Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

St. Godric and the lost leper hospital of Darlington

Stephen Martin


Godric praying to the Virgin
Fig 1. Godric praying to the Virgin, c 1400. PD-US, accessed: wikimedia, original: ©British Library Board, Cotton, Faustina, VI, ii 16 V.

In the late 1100s, the English monk Reginald of Durham wrote an account in Latin of the hermit St. Godric, whom he knew personally.1 Reginald attributed over two hundred healing miracles to him, with detailed descriptions including the patient’s name and origin.2 Reginald’s book deserves to be better known as a rich catalogue of medieval illness, but the 500 pages published in early Victorian times have not been translated into English.3

Godric referred a patient with leprosy to “Badele” hospital, near Darlington, until now considered lost.4 This article is a new exploration of what influenced Godric’s origins, reputation, and ideas, and we locate the lost leper hospital’s likely site.


From Mediterranean mariner to English hermit

The Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard,6,7 granted Godric the use of a hermitage cell for solitary living and prayer. Interspersed with a wild seafaring youth, Godric had made international pilgrimages visiting Jerusalem twice,8 Santiago de Compostela,9 Rome twice, and Saint-Gilles in France.10 Then he became a hermit, protecting hunted animals, taming snakes,11 and growing a reputation as a saintly healer into his advanced old age. Godric’s imaginary portrait was painted around 1400. (fig 1) His hermitage later became Finchale Priory12 (fig 2) on the River Wear, a few miles downstream from Durham Cathedral.13 Today Godric’s cell and tomb lie beneath Finchale’s surface.


Horrors and divine punishment in skin disease

Godric performed miracles with blindness, deafness, mutism, and spinal deformity. He himself contracted “rough, swollen pustules” on the “whole of his body surface,” which were “stinking,” “on all his limbs,” and “in the deepest recesses of his body.”14 Godric said he should have God’s punishment as he deserved, if he had done wrong. He recovered through phases of “tenderness and gaping scars.” It sounds like he caught smallpox virus from a patient’s breath droplets, with secondary infection from pungent pseudomonas bacteria. He could easily have picked up pseudomonas from his garden produce or a puddle. Reginald and Godric saw the details of skin disease in components of horror related to divine intervention. We know that Godric kept a cow, which Reginald described as a brute that nearly killed Godric’s nephew.15 Like Jenner’s milk maids, cowpox exposure would account for Godric’s immunity and survival from smallpox.

Finchale Priory, near St. Godric's cell
Fig 2. Finchale Priory. Godric’s cell was just behind the woman feeding the chickens and the later infirmary probably by the River Wear behind the recumbent sow. Drawn by Thomas Allom, 1820’s, engraved by S Lacey, for Westmorland, Durham and Northumberland Illustrated. Fisher, Son & Co, London, 1833. ©Author’s collection, permission for academic and non-commercial use.

Similarly dramatic phrases described a leprous young woman16 with “putrid fissures,” “scarring,” “raw flesh,” “splits discharging poison,” “completely destroying her health and making a horrid sight.” Godric consoled the “mother and daughter of miserable fortune” and took them and several friends “to the hospital of Dernigntune, which is almost three miles distant, and which is named Badele” for prayers to recover. Her mother washed her and used a hood, in the manner of a modern dressing. The only thing that cured the “noxious humors” was a miracle, which became famous. In other cases, St. Cuthbert or his shrine were regarded as curative.


Founding Finchale and Godric’s reputation

The Manx Chronicles recorded Guðrøðr Óláfsson17 as King of Mann, Dublin, and the Western Isles. Forced into exile in England from 1158-1164, he probably made money selling weapons and equipment to sheriffs in the southwest.18 In 1176, Guðrøðr married Phingola MacLoughlin, Phingola (fig 3) meaning “white shoulders” in Irish Gaelic.19 They were married by Sylvan, Abbot of Rievaulx, Yorkshire,20 suggesting that their wedding took place forty miles south of Finchale. Guðrøðr definitely funded English monasteries including St. Bees and Furness Abbey in Cumbria, where he based his Bishop of the Isles. He donated land to Rievaulx. Guðrøðr is a strong candidate for funding Finchale Priory, dedicated to his Queen. The Manx Chronicles for 1177-1181 are blank, consistent with the possibility of bequests to found Finchale then.21

The name of Queen Phingola, wife of Godric's patron
Fig 3. The name of Queen Phingola from the Manx Chronicles, 1261-62. Folio 40r, Cotton Julius A VII, British Library. Source: Wikimedia, CC-PD-Mark.

