6 March ~ St. Baldred

Two saintly men are held in special honor by the folk of East Lothian ad treasured as peculiarly their own. The two were very different in their lives and their beliefs: Baldred, an anchorite (hermit) who lived in the Dark Ages and Blackadder the Covenanter of the seventeenth century. Both were by family East Lothian men though their missionary journeys took them widely through the Boarders and beyond. The grey cliffs of the Bass were home to both for at least a good portion of life: the hermit Baldred because he choose to have it that way, the Covenanter Blackadder because he was prisoned there till he died.

It was long accepted that he had been a follower of St. Kentigern and had worked with and under that great missionary around the beginning of the seventh century. However, recent research compels students of the period to forsake the dates in the Aberdeen Breviary and accept the dating of Simeon of Durham that Baldred died (‘tod the way of the Holy Fathers’ as Simeon so much more graciously puts it) ‘in the 29th year of King Egbert of Northumbria’, which marks it as 756. Not much can be written about the life of an anchorite except that he fulfilled his chosen work in his chosen cell and passed on the missionary task to the next generation. Every generation, though, needs fresh conversions, for Dean Inge once wrote truly ‘each generation represents a fresh invasion of the barbarians’.

It is clear that even Baldred did not spend all his years in his cave for he left several place-names in East Lothian suggesting his presence. Baldred’s Chapel at Tantallon is now little more than a ruin. At Aldham Bay you may see the rock called Baldred’s Boat when the tide is out. Like other medieval saints, if no boat was handy he just sailed over on a rock. ‘Baldred’s Cradle’, further down the coast, is a terrifying fissure in the rocks through which the tides roar when the storms come. Prestonkirk and Tyningham parishes have many memorials of Baldred and the kirk at the former place may well be the site of his chapel. His huge stone image is said to have lain there till 1770 when a new kirk was built and a mason, perhaps inspired by shades of Blackadder, took a hammer and broke the image up.

A.P. Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, 1872

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