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by Richenda Fairhurst, historyfish.net. August 2008.
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from men in the wilderness
. . . enclosed in a cave . . . deep down
The solitary dwelt not only in desert or mountain, but in dens and caves. It seems natural to associate him with hidden haunts in deep valleys of riverside crags.
at the base of the Cratcliff rocks, near
dwelled an holy heremyte, whose name was
[of Mod]wen’s holy lyuynge and wente oft to her and bare
[boke]s of holy sayntes lyues. On the daye this holy man
[left h]is boke at home, and therfore she made great
[wailing] and sayd, Father why bringest thou not they booke
[like a]s thou were wonte to do. Madame he sayde I
[haue] forgoten. That tyme saynt Hardulche had a
[a c]lyffe a lytell frome
Modwen sent two of her maidens in a boat to his hermitage to fetch the
book. A tempest arouse and overturned the
boat, but (needless to relate) they were rescued by the miraculous
of their mistress.
In the time
of King Athelstan—so the story goes—this cliff became the retreat of
Warwick. Returning from pilgrimage, the
famous warrior arrived at
“He repaired to an heremite that resided amongst the shady woods hard by, desiring . . . to receive some spiritual comfort, where he
abode with that holy man till his death, and . . . succeeded him in that Cell . . . and continued for the space of two years after ; adding also, that when she came, she should find him lying dead in the Chapel, before the Altar ; and moreover, that when XV dayes after she her self should depart this life. She came accordingly, and brought with her the Bishop and others, and did honourably interre [his body][sic] in that heremitage.”
This romantic tale, derived from Gerard of Cornwall, is recorded in the chronicle of Hyde Abbey, under the date 927.4
The hermit’s cave (Plate X) is small, narrow, and almond-shaped. It is about 14½ feet long, and barely 5 feet at its widest point. The rudely-hewn entrance, being 5 feet above the floor, is more like a window than a door. Opposite this opening is a panel in the rocky wall, bearing an obliterated inscription. According to an ingenious, but doubtful, reading, it is rendered : Remove, O Christ, from they servant this weight—Guthi.5 If this were a genuine record of some recluse’s prayer, it would add a living interest to the cell, but the semi-runic characters are regarded with suspicion by scholars.
and Guy’s well are mentioned by Leland. “Men
shew a cave there in a rok hard on
Early in the
thirteenth century Brother Wiger, canon of Oseney, took up his abode in
hermitage, having determined, with the consent of his abbot, to lead
solitary life at the place called Gibbecliff.6 Gilbert,
described in an ordination list (1238) as the hermit “of Warwick,” may
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here. The names of Thomas de Lewes, Robert Maudith, and John Burry also occur as hermits of Gibbecliff.
At one time
the cell was under the care of the priory at
“He did hyt by the styrryng of a holy anchoras namyd dam [Dame] Em Rawghtone dwelling at all hallows in the northe strete of york and for hyt to her apperyd our lady vii tymes in on yer and seyd that in tyme to cum . . . hyt should be a gracious place to seke to for eny dises or gref and on of Seynt Gyes Eyris shuld bryng hys Reliks a geyn to the same place.”7
William Worcester notes in his Itinerary that Richard Beauchamp caused a fair house to be made for the priests called hermits, and Leland mentions “a praty howse of stone for the cantuary prists by the chapel”. It is uncertain to which of the rock-hewn dwellings the travellers refer. The lofty hall with pillars and arches, surrounded by an ambulatory, is known as the cloisters 8 (Plate XI). There is a range of cells in both upper and lower cliffs. Some of them have small square-headed windows and other signs of habitation.
goodly chapell of St. Mary Magdalene” is still in use, after careful
restoration in 1875. The ancient door is
massive, carved and iron bound. A huge
oak chest has been preserved. Within the
chapel, cut in the rock, is a gigantic statue of Sir Guy ; it is about
high and represents him as warrior, the victor over Colbrand the Dane. Shakespeare doubtless had this figure in his
mind when he writes: “I am not Samson, nor Sir Guy, nor Colbrand, to
down before me”. It appears to date from the early part of the thirteenth century, although according to Leland it was Earl Richard who set up there “an ymage great lyke a giant”. Richard Beauchamp held his famous ancestor in especial honour. Like Guy he went on pilgrimage, and like Guy did deeds of prowess. Richard Neville, “the king-maker,” purposed “to have woltyd and butracyd [buttressed] sir Guys caue [cave] for falling downe of the hangyng rok . . . and to let peynt Sir Gyes Image [statue].” His further scheme to enlarge the chantry as an almshouse was never carried out, owing, probably, to the Wars of the Roses.
