- Celtic and Old English Saints 21 May
* St. Barrfoin of Killbarron
* St. Collen of Denbighshire
* St. Godric of Finchale
St. Barrfoin of Killbarron, Hermit
(also Bairrfhionn, Barrindus)
6th century. Few details are certain about the life of Saint Barrfoin.
Saint Columba is said to have put Barrfoin in charge of the church he
founded at Drum Cullen Offaly. Afterwards, Barrfoin lived at Killbarron,
near Ballyshannon, in Donegal. He may have reached America on one of his
missions by sea, and informed Saint Brendan of his discovery. Some say
that he was a bishop (Benedictines).
Troparion of St Barrfoin Tone 3
O holy Barrfoin, Christ's missionary voyager/ like thy contemporary
Saint Brendan:/ pray that we may have courage/ to venture for Christ, at
His call,/ that we may receive His great mercy.
St. Collen of Denbighshire
7th century. Saint Gollen's name is connected with Wales, Glastonbury,
and Rome. The name Collen means a hazel tree.
A 16th-century vita in Welsh survives, but its historicity is
questionable. This account has Gollen fight a duel with a pagan Saracen
in the presence of the pope, go to Cornwall and Glastonbury, and deliver
the people in the valley of Llangollen by killing a fierce giantess.
Gollen gave his name to Llangollen (Clwyd) in Denbighshire, the church
of Colan in Cornwall, and, perhaps, founded that of Langolen in
Finistere in Brittany (Benedictines, Farmer).
Another Life of Saint Collen
The parish church of St Colan on the North Coast of Cornwall was rebuilt
in the time of Bishop Branscombe of Exeter, about 1250, and given by him
to the Canons of Glasney College which he had founded at Peryn. It is
the only dedication to St.Collen in England but there is a church at
Langolen near Briec in Brittany and he is the patron of Llangollen in
Clwyd, where he is buried. His father was a Welshman but his mother,
Ethni, was of Irish extraction.
It seems that Collen was sent to Orleans for training and the Life,
written in the sixteenth century, says that he became a great champion
of the Christian Faith against the pagans. Although he actually lived in
the seventh century, his biographer says that it was during the reign of
Julian the Apostate, three hundred years earlier, that the Pope chose
him to fight against a heathen Goliath called Bras, whom he defeated and
persuaded to be baptised. In recognition of his victory the Pope
presented him with the relic of a miraculous Lily, whose flower had
witnessed to the virgin Birth of Christ, and this was preserved in
Worcester during the Middle Ages.
Collen, landing in Cornwall, came to Glastonbury where he was elected
Abbot, continued his missionary teaching and eventually became a hermit
on Glastonbury Tor. It was there that another conflict with paganism
occurred, his adversary this time being Gwyn ab Nudd, the King of the
Underworld and the Fairies. Collen was invited to dine at the top of the
hill but he refused the magical food and drink, scattering the beautiful
court by sprinkling them with holy water causing them all to vanish.
Collen prayed that he might have a place to dwell for the rest of his
life and God bade him journey until he met a horse which would take him
to his sanctuary. So he came to Llangollen, called in the Life, Rhysfa
Maes Cadfarch, the Charger's Field. His warfare against paganism was not
over, for in the Vale of Llangollen there was an evil giantess who would
kill and eat any who attempted to pass that way. Collen slew the
giantess and washed his sword in the fountain known as Ffynnon Gollen.
St. Collen it was who came across a group of the Fair Folk at their
dancing, one of whom asked the good saint if he did not admire his
particolored red and blue livery. The saint replied that it was most
fitting, as the red stood for the fires of hell, and the blue for its
ice. Then St. Collen made the sign of the cross, and the entire
Llangollen is internationally famous as a beauty spot, for its
Eisteddfod and the 13th Century bridge, which is reckoned as one the
Seven Wonders of Wales. The parish church has been much restored over
the centuries but it still stands on the site of the Saint's tomb. In
all the Welsh Calendars St.Collen is commemorated on May 21st but in
Cornwall his parish keeps festival on the Sunday after the first
Thursday in May. At Langolen in Brittany his Pardon is held on the
second Sunday in August.
