THURSDAY, May 21 was not just St Godric’s Day but also the 850th anniversary of his death.

Godric had humble beginnings, born in Norfolk in 1069 or, according to some sources, 1065 – either way, he would have been well over 100 when he died on May 21, 1170.

As a young man, he took to the seas. He may even have become a pirate. His sailings took him from Jerusalem in the Middle East to Lindisfarne in the North-East where he fell under the spell of St Cuthbert.

He returned to Jerusalem, this time as a pilgrim rather than a pirate, and vowed never again to wear shoes so that he could experience a little of the pain that Jesus endured when nails were driven through his feet on the cross.

He sailed to Cumbria where he wanted to live as a hermit, but felt compelled to cross the Pennines, barefoot and over the highest peaks and through the toughest brush to really test his resolve.

His route brought him into Weardale, where the wolves howled and the woods were impenetrable. Exhausted, he found what he thought was an animal’s lair in the undergrowth and decided to take shelter.

As he entered, a voice in the darkness greeted him: “You are very welcome, Brother Godric.”

To his astonishment, he heard himself replying: “And may all be well with you, Father Aelric.”

Aelric was an elderly monk from Durham Cathedral who’d been living as a hermit in the Weardale woods for several years, sustained by the spring water of the Holy Well.

For 18 months, they lived together in the woods by Wolsingham (the place of the wolves) until Aelric, his task complete, fell ill. For 15 days, Godric nursed him and, when the old man died, the monks from Durham collected his body for burial.

Godric, after another pilgrimage to Jerusalem and after receiving directions from St Cuthbert in a vision, found a cave on the banks of the River Wear at Finchale where he set up his hermitage.

He lived there for 60 years, “a wise and holy man” consulted by many. Even Thomas Beckett and Pope Alexander III sought his advice.

He lived off berries and roots, and made friends with the wildlife. He was even said to be able to communicate with the bears that roamed the Durham woods in those days.

To make sure he wasn’t too comfortable, Godric wore a hair shirt beneath his metal breastplate, slept with a stone for a pillow, and, whenever the urge arose, stood in the icy waters of the Wear to control his lust.

Inspired by his surroundings, Godric wrote the earliest surviving songs in the English language: lyrical words with rhyme and rhythm which fitted with his music.

The Scots also made sure he was uncomfortable, robbing and almost killing him on one raid. In thanks for his escape, he built a church at Finchale.

It was in the church that, bedridden, he lived out the last eight years of his life on milk. He died there on May 21, 1170, and was buried in the same spot.

In the 1920s, archaeologists revealed a tomb against the north wall of the ruined church precisely where chroniclers said Godric had been buried. The small coffin, made of stone with a lid of polished Frosterley marble, appeared to fit the hermit’s tiny frame - but it was empty.