The Shrine of St Cedd
A particularly valuable gift amongst the books given to The Heritage this morning was: Francis Hewitt “The Ancient Crypt Church of St Mary Lastingham: The Shrine of St Cedd” (1982). The Hermitage houses relics of St Cedd and is named in his honour.
“St. Cedd, the eldest of four brothers, was born in 620 into a noble Northumbrian family at the beginning of the 7th century. With his siblings, Cynebil, Caelin & (St.) Chad, he entered the school at Lindisfarne Priory at an early age and learned the ways of the Irish monks under Bishop Aidan. They were eventually sent to Ireland for further study, and all four subsequently became priests.
Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne subsequently sent Cedd out to evangelize the people of Essex, who were sorely in need of spiritual guidance. He baptised many of the locals and built several churches. He is particularly noted for the foundation of monasteries at Bradwell-on-Sea and East Tilbury.
Having been consecrated Bishop of Essex by Bishop Finan, Cedd re-instated St. Paul’s in London as the main seat of his diocese. He ordained priests and deacons to assist him in his work and gathered together a large flock of servants of Christ in his two monastic foundations.
Bishop Cedd always remained fond of his northern homeland and made regular visits there. On one such occasion in 658, Cedd was approached by King Aethelwald of Deira. Finding Cedd to be a good and wise man, he pressed upon him to accept a parcel of land at Lastingham in Yorkshire on which to build a monastery. Cedd eventually agreed, but would not lay the foundation stones until the place had first been cleansed through prayer and fasting. Cedd was the first Abbot of Lastingham and remained so while still administering to his flock in Essex.
In 664 Cedd was at Lastingham at a time that a great plague was raging through the area. Both he and his brother, Cynebil, fell sick and, after placing Lastingham in the charge of their youngest brother, Chad, they died. Cedd was first buried in the open air, and his funeral was attended by some thirty monks from Bradwell who, sadly, also contracted the plague and died. Eventually, a little stone church was built at Lastingham in honour the Virgin Mary, and Cedd’s body was interred there, to the right of the altar. The latter remains intact in the Norman crypt that was later built on the site, though St. Cedd’s bones were removed around the same time to the cathedral founded by his brother, Chad, at Lichfield.”
“During his episcopate among the east Saxons, God’s Servant Cedd often visited his own province of Northumbria to preach. Ethelwald, son of king Oswald, who ruled the province of Deira, knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy and honourable man, asked him to accept a grant of land to found a monastery, to which he himself might often come to pray and hear the word of God, and where he might be buried: for he firmly believed that the daily prayers of those who would serve God there would be great help to him. The King’s previous chaplain had been Cedd’s brother, a priest named Caelin, a man equally devoted to God, who had ministered the word and sacraments to himself and his family, and it was thought of him that the King came to know and love the bishop. In accordance with the King’s wishes, Cedd chose a site for the monastery among some high and remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation. His purpose in this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “in the haunts where dragons once dwelt shall be pasture, with reeds and rushes”, and he wished the fruits of good works to spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like beasts.
The Man of God wished first of all to purify the site of the monastery from the taint of earlier crimes by prayer and fasting, and make it acceptable to God before laying the foundations. He therefore asked the King’s permission to remain there throughout the approaching season of Lent, and during this time he fasted until evening every day except Sunday according to custom. Even then he took no food but a morsel of bread, an egg and a little watered milk. He explained that it was the custom of those who had trained him in the rule of regular discipline to dedicate the site of any monastery to God with prayer and fasting. But then days before the end of Lent a messenger arrived to summon him to the king, so that the king’s business should not interrupt the work of dedication, Cedd asked his brother Cynebil to complete this holy task. The latter readily consented, and when the period of prayer and fasting came to an end, he built the monastery now called Lastingham, and established there the observances of the usage of Lindisfarne where he had been trained.
When Cedd had been bishop of the province and administered the affairs of the monastery for many years through his chosen representatives, he happened to visit the monastery at the time of plague, and there he fell sick and died. He was first buried in the open, but in the course of time a stone church was built, dedicated to the blessed mother of God, and his body was re-interred in it on the right side of the altar.
The bishop bequeathed the abbacy of the monastery to his brother Chad, who subsequently became a bishop. The four brothers I have mentioned – Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad – all became famous priests of our Lord, and two became bishops, which is a rare occurrence in one family. When the brethren of Cedd’s monastery in the province of the East Saxons heard that their founder had died in the province of Northumbria, about thirty of them came wishing, God willing, either to live near the body of their Father, or to die and be laid to rest at his side. They were welcomed by their brothers and fellow-soldiers of Christ, and all of them died there of the plague with the exception of one little boy who was preserved from death by the prayers of his father Chad.”
“If you walk down the stairs to the crypt, you are stepping back in time. In this holy place the spirits of Cedd and Chad move on the stones of the floor and in the air that you breathe. Stephen’s first act was to build a crypt where the little stone church stood as a shrine to St. Cedd. So as you look towards the altar in the crypt, you may well be looking at the very place where St Chad celebrated Mass, and beside which his brother Cedd is buried.
An entrance from the outside on the north side enabled pilgrims to come directly to the shrine to pray at the place of burial of St. Cedd.
The Arches are typically early Norman; the pillars show a gradual growth in ornamentation, but most have a simple ram’s horn capital as in the work of the same period in the upper Church. The crypt is a little church in itself, with side aisles and apse. This is unique in a crypt in England. But the glory of Lastingham lies not in its architectural features, but in the atmosphere of Christianity which speaks to us across the centauries. The Crypt has remained virtually unchanged since the time of William the Conqueror.”
“There has been a church on this site since the mid-7th Century (c.654 A.D.) when St. Cedd, formerly a student of St. Aidan at Lindisfarne, and his brother Caelin founded a monastery here.
St. Cedd became its first Abbot and ruled until his death in 664 A.D. Another brother, St. Chad, who also was a student of St. Aidan at Lindisfarne, became abbot of the monastery after St. Cedd’s death.
The original wooden church was replaced by a stone structure ca.725 A.D. Some of the original stones may still be found in the crypt of the present-day church. The monastery was destroyed by Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th Centuries. In 1078, Abbot Stephen of Whitby and several Benedictine monks went to Lastingham to rebuild the ruined church. They built a crypt as a shrine to St. Cedd over the place where it was thought that he was buried. A new abbey church was also started but abandoned in 1088 when the monks moved to York.
A parish church was established in 1228 A.D. Through the years, different sections of the present church were built. The Norman tower was added in the 15th Century.”
For St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, see further: