This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10 -- Feast of Saint Bettelin

Blessed Cardinal, J. H. Newman
The Blessed John Henry Newman, Cardinal and Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland, was a prolific writer.  Among his works is Lives of the English Saints, and included in that book is an extensive account of the life of Saint Bettelin.  Actually, Blessed John Henry included tales of Bettelin, Beccelin, Barthelm, and Bertelin, making a convincing case that they were all the same person.  I cannot think of a reason to quibble with the Blessed Cardinal, so my quick summary below is adapted from his extensive account.

Every story needs an Irish princess
It's historically well attested that Bettelin was one of four spiritual students of the British hermit, Saint Guthlac, who lived in Croyland, in Lincolnshire.  That was apparently good hermit country -- lots of good saints came from Croyland.  In spite of the good country, Bettelin's nature was dark and brooding, a result of his early misfortune in life.

The son of a Mercian nobleman, Bettelin had traveled to Ireland and seduced a fair young princess.  Perhaps seduced is not the right word; it might have been mutual.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say "knocked up."  In any event, they were afraid that her dad would give vent to his Celtic temper, so they headed for the coast.  Sadly, as they were making their way home through the wilds of Britain, the young bride went into labor.  Bettelin ran for help, but when he finally returned, he found that his wife and child have been devoured by wolves.  It is small wonder he became a hermit.

Monks and razors -- it's universal
Sometime later, Guthlac called him to join their small hermitage, believing that a directed spiritual life in a small, dedicated community is better than total isolation in the wilderness.  Bettelin followed, studied, and prayed.  He became a worthy student of the holy man, but he continued to be plagued by guilt and doubt.  The Evil One worked on him, and in time, infected his spirit.  Bettelin was sharpening his razor to shave Guthlac one day when the madness of evil seized him.  He was suddenly moved to slice his master's throat.  Calmly, Guthlac called him on this, urging him to set aside evil and expel his demons himself.  Flinging himself at Guthlac's feet, Bettelin expelled the evil, received forgiveness from his boss, and was strengthened in the Faith.

One early writer says that Bettelin died in Croyland (long after Guthlac's death) and was buried in a marble tomb.  Another writer says he moved on to an island called Bethney in the River Sow, within his father's lands.  He lived there as a hermit until his father's death, at which time the new king sought to dislodge him.  Bettelin was told that he could fight for the land, or have a champion represent him; otherwise, he would have to vacate.  The hermit prayed, not for himself, but for the glory of God, that a champion would come to thwart the new king's disrespect of hermitage and lawful inheritance.

Now THAT'S a champion!
In the morning, a diminutive little knight rode up on a gentle white palfrey and announced that he was the champion.  Bettelin never wavered in his faith -- he thanked the knight and the two went to the field.  There, in front of the assembled crowd, they faced the king and his champion: a huge man in jet black armor on a massive Arabian charger.  The black knight's visor was down, but a demonic red light gleamed from inside.  The sweet little knight wore his visor up, and as he turned to face his opponent, he began to change.  The comic little champion that had amused the crowd suddenly grew strong and stern -- not cruel or fierce, but resolute.  He kept his lance up and did not charge, but rather just held his ground, staring at his opponent.  The black knight's courage wavered, his lance trembled in his hand.  He began his charge, but his horse stopped, and the knight was thrown to the ground, struck by an invisible weapon.  Bettelin's champion, having revealed himself as Michael the Archangel, then departed, the island questionably held by the saint instead of the king.

Bettelin, however, did not stay.  He turned the island over to other hermits and went deeper into the Mercian wilderness.  Bethney eventually became Stafford, since one could ford the river at a shallow, stony point with only the aid of a staff.  Centuries later, in 1386, a blind cook attended Mass at St. Bertelin's (sic) Church in Stafford.  With the intercession of Saint Bettelin, his vision was restored just as Father John Chrostias held up the Eucharist.  He had a rough start as a young man, but Bettelin was keeping the holy works going long after his death. 

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