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This story was perhaps credited in former days; at least the Saint's legend contains some not more probable.
Old Colwulf,—?. 95.
Ceolwolf, or Colwulf, King of Northumberland, flourished in the eighth century. He was a man of some learning; for the venerable Bede dedicates to him his "Ecclesiastical History." He abdicated the throne about 738, and retired to Holy Island, where he died in the odour of sanctity. Saint as Colwulf was, however, I fear the foundation of the penance-vault does not correspond with his character; for it is recorded among his memorabilia, that, finding the air of the island raw and cold, he indulged the monks, whose rule had hitherto confined them to milk or water, with the comfortable privilege of using wine or ale. If any rigid antiquary insists on this objection, he is welcome to suppose the penance-vault was intended, by the founder, for the more genial purposes of a cellar.
These penitential-vaults were the Geissel-gewolbe of German convents. In the earlier and more rigid times of monastic discipline, they were , sometimes used as a cemetery for the lay benefactors of the convent, whose unsanctified corpses were then seldom permitted to pollute the choir. They also served as places of meeting for the chapter, when measures of uncommon severity were to be adopted. But their most frequent use, as implied by the name, was as places for performing penances, or undergoing punishment.
TynemoutKs haughty Prioress.—P. 98. That there was an ancient priory at Tynemouth is certain. Its ruins are situated on a high rocky point; and, doubtless, many a vow was made the shrine by the distressed mariners, who drove towards the iron-bound coast of Northumberland in stormy weather. It was anciently a nunnery; for Virca, abbess of Tynemouth, presented St Cuthbert (yet alive) with a rare winding-sheet, in emulation of a holy lady called Tuda, who had sent him a coffin: But, as in the case of Whitby, and of Holy Island, the introduction of nuns at Tynemouth, in the reign of Henry VIII., is an anachronism. The nunnery at Holy Island is altogether fictitious. Indeed, St Cuthbert was unlikely to permit such an establishment; for, notwithstanding his accepting the mortuary gifts above mentioned, and his carrying on a visiting acquaintance with the abbess of Coldingham, he certainly hated the whole female sex; and, in revenge of a slippery trick played to him by an Irish princess, he, after death, inflicted severe penances on such as presumed to approach within a certain distance of his shrine.
On those the wall was to inclose Alive, within the tomb.—P. 103. It is well known, that the religious, who broke their vows of chastity, were subjected to the same penalty as the Roman vestals in a similar case. A small niche, sufficient to inclose their bodies, was made in the massive wall of the convent; a slander pittance of food and water was deposited in it, and the awful words, Vade In Pacem, were the signal for immuring the criminal. It is not likely that, in latter times, this punishment was often resorted to; but, among the ruins of the abbey of Coldingham, were some years ago discovered the remains of a female skeleton, which, from the shape of the niche, and position of the figure, seemed to be that of an immured nun. NOTES TO CANTO THIRD.
The village Inn.—P. 135. The accommodations of a Scottish hostelrie, or inn, in the l6th century, may be collected from Dunbar's admirable tale of " The Friars of Berwick." Simon Lawder, " the gay ostleir," seems to have lived very comfortably; and his wife decorated her person with a" scarlet kirtle, and a belt of silk and silver, and rings upon her fingers; and feasted her paramour with rabbits, capons, partridges, and Bourdeaux wine. At least, if the Scottish inns were not good, it was not for want of encouragement from the legislature, who, so early as the reign of James I., not only enacted, that in all boroughs and fairs there be hostellaries, having stables and chambers, and provision for man and horse, but, by another statute, ordained, that no man, travelling on horse or foot, should presume to lodge any where except in these hostellaries; and that no person, save inn-keepers, should receive such travellers, under the penalty of forty shillings for exercising such hospitality.* But, in spite of
* James I. Parlianieat I. cap. 24.; Parliament III. cap. 56.