Tuesday, December 11, 2007

a saint

Update: Over a year ago, Alan Cooperman reviewed an exhibit of early Bible texts at DC's Sackler Gallery (A Testament To Change: Early Scraps Of the Bible). In the review, he gives an anecdote about the Bible that St. Ceolfrith commissioned:
For pure symbolism, however, it would be hard to top the Latin translation of both the Old and New Testaments commissioned by the Abbott Ceolfrith when he retired from the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in northern England in 716. The Sackler has just a few leaves of one of these volumes. As a gift for the pope, Ceolfrith called for a huge, lavishly illuminated version, which took three people to lift. The message it was meant to send was that 'the farthest outpost of the empire is where it's at now; we can outdo Rome in craftsmanship, we can outdo Rome in scholarship'. That message, apparently, was received. Sometime in the 9th or 10th centuries, Ceolfrith's name was scratched out of the Bible sent to the pope. It was replaced with the name of an Italian saint, and the codex was assumed to be Italian until the 1880s.

I thought I might find a name-saint so I could celebrate a yearly feast day as do the other members of my family. There's no St. Jeffrey, but there are a few other candidates: a St. Geoffroy of Amiens (also: Godfrey & other variants), a St. Godfrey of Cappenberg, and a St. Ceolfrith (variant spelling: Ceolfrid; in English: Geoffrey). I think I'll go with the last one since one of his celebrated accomplishments was to assemble the largest library in Anglo-Saxon England, and also because he was mentor to Bede. One source says: "The celebrity of his school, in which Bede imbibed his great learning, was very extensive." Here's a link to the entry for him in About.com.

Two images that show him. In the first, he is receiving messengers from Nechtan IV, King of the Picts. The second is a icon. The source doesn't explain its origin. In it, he's seen with a book, appropriate because of his acquisition of books and also because he commissioned the Codex Amiatinus, one of the most famous of all Bibles.

{Source: rootsweb. Click to view full size.}

Butler's Lives of the Saints gives a full description of his life and accomplishments.
From Bede, Hist. 1,5, et 1. de Vitis Abbat. Wirim. Item, 1. de Tempo, ribus. See Leland de Scriptor. Bulteau, Hist. 1. 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 Bishop, 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. Peters, by a letter which Bede hath inserted in his history.* 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.
(l) Leland saw a square stone at Jarrow, on which was this inscription: (2) "The dedication of the church of St. Paul at Jarrow, (1) See App. ad Martyr. Gallic. Malmesb. de Reg. 1. 1, c. 3, et Monast. Angl. 1. 1, c. 4. ( 2) See Leland, de Scriptor. ed. a Tanner, p. 162.

* 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, Praefat 2d Saec. 2. Bened.

From: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Alban Butler (Published 1866, J. Duffy)

Here's more on St. Geoffroy, given because he shows up in a poem about a picture and because the picture is available online.

One source say: "As bishop he did not cease to take care of the poor and the sick. When some lepers came to him he commanded his cook to prepare food for them; four hours later nothing had yet been done, and he himself went to the kitchen and found a large, prepared salmon which he took to the famished lepers. The cook remonstrated with him, and the Saint told him that it was injustice to allow the poor to die of hunger while unworthy bishops enjoyed food that was too succulent."

This is an extract from a poem about painting:
But sickness comes; and Painting shows
How holy men did cheer its woes.
Saint Godefroy, whom old Amiens knew
As tending sick men, comes to view;
Yon see him standing by their bed:
With these few touches all is said.
From "The Power of Painting" by Kenelm Henry Digby. Little Low Bushes: Poems London, 1869.

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