The name of Llangollen signifies the church of Collen, and the vale and
village take their name from the church, which was originally dedicated to
Saint Collen, though some, especially the neighbouring peasantry, suppose
that Llangollen is a compound of Llan, a church, and Collen, a hazel-wood,
and that the church was called the church of the hazel-wood from the number
of hazels in the neighbourhood. Collen, according to a legendary life, which
exists of him in Welsh, was a Briton by birth, and of illustrious ancestry.
He served for some time abroad as a soldier against Julian the Apostate, and
slew a Pagan champion who challenged the best man amongst the Christians.
Returning to his own country he devoted himself to religion, and became
Abbot of Glastonbury, but subsequently retired to a cave on the side of a
mountain, where he lived a life of great austerity. Once as he was lying in
his cell he heard two men out abroad discoursing about Wyn Ab Nudd, and
saying that he was king of the Tylwyth or Teg Fairies, and lord of Unknown,
whereupon Collen thrusting his head out of his cave told them to hold their
tongues, for that Wyn Ab Nudd and his host were merely devils. At dead of
night he heard a knocking at the door, and on his asking who was there, a
voice said: "I am a messenger from Wyn Ab Nudd, king of Unknown, and I am
come to summon thee to appear before my master to-morrow, at mid-day, on the
top of the hill."
Collen did not go - the next night there was the same knocking and the same
message. Still Collen did not go. The third night the messenger came again
and repeated his summons, adding that if he did not go it would be the worse
for him. The next day Collen made some holy water, put it into a pitcher and
repaired to the top of the hill, where he saw a wonderfully fine castle,
attendants in magnificent liveries, youths and damsels dancing with nimble
feet, and a man of honourable presence before the gate, who told him that
the king was expecting him to dinner. Collen followed the man into the
castle, and beheld the king on a throne of gold, and a table magnificently
spread before him. The king welcomed Collen, and begged him to taste of the
dainties on the table, adding that he hoped that in future he would reside
with him. "I will not eat of the leaves of the forest," said Collen.
"Did you ever see men better dressed?" said the king, "than my attendants
here in red and blue?"
"Their dress is good enough," said Collen, "considering what kind of dress
"What kind of dress is it?" said the king.
Collen replied: "The red on the one side denotes burning, and the blue on
the other side denotes freezing." Then drawing forth his sprinkler, he flung
the holy water in the faces of the king and his people, whereupon the whole
vision disappeared, so that there was neither castle nor attendants, nor
youth nor damsel, nor musician with his music, nor banquet, nor anything to
be seen save the green bushes.
St. Godric of Finchale, Monk Hermit
Born at Walpole, Norfolk, England, c. 1065; died in Finchale, County
Durham, May 21, c. 1170.
[NB: This is a saint outside our timeframe of interest and post-schism]
I came upon a contemporary biography of Godric, written by Reginald of
Durham, which I'm sending in a separate post, and below I've taken
excerpts from this and other biographies detailing some of the unusual
stories about the saint.
The short version is that Godric was a peddler who travelled extensively
and, like Saint Brendan, was eventually attracted to the sea for 16
years. He managed to purchase part ownership in several ships and even
to captain one. One historian indicates that he may be the Gudericus
pirate who carried Baldwain to Jaffa in 1102. In short, his life was not
always a holy one. Having experienced many difficulties at sea, Godric
was forever troubled on stormy night for ships at sea, even when he
His conversion apparently came when he visited Lindisfarne and was
touched by an account of the life of Saint Cuthbert. Thereafter he
changed his ways. He immediately went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
where he visited the Holy Sepulchre. Coming out of the Jordan River, and
looking down at his feet, he vowed, "Lord, for love of Your name, Who
for men's salvation walked barefoot through the world, and did not deny
to have Your naked feet struck through with nails for me: From this day
I shall put no shoes upon these feet." He kept this vow until his death,
even in the snow.
