struck down by the saint?  Or tell something safe about his hermitage on Farne.  He certainly could not tell them of Wessex King Athelstan’s visit to Chester-le-Street.  Perhaps the story of the Gospelbook and Cuthbert’s pilgrimage over this very road?  They had told that story at Workington, although these warriors were not there to listen.

            He was still debating when they entered the hall.  On the tables he saw a feast spread out—joints of meat, cheese, some vegetables.  On the king’s table, to which they were escorted, he saw a fresh loaf of bread being delivered by the servants.  The sight of the white bread, its light wheat usually only found in noble households and in the church eucharist, gave him inspiration:  Cuthbert’s many food miracles, usually brought to him by animals. 

            Frith had particularly liked these and often repeated them.  It was important that Frith be familiar with the tale. Aldred would need to speak in English to men who primarily spoke Gaelic.  He could speak in Latin and have Cathroe translate, but Cathroe had insisted before they left the church that he speak in English and allow Frith to translate into Gael.  The warriors were not going to like hearing the serving boy.  Quickly Aldred whispered to Frith which stories he would tell.

            The king stood and called for silence, banging on the table with a spear butt.  “Before,” Dynfwal announced, “we proceed to epic tales of warrior prowess and the heroic death of King Owain sung by our bard, we will honor St. Cuthbert by hearing holy stories.”  The king called Aldred forward, while some of the lead warriors seated near the king craned their necks to stare at this Northumbrian subdeacon, some muttering under their breath. 

            Frith stood beside him, Cathroe behind the boy with his hands on his shoulders to indicate his holy blessing on this translator.

            Aldred took a breath from deep in his gut to use his reading voice, meant to be heard to the back of a church or hall.

            He raised his eyes heavenward to the dim roof.  “Holy Cuthbert of blessed memory, send your grace upon King Dynwal and all his company, in nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, world without end, amen.”  Here they all crossed themselves, even the most hardened warrior, for whom the sign might be their only spiritual protection.

            “God’s creatures loved holy Cuthbert.  Birds and animals he tamed served and fed him. Of the many food miracles told of St. Cuthbert, two brought bread, food for both soul and body.”

            Frith began to translate, surprising the warriors by chanting in a voice deeper than they thought the young man capable of.  Some grunted in suprise.  Perhaps he had the gift of song.

            “Once when Cuthbert was travelling alone in early winter, he rested at the home of a devout woman.  She offered food, but Cuthbert would only accept feed for his horse since it was a Friday and he resolved to fast.”

            “But, she warned him, you will find no food on your way for a full day, so take something with you for your journey.  He refused, choosing to fast longer than to break the Friday fast.”

            “The woman was right.  Cuthbert found himself that evening sheltering in an abandoned shepherd’s hut, built only for the summer pasturage and now falling apart.  He tied up his horse, giving it some of the straw blown from the roof.”

            Frith was enjoying the story, gesturing to act out the parts.  Aldred had no idea how much the boy was embellishing the tale with his words, but the audience seemed rapt, despite the breaks in the story as he told it and then Frith translated.  Cathroe was smiling behind the boy.

            “Cuthbert was reciting his psalms, while the horse stretched its neck up to pull more straw from the roof of the hut.  Suddenly, a bundle fell down from the roof along with the straw.”

            Frith reached up with his neck extended as if he were the horse.  Then looked down as the imagined bundle fell.

            “The holy saint finished his prayers before going to see what was in the linen-wrapped bundle.  Inside, he found a half a loaf of bread, and it was still warm!”  Aldred did not mention the meat in the package, since he wanted to focus on the bread and its warmth.  Frith repeated it in Gaelic, opening the invisible bundle in his hand with a look of surprise.

            “Breaking the bread, Cuthbert shared it with his horse, thanking God for rewarding his fast with food for both himself and his animal.”

            Frith offered the open package to his left and right, as if giving some to the men at the table.  Whether they were affronted at being treated as a horse, Dyfnwal chuckled.

            “This miracle,” Aldred continued, “is very great in its meaning.”  He hoped Frith would understand the concept of tacn, sign, and translate it appropriately.

            “Just as Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, so he feeds us with food every day.  But the real food is the bread of heaven, Jesus.”[51]

            “Another time, Cuthbert received bread from heaven.  Not only animals, but also angels served Cuthbert, just as the archangel Raphael guided Tobit on his journey.”  Aldred wasn’t sure this warrior audience would know the story of Tobit or remember it from the journey prayer performed at Govan in Latin.

