Reginald of Coldingham [Durham]
Robert Bartlett (ed.), Oxford Medieval Texts: The Miracles of St Æbba of Coldingham and St Margaret of Scotland
pg 4[2. Life]
Regali ex progenie claram duxit originem. Erat enim regis Oswyu soror uterina, Egfridi Deo deuoti regis amita.6 Quorum temporibus uelut mater regni et decus tante nobilitatis enituit. Sicut enim, ut ait quidam, uitis uuam profert in uinea aut florem ex se producunt lilia,7 sic ex nobili regum prosapia, felix Ebbam felicem protulita Britannia. Beda in hystoria gentis sue de patre eius et matre nichil uidetur interserere. De claritate tantum sui nominis et subuersione sui monasterii quasi ad alia festinans pauca perstringit,8 eo forte animo quod in illo opere maluisset breuitate succingi quam prolixitate diffluere, uel pocius aliis eius sanctitatis opera reliquid scriptoribus et posteritatis relationi commisit. Vnde est quod auribus nostris multa audiuimus et patres nostri narrauerunt nobis opus quod operata est in diebus eorum in diebus antiquis.9 Tradunt autem cronica de genealogia regum Deirorum et Berniciorum Ethelfridum, Ethelrici Ide regis Berniciorum filii filium, de regina sua Aycha, Elle regis Deirorum filia, septem sustinuisse filios et unam filiam, scilicet Enfridum, Oswaldum, Oswyu,b Oslaf,c Oslac, Offan, Oswdum et sanctam Ebbam abbatissam.10 E contra dicunt aliqui eum duos ex ea filios Eanfridum et Oswaldum habuisse, Oswyu autem et reliquos de concubinis suscepisse.11 In diebus illis summa nobilium ingenuitas habebatur in qua Christi seruitus probaretur, nec aliquam celsitudinis gloriam se credebant attigisse quos humilitatem dominice crucis non constitit induisse. Propterea clamat de Seir, ubi hodie sapiens, ubi scriba, ubi conquisitor huius seculi,12 ubi sacerdos aut princeps populi qui omnia relinquat que possidet, et post Christum crucem baiulet?13 Hoc profecto in religiosis despiciunt quod ipsi pocius in seipsis amplecti debuerunt. Vtraque tunc Domini familia, uirorum scilicet sacre multitudinis conuentus et innumerabilis uirginum chorus, pg 6fo.164vsparsim per Angliam militabant, et in uno loco sub unius | patris siue matris regimine diuersis diuisi monasteriis degentes,a contra potestates tenebrarum, gladio spiritus accincti,14 prelia castitatis exercebant. Impletum est etiam illud in Canticis, 'Flores apparuerunt, uinee florentes odorem dederunt et uox turturis audita est in terra nostra.'15 Flores enim erant merita confessorum, uinee trophea martirum, uox turturis castitas uirginum. Castrorum suorum in montibus adhuc excelsis et paludibus lutosis relinquuntur uestigia et in scriptis patrum eorum inperpetuum reperietur memoria. Horum beata uirgo gloriosos intuens exitus, fidei profecto imitabatur profectus. Regnum igitur mundi et omnem ornatum seculi cum flore iuuentutis contempsit propter amorem filii Dei, quem mundo corde uidit, quem casto corpore quesiuit, in quem tota mente credidit, quem tota uirtute dilexit, et a sancto Finano Lyndisfarnensi episcopo sancte conuersacionis uelamen accepit.16 Dominicam nobilitati pretulit seruitutem, spiritualem diuiciis paupertatem, spontaneam honoribus abiectionem. Claris siquidem exorta natalibus, mundum fide et formam moribus et sexum uicit uirtutibus.
Petebatur autem a quodam Scottorum tiranno Eadano. Cuius Beda in sua, id est Anglorum, meminit hystoria.17 Quo demum ob sui contemptum raptum meditante et amore simul et uiolencia eam persequente, traditur ad montem Colludi confugisse et ad preces eius mare se a meridie in altum erigens, subiecte uallisb alueum transcurrens, hosti triduo continuis fluctibus obstitisse et, cooperante Domino, municionis presidium uirgini prestitisse. Quod, quia uulgo tritum est et a maioribus traditum, assertione uidetur dignum; cum etiam ex loci qualitate uideatur habere uestigium.18 Et quidem pene simile apud Lyndisfarniam olim gestum est et ad fidem plerumque facilius admittuntur quo aliqua similitudine comprobantur. Si enim mare plenum portitoribus corporis beati Cuthberti siccum iter prebuisse dicerem, non esset forte qui crederet, nisi simile admiracionis opus in mari rubro factum ante legisset.19 Fugienti etiam cum pg 8equo furi, siccis circumquaque patentibus harenis, mare subito cum fluctibus occurrit, sed eo ad insulam regresso et ad se per penitentiam reuerso, quia ipse tumorem mentis in humilitate deposuit, ipsum ex feruore ire sue detumuit. Denuo uenienti harenas siccas reddidit.20 Quid igitur mirum si crudeli tyranno uiam obstrueret et, eo recedente, aquas suas in se recolligens ad locum suum reddidit? Quid mirum si hoc sue contulit uirgini, qui illud suo contulit confessori? Hec ad arguendam eorum insipienciam uel insaniam dixerim, qui signa ueterum tanquam impossibilia repellunt et irrident, quod eis ex infirmitate fidei prouenit, dum credere nolunt quod ea que quondam ad conuersionem malorum facta sunt, bonis ad laudem transmissa sunt, cum nec mundus credidisset nisi maiores uirtutes factas conspexisset.