Returning to England via Santiago de Compostella, he became a house
steward until he realised that the landowner was acting unjustly toward
his poorer neighbours. Upon resigning he went on a pilgrimage to the
shrine of Saint Giles in Provence and to Rome with his mother.
In Cumberland he acquired a Psalter, which became his most valued
possession, and learned it by heart. In 1105, he sold all his goods and
travelled to Walsingham, where he joined up with an elderly hermit named
Aelric, with whom he spent two years. After Aelric's death, Godric made
another pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he lived for a time with the
hermits of Saint John the Baptist and worked in a hospital for several
In a vision, Saint Cuthbert promised Godric a hermitage in England, so
he returned and spent some time in Eskedale and Durham, where he acted
as a sacristan and went to school with the choirboys at Saint
Mary-le-Bow. Then he found his hermitage in Bishop Flambard's hunting
grounds on the River Wear near Durham.
He spent the next 60 years in the Finchale forest living an austere life
of mortification. At first he lived on berries and roots, but later he
grew vegetables and milled and baked his own barley. He wore a hair
shirt under a metal breastplate. Godric built a wattle oratory and later
a small stone church dedicated to Saint Mary. Twice he nearly died, once
when he was caught in a flood, and once when Scottish soldiers beat
him on the assumption that he had hidden valuables.
He lived mainly alone under the guidance of the prior of Durham, who
supplied him with a priest to offer the Holy Sacrifice in his chapel and
would send strangers to him to ask his advice. These visitors included
Aelred and Robert of Newminster, and the monk named Reginald who wrote
the included biography. Thomas a Becket and Pope Alexander III also
sought his advice. Godric's sister Burchwen lived with him for a time
but then became a sister in the hospital at Durham.
Godric had the gift of prophecy. He foretold the death of Bishop William
of Durham and Thomas a Becket--whom he had never met. He often saw
visions of scenes occurring at a distance and was known to stop
mid-sentence to pray for ships in danger of shipwreck.
He suffered a long illness during which the monks of Durham nursed him,
but he died after foretelling his own death. His biographer, Reginald,
recorded four songs that Godric said had been taught to him in visions
of the Blessed Virgin, his dead sister, and others. They are the oldest
pieces of English verse of which the musical settings survive, and are
the oldest to show the use of devices of rhyme and measure instead of
Godric was remarkable for his austerities, supernatural gifts, and his
familiarity with wild animals (Benedictines, Delaney, White).
Saint Godric at Finchale
Finchale is difficult to find: in a valley bound by the teeming Wear
River on the east, north, and west, and by a dense wood in the south. In
this valley "the man of God began to build the tiny habitations of his
going out and coming in . . .[At his first coming he had built an
oratory, and one day saw above the altar two young and very lovely
maids: the one of them, Mary Magdalene, the other the Mother of God: and
the Mother of God put her hand upon his head and taught him to sing
after her this prayer:
Mary Holy Virgin, mother of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Hold, shield and
help thy Godric, Take him, bring him soon to the Kingdom of God with
"Thereafter with more devotion than ever he served the Lord: and called
upon the most blessed Mother of God, even as he had promised her, in all
distress that came about him, and found her most swift to aid. A long
time thus spent in solitude, his friends compelled him to take some one
to wait on him, and have a better care of his outward affairs. For so
intent was he upon his prayer, meditation, and contemplation that he
would spend no labour on things out of doors.
"At first, therefore, a little boy, his brother's son, came to wait upon
him, and was with him for 11 years. At that time the only living thing
he had about him was a single cow; and because the boy was yet but small
and of very tender years, he would often be so drowsy with sleep in the
mornings that he would forget to take the beast to pasture, or fetch her
again in the evenings; or indeed perhaps the familiar task became a
weariness to him.
