Friday, 24 September 2010

Coquet Island (NU294045)

This small island, one mile east of Amble off the Northumberland coast, has an eventful history for such a tiny wee place. It is now an RSPB reserve, of course, and a well-protected one at that, with no members of the general public permitted to land on its rocky shores. Even the lighthouse is now fully automated.
Not that it has ever been ‘populated’ to any great extent, you understand; hermits are those most closely associated with its barren 15 acres or so. St.Cuthbert spent a little time there, famously granting an interview to Elfed, Abbess of Whitby and sister of King Ecgfrith, during which he was effectively offered the bishopric of Lindisfarne. But the island is most closely tied to the solitary life of one St.Henry of Coquet.
Henry came to Coquet Island in the early 12th century, having been guided by a vision to make good his escape from an arranged marriage in his native Denmark and dedicate his life to a one in lonely praise of God. After a quick word with the powers-that-be at Tynemouth Priory, he ensconced himself on the rocky outpost and set about his calling. He lived a severely austere existence, surviving on only three small meals a week and gave up speaking for several years. His extreme mode of living brought much criticism from the monk formally in charge of the island – a manifestation of his envy, presumably, due to what can only be described as the ‘high standards’ of his vows of poverty – and cries aplenty from his relatives back in Denmark to return to the bosom of his family and a hermitage much nearer to home. Being afflicted by a “loathsome affection” to his knee, however, he insisted upon staying put.
He was credited with ‘second sight’, of course, as most of his type were. He saw lots of things others couldn’t, made premonitions, magicked up miracles, and was considered something of a wiseman. You know, the usual sort of thing. In early 1127, though, his ulcerated knee finally sent him on his way to the other side, with his remains being buried at Tynemouth Priory.

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