Erat olim mons ille edificiorum sublimitate preclarus, postea a malicia habitancium in eo in solitudinis planiciem conuersus. Est autem rupes mari superposita ad instar oui situ rotunda, que, a facie aquilonis fronte sua grossior et ad austrum paulatim in longum lateribus producta tandem angustior, desinit pene in acutum. Adeoque in sublime erigitur quod eam propria altitudine nature gracia precingat et asperitatis circuitu premuniat. A circumpositis montibus amplissima ualle se iungitur. Suaque solitudine ita uidetur superbire quod sociorum equalitatem montium dedignetur et nominis sui priuilegio quodam modo preesse glorietur. Difficilis illo ascensus et accessus. Ab aquilone enim et meridie per angustas semitas uenientibus patet nec sine metu precipitii quod deorsum imminet. Ad fo.165roccidentem in exigue collis | tumulum altius exurgit et inde ad orientem in gibbosam descendit planiciem, in qua beate uirginis oratorium conspicitur, ita silencio et quieti milicie spiritualis secretum, ut nichil in eo carnalis oculus intueri queat, cuius luxuria cordis obtuitu a desiderio supernorum reflectat. Duos fontes ad sue solitudinis et heremitice conuersacionis habet solacium, irriguum uidelicet superius et irriguum inferius. Vnus enim ad radices eius latice perpetuo madet, alter in cacuminea eius ad calores estiuos quandoque arescit et querentibus aquam fossam exhibet. Horum pg 10haustu salubri multi debiles et infirmi pristinam consecuti sunt salutem. Ex hiis beata uirgo et sue congregationis sacri bibere conciues, nec mirum si tot ora sanctorum et tam frequentes haurientium et abluencium attactus uirtutem impresserint aquis. In huius uastitate deserti utrum, spiritu sancto preuenta, religionis cultum prima instituerit an ab antecessorum studiis institutum repererit, incertum est. Nichil autem uerius quam quod ibi sobrie, iuste et pie conuersata sit et beatum celo spiritum, relicta terre sancti corporis gleba, intulerit.
Aliud autem monasterium feminarum ex dono fratris sui Oswyu secus ripam Dirwentionis fluminis construxit eique ex nomine suo Ebcestre, id est castrum Ebbe, uocabulum indidit.21 Quod quale quantumque in se olim fuerit dum staret ex ruinis suis manifeste nunc docet, mutato namque ut solet statu temporum, interfectis habitatoribus suis temporibus nefandorum principum Hyngwar et Vbbe, qui miserandas longe lateque in Anglos cedesa perempto rege eorum Edmundo exercebant.22 Subuersum est et in plurimamb nemorum uastitatem et animalium pascua, sicut hodie uidetur, commutatum.
