Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
35. JAMES THE DEACON:
 
James is one of those saints I would like to know much more about.
 
He was probably Italian by birth since he came over to England with Paulinus and others who were sent by the Pope to back up the mission of Augustine in Canterbury.
 
If James was already a deacon at that point he must have been then at least 20 years old. Bede says that he lived 'until our own time': since he must have been 92 at least when Bede was born in 673 that was a phenomenally long life in an age when most people were dead before they were forty.
 
When the princess Ethelburga of Kent came to Northumbria to marry King Edwin, Paulinus came as her chaplain and as missionary to the Northumbrians. James came also and presumably was fully engaged in Paulinus' work. But when King Edwin was killed in battle, and many new Christians in reaction reverted to paganism, Paulinus decided to return to Kent as escort of the widowed Queen. James however stayed in Northumbria and did all he could to support the new Christians in their faith.
 
It must have been a lonely and heartbreaking job sometimes. He worked mainly in the York area and lived part of the time in a village near Catterick. So his work continued at the same time as the new Irish mission based on Lindisfarne; one wonders whether the two ever met? James was present at the Synod of Whitby, by that time at least 83 years of age. Presumably he was pleased at the result of the Synod.
 
We do not know much of the success of his missionary work but Bede writes of him with affection, as a faithful and peace-loving man, and also mentions that he was the first in Northumbria to teach the singing of psalms according to the Roman method of chanting. He was not a monk, as far as we know, and so had no community to preserve the details of his life, of which therefore no more is known.
 
36. ST. JOHN OF BEVERLEY:
 
We see St. John of Beverley mainly through the eyes of Bede, who knew him well. In fact it was Bishop John who ordained Bede both deacon (at the age of 19, well in advance of the normal age, showing that Bede was already well-respected in his community) and priest (at the normal minimum age of 30). We are not sure of the date of Bishop John's birth, but he died an old man in 721. His first education appears to have been in the south of this country, in the school of Canterbury, but then he became a student in St. Hild's monastery at Whitby, one of the five students there who subsequently became bishops. John at first became bishop of Hexham, on the death of Eata in 687, and in 705 bishop of York.
 
Bede's narrative contains several miracles worked by St. John. They were all miracles of healing. He recounts how the Bishop taught a dumb boy to speak, by first getting him to say 'Yes', then the letters of the alphabet in order, then words, then sentences. This is one of Bede's best stories, told with humour, including the fact that the boy then had to be dissuaded from speaking all the time. Bishop John also cured the swollen arm of a nun, restored a nobleman's wife to health, and healed one of his own clergy after a fall from a horse, even though this young cleric had disobeyed the bishop in racing his horse at all.
 
So the saint appears as a very compassionate man, sympathetic to all types of people, and also as a man of prayer. His cult was popular in the Middle Ages, when he was invoked not only by bishops and anchoresses but also by kings at the start of battles.
 
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