A MYSTICAL saint, who lived a hermit on the banks of the River Wear two miles east of Durham, is remembered today on the 850th anniversary of his death.

St Godric was revered by the monks of Durham Cathedral’s Benedictine Order, venerated by the local peasantry, respected by the high-born and was sought out by senior clergymen and scholars from across England.

The holy man chose to live in austere self-imposed isolation in snake-infested woodland at Finchale, determined to devote himself to God.

But his determination to be left undisturbed was eventually surrendered to a reputation of stories of miracles, cures and extra-sensory perception which punctuated his 12th century life, all meticulously documented over many years by Brother Reginald, one of the cathedral’s community of monks.

When, after many years, Reginald sought blessing from Godric for the book about his life he was reluctantly given it, only after faithfully promising, “never to speak of these things here written nor show them to anyone”, until the day following the hermit’s burial.

The monk’s attention to detail in writings covering life in the Middle-Ages remarkably survived the turmoil of subsequent centuries.

He not only marked the day of Godric’s death, May 21, 1170, which also fell on a Thursday that year, but also the time of his passing, almost to the hour, and the late spring sunshine that greeted the dawn, not unlike the weather forecast for today.

When Godric died, thought to be aged 105, he was afforded the funeral rites normally reserved for Benedictine monks and his body was laid to rest in a sealed tomb beneath his chapel.

About twenty five years later Finchale Priory was founded on the site of the hermit’s grave and thrived for almost 350 years until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century.

The priory’s ethereal ruins, maintained by English Heritage, stand in silent memorial.

A Roman Catholic Church in Durham City centre, long known simply as St Godric’s, was built in 1864 and had an attached primary school, now re-sited in Newton Hall, Durham, not far from Finchale.

Reginald’s description of Godric, from height, “a few inches” over five feet, powerful build, “brilliant” grey-blue eyes, elongated thin face and shaggy eyebrows, was the basis for a specialist police artist to pen a striking image in the early 1990s, now believed to rest in a Vatican archive.

The work of Detective Constable Bruce Burn, then a member of Durham Police’s major crime team, followed a request for help from Father Francis Rice, who spent his retirement researching the monk’s Latin tome.

It has pride of place at the front of his book, The Hermit of Finchale, published in 1994 by Pentland Press.

Father Rice, St Godric’s parish priest for 25 years before retirement, died in the mid-1990s.