Durham and York, England

Note to reader: Since so many enjoyed Amy's blog last week, this blog is written by another guest blogger who is anonymous.

On the Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Mike and Amy left the Northumbria Community on Saturday morning. It was like leaving home, they told me. Apparently they grew attached to the creaky floors, ancient Aga (oven stove that heats and bakes at the center of the old farm houses in England), friendly people and daily offices (community prayer four times a day) in the old Hetton Hall, which the community will be moving out of this fall and into their new home in Acton, about 20 miles south. Sorry for the run-on sentences, but I don't know what they have already told you.

They arrived in Durham on Saturday afternoon on a cloudy, almost rainy day. They rolled their 21 inch bags to Hatfield College where they stayed in one of the student dorm rooms. Hatfield College is named after Mike's ancestor Thomas de Hatfield on his mother's side. Here's what I found out about Thomas:

Medieval document depicting Hatfield
Hatfield was bishop-prince of Durham from 1346 to 1381. He became bishop at the request of King Edward III to the Pope because Hatfield was Edward's secretary and from a wealthy and powerful family in southwest Yorkshire. Thomas was a tall man with a commanding figure who lived to be an old man with grey hair. When David of Scotland invaded England, Thomas led the army with Lord Percy and defeated the Scots with great loss of life. With a gift at his death he founded Trinity College in Oxford, (then called Durham College) and was a generous benefactor to Durham itself.

Hatfield's tomb beneath the Bishop's Throne
He died 8th May 1381 at his manor in Alford, near London. His body was taken to Durham Cathedral where it was buried in a magnificent tomb he had previously built. This bishop's throne was the highest built cathedra in all of Christendom, just a foot or so taller than the one in Rome. Thomas appears to have had a healthy ego… His coat of arms, which is the symbol of the college is a blue field with a gold chevron and three lions and the motto is vel primus vel cum primis, which means "either the first or with the first" or "be the best you can be." Again, a healthy ego...

Vel primus vel cum primis
The connection to Thomas de Hatfield is through another Thomas Hatfield born in 1589 in Yorkshire. He married Anne Hamden, and together left in the early 17th century for Leyden, Holland, with the reformed dissenters (including Rev. John Robinson), to escape persecution from the Church of England. Others in that group took the Mayflower across the Atlantic, but Thomas stayed in Leyden, and had a son, Matthias, who arrived in New Haven, Connecticut around 1660. That's the beginning of the Hatfield family in America.

Amy, Jim, Mike at the train station
Amy also met a relative on the trip to Durham: Jim Whitaker is her second cousin (her dad's cousin) whom she had never met. Jim was born in North Carolina, but has spent most of his adult life in Durham as a research fellow at one of the colleges focusing on Middle Eastern studies. Jim went to evensong and toured the Durham Cathedral with Mike and Amy.

Amy across the river from the Cathedral
The Cathedral was built around the shrine of St. Cuthbert, whose body was exhumed by monks on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne during the Viking raids and eventually brought to Durham. Land was given to the monks as Cuthbert's family by the Viking King and a shrine was built around Cuthbert's remains and the site became a very popular pilgrimage. The Cathedral is unique because it was built by an anonymous master architect and 200 workers over a forty year period. It is classic Norman with huge main pillars and innovative gothic arches, nowhere else seen at that time in England. It also has the tallest bell tower anywhere in Europe.

Sunset outside the Durham Cathedral
For Mike the trip to Durham brought the pilgrimage full circle. "We went as far north as Iona, where Columba brought Christianity from Ireland," Mike told me. "Then St. Aidan and Oswald the King established the Christian community on the Holy Island and Cuthbert, when Aidan died became a monk and eventually became the Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was his remains that established the cathedral in Durham. It was awesome to worship in this place that has consistently worshipped God for over 1000 years."

Jim and Amy in St. Mary's Abbey
Jim, Mike and Amy trained to the cathedral in York on Monday morning on their way to London. They walked along the wall, through the park with the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, in the Cathedral and through the Shambles before Mike and Amy had to catch their three o'clock train to London. Amy says it was great to meet Jim and to enjoy his enthusiasm for history and learning. Jim seemed to know something about everything historical in both towns. It's interesting that Jim is the only Whitaker living in England, since Amy's family came from England, just to the south west outside of Manchester. They were in textiles and came to Philadelphia in the 19th century with the industrial revolution. Amy already wrote about her ancestor Cornelius Howland who was a prisoner in Edinburgh during the American Revolution.

The cloisters of Durham
Amy liked the charming town of Durham. "The cathedral was the most hospitable so far. The people were so willing to tell us about the significance of the place. The monk's dormitory and the cloisters which were featured in Harry Potter were great to see. We wanted to linger and get as much as we could out of the experience. I also enjoyed the tree lined river walk and the bridges."

Anonymous Blogger
I hope I haven't written too long, or bored you with too much history. I really enjoyed meeting Mike and Amy. They are in London for the next 10 days till they head back to California. What a nice couple. --A.B.


  1. Hey Mike, Amy and A.B -

    I enjoyed this guest blogger and the history he/she provided. By the way, Cecily and I have been to York and St Mary's Abbey - it was wonderful. We hope you are healthy and strong for the rest of your stay in Merry Old England.



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