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

September 25

St. Ceolfrid, Abbot

        From Bede, Hist. l, 5, et 1. de Vitis Abbat. Wirim. Item, l. de Temporibus. See Leland de Scriptor. Bulteau, Hist. l. 4. Pitseus, and Suysken, t. 7. Sept. p. 123.

A.D. 716.

CEOLFRID is the same Teutonic name with Geoffrey, and signifies Joyful, as Camden remarks. The saint was nobly born in Bernicia, and related to St. Bennet Biscop, with whom he joined in the generous resolution of quitting the world. With him he made a journey to Rome, partly out of devotion, and partly for improvement in sacred studies and divine knowledge. After their return he was St. Bennet’s assistant in the foundation of his monastery of St. Peter at Wiremouth, on the north bank of the river, in the bishopric of Durham. St. Ceolfrid would have regarded it as his greatest felicity on earth, if he could have been as much forgotten by all creatures, and contemned by every one as he contemned and studied to forget himself: and he lived in his community as St. Antony and St. Hilarion lived on their mountains, in the most profound recollection, and in the practice of the most austere penance. When St. Bennet built the monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow, he sent Ceolfrid, with seventeen monks, to lay the foundation of that house, and appointed him abbot. Our saint governed this abbey seven years in St. Bennet’s life-time, and was constituted at the desire of that saint, in his last sickness, abbot also of Wiremouth: from which time he presided, for twenty-eight years, over both those monasteries, which for their propinquity and constant connexion were usually esteemed as one, and were generally subject to one abbot. St. Ceolfrid was diligent and active in everything he took in hand, of a sharp wit, mature in judgment, and fervent in zeal. Bede, who had the happiness to live under this admirable man, has left us most authentic testimonies of his learning, abilities, and extraordinary sanctity. He was a great lover of sacred literature, and enriched the libraries of his two monasteries with a great number of good books; but banished those which could only serve to entertain curiosity. To how great a pitch he carried the sacred sciences in his monasteries, Bede is an instance. He was himself very learned. Naitan, king of the Picts, sent to him, desiring to be informed concerning the right time of celebrating Easter, and the true form of the clerical tonsure. The holy abbot strongly proved and recommended to him the Catholic custom of observing Easter and the Roman tonsure called St. Peter’s, by a letter which Bede hath inserted in his history. 1 The king received it with great joy and satisfaction, and commanded both points to be received and observed throughout his dominions. This king likewise desired our saint to send him builders, who might erect a stone church, after the manner of the Romans, promising to dedicate it in honour of St. Peter. The abbot complied also with this request.
  St. Ceolfrid finding himself broken with age and infirmities, and no longer capable of teaching his monks, by word and example, the perfect form of monastic observance, resigned his abbacy. The monks entreated him on their knees to alter his resolution; but were obliged to acquiesce, and, upon his recommendation, chose Hucthbert, or rather Hubert, a very learned priest, abbot of both monasteries, in which then lived six hundred monks. This being done, the saint having sung mass in the morning, made them a strong exhortation to mutual love and concord; and, for fear of being stopped by the grandees of the kingdom, who all held him in great veneration, set out immediately with a design to perform a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles at Rome. On the road, besides the canonical hours, he every day sung the whole psalter twice over, and also offered to God the saving victim in the mass which he sung every day, except one when he was upon the sea, and the three last days of his life. After travelling one hundred and fourteen days he arrived at Langres, in France, where, being stopped by sickness, he happily died on the 25th of September, in the year of our Lord 716, of his age seventy-four, of his sacerdotal character forty-seven, and his abbatial dignity thirty-five. He was buried in the church of the three twin martyrs, SS. Speusippus, Eleusippus, and Meleusippus. His relics were afterwards removed to his monastery of Jarrow, and thence, in the time of the Danish devastations, to Glastenbury. 2 Leland saw a square stone at Jarrow, on which was this inscription: 3 “The dedication of the church of St. Paul at Jarrow, on the ninth day before the calends of May, in the fifteenth year of King Ecfrid, and the fourth of the Abbot Ceolfrid, the builder of this church.”  2
  The example of all the saints shows us, that virtue is not to be attained without serious endeavours, and much pains. We must counteract our depraved inclinations, which have taken a wrong bent, that they may recover their due rectitude; the seeds of all virtues must be planted in our hearts with such care, that they may take root, spring up, prosper, and bring forth fruit every day more and more abundantly. The various exercises of piety, religion, and penance, and all the conditions upon which God has promised his graces to us, must be performed with fervour, constancy, and perseverance. The slothful and faint-hearted think every thing above their strength, though they are never weary in labouring for this wretched world. If they set about the business of their salvation in good earnest, they will soon do with ease and pleasure that which their indolence made them to look upon as impossible; and they will quickly find that there is a most delicious hidden manna in true virtue. Its possession is to the soul a spring of uninterrupted pure joy, far beyond the vain delights of the world, and the filthy pleasures of sin, even if these latter were not mixed with the bitter draughts which always attend them.  3
Note 1. L. 5, c. 22. St. Ceolfrid calls that tonsure St. Peter’s, in which the crown was entire of the whole head: but that Simon Magus’s, in which the circle was imperfect, and only on the fore part. See Mabillon, Præfat. ad Sæc. 2, Bened. [back]
Note 2. See App. ad Martyr. Gallic. Malmesb. de Reg. l. 1, c. 3, et Monast. Angl. l. 1, c. 4. [back]
Note 3. See Leland, de Scriptor. ed. a Tanner, p. 162. [back]