            “One winter morning at Ripon, where Cuthbert was a monk, he found a youth sitting in the guest chamber.  He greeted the young man kindly and, like Jesus at the Last Supper, washed the traveller’s cold and weary feet.”

            Frith knelt briefly beside the king’s feet and then stood back up.

            “He invited the youth to stay for the meal after Terce, but the young man siad he needed to be on his way to a distant place.  However, because Cuthbert adjured him in God’s name, the traveller stayed, or at least Cuthbert thought so.”

            “When the food was set out on the table for the guest, Cuthbert told him to start eating while he went to fetch the warm bread fresh from the oven.  But when he came back, the traveller was gone and there were no footprints in the snow!”

            Firth looked around with surprise, as Cuthbert might have, and sniffed the air, since he knew what came next in the story.

            “Instead, a fragarant smell of fresh bread was coming out of the guesthouse.  Inside, Cuthbert found three loaves made of the finest, whitest wheat.”  Here Aldred gestured toward the bread on the table in front of the king, but Frith actually picked it up and showed it around the audience, who all smiled with appreciation for the fine bread.

            “Cuthbert knew then that the traveller must have been one of God’s angels bringing him heavenly bread, as Bede says, ‘whiter than the lily, sweeter than roses, more delicious than honey.’”  Aldred loved that description.  His mother made fine bread, but this description hinted at something out of this world.

            Aldred looked at the audience with seriousness.  “You eat these loaves, but then are hungry again the next day.  Do not work for food that spoils.  Seek bread that keeps for eternal life, the manna from heaven.  Our Savior said ‘I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will nver go hungry.’”

            Frith finished his translation, putting the earthly bread back down in front of the king with a bow.

            Aldred turned toward the king, “You have all witnessed this morning the same transformation of ordinary bread consecrated in the hands of the priest at the altar.  St. Cuthbert invites you to partake of this heavenly bread on Easter Sunday.”  With that he bowed, and walked out, with Cathroe and Frith trailing him.

            The pious silence in the hall lasted only until they reached the church.  Then they heard the sound of a harp and a bard’s voice beginning an elegy to honor Owain.

            The three of them were grateful to return to the church in time for Vespers, which cleared their minds and hearts.

            Only after Vespers, with Frith drowsing nearby, was Aldred able to ask Cathroe the questions that had been burning in his heart since they left Govan.

            Cathroe saw Aldred’s need to speak, so asked him “Brother, what troubles you?”

            Aldred gathered his thoughts while Cathroe waited patiently, stirring the fire in the small grate at their feet. 

            “I am returning home for the first time after many hard experiences.  I am a different person than the foolish young man who left, but not yet wise enough to know what course of life I should pursue.”  Cathroe nodded but said nothing.

            “I started my journey x years ago, seeking books because I thought I would find wisdom in them. Many that I gained I lost, some I read, and still I seek wisdom.”

            “About your path in life?” Cathroe prompted after Aldred fell silent.

            “You spoke of Aldhelm, who says that virginity is gold; chastity, silver; and conjugality, bronze.”

            Cathroe waited.

            Aldred blurted out “Should I remain a virgin?” then blushed.  He had come close to losing it with the serving girl, stopped only by his sister, and certainly had engaged in self-gratification, sometimes when caught earning the penance of a whipping. But he had shied away from the other boys’ bolder sexual experiments at Norham/Hexham.

            Cathroe understood what he was asking.  Should he take vows as a monk?  Or should he follow the subdiaconate, marry, perhaps only later become deacon and then priest?  Most stayed married or had a concubine, although the reformers urged them to devote their energies to the altar and live apart from their wives.

            Aldred swallowed.  “My mother dedicated me to God, and I was raised to be in the clergy by my uncle Bishop Tilred, God rest his soul, and my godfather Aldred.  One day at Chester-le-Street when I was 17?, I saw the strength and glory of a royal warband, rode to my family’s estate, and took hold of my father’s sword.  But my first act as a hothearted warrior was to force myself on a young woman.  Thankfully, my sister intervened, and I went on a penitential journey to Lindisfarne.  There, it was clear to me that I should take the clerical path, but which?  My godfather said at the time that I should stop examining myself and follow the path in front of me to see where God would lead and what he would make of me.  I went in search of books and instead witnessed a terrible battle.  I was taken by viking pirates, lived as a scribe in Ireland for two years, sailed with Dyfnwal to Govan and spent two years there studying.  I saw many books, lost some, and I am still looking for wisdom.  When I first saw you at Govan, I thought you might know.”