In priori uero monasterio prefuit congregacioni uirorum et uirginum. Contigua utrique ibidem habebant habitacula. Qui diuino conducti federe, cum summa anime et spiritus iocunditate sub ea gaudebant uiuere, que se admirabili discrecionis gracia et puellis matrem exhortacionis instancia, et uiris patrem exhibuit animi constancia, propterea clamat ad uos de Seyr, nec clamoribus silencium imperat. Stupendum etenim est in uirginea teneritudine uirilem reperiri fortitudinem. Nos igitur uiri profectu uirtutis esse debuimus; succumbendo uiciis uiri nomen non habemus. Nos enim uel iuuenes barbatuli, qui quasi fortiores grauioris pugne cursum suscepimus in armorum, uictus scilicet durioris et uestitus, asperitate, molliciem querimus, uel senes prouecti, qui carnem senio pg 12triumphasse credimus, nobis ueniama ex canicie, otiumb ex annorum longitudine deberi censemus. Non sic, karissimi, non sic. Donec in cinere uiuit igniculus, non erit secus dormiens ab igne securus. Quoad uiuitur, bellum quod cum carne gerimus, uinci quidem potest, finiri non potest. Ecce uirgines feliciter mundum uincunt et beate de prelio redeunt, que post uictoriam uinci non norunt. Ecce de qua loquimur uirgo sapiens, uirgo prudens, cum adhuc delicata libere mundo uti potuisset, non consideracione deuicta originis, non teneritudine detenta etatis, non infirmitate depressa carnis, non fragilitate seducta sexus, sed contra cunctos hostis uiriliter dimicauit impetus, contempsit aulas regias, famulatu multo perstrepantes, thalamos ornatu uario et mollicie luxuriam redolentes, at, intra breuissime solitudinis angustias se concludens, hanc omnibus deliciis preposuit leticiam: uidere uirgines Deo dedicatas contra carnis illecebras spiritualem exercere militiam. Cum enim uirtutibus succresceret et fama operum et fragrancia sanctitatis eius se circumquaque diffunderet, confluxerunt ad eam multe nobiles, florentem mundum eius exemplo mentis despectu calcantes. Virgo etiam illa nobilis Etheldritha, Coludensis olim discipula, Heliensium nunc gloria, lecti regalis societate contempta, tante magistre rudimentis se subdidit, et tradente Wilfrido episcopo sanctimonialis habitus uelamen accepit.23 Beatus quoque pater Cuthbertus, licet consortia | fo.165vmulierum uelut quamdam pestem ab infancia uitauerit, ad huius colloquia uenire et ad habitancium informationem aliquot dies manere consueuit.24 Sed et sanctorum quorumlibet delectabatur frequencia quorum doctrinis et exemplis instrui posset congregatio sibi commissa. Videbatur locus ille quidam paradisus deliciarum ante subuersionem esse, cum habitantes in eo diuersarum uirtutum fructibus corda fouerent et, illecebra carnalium passionum edomita, in quandam impassibilitatis quietem in carne positi transirent.
Sed erat serpens in paradiso.25 Quis enim in sinu sponsi securus ita dormiet contra quem Leuiathan non sibilet? Propterea ad nos clamat de Seir, ne susciteris eum.26 Dormit enim sed non nobis. Dormit in pg 14locis humentibus in secreto calami.27 Dormit in dormientibus. Vigilat contra uigilantes et circuit querens quos deuoret uigiles.28 Sicut enim primorum parentum uiri et femine emulabatur gloriam, ita uirorum et feminarum aggressus est diripere continentiam. Ad antiqua ergo sue calliditatis arma conuersus est, primos, ut dixi, parentes per illicite commestionis excessum de regalibus sedibus in luteas mansiones deiecit; sodomitas, quorum regio antequam subuerteretur speciosa sicut paradisus effloruit, crapula et feda commixtione corporum, ignis et sulfuris pena dignos reddidit;29 populum Domini Israel per Madianitas30 et ueteranos iudices et pene exhaustos senes31 sepiusa delusit. Ita et hic. Habitacula enim, que ad oracionum, lectionum et alia spiritualis uite exercitia fuerant facta, in commessationum confabulacionum et aliarum illecebrarum conuertebantur cubilia.32 Ipse tetendit archum et ex eorum pharetra, ipsi sibi erant iacula. Ipse parauit foueam et ipsi inciderunt in eam.33 Virginum species imperiosa uiros allexit et inquieta uirorum cupido uirgines attraxit. Quociens uacabat texendis subtilioribus indumentis indulgebant, quibus aut se in contumeliam superni sponsi ad uicem sponsarum laicarum adornarent aut externorum uirorum amicitiam compararent.34 A sui denique status rectitudine ad equinos motus, quibus non est intellectus, utrique incuruati sunt et quasi stelle de celo cadentes in ceno uoluptatum inuoluti sunt. Hec autem illusionum Ebbam latebat iniuria.
