Bernician Hymns.

003In the late 7th Century an illiterate cow herder called Caedmon was said to have received divine inspiration. That morning, like every morning was spent tending livestock in the grounds of Whitby Abbey. After his day of work he then attended a feast. His guests asked him to sing a song from memory but he replied that he could not remember any songs.


However later on that same night he fell asleep and had a dream where a man appeared before him to implore him “sing to me the beginning of all things”. He woke up from the dream and remembered a hymn which began “now shall we praise the maker of the Heavenly Kingdom”. When he returned to sing the entire hymn word spread to the Abbess of Whitby who was so impressed by this miracle she persuaded him to take holy orders.


Caedmon`s Hymn is the oldest poem in the English vernacular. His song of creation could only have been inspired by the area which surrounded him, a vast Kingdom called Bernicia. Its jurisdiction began in what is now South-East Scotland and extended into Yorkshire.


Picture is “The Road Across The Wolds” by David Hockney, 1997.

Yorkshire is often referred to as “God`s Own County” due to the unique landscape and its size as the largest county in England. However there is also a legend attributed to the area. When Jesus Christ was a small boy He was reportedly brought to this county by His great Uncle Joseph of Arimathea and it became a place blessed by His presence.



However Whitby Abbey itself has an entirely different legend ascribed to it. It is reputably the edifice which inspired Bram Stoker`s masterpiece “Dracula”. There are other places further north in the Bernician Kingdom which have been eulogised by modern writers.


Rock luminaries like Sting have composed paeans to modern day Northumbria. His recent musical “The Last Ship” was a tribute to the proud shipbuilding communities which have now gone. His most evocative album was “If On A Winter`s Night” which was released in 2009. This is especially resonant in this Advent season. He reimagines the Yuletide rites of Northern England. The most memorable is “Soul Cake”, a song about a winter practice where children go from door to door to pray and sing, and to gather ingredients for a special cake. This cake is baked to remember all of the souls who have passed away. It is a beautiful rendition of a traditional song and it instils within me a warm, nostalgic feeling.


I used to live in the North and I will always regard it as a magical and inspirational place. I owe a lot to the people and the places I left behind. The powerful feelings I once had have never dimmed.

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