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Drithelm

(d. c. 700)


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Bede (c. 673—735) monk, historian, and theologian

 

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(d. c.700),

monk of Melrose. When Drithelm was a married layman living at Cunningham (now Ayrshire, then in Northumbria), he fell ill and apparently died, but was revived a few hours afterwards. The mourners fled in terror, but he went to pray in the village church until daylight. He then divided all his wealth into three, giving one third to his wife, another third to his sons, and the remainder to the poor. The reason for his change of life was a vision of the next life he had seen. Accompanied by a celestial guide, he had been shown souls in torment in hell (the pains were of alternating extreme heat and extreme cold), others in purgatory, others in paradise, and lastly a glimpse of heaven which he was not allowed to enter. For the rest of his life Drithelm lived as a monk at Melrose and would often stand in the cold waters of the Tweed reciting psalms, even when there was ice in the river. Those to whom he told his story included Aldfrith, king of Northumbria, Ethilwald, bishop of Lindisfarne, and an Irish monk called Haemgisl. Alcuin mentions Drithelm in his poem on the saints of York; but no trace has been found of a formal cult. Bede's detailed account of him is the only source of authentic information; his assurance of the quality of Drithelm's life and death is the reason why his name is found in Lives of the Saints. His Vision was the first example of this kind of literature from England: it certainly contributed considerably to the popularity both here and on the Continent of Bede's History. Drithelm can be considered a remote precursor of Dante: it is significant that so full a statement of the variety of life beyond the grave can be found in Anglo-Saxon England of the late 7th century. Feast: 1 September.

Bede, H.E., v. 21 (with commentary in Plummer's edn. ii. 294–8); Homily by Ælfric (ed. B. Thorpe), ii (1846), 348–56;S. J. Seymour, Irish Visions of the Other World (1930), pp. 154–6.

Subjects: Christianity.


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