Libet enim paucis ad memoriam reducere que uenerabilis Beda de eorum latius disserit subuersione.35 Anno igitur ab incarnacione Domini sexcentesimo octogesimo36 monasterium uirginum, quod Coludi urbem cognominant, per culpam incurie flammis assumptum est. Quod tamen a malicia habitancium in eo,37 et precipue illorum qui maiores esse uidebantur, contigisse, omnes qui nouere facillime potuerunt aduertere. Sed non defuit puniendis admonicio diuine pietatis, qua, si correcti per ieiunia et fletus et preces fuissent, iram a se instar Niniuitarum38 iusti iudicis auertissent. Erat enim in eodem monasterio uir exsimie sanctitatis, pg 16nomine Adamnanus, de nacione Scottorum oriundus.39 Hic in adolescencia sceleris aliquid commiserat quod, si sibi reconciliacio sacerdocis et penitencie non subueniret remedium, eternis cruciatibus grauius a Deo nouit puniendum. Quemdam ergo magne religionis presbiterum consuluit et si quid rursum salutis haberet humiliter expeciit, 'Adolescencior sum etate', inquiens, 'et uegetus corpore et quicquid mihi imposueris libenter feram, dummodo in die Domini saluus fiam, si totam noctem stando in precibus peragere, si integram septimanam iubeas abstinendo transigere.' Presbiter respondit, 'Multum est, sed biduanum aut triduanum satis est obseruare ieiunium. Hoc facito donec redeam et quamdiu huic penitencie insistere et quid deinceps agere debeas plenius ostendam.' Abiit igitur sacerdos, descripta penitencie forma, et, secedens in Hyberniam unde originem duxit, eodem anno humanis rebus excessit. Quod cum accepisset, Adamnanus nec secretum suum fo.166ralteri committere uoluisset, | ipse sibi sacerdos factus omni tempore quoad uixit nichil cibi uel potus in ebdomada iuxta descriptum sibi penitencie modum nisi in die dominica et quinta sabbati percepit, hoc ex propria uoluntate adiuncto, quod noctes integras sepe uigilando transegit. Et quod causa diuini timoris semel ob reatum ceperat, iam causa diuini amoris delectatus semper agebat et quod ex necessitate emendande prauitatis obuenerat, in uoluntarie consuetudinis usum conuertebat. Quod dum multo tempore sedulus exequeretur, contigit eum die quodam de monasterio longius egressum, comitante secum uno de fratribus, peracto itinere redire. Qui cum monasterio propinquarent et edificia illius sublimiter erecta conspicerent, solutus est in lacrimas uir Dei et tristiciam cordis uultu indice prodebat. Quod intuens comes, quid faceret inquisiuit. At ille, 'Cuncta', inquid, 'hec que cernis edificia publica uel priuata in proximo est ut ignis absumens in cinerem conuertat.' Quod ille audiens mox ut monasterium intrauere matri congregacionis curauit indicare. At illa de tali merito turbata presagio, uocauit ad se uirum et diligencius unde hoc nosset inquirebat. Qui ait, 'Nuper occupatus noctu uigiliis et psalmis, uidi astantem mihi subito quemdam incogniti uultus, cuius presencia cum essem exterritus, dixit mihi ne timerem et quasi familiari me uoce alloquens, "Bene facis", inquid, "qui tempore nocturne quietis non sompni indulgere, sed uigiliis et orationibus maluisti insistere. Tibi namque et multis aliis opus est peccata sua bonis operibus redimere et pg 18cum cessatum est a laboribus rerum temporalium tunc pro appetitu eternorum bonorum liberius laborare. Set hoc tamen paucissimi faciunt. Siquidem totum hoc monasterium perlustrans, singulorum casas ac lectos inspexi et neminem preter te erga sanitatem anime sue occupatum repperi sed omnes prorsus et uiri et femine aut sompno torpent inherti aut uigilant ad lapsum peccati. Vnde huic loco et habitatoribus eius grauis de celo uindicta flammis seuientibus preparataa est."' Dixit autem abbatissa, 'Et quare non cicius hoc compertum mihi reuelare uoluisti?' Qui respondit, 'Timui propter reuerenciam tuam ne forte nimium turbaberis et tamen hanc consolacionem habes, quod in diebus tuis hec plaga non superueniet.'40Qua diuulgata iuisione, aliquantulum loci accole paucis diebus timere et, intermissis facinoribus, seipsos ceperunt castigare. Propter hoc clamat ad nos ille de Seir. Dicit enim Deus Abrahe, 'Non delebo omnem locum propter iustos decem'.41 Ecce propter unius meritum uniuersitatis protelatur exitium.b Eidem quoque patri que futura erat in Sodomis diuina seueritas ostendit et beatum Benedictum de monasteriorum suorum subuersione premonuit.42 Pensandum itaque est cuius ista meriti fuerat, quam ad ipsius consolacionem de loci sui desolacione per seruum suum Dominus dignatus est edocere. Sed ad equalitatem beati Loth creditur peruenisse. Eo namque de Sodomis egresso, quos relinquerat sulphureus ignis absumpsit. Ita ista corpore exuta et ad Segor43 que paruula est,44 id est regnum celeste quod paruulorum est,45 translata, ad pristinas sordes reuersos prefate ulcionis clades inuoluit. Conuersus est exinde locus ille in heremi solitudinem et qui remanserant corde soluti per loca diuersa sunt metu compellente dispersi et quod eis contigit ad ruinam, multis ad castigationem profuit et medelam. Clamat ergo ad nos de Seir. Liquet namque ex hiis quam uitanda sit bonarum etiam cohabitacio mulierum. Perpendite quanta seruis suis prelia malignus spiritus earum familiaritate intulerit, quot urbes incenderit, quot monasteria subuerterit, quot demum corda sublimia et ad celum per contemplacionis graciam erecta, solo conspectu earum, tamquam conspectu reguli, ad profundum iniquitatis inclinauerit.
