Godric of Finchale

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Saint Godric of Finchale
St Godric
Born c. 1065
Walpole, Norfolk, England
Died 21 May 1170(1170-05-21)
Finchale in County Durham, England
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Attributes Hermit

Saint Godric of Finchale (or Saint Goderic) (c. 1065 – 21 May 1170) was an English hermit, merchant and popular medieval saint, although he was never formally canonised. He was born in Walpole in Norfolk and died in Finchale in County Durham.


I. Saintë Marië Virginë,
Moder Iesu Cristes Nazarenë,
Onfo, schild, help thin Godric,
Onfong bring hegilich
With the in Godës riche.

II. Saintë Marië Cristes bur,
Maidenës clenhad, moderës flur;
Dilie min sinnë, rix in min mod,
Bring me to winnë with the selfd God.

The first two hymns of St Godric, some of the earliest surviving musical settings in Middle English[1]

Saint Godric's life was recorded by a contemporary of his: a monk named Reginald of Durham. Several other hagiographies are also extant. According to these accounts, Godric, who began from humble beginnings as the son of Ailward and Edwenna, "both of slender rank and wealth, but abundant in righteousness and virtue", was a pedlar, then a sailor and entrepreneur, and may have been the captain and owner of the ship that conveyed Baldwin I of Jerusalem to Jaffa in 1102. After years at sea, Godric reportedly went to the island of Lindisfarne and there encountered Saint Cuthbert; this will not have been a physical encounter as Cuthbert had long been dead and was by then interred at Durham Cathedral. This encounter changed his life, and he devoted himself to Christianity and service to God thereafter.

After many pilgrimages around the Mediterranean, Godric returned to England and lived with an elderly hermit named Aelric for two years. Upon Aelric's death, Godric made one last pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and then returned home where he convinced Ranulf Flambard, the Bishop of Durham, to grant him a place to live as a hermit at Finchale, by the River Wear. He had previously served as doorkeeper, the lowest of the minor orders, at the hospital church of nearby St Giles Hospital in Durham. He is recorded to have lived at Finchale for the final sixty years of his life, occasionally meeting with visitors approved by the local prior. As the years passed, his reputation grew, and Thomas Becket and Pope Alexander III both reportedly sought Godric's advice as a wise and holy man.

13th-century manuscript of the four hymns of St Godric
Finchale Priory on the River Wear on the site of Godfric's hermitage

Reginald describes Godric's physical attributes:

For he was vigorous and strenuous in mind, whole of limb and strong in body. He was of middle stature, broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with a long face, grey eyes most clear and piercing, bushy brows, a broad forehead, long and open nostrils, a nose of comely curve, and a pointed chin. His beard was thick, and longer than the ordinary, his mouth well-shaped, with lips of moderate thickness; in youth his hair was black, in age as white as snow; his neck was short and thick, knotted with veins and sinews; his legs were somewhat slender, his instep high, his knees hardened and horny with frequent kneeling; his whole skin rough beyond the ordinary, until all this roughness was softened by old age...

St Godric is perhaps best remembered for his kindness toward animals, and many stories recall his protection of the creatures who lived near his forest home. According to one of these, he hid a stag from pursuing hunters; according to another, he even allowed snakes to warm themselves by his fire.

Reginald of Durham recorded four songs of St Godric's: they are the oldest songs in English for which the original musical settings survive. Reginald describes the circumstances in which Godric learnt the first song.[2] In a vision the Virgin Mary appeared to Godric with at her side "two maidens of surpassing beauty clad in shining white raiments." They pledged to come to his aid in times of need; and the Virgin herself taught Godric a song of consolation to overcome grief or temptation ("Saintë Marië Virginë").

The novel Godric (1981) by Frederick Buechner is a fictional retelling of his life and travels. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.


  1. I. Saint Mary, Virgin,
    Mother of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,
    Receive, shield, help your Godric,
    When received, bring him solemnly
    With you into God's kingdom.

    II. Saint Mary, Christ's bower,
    Maiden's purity, mother's flower,
    Destroy my sin, reign in my heart,
    Bring me to bliss with the very same God.
  2. Trend 1928


  • Reginald of Durham, "Life of St. Godric," in G. G. Coulton, ed. "Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Reformation" (p.415) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918. – digital copy
  • Frederick Buechner, "Godric," 1981, ISBN 0-06-061162-6, a historical novel.
  • Entry for "Godric", first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Victoria M. Tudor, "Reginald of Durham and St. Godric of Finchale: a study of a twelfth-century hagiographer and his subject", Reading PhD thesis, 1979.
  • Victoria M. Tudor, "Reginald of Durham and Saint Godric of Finchale: learning and religion on a personal level," "Studies in Church History," 17, 1981.
  • Susan J. Ridyard, "Functions of a Twelfth-Century Recluse Revisited: The Case of Godric of Finchale," in Belief and Culture in the Middle Ages: Studies Presented to Henry Mayr-Harting. Eds. Henry Mayr-Harting, Henrietta Leyser and Richard Gameson (Oxford, OUP, 2001), pp.
  • Francis Rice, rector of St Godrics "The Hermit of Finchdale: Life of Saint Godric" Pentland Press ISBN 1-85821-151-4
  • Trend, J. B. (1928), "The First English Songs", Music & Letters, 2: 111–128, JSTOR 726705<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Deeming, Helen (2005), "The Songs of St Godric: A Neglected Context", Music & Letters, 86: 169–185, doi:10.1093/ml/gci031<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rollason, David; Harvey, Margaret; Prestwich, Michael, eds. (1998), Anglo-Norman Durham, 1093–1193, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 0-85115-654-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links