Home  »  Volume IV: April  »  St. Guthlake, Hermit, and Patron of the Abbey of Croyland

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 11

St. Guthlake, Hermit, and Patron of the Abbey of Croyland

HE 1 was a nobleman, and in his youth served in the armies of Ethelred, king of Mercia: but the grace of God making daily stronger impressions on his heart, in the twenty-fourth year of his age he reflected how dangerous a thing it is to the soul to serve in wars which too often have no other motive than the passions of men and the vanities of the world, and resolved to consecrate the remainder of his life totally to the service of the King of kings. He passed two years in the monastery of Repandun, studying to transcribe the virtues and mortifications of all the brethren into the copy of his own life. After this novitiate in the exercises of an ascetic life, with the consent of his superior, in 699, with two companions, he passed in a fisher’s boat into the isle of Croyland, on the festival of St. Bartholomew, whom he chose for his patron, and, by having recourse to his intercession, he obtained of God many singular favours. Here he suffered violent temptations and assaults, not unlike those which St. Athanasius relates of St. Antony: he also met with severe interior trials; but likewise received frequent extraordinary favours and consolations from God. Hedda, bishop of Dorchester, visiting him, ordained him a priest. The prince Ethalbald, then an exile, often resorted to him, and the saint foretold him the crown of the Mercians, to which he was called after the death of King Coelred, in 719. The saint, foreknowing the time of his death, sent for his sister Pega, 2 who lived a recluse in another part of the fens four leagues off to the west. He sickened of a fever, and on the seventh day of his illness, during which he had said mass every morning, and on that day, by way of Viaticum, he sweetly slept in our Lord, on the 11th of April, 714, being forty-seven years old, of which he had passed fifteen in this island. See his life written by Felix, monk of Jarrow, a contemporary author, from the relation of Bertelin, the companion of the saint’s retirement, with the notes of Henschenius; 3 Mabillon, Acta Bened. t. 3, p. 263, n. 1. See also his short English-Saxon life, Bibl. Cotton. Julius, A. X.  1
Note 1. Called in the English Saxon language Guthlacer of Cruwland. [back]
Note 2. St. Pega is honoured on the 8th of January. Her cell, near Peakirk, stood at the extremity of a high ground, which juts out into the fenny level, where is the chapel of St. Pega’s monastery. Here passed Carsdike, so called from Carausius. It was projected by Agricola, and perfected by Severus to carry corn in boats for the army in the North. It was conducted from Peterborough into the Trent at Torksey, below Burton, whence the navigation was carried on by natural rivers to York. Carausius repaired it, and continued it on the borders of the fenny level as far as Cambridge, which he built and called Granta. This place was the head of the navigation, and Carausius instituted the great fair when the fleet of boats set out with corn and other provisions, which is still kept, with many of the ancient Roman customs, under the name of Stourbridge fair. See Stukeley’s Medallic History of Carausius, t. 1, p. 172, &c. t. 2, c. 5, p. 129. [back]
Note 3. Ingolphus, the great and learned abbot of Croyland, who died in 1109, wrote a book on the life and miracles of St. Guthlake, which is not now extant. His accurate history of the abbey of Croyland, from the year 664 to 1091, was published by Sir Henry Saville, but far more complete and correct by Thomas Gale, in 1684. In it he relates, p. 16, that in the year 851, Ceolnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, by having recourse to the intercession of St. Guthlake, was miraculously cured of a palsy, after his recovery had been despaired of. This miracle the archbishop attested in a council of bishops and noblemen, in the presence of King Bertulf: upon which occasion, all who were present bound themselves by oath to perform a pilgrimage to the shrine of the saint at Croyland. After this miracle, great numbers seized with the same distemper recovered their health, by resorting thither from all parts of the kingdom to implore the divine succour through the intercession of his servant. Ethelbald, coming to the crown, had founded there a monastery. He had caused great stakes and piles of oak to be driven into the ground in this swampy place, and the quagmire to be filled up with earth brought from the country called Upland, eight miles distant. This foundation being laid, he erected a church of stone with a sumptuous monastery. This building was utterly destroyed by the Danes in 870, of all the monks and domestics, only one boy escaping to give the world an account of this massacre and devastation; in which the bodies of Cissa, priest and hermit, St. Egbat, St. Tatwin, St. Bettelina, St. Etheldrith, and others, were reduced to ashes. Some few monks still chose their residence there among the ruins, till Turketil, the pious chancellor to King Edred, in 946, rebuilt the abbey. This great man was cousin-german to three brothers who were all successively kings, Athelstan, Edmund, and Edred, being son of Ethelward, younger brother to their father Edward the Elder. To all these three kings he had been chief minister at home, and generalissimo in all their wars abroad, and had often vanquished the Danes and other enemies. When Analaph had rebelled and usurped the kingdom of Northumberland, with a numerous army of Danes, Norwegians, Scots, Picts, and Cumbrians, mostly idolaters, and put King Athelstan to flight at Bruntford in Northumberland; Turketil rescued him out of danger by defeating the enemy with his Londoners and Mercians, and killing Constantine, king of the Scots. The Emperor Henry, Hugh, king of France, and Lewis, prince of Aquitain, sent ambassadors with letters of congratulation for this victory, and rich presents of spices, jewels, horses, gold vessels, a part of the true cross, and of the crown of thorns in rich cases, the sword of Constantine the Great, in the hilt of which was one of the nails with which Christ was crucified, &c. Turketil was afterward sent by King Athelstan to conduct his four royal sisters to their nuptials; the two first to Cologne, to the Emperor Henry, where one married his son Otho, the other one of his princes: the third he accompanied to King Hugh, whose son she married; and the fourth was given in marriage to Lewis, prince of Aquitain. The chancellor was enriched by these princes with many precious relics and other presents; all which he afterward bestowed on the abbey of Croyland. Having long served his country, and subdued all its enemies, he earnestly begged of King Edred leave to resign his honours. The king, startled at the proposal, threw himself at his feet, entreating him not to forsake him. Turketil, seeing his sovereign at his feet, cast himself on the ground, and only rose to lift up the king: but adjuring him by the Apostle St. Paul, (to whom the religious prince bore a singular devotion,) he at length extorted his consent. Immediately he dispatched a crier to proclaim through all the streets of London, that whoever had any demands upon Turketil, he should repair to him on a day, and at a place by him assigned, and he should be paid: and that if any one thought he had ever been injured by him, upon his complaint, he should receive full satisfaction for all damages, and three-fold over and above. This he amply executed: then made over sixty of his manors to the king, and six to the monastery of Croyland. Being accompanied thither by the king, he there took the monastic habit, and was made abbot in 948. He restored the house to the greatest splendour; and, having served God in it twenty-seven years, died of a fever in 975, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. It was his usual saying, which he often repeated to his monks: “Preserve well the fire of your charity, and the fervour of your devotion.” Croyland, pronounced Crouland, signifies a desert fenny land. The monks, with incredible industry, rendered it fruitful, joined the island to the continent, and raised several stupendous works about it. [back]