Beatus pater Cuthbertus tunc in solitudine Farnensi adhuc in pg 20fo.166vcorpore | degebat.46 Qui, accepto quanta facta fuit in domo Domini per feminas confusio, creditur, etsi non legitur, celebre condidisse decretum, lege perpetua seruis suis obseruandum, quo non solum eis quocumque sui sancti corporis presencia fuerit consortia feminarum prohibuit, uerum etiam earum introitus et accessus et aspectus abscidit.47 Clamat adhuc ad nos de Seir ut horum, de quibus supradictum est, miserabilem aduertentes interitum, pessime conuersacionis uitemus exemplum. Et isti uiri erant pilosi et hispidi,48 uiri certe de Seir, uiri sanguinum et peccatorum. Clamat et apostolus ad nos et ipse aliquando de Seir, persecutor scilicet et blasphemus, 'qui stat uideat ne cadat'.49 Isti in culmine religionis steterunt et celum bonorum operum oppinione pulsare uidebantur sed, fallente diabolo, per immundiciam carnis et habundanciam iniquitatis corruerunt et opprobrium sempiternum nomina sua in terris suis relinquerunt. Gulam igitur ieiunia superent, luxuriam uigilie edoment, linguam silencia temperent, uisum pudor et mundi contemptus humilient, carnem parcitas edomet, animum constancia roboret, motus omnes et affectus mater caritas ordinet et conformet. Hec a summo bono, sine quo nichil boni, petenda sunt, ab ipso patre luminum, cuius est omne datum optimum et omne donum perfectum. Clamat et nunc ad nos de Seir, 'Custos, quid de nocte, custos quid de nocte?'50 Dicit custos, 'Nisi Dominus custodierit ciuitatem nostram, frustra uigilat qui custodit eam. Frustra domum edificabit, nisi Dominus coedificauerit.'51 Sed quid nostris meritis edificando et uigilando non ualemus, huius matris nostre patrocinio consequi nos posse credamus.
pg 5[2. Life]
She had a distinguished origin from royal stock, for she was the half-sister, through her mother, of king Oswiu, and the aunt of king Ecgfrith, who was so devoted to God.6 In their time she shone forth as the mother of the kingdom and the glory of such great nobility. For just as, as someone says, the vine brings forth grapes in the vineyard or lilies produce flowers from themselves,7 in the same way happy Britain brought forth happy Æbbe from a noble line of kings. Bede appears to put nothing about her father or her mother in the history of his people. He refers only to the celebrity of her name and the downfall of her monastery very briefly, as if he wanted to hurry on to other things.8 Perhaps his reasoning was that in that work he preferred to deal with matters briefly rather than expand on them at length, or rather he left her saintly deeds to other writers and entrusted them to narration by posterity. Hence we have heard with our own ears many things and our fathers have told us the work she worked in their time in ancient days.9 The chronicles of the genealogy of the kings of the Deirans and Bernicians relate that Æthelfrith, son of Æthelric, son of Ida, king of the Bernicians, had by his queen Acha, daughter of Ælle king of the Deirans, seven sons and one daughter, namely Eanfrith, Oswald, Oswiu, Oslaf, Oslac, Offa, Oswudu, and St Æbbe the abbess.10 On the other hand, some say that he had two sons by her, Eanfrith and Oswald, while he fathered Oswiu and the rest from concubines.11 In those days the highest nobility of the well-born was regarded as that manifested in the service of Christ, nor did they believe they had attained any degree of heavenly glory unless they had put on the humility of the Lord's cross. On that account he calls from Seir, where is now the wise man, where the scribe, where the disputer of this world,12 where the priest or prince of the people who would leave all that he possesses and follow Christ bearing his cross?13 Certainly, they despise in the religious what they ought rather to embrace in themselves. At that time both of the Lord's families, the congregation of the holy multitude of men and the innumerable chorus of virgins, served pg 7throughout England, and in one place under the rule of one father or mother, distributed among various monasteries, they fought the battles of chastity, girded with the sword of the spirit,14 against the powers of darkness. And that passage of The Song of Songs was fulfilled which says, 'Flowers appeared, flourishing vines gave off a fragrance, and the voice of the turtledove was heard in our land'.15 For the merits of the confessors were flowers, the trophies of the martyrs vines, the chastity of virgins the voice of the turtledove. They left the traces of their castles on the high mountains and in the muddy marshes until now, and their memory will be found in the writings of their fathers forever. When the blessed virgin saw the glory of their final state, she fully imitated their progress in the faith. So, in the flower of her youth, she turned her back on the kingdom of this world and all the splendours of secular things, for love of the son of God, whom she saw with a pure heart, whom she sought with a chaste body, in whom she believed with her whole spirit, whom she loved with all her strength, and she received the veil of the holy way of life from Finan, bishop of Lindisfarne.16 She preferred the service of the Lord to nobility, spiritual poverty to riches, voluntary humiliation to honours. Born, as she was, of noble descent, she conquered the world by faith, her beauty by goodness, and her sex by virtue.
