Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Godric is Frederick Buechner's fictional life of a very real 12th century English saint. Buechner follows the very real chronology of Godric's life. He was a peddler, a merchant who sailed his own ship along the English coast, and a steward to a very rich man. In 1100 he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Soon after he sold all his goods, left home, and lived the life of a hermit for the latter half of his life. Reginald, a monk of Durham, was commissioned to write the Life of Godric. The passages from the last chapter of Buechner's book are free translations from Reginald's biography. Godric died in 1170. That is the rough sketch of his life which Buechner works with. Godric was known for his love of animals, especially snakes. In Buechner's book Godric names them and talks to them. Tune and Fairweather are his companions throughout his life. Reginald noted that two serpents showed up at his cell the day of his death as if to stand vigil. In Buechner's retelling, Godric did not welcome Reginald's visits and the questions he needed to ask in order to write Godric's life. Godric did not want a "saintly" biography. For he knew himself, and he did not confuse himself with a saint. At the end of his life, Reginald read Godric parts of the book he had written. Here, Reginald described Godric's physical appearance at the end, "His beard was thick, and longer than ordinary, his mouth well shaped, with lips of moderate thickness. In youth his hair was black, in age as white as snow. His neck was short and thick, knotted with veins and sinews. His legs were somewhat slender, his instep high, his knees hardened and horny from frequent kneeling to pray. His whole skin was rough beyond the ordinary until all this roughness was softened by old age. Such was the external appearance of this saint." When Godric heard this passage, he cried out, "THIS SAINT!". "Then there was a roaring in my ears as if all the blood I have in me was sucked into my head at once with pain so cruel I think my skull will fly apart. Reginald goes pale as death and hastes to me. I push him off. Blasphemer, Fool, I cry out. Half blind, I crawl away and when he seeks to succor me, I turn and would have bit his hand had he not leaped aside."

Buechner's Godric is saying that the external appearance of a saint does not tell the whole story. As Buechner has Godric tell his story -alongside Reginald's account - it's clear this "Saint" knows he is a sinner who has been saved by God's grace made known to him in Jesus Christ. And he never forgot it. How could he? Reminded as he was by his sins. That's the way it is with saints.