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Through cloister, aisle, and gallery,
The stranger sisters roam :
They closed around the fire ;
A theme that ne'er can tire
Then Whitby's nuns exulting told,
Must menial service do;
Saint Hilda's priest ye slew.”"This, on Ascension-day, each year, While labouring on our harbour-pier, Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear.". They told, how in their convent-cell A Saxon princess once did dwell, The lovely Edelfled ;?
See Appendix, Note G,
And how, of thousand snakes, each one
When holy Hilda pray'd;
? She was the daughter of King Oswy, who, in gratitude to Heaven for the great victory which he won in 655, against Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, dedicated Edelfleda, then but a year old, to the service of God, in the monastery of Whitby, of which St. Hilda was then abbess. She afterwards adorned the place of her education with great magnificence.
* These two miracles are much insisted upon by all ancient writers, who have occasion to mention either Whitby or St. Hilda. The relics of the snakes which infested the precincts of the convent, and were, at the abbess' prayer, not only beheaded, but petrified, are still found about the rocks, and are termed by Protestant fossilists, Ammonito.
The other miracle is thus mentioned by Camden :-“ It is also ascribed to the power of her sanctity, that these wild geese, which, in the winter, fly in great flocks to the lakes and rivers unfrozen in the southern parts, to the great amazement of every one, fall down suddenly upon the ground, when they are in their flight over certain neighbouring fields hereabouts: a relation I should not have made, if I had not received it from several credible men. But those who are less inclined to heed superstition, attribute it to some occult quality in the ground, and to somewhat of antipathy between it and the geese, such as they say is betwixt wolves and scyllaroots : For that such hidden tendencies and aversions, as we call sympathies and antipathies, are implanted in many things by provident Nature for the preservation of them, is a thing so evident, that everybody grants it." Mr. Charlton, in his History of Whitby, points out the true origin of the fable, from the number of seagulls that, when flying from a storm, often alight near Whitby ; and from the woodcocks, and other birds of passage, who do the same upon their arrival on sbore, after a long flight.
Nor did Saint Cuthbert's daughters fail,
St. Cuthbert was, in the choice of his sepulchre, one of the most mutable and unreasonable saints in the Calendar. He died A. D. 688, in a hermitage upon the Farne Islands, having resigned the bishopric of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, about two years before. His body was brought to Lindisfarne, where it remained until a descent of the Danes, about 793, when the monastery was nearly destroyed. The monks fled to Scotland, with what they deemed their chief treasure, the relics of St. ('uthbert. The Saint was, however, a most capricious fellow-traveller; which was the more intolerable, as, like Sinbad's Old Man of the Sea, he journeyed upon the shoulders of his companions. They paraded him through Scotland for several years, and came as far west as Whithern, in Galloway, whence they attempted to sail for Ireland, but were driven back by tempests. He at length made a halt at Norham; from thence he went to Melrose, where he remained stationary for a short time, and then cause l himself to be launched upon the Tweed in a stone coffin, which landed him at Tilmouth in Northumberland. This boat is finely shaped, ten feet long, three feet and a half in diameter, and only four inches thick ; so that, with very little assistance, it might certainly have swam: It still lies, or at least did so a few years ago, in two pieces, beside the ruined chapel of Tilmouth. From Tilmouth, Cuthbert wandered into Yorkshire; and at length made a long stay at Chester-le-Street, to which the bishop's see was transferred. At length, the Danes continuing to infest the country, the monks removed to Rippon for a season; and it was in return from thence to Chester-le-Street, that, passing through a forest called Dunholme, the Saint and his carriage became immovable at a place nameil Wardlaw, or Wardilaw. Here the Saint chose his place of residence; ard all who have seen Durham must admit, that, if difficult in his choice, he evinced taste in at length fixing it. It is said, that the Nortbumbrian Catholics still keep secret the precise spot of the Saint's sepulture, which is
• He resumed the bishopric of Lindisfarne, which, owing to bad health, he again relinquished within less than three months before his death.— Raine's St. Cuthber!
How, when the rude Dane burn'd their pile,
only intrusted to three persons at a time. Wben one dies, the survivors associate to them, in liis room, a person judged fit to be the depositary of so valuable a secret.
The resting-place of the remains of this Saint is not now matter of uncertainty. So recently as 17th May 1827, 1139 years after his death, their discovery and disinterment were effected. Under a blue stone, in the middle of the shrine of St. Cuthbert, at the eastern extremity of the choir of Durham Cathedral, there was then found a walled grave, containing the coffins of the Saint. The first, or outer one, was ascertained to be that of 1541, the second of 1041; the third, or inner one, answering in every particular to the description of that of 698, was found to contain, not indeed, as had been averred then, and even until 1539, the incorruptible body, but the entire skeleton of the Saint; the bottom of the grave being perfectly dry, free from offensive smell, and without the slightest symptom that a human body had ever undergone decomposition within its walls. The skeleton was found swathed in five silk robes of emblematical embroidery, the ornamental parts laid with gold leaf, and these again covered with a robe of linen. Beside the skeleton was also deposited several gold and silver insignia, and other relics of the Saint. (The Roman Catholics now allow that the coffin was that of Saint Cuthbert.)
The bones of the Saint were again restored to the grave in a new coffin, amid the fragments of the former ones. Those portions of the inner coffin which could be preserved, including one of its rings, with the silver altar, golden cross, stole, comb, two maniples, bracelets, girdle, gold wire of the skeleton, and fragments of the five silk robes, and some of the rings of the outer coffin made in 1541, were deposited in the library of the Dean and Chapter, where they are now preserved.
For ample details of the life of St. Cuthbert, -his coffin journeys, -an account of the opening of his tomb, and a description of the silk robes and other relics found in it, the reader interested in such matters is referred to a work entitled "Saint Cuthbert, by James Raine, M.A.," (4to, Durham 1828), where he will find much of antiquarian history, ceremonies, and superstitions, to gratify his curiosity.