She was sought in marriage, however, by a tyrant of the Scots called Aidan, whom Bede mentions in his History of the English.17 Because she rejected him, he eventually decided to take her by force and pursued her with both love and violence. It is said that she took refuge at St Abb's Head and that, at her prayers, the sea, raising itself up from the south and overflowing the course of the adjacent valley, for three days obstructed the enemy and provided the protection of a fortification for the virgin, with the Lord's help. This is a familiar story among the populace and has been handed down by our forefathers, so it seems right to maintain it, since, in addition, it seems to have left a trace in the nature of the terrain.18 Indeed something quite similar once happened at Lindisfarne, and things are believed more easily if they can be supported by a similar happening. For, if I should say that the brimming sea provided a dry path for those carrying St Cuthbert's body, nobody would perhaps believe it, unless they had previously read of a similar work of wonder performed in the Red Sea.19 Once also a thief was fleeing with a pg 9horse, with dry sands stretching out on all sides, when suddenly the sea sent its waves against him, but when he returned to the island and came to himself through penitence, since he turned the inflation of his spirit to humility, he emptied the sea of the fervour of its anger. When he came again, it restored dry sands for him.20 Why, therefore, should it be amazing that the sea obstructed the cruel tyrant's path and, when he went away, gathered its waters together and restored them to their place? Why should it be amazing if He granted this to His virgin, when He granted that to His confessor? I say this to demonstrate the foolishness or madness of those who reject or ridicule as impossible the miracles of the saints of old. This stems from their lack of faith, for they are unwilling to believe that what was once done for the conversion of the wicked has been handed down to the good for praise, for the world would not have believed unless it had seen greater miracles.
That headland was once resplendent with tall buildings but afterwards was turned into a level wasteland by the wickedness of those who lived there. There is a rock situated above the sea, round in shape like an egg, its northern face being larger, while to the south its sides slowly converge almost to a point. It rises so high that the favour of nature girds it with its own height and defends it by the rough surroundings. It is connected to the surrounding hills by a very wide valley. It seems to pride itself in its solitude so much that it disdains to have an equal among the other hills and it glories in a kind of preeminence accorded by its distinguished name. It is hard to climb and hard to reach, for to the north and south it is approached by narrow paths, not without fear of the precipice which plunges downward, while to the west it rises to a peak in a little hill and thence slopes eastwards to an uneven flat surface, where the oratory of the blessed virgin can be seen. It is so secluded, in the silence and quiet of spiritual striving, that the material eye can see nothing in it at whose sight the wanton heart might be deflected from the desire for heavenly things. It has two fountains as a comfort to its solitude and hermit life, a higher spring and a lower spring. For one furnishes perpetual moisture with its waters at the roots of the hill, the other at the top of the hill sometimes dries up in the summer heat and presents only a ditch to those seeking water. Many invalids and sick pg 11people have obtained their former health though drinking their healing waters. The blessed virgin and the holy companions of her congregation drank from these fountains, and it is no wonder if the mouths of so many saints drinking so frequently and their touch when washing have impressed the waters with special power. Whether, with the Holy Spirit going before, she was the first to establish the religious life in this empty waste, or whether she found it already established by the efforts of predecessors, is uncertain. But nothing is truer than that in that place she lived soberly, justly, and piously, and rendered her blessed spirit to heaven, leaving the clay of her holy body to the earth.
Through the gift of her brother Oswiu she built another nunnery by the banks of the river Derwent and called it Ebchester, that is, Æbbe's castle, after her own name.21 Its ruins teach us today quite clearly what it was once like and how great it once was when it was standing. For, times changed, as they do, and its inhabitants were killed in the time of the wicked chieftains Ingvar and Ubba, who committed appalling slaughter far and wide amongst the English after they had killed their king, Edmund.22 Ebchester was destroyed and turned into forested wastelands and grazing places for animals, as it appears today.
