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6 - Godric of Finchale's Canora Modulatio: The Auditory and Visionary Worlds of a Twelfth-Century Hermit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

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Summary

Hagiography is by definition about measuring the distance between the human and the sacred: the saint's own distance, but also the hagiographer's and ours. Reginald of Durham's late-twelfth-century life of Godric of Finchale, begun during the saint's lifetime and finished not long after his death, probes all sorts of distances. It is no accident that many of Godric's feats and miracles involve clairvoyance and its auditory equivalent: feats of overcoming spatial or temporal distances in one's seeing and one's hearing. The Vita has a precise sense of place, centered on Godric's cell in the forest, but within a concentric circle of larger and larger horizons: the region, the territory of Durham, the sea shore, the ocean, Jerusalem; for Godric was a seafaring merchant before he became a hermit, and also a Jerusalem pilgrim who lived in the Holy Land for several years.

There is not very much scholarly literature on Godric, but interest in him has been constant. There is even a modern novel about him. Historians have long recognized the Vita's value as testimony to many aspects of medieval culture that are rarely illuminated by the narrative sources of the period. It is a life of a man of the people. Pirenne drew attention to Godric's early life as a merchant, as an international trader, and as a man of relatively humble origins working his way up by engaging in trade. Tom Licence and Susan Ridyard have studied him as a lay religious figure, integrated – or perhaps coopted or even coerced – by the monks of Durham into their project of possessing, controlling, and shaping their surrounding territory both economically and spiritually. The monks gained in him a hermitage, a cell with adjacent lands – but they also acquired a revered lay saint who could help their outreach to the laity of the region by modeling a spiritual life appropriate to them. Michael Clanchy has discussed Godric as an interesting example of a layman living on the periphery of monastic and literate culture.

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The Haskins Society Journal 24
2012 Studies in Medieval History
, pp. 127 - 144
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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