            After this speech, Aldred stopped and looked down.

            Cathroe said, “Let me tell you my story.”  Aldred looked up and waited.

            “After I was allowed to study with Bean—after my teacher provided my father with a second son and then still had to condemn his horse to death—I faced another trial.  My foster parents were plundered by evil men and appealed to me for redress.  Bean was not there, but I took up arms and was ready to lead a band in pursuit of the enemy.  I reached a river, saw the evil men on the other side, and sought boats to cross to them.  Just then, a priest from the community brought to me Bean’s Gospelbook, sent by my teacher to stop me.  I wept with anger and frustration, even as Bean reached me.  Should I leave my foster parents unavenged? I shouted.  Bean opened the gospel to this passage:  ‘If any one take from you what is yours, seek it not again.’  I was not convinced.  He opened the gospel again, to these words ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword.’  I looked at the sword in my hand.  A third time, Bean opened the gospelbook and it gave this warning: ‘Wicked slave, I pardoned all your debt because you asked me, should you not have pity on your fellow slave, even as I have pity on you?’”

            Cathroe paused.  “And so I returned to reading and prayer with Bean, just as you did after your first temptation.”

            Aldred said, “thank you for your confession.  But did you not experience more and worse thereafter, as I have, from evil men?  What is it that God is doing with these trials and confusions?”

            Cathore answered, “Bean told me a vision he had shortly after.  A beautiful maiden appeared to him, bright as the sun, both ancient and youthful in appearance, wearing a robe woven of every thought or word.  She said that she was Lady Wisdom, come to adopt me.  And it was then that I was seized by the love of learning and the desire for God.  Like you, I am in pursuit of that Lady Wisdom Bean saw in his vision.”

            Aldred asked, “Have you read Boethius, his Philosophiae consolationis?”

            Cathroe said, “Indeed, it has been a true guide for me as I wrestled with the good and evil of this world.”

            Aldred sighed, “I had a copy of it in my tongue,” they were speaking Latin, “but it was stolen from me.  I would dearly love to find it again, or a copy in Latin.”

            Cathroe laughed, “You are indeed literally in search of Wisdom in a book.  But books are not the only source of wisdom, much as I see you love them.  Experiences, such as you have had, reveal wisdom to the heart.”

            Aldred replied, “Yes, but one thing I learned from Boethius is that we do not all learn the same thing from our experiences, the evil and the good.  It is how we find meaning in them, and for that I need guidance.”

            “Perhaps,” Cathroe said, “you need to go home, let the Aldred you are now meet the Aldred who left, and figure out what is different.”

            He added, “I think you will be a priest and a scholar, maybe a monk, but not all at once.  I forsee that you will have a long and varied life.”

            “And you?” Aldred asked.

            “Our paths diverge now, and I do not know if we will meet again.  But I am glad that you are taking Frith with you.  It will be good for you to have someone to guide and instruct, to keep your mind off of yourself.”

            Aldred smiled.  “I think you are right.  When I am teaching Frith about God, I am happy and forget my sorrows.”

            As they prepared for Compline, the bedtime prayers, Cathroe said “I will pray for you my brother, and you pray for me.” Aldred gladly assented.

Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22

            The morning mass at the Dacre monastery was bittersweet for Aldred.  With Cathroe and the other brothers from Govan and Alba, he partook of the bread and wine.  They had each made their confessions to their spiritual brothers, and received absolution from the abbot.

            The bread and wine lingered on Aldred’s tongue.  The body and blood of Christ would sustain him, or the hope that it provided, through this parting of ways.

            Aldred and Frith would leave the next day over the Pennines to Chester-le-Street and on to Easington, but today they must say goodbye to their companions.

            Dyfnwal and his warriors had escorted the pilgrims entrusted to him on the last leg of the journey, at least for the king.  From Dacre after mass, they walked to the riverside, where his ally Gunderic was prepared to take Cathroe through the Aire gap to York.[52]  Three pairs of spiritual friends chose to continue with Cathroe on his pilgrimage: Domnal and Eochaid, Conall and Neithon, Gabrán and Hywel.  The other four friends, Brude and Máel, Nechtan and Áedán, chose to join the community at Dacre.

