Bartholomew was born early in the 12th century near Whitby. His parents, who were Scandinavian, gave him the Viking name of Tostig. But when his young friends laughed at him he changed it to the more acceptable Anglo-Norman name of William.
Apparently as a young man he was wild, but then, after receiving visions of Christ and the apostles, he went to Norway to sort himself out. There he was ordained deacon and priest. Many priests in Norway were married but, when a certain Norseman tried to get William to marry his daughter, William fled back to England.
He worked as a parish priest for three years and then became a monk at Durham, taking the name of Bartholomew. He had a further vision in which St. Cuthbert appeared to him and showed him the Island called the Inner Farne. Soon afterwards he became a hermit there, and lived on the Inner Farne for the remaining 42 years of his life.
The mother-house at Durham had not yet established the House of Farne as a regular daughter-house with two monks: that came later in 1255. However, when Bartholomew went, there was already a monk there called Aelwin who found his new companion impossible and tried to irritate him into leaving. Bartholomew weathered this, and it was Aelwin who left. For the next 12 years Bartholomew was alone on the Island; then he was joined by the previous Prior of Durham, Thomas, who had been deposed after a row with the Bishop. The two hermits did not get on very well at first, as Thomas was very clean and fastidious, and Bartholomew was not. However they eventually became friends and Bartholomew nursed Thomas through his last illness and death.
Bartholomew was very austere, wearing skins, sleeping leaning up against the rocks, living on bread from his own corn and milk from his own cow. He used to sing psalms all round the Island in a ringing voice. He was cheerful and friendly and had many visitors, including some of the rich and powerful whom he persuaded to change their oppressive ways. In his old age the monks of Lindisfarne cared for him as much as possible. He died in 1193 and was buried in his oratory on the Inner Fame. People said that miracles at his tomb showed that he had reached the heavenly kingdom.
2. ST. GODRIC OF FINCHALE (pronounced 'Finkle')
St. Godric is one of the most picturesque northern saints of the Middle Ages. He was born in Norfolk in 1069. In the first half of his long life he was a wanderer, alternating pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem with the life of a ship's captain who may well have been also a pirate. It is even said that he took his mother with him on some of his piratical expeditions! One of his sea journeys -and this is where he connects with us on Holy Island - took him to the Inner Fame, where he heard and was inspired by the story of St. Cuthbert. This was a life-changing experience. He gave up being a pirate.
But he did not at first give up being a wanderer. In his 40s he decided to be a hermit, and lived for a time in the forests near Carlisle, then at Wolsingham near Durham, then somewhere near Whitby. He finally settled at Finchale, on the river Wear a little way away from the Durham monastery.
Here he lived a very austere life in a wooden hut, eating roots, berries and the few vegetables he grew. He never exactly joined the Durham community, but the Durham monks took him under their friendly protection. Once he was nearly drowned when the River Wear was in flood, and once nearly killed by a raiding party of Scots. But he survived and became renowned for his holiness and his psychic gifts. He cared a great deal for animals, and in bad wintry weather he would bring rabbits and field mice into his hut to warm them and then set them free. He was also a poet, the author of the earliest surviving verse in Middle English, and he was a musician and set his own poetry to music.
After this very varied life he died at the age of 101. At his hermitage of Finchale a priory was built, which eventually became a daughter-house of Durham, and the Durham monks, who had nursed him in his last illness, promoted his cult and accepted him as their own.
If you are in the neighbourhood of Durham and have a few hours to spare do go out and look at Finchale Priory. It is a perfect little Benedictine ruin set in a beautiful stretch of the river.
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Lindisfarne, our early Saints: BARTHOLOMEW OF FARNE and GODRIC OF FINCHALE