describing the charms of Guy’s Cliff, adds :—
“Many hermits . . . being sequestred from the world, retreated hither. Some will say it is too gaudy a place for that purpose, as having more of a paradice then wilderness therein . . . . But seeing hermits deny themselves the company of men, let them be allowed to converse with the rarities of nature.”
near Bridgnorth (Plate XII) is said to date from the tenth century, and
rock of Athelardston, in the royal
“Whereas Roger de Burghton, chaplain, inflamed with the fervour of devotion, has arranged to take the habit of a hermit, and has made instant supplication to the king to grant him for life the hermitage at Atherlaston on the high road by Bruggenorth now void, wherein to dwell, that he may pray for the king, queen Philippa and their children ; the king has granted his petition.”
now Hermitage hill, is near the top of the sandstone ridge above the
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those at Redstone, Blackstone, and Southstone. That
of Redstone (Plate XXII), near Stourport, contained a
an altar and several chambers, all hewn in the rock.
Over the altar there was formerly a
wall-painting which depicted an archbishop saying Mass, and above it an
inscription declaring some indulgence to those who frequented this
devotion. Those who trafficked on
Some years later, a vision was vouchsafed to the hermit. 11
One night, after much prayer and meditation, the Apostle Peter, bright and beautiful, appeared saying :—
brother ; I am Peter, who keep the keys of Heaven.
Tell Edward the king that his prayer is
accomplished ; of all his sins he has pardon, and absolution from his
vow . . .
on the condition that to me he make a house, where he may have a
monks. . . . At
Wulsi delayed not. In the morning he wrote it on parchment, and caused it to be carried as from St. Peter to the king (Plate XIV). The writing and receiving of the roll are well depicted in the thirteenth-century manuscript.12 Meanwhile the messengers (who had gone to obtain a release from the king’s vow to go on pilgrimage) returned from Rome, and since the two messages agreed, the Divine will seemed clear : “For the one comes from the east, and the other from the west . . . hence every one is assured of it, because no tidings could have reached the recluse, who was very far away in the country of Worcester, far from men in the wilderness.”
After living in seclusion for seventy-five years Wulsi died, and was buried at Evesham. The shrine of “St. Wlsin” was one of the treasures of that abbey.
life was embraced by persons o every estate, not only by the noble lord
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unmistakable, he exchanged social life for solitude, commerce for
contemplation, prosperity for privation.
that on a certain day in autumn when he had given himself up to repose
there appeared to him in his dreams the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying :
are acceptable before my Son and me. But
now if thou wilt be perfect, leave all that though hast and go to
there thou shalt serve my Son and me in solitude.”
Awakening, he straightway left all that he possessed. Ignorant of the place for which he was bound, he turned eastwards, and in passing through a village, heard a woman bidding a maiden drive the cattle into Depedale ; he followed forthwith.
that the place was a marsh, exceeding dreadful, and far distant from
habitation of man. And turning himself
to the south-east of the place, under the side of the mountain, he cut
himself in the rock a very small dwelling, and an altar turned to the
which has been preserved to this day, and there, by day and night, he
God in hunger and thirst, and cold and nakedness.”
Now Ralph Fitz Geremund was hunting one day in his woods of Ockbrook. He caught sight of smoke ascending from the cave, and was indignant that anyone had dared to make himself a habitation. But seeing the miserable case of the man of God who was clad in rags and skins, the baron was smitten to the heart, and granted him the place, giving him also for his support the tithe of the mill of Burgh. Lacking water, the hermit wandered about near his abode until he found a spring, beside which he made a hut and built an oratory in honour of God and the Blessed Virgin. In almost unendurable solitude the hermit of Dale steadfastly carried out his resolve, until at length, “having finished the struggle of his life laudably in the service of God, he passed happily from the prison of his body to the Lord”.
Dale hermitage (Plate XV) is situated in a steep wooded hillside above the dale and its ruined abbey. The rock is overhung with beeches which seem to be embedded in the sandstone. The cave is about 20 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 9 feet high. Possibly it was originally of two compartments. It has a doorway and two other openings. The
much defaced, but there is a niche to the west. In
an orchard at the food of the hill a spring which never
runs dry is
still called “the hermit’s well.”
