Tuesday 12 April 2011

Guthlac, the Crowland saint (and some rats)

Due other commitments (chiefly sitting on trains), I failed to post yesterday about St Guthlac, whose feast day it was. St Guthlac was born in 674, a member of the royal house of Mercia, and he spent his early life as a soldier, before becoming a hermit at Crowland in Lincolnshire. I've posted about him before here and here; today I will only strongly urge (nay, beg) you to look at the manuscript known as the 'Guthlac Roll'. This is a series of illustrations of Guthlac's life, probably made at Crowland in the late 12th/early 13th century. The drawings, in little roundels like stained-glass windows, are superb, and at the British Library site (here) you can see them in wonderful close-up.

My favourites are Guthlac arriving at Crowland (by boat, because it was then an island in the Fens; I like the look of polite dismay on the face of the man looking at the land!); this depiction of Guthlac's vision of an angel and St Bartholomew (Bartholomew was Guthlac's own patron saint, because he arrived in Crowland on St Bartholomew's Day); and this one, in which Guthlac's sister Pega, also a hermit and later a saint, is informed of her brother's death.

The church of Fishtoft in Lincolnshire is dedicated to St Guthlac, and possesses an ancient statue of him. Guthlac is often shown carrying the whip which was given to him by St Bartholomew, but in this case the church website drily comments:

"According to tradition so long as the whip remained in his hand the parish of Fishtoft would not be infested with rats or mice. The whip has long since disappeared but no record has ever been found of any major infestation of rodents."

No comments: