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Godric of Finchale

Godric of Finchale (or St Goderic) (c. 1065 – 21 May 1170) was an English hermit, merchant and popular medieval saint, although he was never formally canonised. He was born in Walpole in Norfolk and died in Finchale in County Durham.

Life



Godric's life was recorded by a contemporary of his: a monk named Reginald of Durham. Several other hagiographies are also extant. According to these accounts, Godric, who began from humble beginnings as the son of Ailward and Edwenna, "both of slender rank and wealth, but abundant in righteousness and virtue," was a pedlar, then a sailor and entrepreneur, and may have been the captain and owner of the ship that conveyed Baldwin I of Jerusalem to Jaffa in 1102. After years at sea, Godric reportedly went to the island of Lindisfarne and there encountered St Cuthbert; this will not have been a physical encounter as Cuthbert had long been dead and was by then interred at Durham Cathedral. This encounter changed his life, and he devoted himself to Christianity and service to God thereafter.

After many pilgrimages around the Mediterranean, Godric returned to England and lived with an elderly hermit named Aelric for two years. Upon Aelric's death, Godric made one last pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and then returned home where he convinced Ranulf Flambard, the Bishop of Durham, to grant him a place to live as a hermit at Finchale, by the River Wear. He had previously served as doorkeeper, the lowest of the minor orders, at the hospital church of nearby St Giles Hospital in Durham. He is recorded to have lived at Finchale for the final sixty years of his life, occasionally meeting with visitors approved by the local prior. As the years passed, his reputation grew, and Thomas Becket and Pope Alexander III both reportedly sought Godric's advice as a wise and holy man.Reginald describes Godric's physical attributes:St Godric is perhaps best remembered for his kindness toward animals, and many stories recall his protection of the creatures who lived near his forest home. According to one of these, he hid a stag from pursuing hunters; according to another, he even allowed snakes to warm themselves by his fire. Godric lived on a diet of herbs, wild honey, acorns, crab-apples and nuts. He slept on the bare ground.

Reginald of Durham recorded four songs of St Godric's: they are the oldest songs in English for which the original musical settings survive. Reginald describes the circumstances in which Godric learnt the first song. In a vision the Virgin Mary appeared to Godric with at her side "two maidens of surpassing beauty clad in shining white raiments." They pledged to come to his aid in times of need; and the Virgin herself taught Godric a song of consolation to overcome grief or temptation (Saintë Marië Virginë).

The novel Godric (1981) by Frederick Buechner is a fictional retelling of his life and travels. It was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.