The View from the Vicarage: Light in the Darkness – St Caedmon

Welcome to a View from the Vicarage, as we walk through these days of darkness and lockdown together yet apart I want to share with you some of the brightest lights of the history of our own region, our Northern Saints and the way they coped with the darkness and looked to the light that is Jesus Christ as an inspiration to us all.

As I publish this blog on the day associated by many with St Hilda I turn from Hilda in my last blog to one she fostered in his vocation and holy life, in this blog we look at St Caedmon.

Caedmon was perhaps the earliest English poet, he wrote biblical poems and song in Anglo Saxon, his birth date is unknown but is thought to have died between 670 and 680AD. As with many of our northern saints we owe the account of Caedmon’s life to the writings of St Bede.

Caedmon was a herdsman to Hilda’s monastery in Whitby, one night as the servants were gathered at the table a harp was passed from person to person and in his shame of not being Able to sing Caedmon left the table and went to sleep in the stable with the cattle. As he slept an angel called him by name and asked him to sing, Caedmon protested as that was the very reason he had left the table and yet his heavenly visitor persisted that he should sing, that he should sing of Creation. Caedmon sang verses of praise to God he had never heard before.

Caedmon’s Cross at Whitby Abbey

In the morning Caedmon told his story to Hilda and recited the verses he has sung the night before, Hilda and the learned of the monastery agreed he had received a divine gift. Caedmon went on to write more verse and took on the religious life himself with Hilda’s support and encouragement.

Caedmon wrote poems of biblical stories, and Bede wrote that while many had tried to imitate him none had equalled him.


Caedmon’s hymn, that very song of praise he sung to his heavenly visitor was recorded, it exists in Bede’s manuscripts and has been translated into English as follows:

Now we ought to praise the Guardian of the heavenly kingdom,
The might of the Creator and his conception,
The work of the glorious Father, as he of each of the wonders,
Eternal Lord, established the beginning.
He first created for the sons of men
Heaven as a roof, holy Creator;
Then the middle-earth, the Guardian of mankind,
The eternal Lord, afterwards made
The earth for men, the Lord almighty.

It is a hymn of out and out praise to the God of creation, the God of Caedmon and the God of us all.  Caedmon’s gift from God influenced many other writers of sacred song and continues to this day.

As we seek to find light in the darkness we could do far worse than to look to Caedmon a humble herdsman who let God speak to him and who even in the darkest of times could sing of the beauty  of Creation. Life can look bleak, and right now even with the hope of new vaccines it can be pretty tough – but inspired by Caedmon let us find the beauty in life, look for glimpses of the kingdom in our everyday lives, and when we find them let us too sing of God’s creation.

St Francis of Assis wrote the Hymn “All Creatures of our God and King” in 1225, an inspirational hymn bidding us to look at the beauty of the world and praise God. The hymn we know paraphrased by William Draper in 1890 shows us this very point in verse four with the words “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care”.

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise him, alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
that givest man both warmth and light,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

I finish with the collect (prayer) for St Caedmon

Almighty God, you have built up your church through the love and devotion of your saints: inspire us to follow the example of Caedmon that we in our generation may rejoice with him on the vision of your glory; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Your friend and Vicar


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