The Keys of Heaven – The last journey of St Cedd
It is the year AD 664. The coastal town of Whitby and its Abbey, under the control of the abbess who became St Hilda, are the setting for a Christian Synod – a court of doctrine established, on the face of it, to unify how priests cut their religious tonsure (gap in the hair) and what should be the correct basis of the calculation of Easter.
Trivial things? Perhaps to our distant eyes; but the Synod of 664 had a brutal undertone: its decision would determine a single Christianity for Britain – and would condemn the alternative to a slow but inevitable death.
King Oswiu was the host. His family typified the multiplicity of ‘faiths’ that predominated in those times. The Kingdom of Northumbria was the most powerful of the Saxon lands. Oswiu followed the Celtic Christian faith, whose evolution had seen it travel from Wales, to Ireland, to re-establish itself at Iona, in the Scottish islands, and thence to Lindisfarne in Northumbria. Celtic Christianity appealed to a population that had retained its pagan roots. The harmonic and nature-worshipping pagan faith was a strong Northumbrian weave over which Celtic Christianity added its intelligent, yet sympathetic monotheistic religion.
Under Pope Gregory I, (Gregory the Great) Kent had become the centre of an expansion in Roman Christianity. The Synod at Whitby drew scholars from Lindisfarne and Canterbury – and further afield. Rome was represented by the Abbot of Ripon – who became St Wilfrid; afterwards respected and hated in equal measure. The Celtic Christian case was made by Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne. Each had a team of scholars. Colman drew on the tradition of St John the Evangelist; Wilfrid, politically astute and a brilliant academic, drew on the teachings of St Peter.
One man present, equally accomplished, was what we would now call the ‘facilitator’. An outstanding scholar, Bishop Cedd, later St Cedd, had been raised and trained on Lindisfarne, yet his role could not afford to display bias. Torn in mind, faith and kin, the man who became St Cedd walked a treacherous path within the Synod that was to change everyone’s lives.
It is a story reminiscent of one of Shakespeare’s play, full of character, mystery and treachery; one in which the cleverness of argument came to supplant the lore of the land and the local history of the interwoven Christ.
In ritual and in readings, over the wild and wonderful landscape of what is now North Yorkshire, we will follow the last mental and emotional journey of St Cedd; from the pivotal events at Whitby to his premature death shortly after. The hills and beaches of Whitby will see us bring to life key events from the period, using an evolving (informal) ritual that will grow in energy and companionship until we approach our final segment on Sunday morning as guests in the Abbey of Ampleforth, where those wishing may take part in the Sunday morning service, run by the Benedictine monks, who offer a non-sectarian outreach programme in spirituality. Nearby is the mysterious crypt of Lastingham, the final resting place of St Cedd and the village that will host our last meal together on the Sunday lunchtime – prior to departure.
We may journey to our distant homes in reflection and marvel at the pivotal events we have considered.
The dates are the weekend of December 6th- 8th, 2019. The base for the event will be the North Yorkshire town of Whitby.
The cost of the event will be £100. This is an administrative cost, only, and will include a detailed and historic handbook for the weekend, sent as a PDF file. Those joining us are responsible for their own accommodation and food, though meals are generally shared in local pubs – and the bill apportioned among those present. You are assured of a warm and friendly welcome from a team that has built up a fine reputation for quality interactive weekends and workshops. We look forward to welcoming old and new friends, alike.
Demand is likely to be high, so please make your booking early. An email to:
Rivingtide@gmail.com is sufficient at this stage.
Images: The images of St Hilda’s Abbey, and St Cedd are from Wikipedia under CC0 licence. The other images are by the author.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.