Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Saint Bertram, King and Hermit of Mercia

Bertam was a prince of Mercia (7th-9th centuries AD). Believing he might have a religious calling, he travelled to Ireland where such saints as Patrick and Columba had lived. In Ireland he fell in love and eloped with a beautiful princess. He brought her back to Mercia travelling while she was pregnant. They lived a nomadic life, and it is thought that the baby was born in the shelter of the forest near Stafford. Tragedy occurred while Bertram was away hunting for food. Wolves came and killed both his wife and his child.
Overcome with grief, he renounced royal heritage and turned again to God. He sought a life of prayer and many pagans were converted to Christianity by the example of his life. St Bertram approached the court of Mercia but did not reveal his royal lineage. He asked for a grant of land for the building of a hermitage. This land was granted near modern day Stafford. Historians record the name of the hermitage as Bethnei. 

A New King came to the throne. Not being a religious man, he demanded back the land on which the hermitage stood. It was decided that the matter should be settled by man to man combat. Bertram prayed for someone to come forward to fight for the hermitage. A man who was a dwarf came forward and Bertram, remembering David and Goliath, accepted his offer. The dwarf was agile and quick and the hermitage kept its land.
Bertram is also linked to the village of Barthomley near Audley in present day Cheshire. It is said that Bertram, having dedicated his life to Christ, was sought out by the devil who tempted him to turn stones into bread. Bertram prayed rather that the bread would be turned to stones. In 1516 it was said that those stones were still in the church at Barthomley. By the courtesy of the vicar of Barthomley, we have one of the ‘stones’ beside the icon of St Bertram, in St Michael’s church at Audley.
Bertram was known in the area as a wise and holy man. He found a cave near the present day village of Ilam in Derbyshire. He lived there until his death. He is commemorated on the 10th August.[1]

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