Bilfrid, Hermit and Silversmith

6 March is the Feast of Saint Bilfrid (Billfrith), Hermit and Silversmith
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“Bilfird was a Benedictine hermit, the silversmith who bound the Lindisfarne Gospels. He was a hermit in Lindisfarne, England, off the coast of Northumbria, in northern England, where he aided Bishop Eaddfrid in preparing the binding of that masterpiece. He used gold, silver, and gems to bind the famous copy of the Gospels of St. Cuthbert. His relics were enshrined in Durham, England, in the eleventh century.”

“Billfrid, before he became a hermit, was a distinguished goldsmith and was venerated as a saint during his life and after his death.
St.Ethelwold commissioned him to make a cover for the precious Gospels of the Abbey at Lindisfarne. The history of this manuscript is known from a note written at the end of the book when the monks who guarded it and the body of St. Cuthbert were at Chester-le-Street: “Eadfrith, Bishop of the church at Lindisfarne, he first wrote this book for God and St.Cuthbert and for all the saints in common that are in the island, and Ethilwald, Bishop of those of Lindisfarne Island, bound and covered it outwardly as well as he could. And Billfrith the anchorite he wrought as a smith the ornaments on the outside and adorned it with gold and with gems, and also with silver over-gilded, a treasure without deceit”.
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The Gospels were at Lindisfarne for almost two hundred years, but they were very nearly lost when the island was abandoned in 875 because of the Danish raids. Symeon of Durham describes the anguish of the monks when the ship carrying the Gospels was hit by a storm and the book sank into the depths of the sea. The Gospels were miraculously recovered
through the intervention of St.Cuthbert and St. Billfrid, the former appearing in a vision to one of the monks telling them to search the shore at low tide. This they did and, after searching for more than three miles, they came across the book, its gold and jewels gleaming and the pages unharmed by its immersion in salt water.

At Chester-le-Street the monk Aldred translated the Latin into the Northumbrian dialect, writing the words beneath the Latin script and so making the first English version of the Gospels. It was treasured at Durham until the Dissolution, when the cover was melted down, but the book itself is now in the British Museum. St.Billfrid’s relics were discovered after a vision by a priest, Alfred Westow, and translated to Durham where he is commemorated with St.Baldred on March 6th also.”!topic/celtic-daily/j7VR7ipqKso
“Bilfrith the Jeweller” by Catherine Stott : mixed media on deep boxed canvas: 60 X 75cm.

“Billfrith (Old English: Billfrið; fl. early 8th century) is an obscure Northumbrian saint credited with providing the jewel and metalwork encrusting the former treasure binding of the Lindisfarne Gospels. His name is thought to mean “peace of the two-edge sword”.
Symeon of Durham’s Libellus de Exordio (ii.13), which calls him “St Billfrith the Anchorite”, says he was a goldsmith and that he gilded an important book written by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne. This book is the gospel book known today as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Symeon probably derived this information from a colophon added to the Lindisfarne Gospels by a scribe named “Aldred” at some point between 950 and 970. The colophons describes how:
Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne church, originally wrote this book for God and for St Cuthbert and—jointly—for all saints whose relics are in the island. And Æthelwald, bishop of the Lindisfarne islanders, impressed it on the outside and covered it … And Billfrið the anchorite forged the ornaments which are on it on the outside and adorned it with gold and gems and with gilded-on silver-pure metal …
The Gospels today are in a different binding, as Billfrith’s craftsmanship has not survived.
The name Billfrith occurs in the Durham Liber Vitae, and the latter is the only pre-Conquest source other than the Lindisfarne colophon containing Billfrith’s name. Although this confraternity book did not begin until the 9th century, the name’s position indicates that this Billfrith was from the 8th century. His name is in the same group as that of the Irish monk Echa, who died in 767.
The Libellus further relates that in the 11th century his venerated bones were among those taken from the monasteries and churches of Northumbria to Durham by Ælfred the Priest; Ælfred also took the bones of Balthere of Tyninghame, Acca and Alchmund of Hexham, King Oswine, and abbesses Æbbe and Æthelgitha. Billfrith’s name appears in a relic list of the church of Durham dating to the mid-12th century. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints says that the “feast of Bilfrith and Baldred” was celebrated on 6 March.”
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“Baldred and Billfrith were Northumbrian hermits, who lived in the 8th century. Although in the church calendar they are remembered on the same day there is no reason to think that they knew each other.

Baldred was mainly known as the hermit of the Bass Rock, in the Firth of Forth and now mainly the home of myriads of gannets. He is said to have prayed successfully for the removal of a dangerous reef from between the Bass Rock and the mainland to its present less perilous position: it is still known as Baldred’s Rock.

Billfrith is closer to home. He was a hermit of Lindisfarne and a skilled worker in jewels and precious metals. When the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels had been written and painted they were bound in leather by Bishop Aethelweald, who then asked Billfrith to make a pattern of jewels embedded in the outer cover of the book. It must have been rather sumptuous, because at the Reformation the cover with its jewels disappeared. Who got it, we wonder?

The relics of both hermits eventually had the same fate. In the 11th century they fell into the hands of Alfred Westow, sacrist of Durham Cathedral and an indefatigable collector of relics: he was the man who stole the bones of Bede from Jarrow and took them, with many other saints’ remains, to Durham.
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Although we know little in detail about these two men they remind us of the great numbers of hermits in the history of the Church, and of their importance in keeping alive the ideals of austerity, devoted prayer and spiritual warfare. Their lives were seen as a kind of martyrdom: a victory over evil shared by all Christians.”

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