Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Feast of St Boisil

The Feast of St Boisil was assigned to the 23rd of February, each year.

In the early calendars, the Feast of St Boisil was assigned to the 23rd of February. These days, his feast is generally accepted as being the 7th of July, the day of his death in 661. St Boisil or Bossil, was the second prior or Abbot, of Melrose Abbey, successor to St Aidan and predecessor to St Cuthbert, who is arguably the more famous of the three. Cuthbert, incidentally, was Boisil's pupil. Nevertheless, Boisil is famous enough in his own right; enough to have had the  modern village of Saint Boswells, in Roxburghshire, named after him. Some say that he was the progenitor of the famous Clan Boise, they of  Peckham, however, that has never been proven. Others say that Boisil wisnae Scottish. They're right! But he could've been
as it merely depends on where you draw the borderline. Boisil came from the area around Lindisfarne and in the 7th Century, that was part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

In those ancient days, neither Scotland nor England, for that matter, at least as you'd recognise it, existed. Later on, Northumberland was part of Scotland, for a while – a wee while. Now, of course, Melrose Abbey and Boswells are most definitely located in Scotland, but nobody back then in the Dark Ages knew that the lands of the North Britons, the Vottadini, the Saxons and the Picts would be united as the nation of the Scots. Not even Boisil with his famous second sight predicted that.

St Boisil succeeded Abbot Eata as Prior of Old Mailros (that's Melrose Abbey to you) at Lessudden. The Abbot Eata is he who became St Aidan. Well, in fact, he didn't become St Aidan; he was named a saint, by the Catholic Church, after his death, when he had ceased to be, in reality, anything other than a memory. Nice, though, to have had been so well thought of. Come to think of it, St Boisil didn't succeed Eata, Boisil did as he also wasn't granted sainthood until he'd been and gone and died. Shame, really, not to have been able to enjoy the adulation, but such are the mysteries of the christian.

Back in the 7th Century, Northumbria was ruled by Oswald the Pagan, who, at some stage, converted to Christianity and proceeded to establish a monastery at Lindisfarne. A group of young monks grew tired of life by the sea and, seeking forgiveness for their tiresomeness, convinced themselves that removal to another locale was entirely in order. So this monkish order proceeded northwards, along the Tweed, in an orderly fashion. That group included the Abbot Eata and the young, as then unsainted Boisel. They journeyed north to build another monastery of their very own.

The priestly crew established their new monastery at Old Mailros, in Tweedale, and served the community as missionaries. Boisil administered to the inhabitants of the settlement which grew up there and became especially well known for his powers of healing. According to Sigfrid, a fellow monk from Jarrow, his contemporaries were deeply impressed with Boisil's supernatural intuitions. Boisil was apparently also a man of sublime virtues as well as an eminent scholar. Perhaps Sigfrid was his publicist. At any rate, Boisil never got any royalties from his biography. You could be forgiven for thinking that Boisel was a quack or a shaman, but medical science was a term unknown in the Dark Ages; otherwise, we'd refer to them as the Enlightened Ages. His supernatural powers could also suggest he be compared with the likes of Merlin, but surely, that'd be sacrilege – the corruption of a sacred though; perish the thought, indeed. Merlin, of course, was merely a Skald (Scald); a bard at court to compare with the likes of Aneurin or Taliesin, or Llywarch.

There is a story about the arrival of the to be sainted Cuthbert at Old Mailros. And here it is. Boisil was standing by the Abbey gate when Cuthbert arrived from the south, weary of foot as the literature has it. Being very pious, Cuthbert's first action was to enter the Church to pray, without so much as a drop of water to moisten his parched lips. It seems those early missionaries were masochists first and foremost. Piety and self denial go hand in hand. Now Boisil had a sharp eye for holiness and his intuition was that Cuthbert would be one to achieve great things. Maybe looking into the midday sun as Cuthbert approached from the south had something to do with it. Maybe Biosel saw Cuthbert's curly, blond, tonsured locks shimmering in the rays of that sun and got carried away. Anyway, Boisel is reputed to have announced to his fellow monks as his soon star pupil-to-be knelt praying at the altar, "Behold the servant of the Lord". Boisil, as teacher of the sacred scriptures and no doubt with one eye on the fulfilment of his predictions, ensured that Cuthbert “watched, prayed, worked and read harder than anyone else.”

Boisil became Prior of the Abbey at Old Mailros in 659 and some years later he was able to demonstrate his gift of second sight, when a great plague swept through the monastery. Poor Cuthbert was stricken with the disease and was close to death, but Boisil declared he would recover, which he duly did. Shaman or not, Boisil did posses a store of medical knowledge and, if anyone was going to be able to restore Cuthbert, it was going to be Boisil. After all, he had an inventive – his most famous prophecy.

Boisil also predicted his own death, from a later outbreak of the epidemic. Shortly before his end, he made his most famous prophecy. Rising feebly from his sick bed and in a faint, but audible tone, impossible to misunderstand, Boisil foretold Cuthbert's rise to Episcopal glory and the great influence he would have on the Northumbrian Church. History hasn't recorded (it's been lost, more like) Boisil's famous last words. They might have been, “Don’t fail me Cuthbert, old son, there’s my reputation of whicih to think.”

Boisil was buried at Melrose Abbey, but in 1030, his relics were carried off to Durham, by a priest. Not doubt the thief considered his actions to have been worthy or maybe grave robbing wasn't frowned upon in the 11th Century.

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