Paulinus in Rochester Cathedral
Paulinus, a member of St Augustine's mission to the Anglo-Saxons who became the first bishop of York, died on 10 October 644, and was commemorated as a saint on this day. Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica gives us a wealth of fascinating detail about Paulinus' missionary work in Northumbria after he accompanied Ethelburga, daughter of the king of Kent, when she went to marry the pagan King Edwin. I wrote about Ethelburga here, but Paulinus deserves a post of his own too. When I post about Anglo-Saxon saints I generally attempt to do more than just reproduce extracts from the relevant sources, but in this case there's really no substitute for reading Bede's account of Paulinus, Edwin and Ethelburga; it's one of the most memorable parts of the Historia Ecclesiastica, and needs no embellishments. So here are some extracts from HE Book II, taken from this site.
At this time the nation of the Northumbrians, that is, the nation of the Angles who live on the north side of the river Humber, with their king, Edwin, received the faith through the preaching of Paulinus... The occasion of this nation's embracing the faith was their aforesaid king being allied to the kings of Kent, having taken to wife Ethelburga, otherwise called Tate, daughter to King Ethelbert. He having by his ambassadors asked for her in marriage from her brother Eadbald, who then reigned in Kent, was answered, "It was not lawful to marry a Christian virgin to a pagan husband, lest the faith and the mysteries of the heavenly King should be profaned by her cohabiting with a king who was altogether a stranger to the worship of the true God." This answer being brought to Edwin by his messengers, he promised in no manner to act in opposition to the Christian faith, which the virgin professed; but would give leave to her, and all that went with her, men or women, priests or ministers, to follow their faith and worship after the custom of the Christians. Nor did he deny but that he would embrace the same religion, if, being examined by wise persons, it should be found more holy and more worthy of God.
Hereupon the virgin was promised, and sent to Edwin, and pursuant to what had been agreed on, Paulinus, a man beloved of God, was ordained bishop, to go with her, and by daily exhortations, and celebrating the heavenly mysteries, to confirm her and her company, lest they should be corrupted by the company of the pagans. Paulinus was ordained bishop by the Archbishop Justus, on the 21st day of July, in the year of our Lord 625, and so he came to King Edwin with the aforesaid virgin as a companion of their union in the flesh. But his mind was wholly bent upon reducing the nation to which he was sent to the knowledge of truth; according to the words of the apostle, "To espouse her to one husband, that he might present her as a chaste virgin to Christ." Being come into that province, he laboured much, not only to retain those that went with him, by the help of God, that they should not revolt from the faith, but, if he could, to convert some of the pagans to a state of grace by his preaching.
The opening of Book II of the Historia Ecclesiastica, in a 12th-century Rochester MS (BL Harley 3680, f.36v)
The next year there came into the province a certain assassin, called Eumer, sent by the king of the West Saxons, whose name was Cuichelm, in hopes at once to deprive King Edwin of his kingdom and his life. He had a two-edged dagger, dipped in poison, to the end that if the wound were not sufficient to kill the king, it might be performed by the venom. He came to the king on the first day of Easter, at the river Derwent, where then stood the regal city, and being admitted as if to deliver a message from his master, whilst he was in an artful manner delivering his pretended embassy, he started suddenly, and drawing the dagger from under his garment assaulted the king. Lilla, the king's beloved minister, observed this, and having no buckler at hand to secure the king from death, interposed his own body to receive the stroke; but the wretch struck so home, that he wounded the king through the knight's body. Being then attacked on all sides with swords, he in that confusion also slew another soldier, whose name was Forthhere.(Which gods would a pagan Northumbrian have thanked for his wife's delivery in childbirth, I can't help wondering...)
On that same holy night of Easter Sunday, the queen had brought forth to the king a daughter, called Eanfled. The king, in the presence of Bishop Paulinus, gave thanks to his gods for the birth of his daughter; and the bishop, on the other hand, returned thanks to Christ, and endeavoured to persuade the king, that by his prayers to Him he had obtained that the queen should bring forth the child in safety and without much pain. The king, delighted with his words, promised that if God would grant him life and victory over the king by whom the assassin had been sent, he would cast off his idols and serve Christ; and as a pledge that he would perform his promise, he delivered up that same daughter to Paulinus, to be consecrated to Christ. She was the first baptized of the nation of the Northumbrians, on Whitsunday, with twelve others of her family.
