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Monday, August 15, 2011

It 'Aint Easy Living With Saints


My eldest hates his middle name, not as though I can blame him. His father wasn't overly keen on carrying it around with him either, but well, tradition is tradition, and so come his baptism we duly lumbered the firstborn with it anyway.

It's a curious piece of family history, and one I doubt is backed up in solid fact, but being as how my mother-in-law was so fiercely proud of her ancestry, I was never brave nor mad enough to question it's voracity.
Generations of the first born male have "Guthlac" in their name. The claim is they are from a direct line of the St. Guthlac, the one who came over here with the Vikings to rape and pillage for a bit.

He certainly was a very busy man, 'cos around about this time he also managed to marry and sire four legitimate children to claim for his own. Well, not that he hung around for very long mind, because shortly later he found the lure of becoming a hermit too strong to deny (and having four sweet cherubs of my own, I can certainly understand the lure).

He certainly was a bit of a lad, our Guthlac, tho' personally I would have hardly have called him Saintly. Having seemingly tired of the raping, murdering and pillaging chapter of his life, it appears he then found religion and swiftly moved on to his dead-beat dad phase.    


(Ahhh, those boys will be boys, eh?)

Anyways, long story short, he finished up living in a cave in Ely, performed three miracles, and ended up canonised for it. My mother-in-law swore unto to her dying day that she and her descendants had the blood of Saint Guthlac swishing through their veins.


Veronica was quite a lady. She had many tales she could relate to us regarding her linage, some were truly remarkable, and others I took laced with a heavy sprinkle of salt, but it was undoubtedly true she believed each and every word (like the story of her Great Aunt Freya for example, an intrepid explorer of her day, who travelled the far reaches of the globe, and who, for her troubles was found murdered, drowned somewhere in the Nile). But this St. Guthlac tale may well turn out be the most enormous humdinger of them all. Still, it sure does add a lovely bit of spice to the old family history, doesn't it?

Guess we'll never really know, but it is rather fascinating to contemplate. Sadly, I think my own kids are more at that pillaging stage in their lives right about now.. nevertheless a mother can always live in hopes, eh? (Sigh.)

 
(For those of you more interested in the boring bits, please feel free, though far from obliged, to read on.. )


 St. Guthlac (c.AD 673-714)

St. Guthlac was the son of Penwald, a minor prince from the Royal Mercian House of Icling, and his wife, Tette. Born around AD 673, he was a serious child, not given to boyish pranks. Yet upon reaching manhood at fifteen, he decided to become a soldier of fortune. He collected a great troop of armed followers around him and, together, they ravaged the countryside, burning, raping and pillaging as they went. For nine years, Guthlac carried on with this thoughtless way of life, even marrying and fathering children, until, one night, he had a heavenly dream that instilled him with love and compassion for his fellow man. He made an oath to dedicate his life to the service of the Lord and, in the morning, bade his family and companions farewell. He forsook his accumulated wealth and went off to join the dual-monastery at Repton in Derbyshire, where he received the tonsure from Abbess Aelfthrith.

After two years in the monastery, Guthlac began to long for the more secluded life of a hermit. So, having acquired leave from the monastic elders, he departed for the great Fens, north of Cambridge. Unlike the well drained arable land of today, the Fens were then a labyrinth of black wandering streams, broad lagoons and quagmires with vast beds of reeds, sedge and fern. The islands amongst this dismal swamp were a great attraction for the recluse.


Guthlac was directed to a particular one of these islands by a local man named Tatwin. Many people had attempted to inhabit it before, but none had succeeded, on account of the loneliness of the wilderness and its manifold horrors. The twenty-six year old Guthlac eagerly rose to such a challenge and arrived in a little boat at his new home of the "Crow Land" on St. Bartholomew's Day.

He surveyed the area a while before returning to Repton for supplies and building materials with which he returned with the help of two servants. St. Guthlac found an ancient tumulus on the island, against which he built himself a hermitage. He resolved to wear only skins and ate only barley bread and drank water each day. For a while, he was disturbed on his little island by a number of the native British inhabitants who dragged him into the swamp and beat him. In the dark night, Guthlac imagined he was attacked by horrible monsters.

There were other dangers closer to home however. Guthlac's servant, Beccel, was shaving him one day, when he was seized by a desire to cut his master's throat and install himself in his cell, that he might instead be honoured by the locals as a holyman. Luckily, the perceptive Guthlac saw the temptation within and shamed the offender into confession and repentance.


Guthlac was a tall trim man. He was mild, engaging, tolerate, modest, patient and humble. These many virtues were recognised by the Fenland wildlife. All the wild birds came to him and fed from his hands. Ravens, though at first tormenting him by stealing letters and gloves from his visitors, later, seized with compunction at his reproofs, brought them back. As Wilfrid, a holy visitant, was once conversing with him on his island, two passing swallows flew down onto the saint's shoulders and burst into song. Guthlac believed that, "With him who has led his life after God's will, the wild beasts and wild birds are tame."

After fifteen years in the Fens, Guthlac was seized by an alarming illness while at prayers in his chapel. Beccel ran to his side and tended him; but the holy man was dying. He hung on for another eight days, giving his servant detailed instruction for his burial by his sister, Pegge, in a lead coffin and a sheet given him by Abbess Edburga. He died on 11th April AD 714 and the great Abbey of Croyland
grew up around his grave.

32 comments:

Ms. A said...

I guess there is still hope for me to become a Saint!

lisleman said...

