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The Historical Works Of Venerable Bede

§ 24. AFTER Edmund’s death, whilst the church of Durham was ruled by Egilric, a marvellous event happened as they were ministering at the altar, portending without doubt the wrath of God to such as presume unchastely to approach that holy mystery. There was a certain priest, Fleoccher by name, who lived an unchaste life with a wife. On a certain day many nobles and private individuals had assembled under him for the purpose of consultation, and asked him to celebrate the mass for them before their sitting. Now Fleoccher, who had but recently parted from his wife, refused, until at last, on their repeatedly asking him, the fear of men prevailed over the fear of God, and he consented. But at the moment of his being about to take the holy mystery, he saw the portion of our Lord’s body, which had been put into the cup, mingled with blood, and changed into so black a colour, that it seemed more like pitch than bread and wine. He immediately perceived his offence, and turned pale, as if he was about to be at once consigned to the avenging flames. Moreover, he was in great doubt what to do with the cup, for he feared to drink it as if it were his own death; and yet, as it had been consecrated, he feared to throw it on the ground; wherefore he at last drank it, with much fear and trembling, but it was so bitter that nothing could exceed its bitterness. When the mass was over, he hastened to the bishop, and falling at his knees, related the circumstance in order, performed the penance which was enjoined on him, and lived chastely and piously for the future, according to the command of his bishop.

§ 25. After Egilric, Egelwin became bishop; and Judith, daughter of Baldwin, Count of Flanders, and wife of Tosti, Count of Northumberland, a good and religious woman, who greatly loved St. Cuthbert, made many presents to ornament his church, and promised to give still more, together with much land, if she might be allowed to enter the church and visit his tomb. But when she found herself unable to do so bold a deed herself, she sent one of her maids beforehand at night. The maid was just about to enter the burying-place, when she was thrown back, as if by the violence of the wind, and fainted. At length, having returned with much difficulty to the house, she fell on her bed, and never recovered, but died soon afterwards. The countess was terribly frightened at this occurrence; and for satisfaction, she and her husband ordered an image of the crucifix, another of the Mother of God, and a third of Saint John the Evangelist, to be made; and when they had adorned them with gold and silver, they gave them and many other presents to adorn the church.

§ 26. Nor must I omit to mention the miracles of the holy father which have been wrought in our own days. In the reign of our late religious King Edward, a miracle happened similar to those which I have mentioned, by which, through the punishment of one man’s presumption, many were deterred from the like. For whilst the well-known Count Tosti was ruling the county of Northumberland, a certain bad fellow, named Haldanhamal, was seized by him and placed in fetters. This man had committed many thefts, robberies, murders, and burnings; and though he had often offended the count, yet he never before could be taken. His parents and friends, in compassion for his case, offered large presents to the count if he would exempt him from punishment; and promised still more. But because he had so often provoked the count by such heinous crimes, he vowed never to take any compensation for his life. The criminal, in despair, considered his only chance to lie in his being able to get rid of his fetters and flee to the sanctuary of St. Cuthbert; for his prison was in the same town where the saint rests, namely, in Durham. He therefore tried every means which his ingenuity or strength could devise, but without effect, for the fear of the count made the guards doubly solicitous to keep him securely. He groaned in agony, and as his conscience made him now fear more for his soul than for his body, he in humility of heart offered up a petition to God’s beloved confessor. Whilst he promised repentance and amendment of life, if he only might escape, he suddenly saw himself released from his fetters, and the road of safety open before him. Joyful at this event, but still solicitous how he might escape the guards, he trusted all his hope of safety to the protection of the holy father. Meanwhile the guards were occupied in other matters, and had no suspicion of what he was doing; wherefore, seeing a chance of escape, he shook off the chains, and ran with all speed to the monastery, which he entered alone, and made the doors fast with bars behind him. It happened, too, by accident, that when the brethren had left the church after Prime, he found no one therein but himself.

§ 27. When this was known to the soldiers of the count, who happened also to be in the town, one of them, named Barwic, who took precedence of all others at court, followed the prisoner to the gates of the monastery, which he found fastened, and seeing the man within, he called out in indignation, “Why do we lose time? Let us break open the gates. We must not mind the privilege of this dead man, or thieves and murderers will escape here, and insult us because they are out of our reach.” Scarcely had he spoken these words, when he exclaimed that he felt an arrow from above pierce him through the head, even to his heart. Without speaking more he fell to the ground, and groaning, howling, and gnashing his teeth, he was carried by his men into the house, and never spoke again, but died there in torments the third day after, at the same hour. When he was dead and buried, such a stench came from his tomb for the space of half a year, that no one could pass that way. This warning terrified the count, and all who heard of it, and he no longer attempted to seize his victim, but on the contrary began to bestow honours upon him. Moreover, all the others, who felt conscious that they had even consented to his being forced from the monastery, fearing the like punishment, offered no small store of gold, silver, and precious stones, on the tomb of the Saint, and with many tears implored his forgiveness, vowing that they would never again be guilty of such a crime. With these offerings, a cross of beautiful workmanship, and a very valuable copy of the Gospels, were afterwards adorned with gold and jewels, and they are preserved in the monastery, in memory of the event, unto this day. Such is the account of this matter, which we have heard more than once from the brethren who witnessed it, and from him who thus escaped from punishment.

