A daily study of the Network’s diverse faiths
St Bega of St Bees Head. Medieval celebration of the life of the beautiful Irish virgin princess who fled a Seventh-Century arranged royal marriage. Bega wanted an ascetic religious life and legend has it that in 650 she received from an Angel on the night before she was to be married a special bracelet marked with the sign of the Cross (armillam Sancte Bege). She fled whilst the others were feasting and was shipwrecked on St Bees Head, the westernmost point of Cumbria. Dedicating her life to God, she built for herself an anchoress cell in a grove near the seashore, where she remained in strict seclusion for many years. When pirate raids threatened, Bega did not fear death, nor mutilation, nor the loss of temporal goods, of which she was destitute except for her bracelet (armilla), but she did fear the loss of her virginity, the most precious treasure with which heaven could endow her. By divine command, Bega hastened to Northumbria but she was induced to leave her bracelet behind so that miracles in ages to come might be performed in the neighbourhood as testimony to her holy life. She received the veil from St Aidan, travelled the district preaching and served in the convent at Hartlepool Abbey, which was founded in 640 by Hieu, the first of the saintly recluses of Northumbria. Bega visited St Hilda (Hild of Whitby) and travelled to York. Although Bega died in Northumbria, her cult developed in St Bees with an Anglian religious site being founded to guard her miraculous bracelet, as evidenced by a Tenth-Century cross on the site of St Bees Priory. The monastery and its lands were associated in legend with a number of miracles, the most famous being the Snow Miracle described in the Life of St Bega. The endowed lands were the subject of a lawsuit about their extent and the monks feared a miscarriage of justice when they were told that only land that was not covered by snow the next day would continue to be theirs. The following day there was a thick snowfall on all the surrounding lands but not a flake fell upon the lands of the Priory, which was thus permitted to further develop. The Priory had a 1088 dependency of St Mary’s Abbey, York where St Bega’s death was commemorated as a lesser festival on her Feast Day of 31 October until the Abbey was disestablished in 1539. After 1120, the Priory was dedicated to St Bega and her bracelet was kept there until the Reformation, with her cult establishing her as Cumbria’s local saint. When the Priory was also dissolved in 1539, it became known as the cell or church of St Bega in the village of Kyrkeby Becok (St Bega’s Church). The 1583 St Bees School was founded close by during the reign of Elizabeth I, with an access bridge that is now a listed structure and still in use. Venerated in St Bees Priory, Roman Catholic Church. The Life (Vita) manuscript of St Bega contains accounts of nine miracles brought about by her influence and the register of St Bees Priory records several miracles by the power of prayer to St Bega. Major work Oracio ad Sanctam Begam (Hymn to St Bega). A Millennium project has been to install a new statue of St Bega arriving by boat from Ireland, with the names of all villagers written on a scroll that with other objects has been placed in a time capsule buried under the base of the statue. St Bees is the starting point of the Coast to Coast Walk devised in 1972 by A Wainwright, the British fell walker and guidebook author. Feast Days at St Bees 7 November, and 17 December to commemorate the translation of her remains to St Mary’s Abbey. Image: stbees.org.uk.
Prayer O Bega, fair virgin, you were the noble offspring of a king, but you are more precious to us on account of your faith than of your fleshly descent. Now make our sins hateful, spare us gracious one so that we shall sing joyful songs to Christ. Hail to you who crossed the sea to Britain and were honoured with the veil of everlasting life. By your faith all our worship is now strengthened and finds comfort in our tribulations. Draw us to yourself from your seat in heaven and pray for us, blessed Bega, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Saint Regina de France Vierge et Martyre, Natividad de la Santísima Virgen, Pure, Sinless, Immaculate, Without Original Sin). Universal Christian Feast celebrating the birth of the Virgin, who according to the Protoevangelium of James was of the royal line of David and educated in Jerusalem in the Temple of the Lord. She was an only child born after her rich parents Joachim and Anne had been married for 20 years, her father’s family being from Galilee and her mother’s being from Bethlehem. They vowed that if God should favour them with issue, they would devote it to the service of the Lord and they went every season of the year to the Temple. Their prayers and sacrifices were rewarded and, being informed by an angel that they would have a child, they offered 10 she-lambs and 12 tender calves to the Lord in the Temple. When Anna was told by the midwife that her child was a girl, she named her Mary saying: “My soul has been magnified this day.” The bliss of heaven was in Mary’s soul from her conception and, by a singular grace and privilege granted by God, she was exempted from all original sin: “Thou art all fair, O my Love, and there is not a spot in thee who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as any army set in array.” Whereas saints are commemorated on their date of death, with St John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary the birth dates are commemorated as they were holy in their very birth. Patron of Senglea, Malta as Virgin of Nativity, Cuba as Our Lady of Charity, Vailankanni, India as Our Lady of Good Health, Pampanga, The Philippines as Virgin of Remedies, Order of Slaves of the Immaculate Child, Order of Sisters of Charity of the Maria Bambina, St Mary’s Syrian Cathedral Manarcad, Kerala. Image: salisburycatholics.org.
St Cynfarch of Wales (Cynfarch Oer, Kinemark, Kingsmark) (died Fifth Century). Feast Day for the Scottish chieftain who lived in Wales, where churches are dedicated to him. The book of Llan Dav relates that he was a disciple of St Dyfrig and lent his name to Llangynfarch (now Chepstow). An early Augustinian priory dedicated to St Cynfarch was established there and a small Benedictine monastic establishment replaced it near to Chepstow Castle in the early-Twelfth Century, about a mile away from the Church Cottage, Tutshill childhood home of J K Rowling that has now returned to the ownership of her family. In northeast Wales, St Cynfarch’s Churchyard in Hope, Flintshire is dedicated to Sts Cynfarch and Cyngar as contemporary noble Welsh saints and was originally an early-Medieval wooden structure. The head of a stone Celtic cross from that period survives and is displayed in an interior wall of the Twelfth-Century stone church that was added to in subsequent centuries, the roof being from the Fifteenth Century, the tower from the Sixteenth and now with a ring of six bells dedicated to those who fought and fell in the First World War, and the Trevor Chapel from the Seventeenth Century. Image: explorechurches.org.