Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Paulinus, Archbishop of York, Confessor

Article

Saint Paulinus is celebrated in the Roman Martyrology, and in those of our country, as the apostle of the largest, and at that time the most powerful of the seven kingdoms of the English Saxons. Saint Austin being in want of labourers, Saint Gregory the Great, in 601, sent him Mellitus, Justus, Paulinus, and several others, together with sacred vessels, altar-cloths, and other ornaments for churches, vestments for priests, relics of the apostles and martyrs, and many books; decreeing by letters, that when the northern countries should receive the faith, York should be appointed a metropolitical see, in like manner with Canterbury. Saint Paulinus, upon his arrival, employed his labours in Kent with great zeal and piety. Edwin, the powerful king of Northumberland, demanded in marriage Edelburge, Princess of Kent; but was answered by her brother, King Eadbald: “That a Christian maid could not lawfully marry an idolater, lest the faith and its mysteries should be profaned by the company of one who was a stranger to the worship of the true God.” Edwin promised entire liberty and protection with regard to her religion, and expressed his own favourable dispositions to the same. Hereupon the princess was sent, and no one being judged more proper to be her guardian angel, and to undertake this new harvest than Paulinus, he was ordained bishop by Saint Justus, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the 25th of July, 625, and accompanied the young queen to her spouse. It was a continual affliction to his heart to live in the midst of a people who were strangers to the true worship of God, and all his tears, prayers, and endeavours to make him known and served by them were at first unsuccessful; for God was pleased to put his constancy and fidelity, for some time, to the trial. His prayers were at length heard. King Edwin was brought over to the faith in a wonderful manner, as has been related in his life; but he desired the concurrence of the chief men of his army and kingdom. A great assembly was called, such perhaps as the Saxon Chronicles often speak of under the name of Wittena Gemot, or Council of the Wites, which many moderns call the original of our parliament. In this assembly the pagan high-priest himself condemned loudly the worship of idols, and free liberty was given for any to embrace the Christian faith. The king was baptized by Saint Paulinus at York on Easter Sunday in 627, together with his son Osfrid, whom he had by a former wife, and his niece Hilda. The ceremony was performed in a church of wood, raised in haste. King Edwin afterwards began one of stone, which was finished by Saint Oswald. Bede takes notice that churches and fonts not being yet built spacious enough for the crowds that flocked to receive baptism, Saint Paulinus, when the king resided amongst the Deiri, baptized in the river Swale, near Cataract, where the king’s palace stood, and which was anciently a great city, as appears from Ptolemy and others, though it is now only a small village, called Catarric, with a bridge, a little below Richmond. King Edwin built a church at Campodunum, where he had his Yorkshire country palace. This church is commonly said to be Almonbury, corruptly called from Albanbury, because it was consecrated by Saint Paulinus in honour of Saint Alban; though Gale thinks Campodunum was rather Tanfield, near Rippon. This palace being destroyed by Penda, the successors of Edwin built their country palace near Leeds; from the king by whom it was built it was called Oswinthorp, as Bede testifies. Edwin’s residence among the Bernicians was at Adgefrin, now Yeverin, in Glendale. In that country Saint Paulinus baptized the people in the river Glen or Bowent. After the death of Saint Edwin, the king removed his palace to Maelmin, now Milfield, says Mr. Smith.

Our zealous bishop crossed the Humber, and preached the faith to the inhabitants of Lindsey, in the kingdom of Mercia, and baptized Blecca, the Saxon prince or governor of Lincoln, who is said to have derived his pedigree from Woden no less than the chief kings who founded the Saxon heptarchy. At Lincoln Saint Paulinus built a church of stone, in which, after the death of Saint Justus, he consecrated Saint Honorius archbishop of Canterbury. Pope Honorius sent a pallium to Saint Paulinus as the northern metropolitan in Britain; and in his letter of congratulation with king Edwin upon his conversion, he decreed as follows: “As to what you desire concerning the ordination of your bishops, we willingly agree to it; and we send palliums to your metropolitans Honorius and Paulinus, that whenever it shall please God to call either of them, the other may ordain a successor for him by virtue of this letter.” Saint Paulinus being assisted by his deacon James, baptized a great multitude in the Trent, near Tiouulfingacaester, which Camden and Smith take to have been Southwell in Nottinghamshire, where a collegiate church, and other monuments of piety were testimonials of the grateful devotion of the people. The East-Angles also received the faith by the zeal of Saint Paulinus and Saint Edwin. This good king being slain in battle in 633, with his son Osfrid, whom he had by a former wife, and who had been christened with him, Saint Paulinus conducted the queen Ethelburge with her little son and Edwin’s grandson by Osfrid, into Kent by sea. There she founded a nunnery at Liming, in which she took the veil. She is mentioned in the English Martyrology on the 10th of September. The two royal babes were sent into France to their cousin, King Dagobert, and both dying there in their infancy, were buried in the church, either because they died in their innocent age, or because they were of royal blood, says Bede; intimating that not only martyrs and innocents, but also princes, were then sometimes allowed to be buried in churches. James, whom our saint left behind, took care of the distressed church of York, and baptized many, living near Cataract, on the Swale, at a village which afterwards took his name, says Bede, where he died in a very advanced age. Saint Paulinus took with him into Kent the rich plate which King Edwin had bestowed on the church, particularly a large cross of gold, and a golden chalice for the ministry of the altar, which, with his pall, he left at his death in the church of Rhofi, now Rochester. For that see being then vacant, at the entreaty of King Eadbald, the archbishop Honorius appointed Paulinus bishop thereof, he not being permitted to quit his royal charge, or return to York. He died happily on the 10th of October, 644, having been bishop nineteen years, says Bede. This Wharton would have corrected into eleven years; but did not take notice that Saint Paulinus sat first eight years at York, from 625 to 633, and afterwards eleven at Rochester, from 633 to 644, in all nineteen years and three months. When Gundulf the Norman was bishop of Rochester, Archbishop Lanfranc rebuilt the cathedral church of Saint Andrew, and causing the bones of Saint Paulinus to be taken up, placed them in a rich shrine; the festival of which translation was kept at Rochester on the 10th of January. See Bede; Thomas Stubbes (a learned Dominican who flourished in 1360), Britannia Sancta; and the learned Mr. Drake’s Antiquities of York.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Paulinus, Archbishop of York, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 9 October 2013. Web. 30 August 2014. <>