§ 28. There was also another bad man, named Oswulf, who one day awaking from sleep in a field, and finding a serpent entwined round his neck, seized it, and dashed it against the ground; but it was of no use, for the serpent again and again returned and coiled itself round his neck, and so the wretched man, whether he threw the animal into water or fire, or cut it to pieces with a knife, yet was utterly unable to discover how it was that it immediately came back. At first indeed the serpent was small, but by degrees it grew larger, and yet did not bite or poison the man. Whenever he entered the church, which was hallowed by the body of the Holy Cuthbert, the serpent left him, and did not molest him whilst he continued therein: but when he went out, the serpent again fastened on his neck, and thus he endured this affliction for a long time, until by a happy device, he spent three whole days and nights in the church praying, and so freed himself entirely from the serpent.

§ 29. About the same time, a servant came with his master to celebrate the Holy Confessor’s festival, and seeing a large quantity of pennies lying on the tomb, from the offerings of the faithful, he instantly thought of stealing some of them. He therefore approached, and escaping the notice of the bystanders, took four or five pieces of money in his mouth, whilst he was kissing the tomb. Immediately his mouth began to burn, so that he seemed, as he said afterwards, as if he had iron hot from the fire in his mouth. He tried to spit the money out, but could not open his mouth. Being thus tormented most horribly with the pain, he ran up and down the church, and alarmed all present, so that they thought he was mad. At length he rushed out of the church, through the midst of the people, and running to and fro, gave sufficient evidence, by his gestures and nods, that he was suffering intense pain, for he was unable to speak a word. At last recovering himself, he returned in haste to the tomb, and prostrating himself before it, he asked pardon of the Saint, and offered to give him all that he possessed. As he kissed the sepulchre and placed his oblation thereon, the money fell out of his mouth upon it. Thus released from his pain, he mounted his horse and rode away, and never again returned to Durham; for, though his master offered him a large sum, if he would go there with him, he not only refused to go, but would not even approach so near to the town, as to be able to see the church.

§ 30. In the year of our Lord’s incarnation one thousand and sixty-nine, which was the seventy-fourth after the translation of the Saint’s body by Aldun to Durham, William, king of the English, in the third year of his reign, appointed one Rodbert Cumin to the county of Northumberland. This man came to Durham with seven hundred followers, and acted towards the people of every house with the violence of an enemy; wherefore, on the twenty-seventh of January, he and all his men were cut off, save one who escaped wounded. The king, in anger, sent one of his generals with an army to avenge his death. When they had come as far as Alverton, and were about to proceed to Durham in the morning, so dark a fog came on, that they could neither see one another nor find their way. In astonishment they consulted what was best to be done, when some one told them that the inhabitants of that city had a saint among them, who always protected them in misfortune, and suffered no one to hurt them. When they heard this, they turned back and departed to their homes.

§ 31. The same year, King William came to York, with an army, and devastated all the country round. Bishop Egelwin and the elders, having held a council, took the incorruptible body of the Saint, in the seventy-fifth year after it was first carried from Halduine to Durham, and commenced their flight to the church of Lindisfarne. The first night, they reached the church of St. Paul, at Jarrow; the second saw them at Beclinthum, the third they arrived at Tughala, and on the fourth night they came with all their people to the entrance of the island. But because they arrived in the evening, at the time when according to the season it was high tide, the Bishop and the elders were in alarm, lest the cold of winter, which was severer than usual, might hurt the children, for it was now about Christmas. But behold on a sudden the sea retired from the place where they were to pass over, and left the sands dry for them to cross, whilst all around it continued as high and boisterous as before. They all passed over, singing the praise of God and his Holy Confessor, and reached the opposite shore, carrying his body, without wetting their feet. Now the wonderful part of the miracle was this, that the waves which were before them, turned about and followed them, so that they neither went too fast, if the men crossed slowly, nor lingered too long if they walked fast. This was stated by those who carried over the coffin. Quadragesima was now at hand, and peace was soon restored, so that they carried back the Saint’s body, and having composed the church, placed it as it was before on the twenty-second of March.

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