I never heard about that one. The idea of saints is probably good as is the idea of heroes. Not bad to have a goal. But I'm very skeptical organized religions because you always have real people with egos, power, and personal motives involved.
The Popes of the past (who knows about the past?) were known to make deals and wars.
I agree with you about questioning some of this legend.

Shrinky said...

Ms.A, if even someone with his creds can make it, there's gotta' hope for all of us!

Shrinky said...

Ooooooooooh, Lisleman, The Borgia's has just started to air over on our side of the pond, I'm taping it, and only viewed the first two episodes last night - eeeeeeek - it's deliciously evil, I'm so hooked already.

ellen abbott said...

a monk and then a hermit but he still had his servant? dang man.

my son doesn't care for his middle name either...Ned. but we named him after a wonderfully generous soul, my husband's best friend, who was sent off to Viet Nam and could never get his life straight after that. He died young of an accidental drug overdose.

mythopolis said...

Oh me! Quite a tale. Am I misunderstanding this? I don't live with saints, or gods for that matter. My kids do what they wish in the absence of god-complexes. They seem to be ok with me! Am I missing something?

mrsnesbitt said...

Entrenched in lore and history! What a saint! lol! I on the other hand have a secondname after me nana -Elizabeth - my first name WAS going to be Penelope! Phew! near miss!

Leslie: said...

Wow! A saint in the family. Now I am the great grandaughter of a Scottish Lord, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket. hee hee

#1Nana said...

So he's the patron saint of rape and pillaging? hehehe

Wonder if your son will carry on the family tradition?

Portia said...

Well it seems that I am part Viking since my father has Baron Dupuytren's disease. You only have to look at my dad and me to see the possible Viking resemblance. :) I keep checking the tendons in my hands to see if I am starting to get it. Thank God, not so far!

~Babs said...

Vikings, Saints,,,,wow. I didn't know you were into sports, shrink!
(not that I am)

Names, on the other hand, I find can be fascinating or horrid.
My middle name is of the later catagory, named after my Mom's very best friend. I've always hated it, but forgave Mama, when I learned what a sweet, sweet woman the lady was.
Your son's could be worse,,,,I think, but it certainly gives him an image to maintain.

mythopolis said...

Saint Shrinky rules!!!

Robyn said...

I understand why he is not happy about his middlename... saint of no saint ;-)

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

we just have a crazy aunt in the attic

ethelmaepotter! said...

Wow, how impressive, even if this saint was a rapist and pillager.

Our family's claim to fame goes back a mere 200 years and involves money, murder, slave trading, and counterfeiting.

We're all so proud.

Akelamalu said...

Hey Guthlac's a cool name to be saddled with I think. :)

Fen said...

At least the name has a history, and an interesting one at that. There's so many kids with bizarre made up names these days that mean nothing more than their parents couldn't spell!

TechnoBabe said...

This is quite interesting actually.
Thanks for sharing it with us. For now, your son is probably not interested, but some day it will be his family story to tell his own kids.

Eternally Distracted said...

Ooooo I want a Saint in my family too... PS I'm back :)

Bathwater said...

Doesn't sound very saintly, I swear I'm living in the wrong times I'd be a saint by now...well sort of a saint.

Furtheron said...

he may not like the name but it is a great story to have... although no doubt after the nth time you've had to tell a person on a call centre how to spell it and why that is your name I suppose the attraction would diminish a bit... still he can look forward to bestowing that fun on his first born offspring can't he... :-)

elisecrets said...

You're eldest will soon be very proud of having a name with a wonderful history... It'll be a great pick up line for the girls :)

365 Attempts (At Life) said...

If my grandma got her way I'd be called 'Maria Spiritio Santo'(Mary of the holy Spirit)instead of Tanya. :-)

Shrinky said...

Thank you everyone for your much appreceiated comments, it's always a delight to receive them!

BTW, I would like to stress, Guthlac is Matt's MIDDLE name, even we were not cruel enough to make it his first one!

laughingwolf said...

interesting... wonder if that`s the source of the name of the county of crowland, in southern ontario, where i grew up...

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Well there won't be anyone else with that middle name at school! :)

Reading the blurb at the bottom it all sounds so.....MIDDLE EARTH!

Shammickite said...

That's why legends are there.... so they can be questioned. And I am very impressed that you carried on the tradition of naming the firstborn son according to family lore. I did it to my firstborn too... but the name wasn't quite as spectacular as Guthlac.

Putz said...

i am a saint><><>a latter day saint><<><>church of jesus christ of later day saints

secret agent woman said...

Guthlac, eh? Lots of family history, but good thing it's a middle name!

Barbara Shallue said...

I've never heard of this one, but what a cool story, even if you have to sprinkle it with lots of salt. I understand the lure of becoming a hermit myself and I only have 3 kids!

Mushy said...

Pillaging was much more fun back in the days before they started calling rape!

I wasn't saddled with a "family" name that I disliked so much, but the "James" has hung in their and has been passed on to my son. However,it will die now that my brother sired only girls, and my son did likewise! When we're gone...we're really gone!

Grayquill said...

It doesn't seem all that nice of him up and leaving his family, so he could become a monk...of course we don't know the woman he was married too do we? Maybe, it all made perfect sense :-O
I have always wondered about those folks who up and do something radical under the throes that "God told them to do this or that," after all it is pretty hard to tell someone they are wrong if you have to argue with God. I wonder if he used that excuse to leave his family.