"So one day the man of God went up to the creature, and putting his
girdle about her neck, spoke to her as if to one that had reason and
intelligence. 'Come,' said he, 'follow me, and go on with me to thy
pasture.' She went on, and the youngster, looking and listening,
followed after them. And again the saint spoke. 'I command thee, in the
Lord's name,' said he, 'that every day at sunrise thou shalt go forth
alone, with no guide, to thy pasture; and every noon and evening at the
fitting time, come home, with no servant to lead thee; and when thine
udder with fullness of milk needs easing come to
me, wherever I shall be, and when thou art milked, go lightened back to
thy pasture, if yet there is time.'
"And, marvel as it is, from that day and thence forward, the cow went
and came at the proper hour, and whenever through the day she was heavy
with milk she would come to him; and if by chance he were in church she
would stand outside, by the door, lowing and complaining, calling him.
And he, his hour of prayer ended, would come out and milk her, and she
then go away, wherever he bade her. The boy who saw this, told it; for
he grew up, and is now a very old man.
"In after days, a little lad came to serve in the house of the man of
God, and was set to these outside tasks. And not knowing that the cow
was accustomed to obey the Saint's command, and finding her one day
grazing in the meadow, he began to harry her and prod her with a goad.
And she, incensed, turned on the youngster and catching him between her
horns, charged off with him in a great heat of indignation, to the door
of the house where the man of God was busy within. He came out, took the
boy in his arms and lifted him from between her horns, rescuing him
unhurt from the wrath of the irate beast.
"In this are three works of God which we find singularly admirable:
first, that the animal feared to injure or inflict any wound on the
servant of her master, but, nonetheless, by terrifying his boldness and
presumption, administered well-deserved punishment; second, that Christ
Himself would not have the guileless and ignorant youngster killed, but
preserved him by the help of His servant; third, that He made manifest
to us the merits of the man of God, in that by his intervention he saved
one set amid death from death's very jaws.
"This same youngster, now indeed an old man, would often tell the story
with thankfulness, praising God who so marvellously deigned to snatch
him by the merits of his master from sudden destruction" (Reginald of
Saint Godric's Garden and the Wild Deer
There are other stories written of Godric. As a break from prayer,
Godric grafted some cuttings from visitors' fruit trees to create an
enclosed orchard. The sweetness of the crop drew all the local animals,
who nibbled away at the tender shoots and destroyed Godric's painstaking
work. "So one day coming out of his oratory he saw a wild stag from the
cropping the tender leafage of his trees, scattering and spoiling with
all its heart; and making his way towards the creature, he bade it with
a crook of his finger not to run away from the spot, but to wait till he
came, without stirring. Oh strange and stupendous mystery! The stag,
this wild thing of the woods, that knew no discretion, understood the
will of the man
of God from his gesture alone, and standing still it began trembling all
over, as if it knew that it had offended the soul of the man of God.
"Its extreme tremor and fear went to his heart, and he checked the wrath
in his mind and the blows he had meant to inflict; and the creature
dropped on its knees as he came, and bowed its head, to ask pardon as
best it could for its bold trespass. He ungirt his belt, and put it
round the neck of the kneeling animal, and so led him beyond the bounds
of his orchard, and there releasing him bade him go free wherever he
willed. . . .
