The Life of Saint Bertram

Bertram was a King of Mercia around the 8th century. (His life was written in the 1516 edition of the Nova Legenda Angliae.) Thinking he might have a religious calling, he traveled to Ireland where such saints as Patrick and Columba had lived. In Ireland he fell in love and eloped with a beautiful princess. He brought her back to Mercia traveling while she was pregnant. They lived a nomadic life, and it is thought that the baby was born in the shelter of the forest near Stafford. Tragedy occurred while Bertram was away hunting for food. Wolves came and killed his wife and child.

Overcome with grief, he renounced royal heritage and turned again to God. He sought a life of prayer, and it is said that many pagans were converted to Christianity by the example of his life.

Bertram approached the court of Mercia but did not reveal his royal lineage. He asked for a grant of land for the building of a hermitage. This land was granted near modern day Stafford. Historians record the name of the hermitage as Bethnei.

A New King took throne. Not being a religious man, he demanded back the land on which the hermitage stood. It was decided that the matter should be settled by man to man combat. Bertram prayed for someone to come forward to fight for the hermitage. A man who was a dwarf came forward and Bertram remembering the David and Goliath accepted his offer. The dwarf was agile and quick and the hermitage kept its land.

Bertram is also linked to the village of Bartomley near Audley in present day Cheshire. It is said that Bertram, having dedicated his life to Christ, was sought out by the devil who tempted him to turn stones into bread. Bertram prayed rather that the bread would be turned to stones. In 1516 it was said that those stones were still in the church at Bartomely.

Bertram was known in the area as a wise and holy man. Many sought him out for spiritual advice. As seen throughout the history, holy men and women beset by people constantly and needing to refresh their souls seek solitude in quiet unpopulated places. Bertram found a cave near the present day sight of Ilam in Derbyshire. He lived there until his death.


Pilgrimage to Lucca

In May of 2003 I went with Jean, my wife, on a pilgrimage to Lucca in Tuscany. Our purpose was to discover what we could of Saint Richard, King of the West Saxons, for he is my Name Saint in Orthodoxy.

We flew to Pisa, where we spent three days, and then took a train to Lucca, about twenty five minutes away. This is a beautiful medieval city, surrounded by walls - about 4 km in circumference. It has narrow streets, large open squares and a multitude of churches. It is by and large traffic free, but everywhere is within walking distance - even for people of our age!

We found in the church of Saint Frediano that there is not only a chapel dedicated to Saint Richard, but that his relics were kept in a sarcophagus under the altar in this chapel. This was better news than we had expected, and it would have been more wonderful indeed if only we had not arrived at a time when the chapel was being renovated and restored. There was scaffolding and an abundance of plastic sheeting, and, inside the chapel, a litter of paint pots, scrapers and other tools.

But we were determined souls and we hadn't come all this way on pilgrimage to be put off so easily. We dragged aside some of the plastic sheeting, thrust in a camera, and took a photograph. Then we intoned the Trisagion prayer and sang a troparion to Saint Richard. We felt at least that our pilgrimage had not been in vain.

We discovered that his feast day was kept in Lucca on 7th February, as it is at home; and in the church bookshop we found cards and icons, and even a booklet of more than 60 pages. This had been written by a priest of the parish in 1947 and had been reprinted in 1977 because of the great interest shown in Saint Richard. The drawback here was that the booklet was in Italian - and there was no English translation. Nothing daunted, we bought a copy, brought it home and bought an Italian dictionary; and although neither of us speaks Italian I have set about translating it. It is a truly fascinating book, as I hope you will agree when you have read it, as I am sure you will want to!

Although there were drawbacks over the chapel and Saint Richard's tomb, there is certainly the incentive to go back again when the work has been completed.

Richard Grace