The Holy Living column with Peter Dodson

Saint Paulinus of York: 'tall with slight stoop, black hair, thin face, aquiline nose, venerable and awe-inspiring' (Bede).
Saint Paulinus of York: 'tall with slight stoop, black hair, thin face, aquiline nose, venerable and awe-inspiring' (Bede).

Paulinus deserves a column to himself. Much of the North of England, including Ripon, owes its Christian heritage to him and his co-missionaries. Pope Gregory the Great (540- 604) asked Paulinus to become the first Christian missionary to the kingdom of Northumbria.

In 601, Paulinus and three others arrived in England to help Augustine of Canterbury convert the people to the Roman style of Christianity. Paulinus also carried a letter expressing Pope Gregory’s hope that York should become an archdiocese under the control of a metropolitan archbishop.

So it has remained to this day, with the current Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

In 625, King Edwin of Northumbria married Ethelburga, the Christian daughter of a Kentish king. Having been consecrated Bishop of the Northumbrians, Paulinus went with Queen Ethelburga to her husband’s kingdom. Evidence suggests that Ethelburga introduced Christianity to our part of England.

Paulinus worked in the north, successfully converting King Edwin and his close aides. Paulinus held an influential conference with Northumbrian aristocracy.

The meeting may have been held in a Royal Palace in Yorkshire’s East Riding.

Paulinus explained Christianity’s advantages. He illustrated one of his speeches as follows: “You are sitting feasting with [friends and colleagues] in winter time. The fire is burning and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging.

“A sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other. [During] the few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, into the wintry storm again. [Similarly], the life of [a human being] appears but for a moment. What follows or, indeed, what went before, we know not at all.”

The aristocrats were won over. The parish church of All Saints at Londesborough was possibly built on the site of that important conference. Shortly after this, King Edwin was baptised in York, on Easter Day in 627.

Two of his children, and other royals were baptised with him.

Round the hastily-built baptistery, King Edwin constructed a small stone church building which stood near the present York Minster.

In 633, King Edwin died in battle. The Queen, returned to Kent, with Paulinus, whe later became Bishop of Rochester. Paulinus died in 644. He was buried in the chapter-house of Rochester.

A valuable book entitled “Exciting Holiness” (1997) encourages prayerful remembrance and celebration of Christianity’s holy people. I quote: “[We] celebrate the Holy Spirit at work in many different ways in the lives of Christian men and women down the ages, whose examples excite us to holiness...”

The same book includes the following: “God our Saviour, who sent Paulinus to preach and to baptise, and so build up your Church in [our] land: grant that, inspired by his example, we may tell all the world of your truth... [Gather] people of every race and language to share with [him] and all your saints in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

I hear Christ proclaiming to Paulinus, together with today’s devoted Christians in Ripon and beyond, “MY servant[s], whom I uphold, MY chosen, in whom MY soul delights. I have put MY spirit upon [you]” (Isaiah 42.1).