At that time, the king, being recovered of the wound which he had received, marched with his army against the nation of the West-Saxons; and having begun the war, either slew or subdued all those that he had been informed had conspired to murder him. Returning thus victorious unto his own country, he would not immediately and unadvisedly embrace the mysteries of the Christian faith, though he no longer worshipped idols, ever since he made the promise that he would serve Christ; but thought fit first at leisure to be instructed, by the venerable Paulinus, in the knowledge of faith, and to confer with such as he knew to be the wisest of his prime men, to advise what they thought was fittest to be done in that case. And being a man of extraordinary sagacity, he often sat alone by himself a long time, silent as to his tongue, but deliberating in his heart how he should proceed, and which religion he should adhere to.
Paulinus (St John the Baptist, Norwich)
Bede's lengthy and detailed account of Edwin's conversion includes Paulinus' preaching, long letters from the Pope, and a miraculous vision - and this, one of the most famous sections in Bede's history, and in all Anglo-Saxon literature:
The king... answered [to Paulinus] that he was both willing and bound to receive the faith which he taught; but that he would confer about it with his principal friends and counsellors, to the end that if they also were of his opinion, they might all together be cleansed in Christ the Fountain of Life. Paulinus consenting, the king did as he said; for, holding a council with the wise men, he asked of every one in particular what he thought of the new doctrine, and the new worship that was preached? To which the chief of his own priests, Coifi, immediately answered, "O king, consider what this is which is now preached to us; for I verily declare to you, that the religion which we have hitherto professed has, as far as I can learn, no virtue in it. For none of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I; and yet there are many who receive greater favours from you, and are more preferred than I, and are more prosperous in all their undertakings. Now if the gods were good for any thing, they would rather forward me, who have been more careful to serve them. It remains, therefore, that if upon examination you find those new doctrines, which are now preached to us, better and more efficacious, we immediately receive them without any delay."The Old English translation of the nameless adviser's speech is a beautiful piece of prose (hear it read here):
Another of the king's chief men, approving of his words and exhortations, presently added: "The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad. The sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed." The other elders and king's counsellors, by divine inspiration, spoke to the same effect.
But Coifi added that he wished more attentively to hear Paulinus discourse concerning the God whom he preached; which he having by the king's command performed, Coifi, hearing his words, cried out, "I have long since been sensible that there was nothing in that which we worshipped; because the more diligently I sought after truth in that worship, the less I found it. But now I freely confess, that such truth evidently appears in this preaching as can confer on us the gifts of life, of salvation, and of eternal happiness. For which reason I advise, O king, that we instantly abjure and set fire to those temples and altars which we have consecrated without reaping any benefit from them." In short, the king publicly gave his licence to Paulinus to preach the Gospel, and renouncing idolatry, declared that he received the faith of Christ: and then he inquired of the high priest who should first profane the altars and temples of their idols, with the enclosures that were about them, he answered, "I; for who can more properly than myself destroy those things which I worshipped through ignorance, for an example to all others, through the wisdom which has been given me by the true God?" Then immediately, in contempt of his former superstitions, he desired the king to furnish him with arms and a stallion; and mounting the same, he set out to destroy the idols; for it was not lawful before for the high priest either to carry arms, or to ride on any but a mare. Having, therefore, girt a sword about him, with a spear in his hand, he mounted the king's stallion and proceeded to the idols. The multitude, beholding it, concluded he was distracted; but he lost no time, for as soon as he drew near the temple he profaned the same, casting into it the spear which he held; and rejoicing in the knowledge of the worship of the true God, he commanded his companions to destroy the temple, with all its enclosures, by fire. This place where the idols were is still shown, not far from York, to the eastward, beyond the river Derwent, and is now called Godmundinghan, where the high priest, by the inspiration of the true God, profaned and destroyed the altars which he had himself consecrated.
