Friday, 23 January 2015

Godric of Finchale in Jerusalem

If we were going on an exciting trip, we would take lots of pictures and then tell our friends about the state of the hotel, the food or the expenses of the journey. We might try and describe what a particularly impressive view, building or experience was like- something that our photographs don’t show. 

Tourists taking photographs at the Stone of Anointing in the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Reginald does not tell us any of this kind of information. Instead, his focus is on Godric’s reaction to arriving at the tomb of the Lord in the Holy Sepulchre: how eagerly he prayed and with such great devotion, how often Godric's mouth kissed the holy tomb. On reaching the tomb, Godric felt as if he was a completely new man (quasi totus homo efficeretur). Reginald describes Godric’s emotions in great detail: pleasure (suavitas) climbed in his breast. He felt in his mouth a sweetness (dulcedo) surpassing that of honey from the sweetest honeycomb. A jubilant sound or melody resounded in his ears (jubilationis modulatio), and it felt like the music of heaven. Nimbleness (agilitas) filled his body. Godric has been brought ‘back to life’, physically and spiritually, by his arrival at the place of Christ’s Resurrection. 

Reginald tells us of his vows and thanks to God, and that Godric kept a sleepless- but pleasant- nocturnal vigil at the tomb of Christ. He doesn’t tell us anything about the rest of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where pilgrims could visit sites such as Golgotha and Mount Calvary, and see objects such as the column of the flagellation. Nor does Reginald note the architectural setting of the tomb of Christ, enclosed inside an aedicule at the centre of the Anastasis Rotunda. Instead, Godric and Reginald concentrate on the holy tomb. 

The tomb aedicule in the Anastasis Rotunda, Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Source: Wikipedia Commons

After the visit to Christ’s tomb, Godric travelled with a great multitude of Christians to the River Jordan, where he (finally) washed in the sacred waters. Reginald tells us specifically that he wiped the sweat from his body. He may be deliberately alluding here to part of God’s curse on Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:19, God states: 

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

River Jordan. Source: Wikipedia Commons

This terrible promise of sweat and toil, followed by nothingness, is relieved by Christ and the sacrament of baptism. Godric has been labouring painfully all his way to Jerusalem and starving himself of bread. To be able to wipe his sweat in the waters of the Jordan where Christ was baptised is another promise of resurrection and eternal life. After washing in the Jordan, Godric even took food and fruit from the land to eat, further ‘restoring’ him to health. 

Reginald tells us that Godric stayed for a extended period in Jerusalem, working for some months at the Hospital of St John ministering to other pilgrims. He also visited further holy places, for example going ‘frequently’ to the Templum Domini. Thought by medieval pilgrims to have been the location for the Presentation in the Temple, this structure is better known to us today as the Dome of the Rock. 

What Godric knew as the 'Templum Domini': the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Further Reading:

Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, Heremitae de Finchale. Auctore Reginaldo Monacho Dunelmensi. Surtees Society 20 (London, 1845)

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