Friday, 10 February 2012

Caedmon of Whitby

The North Yorkshire Town of Whitby has long been one of my favourite places. Above the bustling and popular harbour, the Abbey Ruins stand to remind visitors and residents alike, that the Town was one of the Cradles of Christianity in the North, a tradition carried on in our own day by the prayerful presence of the Sisters of the Order of the Holy Paraclete. The Venerable Bede, in his ‘History of the English Church and People’, tells of the Abbey’s origins under S.Hilda, and includes the story of Caedmon, who is commemorated each year on February 11th.

Caedmon is the earliest English Poet whose name is known. He was a simple herdsman, described as ‘ignorant of Song’ – that is, he was unable to contribute to the story-telling and singing within the Community, which regularly marked the Celebration of Feast days in the Christian Kalendar. Beded tells us how he Was unable to compose, until, one night, in answer to his prayer, a dream gave him a vision of the glory of God, and the gift of composition:

Praise we the Fashioner now of Heaven's fabric,
The majesty of his might and his mind's wisdom,
Work of the world-warden, worker of all wonders,
How he the Lord of Glory everlasting,
Wrought first for the race of men Heaven as a rooftree,
Then he made Middle Earth to be their mansion.                  (A Loose Modern Translation!)

Sadly, this is the only one of Caedmon’s works that have survived, but it gives us a precious insight into the prayers of our forebears in the faith, as they strove to bring the Good News of God’s Love to the people of our land. Let us honour S.Caedmon as the father of English Poetry and Song, and, in honouring him, praise above all our God who answers prayer, and who gives gifts of creativity and skill to his people.