"It was not long after when lo! a herd of the woodland creatures came
crowding again; they leapt across the fence, they tore off the tender
flowers and delicate leaves, and every one of the slips of apple trees
that he had watched over from the beginning and planted or grafted in
his garden, they set themselves to root up and break off and trample
"He came out of the house, and ordered the whole mob to leave the place;
and seizing a rod, he struck one of them thrice on the flank and leading
her to the trees that lay along the ground, he showed her rather by
signs than by any spoken word what damage her herd had done to his
"Then, raising both hand and voice, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth,'
said he, 'be off and away as quickly as ye may, nor be so bold as to
come near this garden of mine to its hurt, until these trees are full
grown; for the slips of fruit trees that I have grafted on these trunks
I meant for the food of men and not of beasts.' And so saying, he
threatened the rest of the
dumb creatures with the rod that he held in his hand. And thereupon the
whole herd, with heads down bent and stepping delicately, went out; and
where they had rioted, prancing here and there, and leapt in great
bounds, they now went forth stepping as it were on tiptoe, with
"He drove the whole herd to the depth of the forest; and such as lagged
behind in weariness, he set his arms about and gently brought them out,
making a way for them by lifting a hurdle from his fence. From that time
forth never any forest creature dared to trespass the bounds which he
had fixed. . . .
"Bears, too, would come from the depths of the forest to eat the honey
of his bees, and he would find them out and chastise them with the stick
that he always carried in his hand. And at a word from him the unwieldy
creatures would roar and run, and creatures that no steel blade could
daunt would go in terror of a blow from his light rod" (Reginald of
Saint Godric and Saint John the Baptist's Salmon
"It was the serene and joyous weather of high summer, and the turning of
the year brought nigh the solemn feast of Saint John the Baptist. And
because the man of God had begged it, and it was the familiar custom,
two brothers from the monastery at Durham were sent out to him to
celebrate the divine office with all due honour. The office reverently
said, and this most solemn Mass ended, the folk who had come for the
Feast made their way home; and the brethren came to him to ask his
blessing, and leave to return to their monastery. 'Ye may have God's
blessing,' said he, 'but when Saint Cuthbert's sons have come to visit
me, they must not go home without their dinner.' And, calling his
serving-man, 'Quick, beloved,' said he, 'and set up the table, for these
brethren are to eat with us this day.'
"The table was set up, and oat cake laid upon it, such as he had, and
bowls of good milk. Yet when he looked at the feast, it seemed to him
but poor, and he bade the serving-man bring fish as well.
"'Master,' said he in amaze, 'where should we get fish at a time like
this, in all this heat and drought, when we can see the very bottom of
the river? We can cross dry shod where we used to spread the seine and
the nets.' But he answered, 'Go quickly and spread my seine in the same
dry pool.' The man went out and did as he was told; but with no hope of
any sort of catch.
"He came back, declaring that the pool had dried up till the very sands
of it were parched; and his master bade him make haste to fill the
cauldron with water, and set it on the hearth to heat, and this was
done. After a little while he bade his man go to the bank and bring back
his catch; the man went and looked, and came back empty-handed; he did
it again a second
time; and then in disgust, refused to go any more. For a little while
the man of God held his peace, and then spoke. 'Now go this time,' said
he, 'for this very hour the fish has come into the net, that Saint John
the Baptist promised me; for never could he break a promise by not doing
what he said, although our sluggish faith deserved it little. And look
you,' said he, 'but that salmon that is now caught in the seine is a
marvellous fine one.'
"So in the end his man went off, and found even as he had been told; and
drawing it out of the net he brought the fish alive to where his master
sat in the oratory, and laid it at his feet. Then as he was bidden, he
cut it into pieces and put it into the pot now boiling on the hearth,
and cooked it well, and brought it and set it before the brethren at
table, and well were
they fed and mightily amazed.
"For they marvelled how a fish could come swimming up a river of which
the very sands were dry; and, above al, how the man of God, talking with
them and sitting in the oratory could have seen, by the revelation of
the spirit, the very hour when the fish entered the meshes of the net.
To which he made reply, 'Saint John the Baptist never deserts his own,
but sheds the blessing of his great kindness on those that trust in
him.' And so he sent them home, well fed and uplifted at so amazing a
miracle; praising and glorifying God, Who alone doeth marvels, for all
that they had seen and heard" (Reginald of
Saint Godric and the Hare
To feed the poor Godric had planted vegetables, which a little hare used
to devour stealthily. One day Godric tracked down the culprit and bade
the hare to stop as tried to bolt away. He chastised the trembling
animal, bound a bundle of vegetables on its shoulder and sent it off
with a warning, 'See to it that neither thyself nor any of thy
acquaintance come to this place again; nor dare to encroach on what was
meant for the need of the poor.' And so it happened (Geoffrey).