Þyslic me is gesewen, þu cyning, þis andwearde lif manna on eorðan, to wiðmetenesse þære tide þe us uncuð is, swylc swa þu æt swæsendum sitte mid þinum ealdormannum 7 þegnum on wintertide, 7 sie fyr onælæd 7 þin heall gewyrmed, 7 hit rine 7 sniwe 7 styrme ute; cume an spearwa 7 hrædlice þæt hus þurhfleo, cume þurh oþre duru in, þurh oþre ut gewite. Hwæt he on þa tid, þe he inne bið, ne bið hrinen mid þy storme þæs wintres; ac þæt bið an eagan bryhtm 7 þæt læsste fæc, ac he sona of wintra on þone winter eft cymeð. Swa þonne þis monna lif to medmiclum fæce ætyweð; hwæt þær foregange, oððe hwæt þær æfterfylige, we ne cunnun. Forðon gif þeos lar owiht cuðlicre 7 gerisenlicre brenge, þæs weorþe is þæt we þære fylgen.
"O king, it seems to me that this present life of man on earth, in comparison to that time which is unknown to us, is as if you were sitting at table in the winter with your ealdormen and thegns, and a fire was kindled and the hall warmed, while it rained and snowed and stormed outside. A sparrow came in, and swiftly flew through the hall; it came in at one door, and went out at the other. Now during the time when he is inside, he is not touched by the winter's storms; but that is the twinkling of an eye and the briefest of moments, and at once he comes again from winter into winter. In such a way the life of man appears for a brief moment; what comes before, and what will follow after, we do not know. Therefore if this doctrine offers anything more certain or more fitting, it is right that we follow it."
King Edwin, therefore, with all the nobility of the nation, and a large number of the common sort, received the faith, and the washing of regeneration, in the eleventh year of his reign, which is the year of the incarnation of our Lord 627, and about one hundred and eighty after the coming of the English into Britain. He was baptized at York, on the holy day of Easter, being the 12th of April, in the church of St. Peter the Apostle, which he himself had built of timber, whilst he was catechising and instructing in order to receive baptism. In that city also he appointed the see of the bishopric of his instructor and bishop, Paulinus. But as soon as he was baptized, he took care, by the direction of the same Paulinus, to build in the same place a larger and nobler church of stone, in the midst whereof that same oratory which he had first erected should be enclosed. Having therefore laid the foundation, he began to build the church square, encompassing the former oratory. But before the whole was raised to the proper height, the wicked assassination of the king left that work to be finished by Oswald his successor. Paulinus, for the space of six years from that time, that is, till the end of the reign of that king, by his consent and favour, preached the word of God in that country, and all that were preordained to eternal life believed and were baptized.This prosperous state of affairs ended when Edwin was killed in battle on 12 October 633 (or 634), and Paulinus and Ethelburga had to flee back to Kent. Paulinus "brought with him many rich goods of King Edwin, among which were a large gold cross, and a golden chalice, dedicated to the use of the altar, which are still preserved, and shown in the church of Canterbury." (Sadly, no longer!) While Ethelburga went to Lyminge, Paulinus was made Bishop of Rochester; "and held it until he departed to heaven, with the glorious fruits of his labours."
His successor at Rochester was Ithamar, the first English-born bishop since the conversion. Although Paulinus' achievements at York are more significant than the years he spent in Rochester, in his latter see he was commemorated as Rochester's first and for a long time its only saint. His cult was particularly important in the period after the Norman Conquest, when Archbishop Lanfranc, having installed Gundulf as bishop of Rochester, arranged for the translation of Paulinus' relics to a grander shrine. A marginal note in this twelfth-century manuscript of the HE (BL Harley 3680, f.31) draws attention to the first appearance of Paulinus, as a matter of local interest:
I wrote about beautiful underrated Rochester and its memorials to its medieval bishops, Paulinus included, here.
'St Paulinus rests at Rochester' (BL Stowe 944, f.38)