            The ceremony of transfering Cathroe to Gunderic was far less grand than the send-off in Govan with King Constantine.  Gunderic swore an oath on the reliquary of St. Cuthbert brought from the Dacre church to guide the holy man and protect him with his sword and body as neccesary.  The Dacre abbot said a blessing over the travelers.

            Cathroe embraced Aldred and whispered in his ear “Pax domini.” Taking hold of Frith with both hands on his shoulders, Cathroe looked the boy in the eyes and said “no matter where God takes you, or whatever happens to you, know that you are his warrior and his peacemaker.”  Whether he foresaw the boy’s destiny, Aldred did not know and would not have wanted to know.

            Aldred and Frith returned to the Dacre monastery, where they had decided to stay rather than in Penrith with the king and his warriors.  It seemed safer, and more comforting.

            They spent a quiet evening with the abbot and brothers, and arose at dawn to walk into Penrith with their meagre belongings.

            When they arrived on foot at the Penrith estate two hours later (8:30 a.m.), they found mostly servants awake and busy with their tasks.  Aldred asked about their supplies.  Dyfnwal had rewarded them for their storytelling feat on St. Cuthbert’s day with a sturdy pony to serve them as pack animal. 

            The slaves, to whom Aldred and Frith had always been kind, showed them the animal and where they could find provisions to load on the beast. 

            A few warriors arising early, for them, were lounging around, watching these preparations.  One of them slid his spear butt out, catching Frith on the ankle and causing him to sprawl in the dirt, landing painfully on his small arm.

            The warriors laughed and taunted the boy, calling him slave. 

            “I am a free man,” Frith said, standing as straight as he could.

            “Are you, now,” said the warrior, “but still good for nothing but serving the needs of your betters,” and here he poked the boy with the other end of his spear.

            Frith backed away.  Aldred, seeing this from a few yards away, stepped over while trying to control his anger.

            “The boy serves God,” he said in the best Gaelic he could muster, although mixed with Irish accents despite his two years in Govan.

            “And you,” said the same warrior, “I know you, from that cursed battle.”  Aldred realized that without Cathroe’s mediating presence, he was now a target.

            The warrior stood up to face Aldred.  He was almost a head taller.  “I saw you in Owain’s tent.  Where did you go before the battle?  Where were you during the battle and whose side were you on?” 

            As Aldred had suspected, these men wondered if he were a traitor, or to whom he was loyal.

            Before he could reply, Aldred was surprised to hear a voice speak up behind, a voice he recognized as King Dyfnwal.

            “He is Aldred, son of Alfred, son of Brihtwulf, both warriors who died heroes.  That he is a spiritual warrior offering comfort to those who suffer wounds in this life makes him also a hero.”

            Turning to Aldred, the king said, “I have heard from my father’s advisors that your cousin Owen spoke well of you and your family, sons of Brihtwulf.  Serve God and St. Cuthbert well, and pray for my soul.”

            Overcome with emotion, Aldred bowed toward the king and whispered, “I will, my lord king.  Thank you for your hospitality in Govan and your protection on our journey.”  He had thought it was Cathroe alone who protected him, but this young king also had shown himself honorable.  Aldred prayed that he would have a long and successful reign as a peacemaker, although the times suggested otherwise.

            The pony now loaded, Aldred and Frith joined a small band of travellers outside the church who were heading on the same road over the Peninnes into Northumbria.  The group of twelve with Aldred and Frith included a family, parents with a boy and a girl barely old enough to walk the journey themselves, an older couple who seemed worn out or grief stricken, two tonsured, one a priest and the other a deacon, and two barefoot penitents, an older and a younger man who seemed to purposely avoid each other.  The priest and deacon were, like Aldred, headed to Chester-le-Street.

            They had set a departure for just after Terce, the 9 a.m. prayers, the clerics among them chanting the psalms as blessing.  The priest of the Penrith church offered them a triple journey prayer.

Omnipotens deus, cuius misericordia ubique cognoscitur et pie famulantibus miseretur, iter uestrum clementer dirigat atque ad locum optabilem uos incolumes deducat. Amen.

Angelorum iugiter collegium habere mereamini comitem nec non in omnibus et contra omnia preuium, quorum solacio muniti eundo et redeundo semitarum uestigia transeatis inlesi. Amen.

Adsit uobis Raphael, magnus Tobie custos et preuius, ut humanam et diabolicam deuitetis calliditatem et Christum uiae, ueritatis et uitae mereamini habere comitem. Amen.[53]

Aldred appreciated the angelic assistance invoked, and paraphrased for Frith, with other Latin-illiterate travelers overhearing.