In the earlier monastery she presided over a congregation of men and virgins. They lived in dwellings adjacent to each other. Assembled together in God's covenant, with the greatest happiness of soul and spirit they rejoiced to live under her, who, with wonderful powers of discretion, showed herself a mother to the girls in the tenacity of her exhortations and a father to the men in the constancy of her mind. On this account she calls to you from Seir, nor does she command silence to those who call out. It is amazing to find masculine strength in a virgin's tenderness. Therefore we should be men in the pursuit of virtue; by yielding to the vices we do not have the name of men. For the young and almost beardless men among us, who have, like the stronger warriors, sustained the course of a harder battle, with harsh weapons, namely rougher food and clothing, seek softness. We older men, who believe we have conquered the flesh pg 13with old age, consider we should have indulgence because of our white hair and repose because of the length of our years. It is not so, dearest, it is not so. While the slightest spark is alive in the ashes, he who sleeps alongside will not be safe from the fire. As long as we live, the war which we fight against the flesh can be won but cannot be finished. Behold, virgins happily conquer the world and return blessed from the battle, who after victory do not know how to be beaten. Behold the wise virgin of whom we are speaking, the prudent virgin. Although hitherto she had been used to a soft life and had been able freely to enjoy the world, she was not defeated by consideration of her high origin, nor held back by the tenderness of her age, not cast down by the weakness of the flesh, nor led astray by the fragility of her sex, but she fought valiantly against all the attacks of the Enemy. She despised royal halls resounding with their crowds of servants, and beautifully adorned beds, redolent of soft luxury, and shut herself up within the narrow confines of her solitude, preferring before all pleasures this happiness: to see virgins dedicated to God fighting a spiritual fight against the enticements of the flesh. For as she grew in virtue and the fame of her deeds and the fragrance of her sanctity spread all around, many noblewomen flooded to her, following her example and disdainfully trampling the flourishing world beneath their feet. The noble virgin Æthelthryth, too, once a disciple at St Abb's Head, now the glory of Ely, spurned the royal bed, subjected herself to training under such a mistress, and received the nun's veil at the hands of bishop Wilfrid.23 The blessed father Cuthbert too, although from childhood he had shunned the company of women like the plague, used to come to talk with her and spend some days instructing those who lived there.24 The visits of any saints whose teaching and example could instruct the congregation committed to her were a source of delight. The place seemed to be a kind of paradise of delights before the fall, with its inhabitants fostering in their hearts the fruits of various virtues and, after conquering the enticements of bodily passion, passing into a kind of quiet impassability while still in the flesh.
But there was a serpent in paradise.25 For who can sleep so soundly in their spouse's lap that Leviathan does not hiss against them? Wherefore he calls to you from Seir, do not arouse him.26 For he sleeps but not for us. He sleeps in moist places and in the covert of pg 15the reed.27 He sleeps for sleepers. He watches against those who watch and goes around seeking whom of the watchers he might devour.28 For just as he envied the glory of our first parents, the man and the woman, so he has attacked in order to destroy the continence of men and women. Therefore he turned to the old weapons of his cunning, casting out our first parents from their royal seats, as I have said, and bringing them to dwellings of mud through the sin of eating what was illicit; he made the Sodomites, whose beautiful land flourished like paradise before it was overthrown, deserving of the penalty of fire and sulphur because of their drunkenness and foul forms of intercourse;29 he often deluded Israel, the people of the Lord, through the Midianites30 and elderly judges and almost exhausted old men.31 So also in this case. For he turned their dwellings, which had been constructed for prayer, reading, and other spiritual exercises, into dens of feasting, gossip, and other seductions.32 He charged his bow from a quiver of them, for they were arrows for him. He prepared a pit and they fell into it.33 The irresistible beauty of the maidens attracted the men, and the restless desire of the men drew the maidens. Whenever they had spare time, they indulged in weaving fine garments, with which they might adorn themselves as if they were lay brides, in contempt of their heavenly spouse, or with which they might procure the love of men outside the monastery.34 At length both sexes declined from the uprightness of their position to movements just like those of horses in which there is no understanding, becoming enmired in the mud of pleasure like stars falling from the sky. This outrage of delusions, however, lay hidden from Æbbe.
It is right to bring to mind briefly what the Venerable Bede wrote at greater length about their fall.35 In the year of the Lord 680,36 the monastery of virgins, which they call St Abb's Head, was consumed by flames because of carelessness. All who knew could easily perceive that this had happened because of the wickedness of its inhabitants,37 and especially of those who seemed more prominent. But the divine goodness did not fail to give those who were about to be punished a warning, by which, if they had corrected themselves through fasting and weeping and prayers, they would have turned away from themselves the wrath of the just judge, just like the people of Nineveh.38 For there was in that monastery a man of pg 17outstanding sanctity, Adomnán by name, born from the Irish nation.39As a young man he had committed some crime which he knew would be punished by God with heavy and eternal torments unless reconciliation through a priest and the remedy of penance came to his aid. So he consulted a priest of great faith and asked humbly if he yet had any hope of salvation. 