is truly disappointing that the town of Bridlington has, but for a
few exceptions, nothing to celebrate a man who was destined to
become a saint. The man, of course, was John, from the family of
Twenge. And the saint? St John of Bridlington, the last English
saint before the Reformation. The exceptions? A stained glass window
in the Priory Church and, oddly, because John of Bridlington
abstained from alcohol, a public house in the town.
The fact that
the largest church in this East Yorkshire town, the Parish Church of
St Mary, known locally as the Priory, was once part of a huge
Augustinian monastery seems largely ignored by the majority of the
town’s residents. Perhaps it is because the current population is
made up, in a great part, by South and West Yorkshire people coming
to live out their retirement “by the seaside.”
The Priory is
all that remains of a once magnificent group of buildings that were
the Augustian monastery founded in 1136 by Walter de Gant. St John
of Bridlington was born in 1320 in the small Yorkshire Wolds village
of Thwing, about nine miles inland from Bridlington. He was schooled
in the village from the age of five and he took a vow of chastity
when he was 12 years old.
was continued at Oxford from about 1336 to 1339, and in 1340 he was
ready to become a monk in Bridlington Priory. He carried out his
duties with humility and diligence, and was in turn novice master,
almsgiver, preacher and sub-prior. He became Canon of the Priory in
1346 and was eventually elected Prior in 1356. John refused this
honour because of his humility and it was only when he was
re-elected, probably in 1361, that he took on the task of Prior in
community flourished under his leadership, which was marked by his
piety and also his administrative expertise. He served as Prior for
17 years before his death on October 10, 1379, and he was canonised
by Pope Boniface IX in 1401.
lifetime he enjoyed a great reputation for holiness and miraculous
powers. Probably the best known of these miracles has a special
significance for Bridlington as St John was said to have saved five
seamen from drowning during a terrible storm. The men, from
Hartlepool, had called upon God in the name of St John when their
vessel was in danger of sinking. He appeared to them and brought
them back to the safety of the shore. The men left their vessel at
the harbour and walked to the Monastery where they thanked John in
person for saving their lives.
occasion, during the time he was Cellarer, John was concerned about
the poverty of the people in the cottages surrounding the monastery.
He took to taking loaves of bread through the gate and handing them
secretly to the poor. Some people felt that John should not be
handing out bread so freely and wished to entrap him. On one of his
missions, John was stopped by these people. But he replied that he
was taking stones to mend the road outside the gate. When he opened
his cloak, his accusers took the bread he carried, but found that
the loaves had changed to stones.
once dined with John, who abstained from alcohol, but the guest
wished to taste the Prior’s wine. John did not want others to know
of his abstinence, but, after blessing the liquid in the silver cup,
allowed the visitor to taste the drink. John was complimented on the
quality of his wine, although John’s cup had contained only pure
occasion, a thatched roof caught fire in a cottage outside the
monastery. John carried a ladder and placed it against the wall so
that a widow could escape the flames. Everyone gave thanks that John
had saved the woman. When the ladder came to be moved again, it
needed three men to carry it away.
It is also
recorded that St John was struck by a large falling stone but
suffered no ill effects, and that such was his fervour at prayer
steam rose from his head. He is also credited with saving sight,
mending broken limbs, restoring speech, curing the plague, and
healing fever. Many of these miracles were recorded during John’s
death of natural causes in 1379, a mere 22 years passed before he
was elevated to sainthood on September 24, 1401. His relics were
translated on March 11, 1404.
In 1415, King
Henry V made a pilgrimage to St John’s tomb in Bridlington to give
thanks for victory at the battle of Agincourt.
Henry VIII’s men descended on Bridlington, destroying the monastery
and plundering the gold and silver for the king.
tomb and shrine of St John were burnt in public in the Old Town’s
feast day is October 21, formerly October 11, and he is often
represented with a book, a crozier, and fur almice. John is the
patron saint of women who face a difficult labour in childbirth.
Among the miracles which occurred after John’s death were those
which saved the lives of women who had been “two months or more in
A window in
Priory Church (top) depicts St John as pastor and teacher. As the
Mitred Prior he has a mitre, staff and a ruby ring.
has several streets with a reference to St John. They are St John
Street, St John’s Avenue, St John’s Avenue West, St John’s Close and
St John’s Walk. There is also a public house on Promenade called The
reference dealing with St John include St John of Bridlington,
published in 1924. This volume was No. 2 of the Journal of the
Bridlington Augustinian Society and written by J. S. Purvis, M.A. It
was then priced 1s. 6d. (seven and a half pence). Its 50 pages
include photographs of stained glass windows in churches around the
country: Thwing in East Yorkshire, Morley near Derby, Warwick,
Ludlow (Shropshire) and Hempstead-by-Eccles (Norfolk).