            “May Almighty God, whose mildheartedness we know is everywhere and who shows mercy to those who faithfully serve him, lovingly lead you on your way and safely steer you toward the place (stow, stead, yard) you yearn for.”

            “May you be worthy to have a ward of angels always as gesith–fellow wayfarers, also going ahead in all and against all, a comfort and defense both coming and going in every footstep on the paths you tread.”[54]             “May Raphael be with you, the great guard and guide of Tobit, that you may overcome human and devilish craftiness, and you may be worthy to have as gesith Christ the way, the truth and the life.”


[1] Weekday morning psalms in BenRule ch. 13:  Ps 66 (67), 50 (51); Thursdays Ps 87 (88) and 89 (90). canticle from prophets. then psalmos of praise, then a lesson from apostles recited from memory, responsor, Ambrosian hymn, verse, Gospel canticle, litany, end.  Ps 89 (90), Vulgate, note v. 3 different (checked against Vespasian Ps). Douay-Rheims:  “Lord, thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation. Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity thou art God. Turn not man away to be brought low: and thou hast said: Be converted, O ye sons of men.  For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday, which is past. And as a watch in the night, Things that are counted nothing, shall their years be.”

[2] Rule of St.B. ch. 17-18 Prime psalms for Thursdays would be 12 (13), 13 (14), 14 (15).

[3] Dumbarton, destroyed in 870 by Vikings, move of kingdom to Govan, becomes Strathclyde.

[4] blog:  does this make sense, to put saint in this sarcophagus rather than the king? or not associated at all with a Constantine.  See Clarkson, Makers of Scotland, p. 136.

[5] Rivard, Blessing, pp. 142-43. Robert of Jumieges, pp. 260-61:  Missa pro iter agentibus, Missa pro fratribus in uia dirigendis.  Does not seem to match quotes Rivard gives, who emphasizes angelic assistance.  See also Leofric 1999-2001 Missa pro iter agentibus.  Also Missa pro navigantibus fidelibus, Leofric 2002-04 and Jumieges, pp. 262-63.  Rivard cites Franz, see vol. 2:261-71. see pdf    ck CCCC41: is for an individual for him/herself

[6] Franz 2:264, III Oratio super eum, qui in itinere progreditur. 

[7] name:  used Gylfannig saga, saw name given in both forms.

[8] The Vision of St Laisrén (visionary text in Rawlinson B 512), ed. and tr. Kuno Meyer, Stories and Songs from Irish Manuscripts. London, 1899. Reprint from Otia Merseiana 1 (1899), pp. 113–28. Available from CELT. See also: Grosjean, Paul. “Un fragment des Coutumes de Tallaght et la Vision de Laisrén.” Analecta Bollandiana 81 (1963): pp. 251–9.

[9] March 17, 2019 low tide 02:41, high 09:45, low 15:13, high 22:36.

[10] basking shark. 

[11] See Daily Life ISAS 2015 paper.

[12] The Whithorn Trust in Scotland has a Norse settlement

lead trough with associated cat skulls and bones (http://www.futuremuseum.co.uk/collections/people/lives-in-key-periods/archaeology/early-medieval-(400ad-1099ad)/vikings/craft,-industry-and-trade/viking-period-lead-trough-for-processing-cat-pelts.aspx ).  see Whithorn pictures.

[13] This story found online, no evidence that it is medieval, but check Kathleen Walker-Meikle, Medieval Cats (British Library, 2011). see notes but pulled in on ILL, no pdf.

[14] Stranraer to Chapel Finnian, 5 ½ hours, 17 miles.

[15] https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/chapel-finian/history/  6.7 meters x 4.1 meters (22 ft x 13.5 feet. https://canmore.org.uk/site/62114/chapel-finian ck also Adrian Maldonado.

[16] https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/st-ninians-cave/   https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/st-ninians-cave/history/   https://www.whithorn.com/attraction/footpaths/ 

https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Ninian%27s_Cave

3 meters/10 feet tall., 23 feet long today, but rock falls make it smaller.  3 meters/10 feet wide at entrance.  10 carved crosses on walls (8 Latin, 2 simple lines); 18 carved crosses now at Whithorn Priory. 

[17] Whithorn1crop.jpg.

[18] St. Ninian’s Cave crosses image in novel folder.