Godric's kindness, however, extended even to the reptiles. "For in
winter when all about was frozen stiff in the cold, he would go out
barefoot, and if he lighted on any animal helpless with misery of the
cold, he would set it under his armpit or in his bosom to warm it. Many
a time would the kind soul go spying under the thick hedges or tangled
patches of briars, and if haply he found a creature that had lost its
way, or cowed with the harshness of the weather, or tired, or half dead,
he would recover it with all the healing art he had. . . .
"And if anyone in his service had caught a bird or little beast in a
snare or a trap or a noose, as soon as he found it he would snatch it
from their hands and let it go free in the fields or the glades of the
wood. So that many a time they would hide their captive spoils under a
corn measure or a basket or some more secret hiding-place still; but
even so they could never deceive him or keep it hidden. For without
telling, and indeed with his serving- man disavowing and protesting, he
would go straight to the place where the creatures had been hidden; and
while the man would stand by crimson with fear and confusion, he would
lift them out and set them free.
"So, too, hares and other beasts fleeing from the huntsmen he would take
in, and house them in his hut; and when the ravagers, their hope
frustrated, would be gone, he would send them away to their familiar
haunts. Many a time the dumb creatures of the wood would swerve aside
from where the huntsmen lay in wait, and take shelter in the safety of
his hut; for it may be that by some divine instinct they knew that a
sure refuge abided their coming" (Reginald).
Saint Godric and the Hunted Stag
"In the time of Rainulf, Bishop of Durham, certain of his household had
come out for a day's hunting, with their hounds, and were following a
stag which they had singled out for its beauty. The creature, hard
pressed by the clamour and the baying, made for Godric's hermitage, and
seemed by its plaintive cries to beseech his help. "The old man came
out, saw the stag shivering and exhausted at his gate, and moved with
pity bade it hush its moans, and opening the door of his hut, let
it go in. The creature dropped at the good father's feet but he, feeling
that the hunt was coming near, came out, shut the door behind him and
sat down in the open; while the dogs, vexed at the loss of their quarry,
turned back with a mighty baying upon their masters.
"They, nonetheless, following on the track of the stag, circled round
about the place, plunging through the well-nigh impenetrable brushwood
of thorns and briars; and hacking a path with their blades, came upon
the man of God in his poor rags.
"They questioned him about the stag; but he would not be the betrayer of
his guest, and he made prudent answer, 'God knows where he may be.' They
looked at the angelic beauty of his countenance, and in reverence for
his holiness, they fell before him and asked his pardon for their bold
"Many a time afterwards they would tell what had befallen them there,
and marvel at it, and by their oft telling of it, the thing was kept in
memory by those that came after. But the stag kept house with Godric
until the evening; and then he let it go free. But for years thereafter
it would turn from its way to visit him, and lie at his feet, to show
what gratitude it could for its deliverance" (Reginald).
In art, Saint Godric is depicted as a very old hermit dressed in white,
kneeling on grass, with a stag by him (Roeder, White). He is venerated
especially at Finchdale, County Durham, and Walpole, Norfolk, England
Baring-Gould, S. & Fisher, J. (1907) The Lives of the British
Saints. 4 volumes. Charles J Clarke.
Benedictine Monks of Saint Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of Saints. NY: Macmillan.
Bowen, Paul. When We Were One: A Yearbook of the
Saints of the British Isles Complied from Ancient Calendars.
Farmer, D. H. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of Saints.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fletcher, H.L.V. The Queen's Wales - North Wales.
Stafford, D.G. A Brief History of Saint Colan Parish Church.
These Lives are archived at: