With Midsummer’s Day and the Midsummer blog hop on us, it seems a particularly good day to tell the story of St. Bee’s.
St. Bee’s is actually a church in northern England, but it was visited by James Douglas and his raiders in the years following Bannockburn, in the course of trying to force Edward II to accept a peace treaty. With this connection to the Scottish Wars of Independence, it makes an appearance in The Minstrel Boy, book two of The Blue Bells Trilogy. So as to avoid spoilers for those who have not read Blue Bells of Scotland, I won’t say who goes there or why. Or even in which century, for that matter. But somebody does visit it, and it has an interesting story.
Hundreds of years ago (and all the best stories seem to start with some variation of that line), there was a princess (oh, this is getting better and better, or more cliched, depending how you look at it!) No, really, there was a genuine, real-life princess from Ireland, named Bega. Now the thing about princesses is that, while it’s easy to think they must have had it made, they really did not. Arranged marriages were among the possibly less-pleasant aspects of the life of a princess. Bega was promised in marriage to a Viking prince, a son of the king of Norway, a medieval manuscript says.
I would guess that most pre-medieval princesses, unlike their modern fictional renditions, did what they were told. But in a story that would play well to twenty-first century movie-goers, this particular princess ran away, crossing the Irish sea to what is now northern England. Her desire was to start a convent.
Convents need land. So she asked a local landowner to grant her some, on which to build her convent. It is easy to imagine the landowner thinking he was quite funny, as he told Bega, who was most certainly a fairly young woman at most, that he would give her all the land covered by snow the next morning.
Late June. Snow. Right.
If I were writing the story, I would show the landowner, in the very next scene, chortling it up with his friends at the local tavern about his promise. I suspect the next scene of Bega would be that she spent the night praying.
When the landowner awoke the next morning, did he maybe think he’d drunk too much while bragging to his friends about his clever promise?
For three miles of his land was covered in snow.
On that land, Bega built her convent, and it is today the parish of St. Bee’s.
This is one version of the story. For some interesting reading, and a very different version, take a look at the official St. Bee’s site. For more information on St. Bega herself, they have this page.
Happy Midsummer’s Day, and may it not involve three miles of snow! Unless, of course, you’re an avid downhill skier!