[19] [cuthbert stone he picked up at Lindisfarne:  thinks about whether he would leave it here]

[20] https://www.whithorn.com/timeline/viking-age/

[21] Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, pp. 225-27.

[22] Bede, EH ch. XX (XVIII).  Comparison and analysis of Ninian miracle poem and hymn from MacQueen.

[23] ad omnia quae volveris see DAIV19 595-596.

[24] Story only in Aelred, chapter 10.

[25] https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/visit-the-museum/exhibitions/previous-exhibitions/heart-and-soul-50-years-with-the-ships-of-the-vikings-2012-13/exhibition-text/ship-over-land/?no_cache=1&sword_list%5B0%5D=ship&sword_list%5B1%5D=over&sword_list%5B2%5D=land&cHash=554a9d1507f23ac104094e560304d27c  but see also https://hiddenheritage.org.uk/heritage/Vikings (both from James Rawson blog comments).

[26]  35 miles, at 5 miles an hour?

[27] See familyhistory chapter on armring.  See Brunanburgh on Aldred’s visit to St. Bee’s.

[28] OE Orosius, p. 51.

[29] arrived at 3:30ish p.m.  enter church around 4 p.m.  Vespers at 6, sunset at 6:30-7.

[30] first 6th cen church and Northumbrian AS church presumed to be wood; first stone church the one Jocelin notes built recently in 12th cen.

[31] Using primarily Herbert fragment of Vita, except for bird story at end from Jocelin.

[32] Elizabeth Coatsworth, “Stitches in Time: Establishing a History of Anglo-Saxon Embroidery,” in Medieval Clothing and Textiles I, ed. Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. 2005.

[33]  Later he noticed several small gaps, as if something had been cut away.  When he asked about them, he was told that bright gems and flat gold crosses, “sequins,” had been removed to pay off the Vikings and prevent them from ripping the tapestries from the walls.  what about gold and silver wire? or since these wire techniques are found in Scandinavia, have the artisan learn the craft from viking women?

[34] Vespasian Psalter

[35] Ælfwine prayerbook BVM office p. 133.

[36] Castlerigg stone circle

[37] Only 38 today.  See https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/castlerigg-stone-circle/history/

[38] see wikipedia on cones in March-April. gorst-beam, st cwicbeam associated with juniperus communis.  https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/juniper/

[39] See pictures of Troutbeck sign for local flora and fauna.

[40] Wm of Malmesbury says oaths sworn 934 at Dacre

[41] https://senchus.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/the-monastery-at-dacre/  See my pictures.  http://dacrechurch.com/

[42] http://dacrechurch.com/?page_id=31

[43] Bailey, pp. 172-74.

[44] EH IV.32.

[45] Frithlaf PASE, Symeon Durham HSC 21

[46] [Giant’s thumb, c. 920 Anglian]

[47] https://senchus.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/the-giants-grave/  

[48] Bailey, p. 98.

[49] Constantine withdrew to a monastery soon or sometime after B of B, kingship passed to Máel Coluim mac Domnaill (Malcolm I) (see Clarkson, Strathclyde, p. 101 and genealogies).  Dyfnwal himself near the end of life will like his father turn toward a religious life and make a pilgrimage to Rome, where he died (975).  He never recovered from his loss to Wessex King Edmund, Athelstan’s successor, and Scots King Malcolm in 945, and the tragic blinding of two of his sons.  Thereafter, he continued to resist his forced submission to the Kings of Alba mandated by Wessex King Edmund, as did his son and grandson after him.  So much for friendship with the Scots king Constantine mac Áeda and his heirs, a temporary alliance at best in these perilous times.

[50] If he died in 975 at say 55, he would have been born in 920, and therefore 17 at B; 21 now.

[51] Ælfric, Midlent sermon.

[52] “And after keeping him with him for some time, he conducted him to the city of Leeds, which is the boundary of the Northmen and the Cumbrians. And there he was received by a certain noble man, Gunderic, by whom he was led to king Eric in the town of York, because this king had as wife a relative of the godly Catroe.”

[53] Franz 2:265 IV Benedictio pro iter agentibus from Benedictional of AB Robert (1050).

[54] “May you be worthy to have a host/werod/ward of angels ever (continually) as OE companions/eaxlegesteall/gesith/gædeling/gegada (fellow traveler/farer), and also going ahead in all and against all, a comfort and defense both coming and going in every footstep on the paths you go over.”

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