Langir lyked hym noght
leaving the “soldier of Christ” alone.
The young solitary was befriended by a virtuous matron named Helena, who gave him the chapel of St. Hilda at Rudfarlington in Knaresborough forest.15 There he abode for a while, but when thieves broke into his hermitage, he moved on to Spofforth. Then, fearing lest the crowds which followed him should move him to vainglory, he accepted the invitation of the monks of Holy Trinity, York, to join some of their number at Hedley. The young zealot, clad in an old white garment, who would eat nought but barley bread and vegetable broth, was not a comfortable companion, and Robert, regarding his fellows as “fals and fekyll,” returned to St. Hilda’s. The noble dame was passing glad to see him, and provided a barn and other buildings for his use. William de Stuteville, Constable of Knaresborough, passing by, saw
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and when he heard
that one Robert, a devoted servant of God, lived there, he cried :
“This is a
hypocrite and a companion of thieves!” and bade his men “dyng doune hys
byggynges”. The homeless hermit took his
book and fared through the forest to Knaresborough :—
To a chapel of syntt
But again the lord of Knaresborough went a-hunting, and when he was smoke rising from the hut, he swore that he would turn out the tenant. That night there “appered thre men blacker than Ynd,” who roused him [William] from his restless sleep. Two of them harrowed his sides with burning pikes, whilst the third, of huge stature, brandished two iron maces at his bedside : “Take one of these weapons and defend thy neck, for the wrongs with which thou spitest the man of God”. William cried for mercy and promised to amend his deeds, whereupon the vision vanished. Early in the morning the terrified tyrant hastened to the cell, and humbly sought pardon :—
Roberd forgaff and
The penitent baron then bestowed upon Robert all the land between the rock and Grimbald Kyrkstane, besides horses and cattle.
William de Stuteville was succeeded by Brian de Lisle, who regarded the hermit as his faithful friend. It was he who besought King John to visit Robert (see p. 153). This visit resulted in the further endowment of the cell. John bade Robert ask what he willed, but he relied that he had enough, and needed no earthy thing. When Ive found that alms for the poor had not been asked, he persuaded his master to follow the king, from whom he received the grant of a carucate of land. This land was appropriated to the use of the poor, and Robert refused to pay tithe for it to the rector, to whom he indignantly granted “crysts cursynge” for his covetousness. Robert was “to pore men profytable”. He gathered alms for the needy, fed them at his door, and sheltered them in his cave. The complaint made by the angry baron that the
hermit was a receiver of thieves had some truth in it. In the rhyming life, Robert speaks of the corn [grain] required for “my cayteyffes in my cave”. His favourite form of charity was to redeem men from prison :—
To begge an brynge
pore men of
St. Robert died on the 24, September, 1218.16 He had been a benefactor to many, and great was the grief of the mourners. As he had foretold on his death-bed, the monks of Fountains sought to bear away his body, but Ive carried out his master’s wish to be buried in the chapel of the Holy Cross, where he had himself prepared a rock-hewn grave.
I wyll be doluen whar
so I deghe
call St. Robert’s
first hermitage “the chapel of St. Giles,” describing it as a dwelling
the rock formed by winding branches over stakes in front of a cave.
how his brother Walter, who was mayor of
St. Robert’s Cave is about a mile below the castle. On the north bank of the river is a low cliff about 20 feet in height. The descent is made by a narrow flight of steps, which ends in an uneven platform of rock about 40 feet in length of two levels, the upper one being the floor of the chapel, with traces of an altar at the eastern end (Plate XVI). Before the altar-steps is the tomb, deeply cut in the rock,
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which had a groove for a slab to cover it.17 A mossy lichen-covered wall on the south shows the extent of the original building. On the north of the chapel (which now has a natural roof of beech and trailing greenery) is the picturesque ivy-clad cliff of a warm yellow and red tint. A low doorway gives access to the cave.18
After Robert’s death, the cell was claimed as Crown property. A writ was issued (1219) to the Constable of Knaresborough to cause “our hermitage” to be given into the custody of Master Alexander de Dorset. The original grant was afterwards confirmed to Brother Ive, hermit of Holy Cross (1227).19 The chapel became a place of pilgrimage, and many miracles of healing were wrought there, especially about twenty years after the saint’s death. “The same year (1238) shone forth the fame of St. Robert the hermit at Knaresborough, from whose tomb medicinal oil was brought forth abundantly.” Matthew Paris, naming in 1250 the chief personages of the last half-century, mentions in particular St. Edmund of Pontigny, St. Robert of Knaresborough, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.20 The new priory (or “House of St. Robert”) was granted to the Trinitarian Friars, and it was fitting that the “Order of the Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives” should become successors of the saint two had delighted in releasing men from prison. The name Holy Cross or Holy Rood was superseded by that of the hermit. In 1257 Richard, Earl of Cornwall, confirmed to the Order the chapel of St. Robert. In the following century, letters of
protection whilst collecting alms were granted by Edward III to a follower of the saint who was also his namesake and fellow-citizen, “Brother Robert of York, hermit of the chapel of St. Robert”.
