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St. Bees' Heads, anciently called the Cliff of Baruth, are a conspicuous sea-mark for all vessels sailing in the N.E. parts of the Irish Sea. In a bay, one side of which is formed by the southern headland, stands the village of St. Bees; a place distinguished, from very early times, for its religious and scholastic foundations.
'St. Bees,' say Nicholson and Burns, 'had its name from Bega, an holy woman from Ireland, who is said to have founded here, about the year of our Lord 650, a small monastery, where afterwards a church was built in memory of her.
'The aforesaid religious house, being destroyed by the Danes, was restored by William de Meschiens, son of Ranulph, and brother of Ranulph de Meschiens, first Earl of Cumberland after the Conquest; and made a cell of a prior and six Benedictine monks to the Abbey of St. Mary at York.'
Several traditions of miracles, connected with the foundation of the first of these religious houses, survive among the people of the neighbourhood; one of which is alluded to in the following Stanzas; and another, of a somewhat bolder and more peculiar character, has furnished the subject of a spirited poem by the Rev. R. Parkinson, M.A., late Divinity Lecturer of St. Bees' College, and now Fellow of the Collegiate Church of Manchester.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, Archbishop Grindal founded a free school at St. Bees, from which the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland have derived great benefit; and recently, under the patronage of the Earl of Lonsdale, a college has been established there for the education of ministers for the English Church. The old Conventual Church has been repaired under the superintendence of the Rev. Dr. Ainger, the Head of the College; and is well worthy of being visited by any strangers who might be led to the neighbourhood of this celebrated spot.
The form of stanza in the following Piece, and something in the style of versification, are adopted from the "St. Monica," a poem of much beauty upon a monastic subject, by Charlotte Smith a lady to whom English verse is under greater obligations, than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered. She wrote little, and that little unambitiously, but with true feeling for rural nature, at a time when nature was not much regarded by English Poets; for in point of time her earlier writings preceded, I believe, those of Cowper and Burns.]
IF Life were slumber on a bed of down,
With joy like his who climbs, on hands and knees,
This independence upon oar and sail,
This straight-lined progress, furrowing a flat lea,
Dread cliff of Baruth! that wild wish may sleep,
Yet, while each useful Art augments her store,
She knelt in prayer-the waves their wrath appease;
'Cruel of heart were they, bloody of hand,'
Who in these Wilds then struggled for command
Like the fixed Light that crowns yon headland of St. Bees.
To aid the Votaress, miracles believed
Wrought in men's minds, like miracles achieved;
Sprang up, and spread their fragrance wide around;
Of gospel-truth enchained in harmonies
Wafted o'er waves, or creeping through close trees, From her religious Mansion of St. Bees.
When her sweet Voice, that instrument of love,
There are the naked clothed, the hungry fed;
And Charity extendeth to the dead
Her intercessions made for the soul's rest
Among the good (when love might else have slept,