'I am young and strong of body,' he said, 'and I will willingly bear whatever you impose upon me, if only I may be saved in the day of the Lord: if you command me to spend the whole night standing in prayer, or to pass the whole week fasting.' The priest replied, 'That is a great deal, but it is enough to observe a two-day or three-day fast. Do this until I return and then I will show you more fully how long to maintain this penance and what you should do thereafter.' So the priest went away after prescribing the form of his penance and withdrew to Ireland, which was his place of origin, where, in that same year, he departed from this world. When he had learned this, Adomnán had not wished to impart his secret to another, and, he himself now becoming a priest, for the whole time that he lived took no food or drink during the week, according to the mode of penance prescribed for him, except on Sunday and Thursday, adding this from his own will, that he often passed whole nights in vigils. What he had once begun out of fear of God and on account of his guilt, he now did constantly out of love of God and from delight, and what had originated from the necessity of correcting wickedness he converted into a voluntary and habitual practice. When he had been following this way of life continuously for a long time, it happened one day that he went far from the monastery, accompanied by one of the brethren, and returned when the journey had been completed. As they drew near to the monastery and saw its buildings raised on high, the man of God dissolved in tears and betrayed the sadness of his heart by the indications on his face. His companion saw this and asked what he was doing. 'All these buildings that you see,' he said, 'public and private, will soon be turned to ash by consuming fire.' As soon as they entered the monastery, he took care to inform the mother of the community of what he had heard. She was naturally troubled by such a prophecy, called the man to her and inquired with great diligence how he knew this. He said, 'Recently, when I was keeping vigil and reciting psalms at night, I suddenly saw standing by me someone whose face I did not recognize and whose presence terrified me. He told me not to be afraid and spoke to me in a familiar tone, saying, "You do well, preferring to devote yourself to vigils and prayers in the period of nocturnal quiet rather than to indulge in sleep. For you and many others need to redeem your sins with good works pg 19and when the time for the work of the world is over, then to work more freely from desire for eternal goods. But very few do so. Indeed, wandering through this whole monastery, I have inspected the rooms and beds of everyone here and found nobody except you busy with the health of their soul. Every single one of them, male and female, is either drowsing in sluggish sleep or awake in order to sin. Hence heaven has prepared the severe punishment of raging flames for this place and its inhabitants."' The abbess said, 'And why did you not wish to reveal this information to me sooner?' He replied, 'I was afraid for your reverence, lest you perhaps be greatly disturbed. But you have this consolation, that this disaster will not occur in your time.'40 After the vision had been made known, the inhabitants of the place began to be somewhat afraid for a little while and, giving up their sins, they punished themselves. On account of this he of Seir calls to us. For the God of Abraham says, 'I will not destroy the whole place for ten just men.'41 Behold, for the merit of one, the destruction of them all is delayed. The divine severity showed to that same patriarch what was to befall the inhabitants of Sodom and forewarned St Benedict of the downfall of his monasteries.42 Think what her merit was, whom, for her consolation, the Lord deigned to inform through His servant of the desolation of her place. One can believe that she was the equal of the blessed Lot. For after he came out of Sodom, the sulphurous fire consumed those whom he had left behind. So, when she left the body behind and was conveyed to Segor,43 which is 'little',44 for the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little ones,45 they returned to their original filth and the destruction of the vengeance we have mentioned overwhelmed them. Thereafter that place was turned into an empty wilderness and those who had remained pure at heart were driven by fear to disperse to many different places. What had befallen them to their ruin was of profit to many as a chastisement and a remedy. Therefore he calls to us from Seir. For it is clear from this how important it to avoid living with women, even good women. Consider how great are the battles that the evil spirit inflicts on his servants through familiarity with them, how many towns he burns, how many monasteries he destroys, how many lofty hearts, raised to heaven through the grace of contemplation, he turns into the depths of iniquity simply by their glance, as if by the glance of a kinglet.
At that time the holy father Cuthbert was still dwelling in the body pg 21at the hermitage of Farne.46 Learning of what great confusion had arisen in the house of the Lord through women, he enacted the famous decree (as we believe, even though it is not recorded in writing), to be observed as a perpetual law by his servants, according to which not only was the company of women forbidden to them wherever his holy body was present but even the entry, access, and sight of women were prohibited.47 He calls to us from Seir that we should attend to the miserable destruction of those mentioned above and avoid the example of wicked living. And these men were hairy and shaggy,48 truly men of Seir, men of blood and sin. The Apostle also calls to us and he sometime of Seir, namely a persecutor and blasphemer, 'let him that stands take heed lest he fall'.49 These stood at the height of the religious life and seemed to knock at heaven's door in their reputation for good works but, tricked by the devil, they fell through the foulness of the flesh and the abundance of iniquity and their names left a note of perpetual disgrace in their lands. Therefore let fasting overcome gluttony, let vigils tame lust, let silence restrain the tongue, let modesty and contempt for the world humble the eyesight, let deprivation subjugate the flesh, let constancy strengthen the mind, let mother charity order and shape all movements and feelings. These things are to be sought from the highest good, without whom there is no good thing, from the very father of light, whose every grant is wonderful and whose every gift is perfect. He calls now to us from Seir, 'Watchmen, what of the night, watchmen, what of the night?'50 'Unless the Lord watches over our city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. He builds a house in vain unless the Lord builds too.'51 But what we are unable to build and guard through our own merits, let us believe we can attain through the patronage of this our mother.