Henceforth St. Robert was “the peerless patrone of this place”. Other chapels were built and dedicated to his memory. Nothing is known of the history of the chapel now called “St. Robert’s,” in the crag below the castle. The tiny building contains an altar (Plate XVII), piscine, niche, and seat, all carved out of the rock.21 Near the entrance is a figure with a drawn sword, the origin and meaning of which are alike unknown (Plate XVII). Leland alludes but briefly to this place : “A litle beneth March-Bridge . . . I saw an old Chapelle yn a Rok hewen owte of the mayne stone”. There is no ground for believing that it was ever the habitation of St. Robert.
The rock hewn
cells of Pontefract and of
the chapel to the summit of the lofty cliff, and down to the water
below. Measurements would hardly have been
him in this form had the chapel been out of sight.
Worchester was struck with its perilous
position but even this steep wall was by no means inaccessible, and the
indulgence, dated within twelve years of the famous traveller’s visit
shows that Thomas Dene expected his chapel to be the resort of the
within the solid rock,
Up to the
altar’s ample breadth
is approached from the riverside by a flight of steps (Plate XVIII). The chapel of the Holy Trinity is reached
through a tiny vestibule, in which is a rood [wooden cross]. The chapel (about 20 feet long and 7½
high) is of three bays (see ground plan, Fig. 4). It
contains an altar, piscina (A), quatrefoil
window (H), and hagioscope [peephole between rooms with a view of the
altar] (J). These, with the shafts and
capitals and the ribs of the roof are graven in the rock.
In a recess to the south-east is a recumbent
effigy, apparently that of a female, and above it a figure of a
knight—monuments which suggested Bishop Percy’s romantic ballad. The west wall is pierced with four lancet
windows, beyond which is a small chamber, now open at the west end,
window looking south upon the river. A
long narrow chamber adjoins the principal chapel on the north and
with it by a doorway and by a fine Decorated window (Fig. 5). At the eastern end there is a small
roughly-hewn oratory (C) containing traces of an altar, stoup (B),
[cupboard] (D), and a hagioscope commanding [a view of] the altar in
narrow chamber was the original cell, entered from the west (I) by
some of which remain. It
was perhaps the inmate’s living room, and the recess (E) may have held a bed.
There are considerable remains of a later building erected at the south-west corner. These are probably the hall and
kitchen mentioned in Stockdale’s Survey of the Lands of the Percies (1586) :—
“There hath been in the said parke one house hewen and wrought in a cragg or rock of stone, called the Harmitage, having in the same a hall, kitchen, chamber, and chapell, with a little orchard and garden adjoyning the same ; in which houise hath been kept in times past an heremity or priest to doe and celebrate divine service.”
The garden above is reached by winding steps. The holes in a rock near by may be traces of a lean-to byre. The hermit was allowed pasturage for horses and cattle, and received twenty marks a year and twenty loads of firewood. Once a week he might net salmon, for he had the right to “one draught of fishe every Sondaie in the yere, to be drawn fornenst the said armytage, called the Trynete draught”. The hermit’s well is still shown.
Nothing is known of the foundation of Warkworth hermitage. The occupants were sometimes called “chaplains of the
chantry” ; but in 1515 Edward Slegg is described as “hermit in the chapel of Holy Trinity”. In 1531 Henry, Earl of Northumberland, in consideration of the services of his chaplain Sir George Lancastre, appointed him to “myn armytage bilded in a rock of stone within my parke of Warkworth,” whilst he on his part should pray for the good estate of certain persons (see p. 190).
There was a
dwelling not far from the church at Sneinton near
1. Camb. Univ. MS., VI, 17.
74 b, 75.
-end chapter three-
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