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May 6 Saints of the Day – Barbarus in Thessaly and Edbert of Lindisfarne

On this date in 1994, Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand officiated at the opening of the Channel Tunnel. “If only we had this in 1066,” said Mitterrand to a stony silence.

Barbarus in ThessalyThe martyr Barbarus in Thessaly (IX cent.) started his narrative as a robber, extortioner, murderer, and otherwise unwholesome dude. He lived in a cave, waylaying travelers and doing other bad stuff. One day as he sat there looking at all his jewels and gold and Rolex watches (or ninth century equivalents), the idea of the Last Judgment came unbidden to his mind. (Have you ever wondered how thoughts could come bidden to your mind? For you to bid them, they’d have to be in your mind already. But in order to be in your mind already, you’d have to have bidden them. But I regress.) He reasoned that if Jesus could forgive the thief on the cross, maybe he could forgive Barbarus.

So he left his gold watches, dialed into WorshApp to find the nearest church, and was soon making a candid and complete confession. The priest pronounced absolution and gave him a room in his own home, but Barbarus didn’t feel forgiven. He took to walking around on all fours because he felt no better than an animal. Soon he left the priest’s home and went back to living in the woods, albeit without the Rolexes (Rolices?) or the criminality. After twelve years he received some kind of sign (the sources are murky) that he had been forgiven, and would die a martyr’s death. Not long after, some passing merchants heard a rustling in the grass, and ignoring everything they’d ever learned about archery safety, shot at it without first ascertaining what it was. It was Barbarus. As he lay dying he told them his whole story, and asked them to tell the kindly priest where to find him. (I find this confusing — while tragic, it’s not exactly a martyrdom.) When the priest found him, Barnabus’ body was shining with a heavenly light, and after his burial, his grave exuded a healing myrrh. His relics were eventually relocated to the Kellios Monastery near Thessaly.

Seal near LindisfarneEdbert (d. 698), Bishop of Lindisfarne, was successor to Cuthbert, but despite their names, they were not related, nor was either related to Dilbert or Dogbert. Edbert, the Venerable Bede assures us, was famous for his knowledge of Scripture, his obedience to God’s commands, and for his almsgiving — he gave 10% of his beasts, grain, fruit, and clothing (one wonders how much clothing he grew) to the poor annually, citing the Old Testament tithe as a standard for Christians. He was also very devout in his prayer, and spent the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days of Advent living as a hermit on Cuthbert’s little island. He also undertook a building campaign on Lindisfarne, improving some buildings and putting a new lead roof on the great church.

Beyond that he appears to be most famous for the events surrounding the exhuming of Cuthbert’s body, which was found to be not just incorrupt, but quite pliable. The monks took some of his vestments (which were fresh and clean and neatly pressed ( I’ve pondered why some incorrupt saints have incorrupt clothes and some have rotting clothes — a great mystery that may not be solved until our Lord returns)) and rowed over to the little island to show them to Edbert, who was on praycation. He kissed them reverently, told the monks to dress Cuthbert in new ones (no word on what was done with the old ones), and asked that when his time came, he be buried with Cuthbert (and so he was, and not long after). He presumably didn’t ask that their remains be moved every few years to protect them from Vikings, but he didn’t have to; they were anyway. They ended up in Durham Cathedral, about an hour and a half south of Lindisfarne on the A1, where they’ve been since 875.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Barbarus in Thessaly (detail)Bibliography
May 6 (Wikipedia)
Martyr Barbarus in Thessaly, who was a robber (OCA)
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (book on paper) – Main source
Edbert of Lindisfarne (St. Patrick DC)
Saint Edbert of Lindisfarne (SQPN)
Cuthbert and Jósef Bilczewski (Onion Dome)

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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