Saint Balthere of Tyninghame

6 March is the Feast of Saint Balthere of Tyninghame (later Baldred)
“Saint Balthere of Tyninghame (later Baldred) was a was a Northumbrian hermit and abbot, resident in East Lothian during the 8th century. According to Hovendeus the date of Baldred’s death is given as 756. Symeon of Durham says “the twentieth year of King Eadberht of Northumbria ” and Turgot of Durham “the seventeenth year of the episcopate of Cynulf”, that is 756. As his feast is given as 6 March, by the modern calendar, this would be 6 March 757. Although the 8th century date is now generally accepted, due to a passage in the 16th century Breviary of Aberdeen, he has, in the past, often been associated with the 6th century Saint Kentigern (for which, see Baldred of Strathclyde). Baldred is commonly referred to as “the Apostle of the Lothians” and Simeon of Durham says that “the boundaries of his pastorate embraced the whole land which belongs to the monastery of Saint Balther, which is called Tyninghame – from Lammermuir to Inveresk, or, as it was called, Eskmouthe.” His cult was certainly centred on the four churches of Auldhame, Whitekirk, Tyninghame and Prestonkirk, between East Linton and North Berwick in East Lothian.

Baldred is believed to have founded a monastery at Tyninghame. However, at times, he preferred to retire from the spiritual government of the Lothian Britons and he selected the Bass Rock as the spot to build himself a small hermitage and associated chapel, although he also sometimes resided in ‘St Baldred’s Cave’ on Seacliff Beach.
Baldred is said to have lived in the diocese of Lindisfarne, and was therefore an Northumbrian, a not improbable association since, at that time, the Lothians were a part of the kingdom of Northumbria. However, most sources assert an Irish connection. He was probably born in Ireland before joining the Northumbrian mission. Hector Boece, says he exercised his office in a district which then formed a part of Pictland.
About halfway up the Bass Rock are the ruins of an old chapel or, strictly speaking, the parish church of The Bass, said to mark the spot where Saint Baldred occupied his humble cell. The approximate date of the erection (or re-erection) of the chapel may be found in a Papal Bull dated 6 May 1493, mentioning this building as being then novita erecta. A further reconsecration (indicating more building work) took place in 1542 when the chapel was dedicated it to Saint Baldred.

Following Baldred’s death on the site of this chapel, there was a dispute between the parishes of Auldhame, Tyninghame and Prestonkirk, as to which should have his body. The story goes that by the advice of a holy man, they spent the night in prayer. In the morning three bodies were found, in all respects alike, each in its winding sheet, prepared for burial. The story was probably invented to explain the claims of each church to house the shrine of Saint Baldred.

Lying in the grounds of Tyninghame House is the 12th century St Baldred’s Church. It traditionally stands on the site of his monastery which, according to the Melrose Chronicle, was eventually sacked by the Danes in 941. The Tyninghame body of Saint Baldred was removed to Durham Cathedral, by Alfred Westow, in the early 11th century. The church continued as the parish church until the village of Tyninghame was relocated to the west in 1761. Today, the ruins of church form little more than an architectural folly amongst the gardens of the house. At the parish church of Prestonkirk there existed, until 1770, when it was damaged by a builder, a statue of the saint much venerated by the local population. St Baldred’s Well stands nearby which was “famed for its…healing qualities”. Whitekirk parish church, celebrated in ancient times as a place of pilgrimage, also lays claim to this saint as the scene of his ministry, but A.E. Ritchie finds this doubtful.”
baldred window
“St Baldred lived during the 6th century in Northumberland, as a hermit, first at Tyningham and then on the Bass Rock. According to legend, it was thanks to his prayers that a dangerous reef was removed between the rock and the mainland. All that is left of it is St Baldred’s Rock.

The saint’s supposed relics were discovered with those of St Bilfrith in the 11th century and removed to Durham. A little spring on the banks of the River Tyne at Preston, on the northeast edge of East Linton in East Lothian, St. Baldred’s Well lies close to Preston Kirk, which was founded by the saint.
baldreds well
The well supplied the Red Friars who had a monastery close by in the 13th century and remained a source of water for the residents of Preston into the 20th century.”

“Two saintly men are held in special honor by the folk of East Lothian ad treasured as peculiarly their own. The two were very different in their lives and their beliefs: Baldred, an anchorite (hermit) who lived in the Dark Ages and Blackadder the Covenanter of the seventeenth century. Both were by family East Lothian men though their missionary journeys took them widely through the Boarders and beyond. The grey cliffs of the Bass were home to both for at least a good portion of life: the hermit Baldred because he choose to have it that way, the Covenanter Blackadder because he was prisoned there till he died.
It was long accepted that he had been a follower of St. Kentigern and had worked with and under that great missionary around the beginning of the seventh century. However, recent research compels students of the period to forsake the dates in the Aberdeen Breviary and accept the dating of Simeon of Durham that Baldred died (‘tod the way of the Holy Fathers’ as Simeon so much more graciously puts it) ‘in the 29th year of King Egbert of Northumbria’, which marks it as 756. Not much can be written about the life of an anchorite except that he fulfilled his chosen work in his chosen cell and passed on the missionary task to the next generation. Every generation, though, needs fresh conversions, for Dean Inge once wrote truly ‘each generation represents a fresh invasion of the barbarians’.
It is clear that even Baldred did not spend all his years in his cave for he left several place-names in East Lothian suggesting his presence. Baldred’s Chapel at Tantallon is now little more than a ruin. At Aldham Bay you may see the rock called Baldred’s Boat when the tide is out. Like other medieval saints, if no boat was handy he just sailed over on a rock. ‘Baldred’s Cradle’, further down the coast, is a terrifying fissure in the rocks through which the tides roar when the storms come. Prestonkirk and Tyningham parishes have many memorials of Baldred and the kirk at the former place may well be the site of his chapel. His huge stone image is said to have lain there till 1770 when a new kirk was built and a mason, perhaps inspired by shades of Blackadder, took a hammer and broke the image up.”

“Evangelist and hermit. Sent by St Mungo (518 – 613) in the 6th C. to spread Christianity to the Lothians, Baldred founded a Monastery at Tyninghame. Choosing a life of seclusion, he lived in a cell on the Bass Rock (off North Berwick) and probably died there. His name is remembered in St. Baldred’s Boat (the point immediately south of the Bass Rock, opposite Tantallon Castle) and St. Baldred’s Cradle (which lies at the north west end of the John Muir Country Park, west of Dunbar).
baldred church
St Baldred’s Church, Scotland. The ruins of St Baldred’s Church in the grounds of Tyninghame House, East Lothian, Scotland.


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