No other explanation for the name Finchale has anywhere near as many strands of evidence.22 Phingola fits Finchale with almost identical phonetics, fairly assuming the terminal “. . . le” was a Germanic-Danish “luh.” Phingola matches Finchale in time, place, and person, besides a rationale and precedent for patronage, and even a partial audit trail. We are unlikely to prove this absolutely, nor whether the foundation was established to pray for Phingola, which was common for death or sickness. Illness is supported by Phingola dying young in 1187. Financial and spiritual investment by Guðrøðr may well have cemented Godric’s legacy. Bishops and Reginald were also keen to promote Godric; nevertheless, the evidence only shows universal firm belief in the divinity of illness and miraculous recovery.


Music composed by Godric
Fig 4. Cantus St Godrici de S(an)ta Maria, centre (Hymn of St Godric to St Mary) and Cantus Eiusdem de S(an)ta Nicholas, below (Hymn of the same person to St Nicholas). Reproduced in Hektoen with kind written permission ©British Library Board. Folio 85, Royal, 5 F VII.

Godric composing plainsong

Godric is credited with writing music and lyrics for two hymns, (fig 4) which appear to be the earliest surviving British songs with words.23 They are in middle English, partly with a Latin translation in a different hand underneath.24 The manuscript is created beautifully, with skill and care.25 Godric’s ethereal hymns are about both spiritual and psychological protection and salvation. The link below takes you to an exquisite performance by the ensemble Sequentia.26 


Locating Darlington’s lost medieval leper hospital

Taking the earliest Ordnance Survey maps, we noted all place names within ten miles of Darlington center. Only one name resembles Badele and is quite a good fit: Baydale. (fig 5) No other name remotely resembles it. The Old Norse Dalr, meaning Dale, had two syllables. Dialect-speakers in the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire Moors today still say Dairl, pronouncing air as in atmospheric air. Those factors suggest Reginald used phonetic spelling: Badele = Bay Dairluh, the final syllable being another lost Germanic-Danish suffix. That then becomes a very good fit.

Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) were from the Mediterranean and not growing wild in medieval England. However, they were symbolic (fig 6) and may have been used to heal skin sores. Bay has been shown in modern science to increase collagen deposition under the microscope in promoting wound healing activity.27

Badele resembles the early hospital name Bethel. The earliest reference, of 1247, is: “The Priory of the New Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, London,” which developed its hospital function gradually in the thirteenth century. The dedication to Our Lady of Bethlehem did not occur in medieval County Durham. It is not plausible that, in the 1100s, Badele was a corruption of Bethel, far away and a century earlier.

There was a medieval manor house in the nearest village of Low Coniscliffe, west of Baydale, marked as a monument on the earliest OS map. Its earthworks are still visible, obviously accessed from within the village. Badele does not fit a manor at the far end of a separate village. Low Coniscliffe was still drawn as gated across the access lanes in medieval fashion, right into Victorian times: in keeping with leprosy practices, Baydale was segregated outside the gates.28

Baydale, possible site of the leper hospital
Fig 5. Baydale, from Ordnance Survey map, Durham LIV. Baydale Beck Inn is labelled P. H. for Public House. Survey 1855, published 1859. Source: National Library of Scotland. CC-BY-NC-SA.

Cleveland bay horses are not a convincing etymology. Baydale ravine is too narrow and steep to accommodate horses; Yorkshire’s broad Rosedale, from the Viking Hros dalr, means horse dale. Some old farmers there still pronounce the Viking ‘h,’ and ‘air’ as “Hrosdairl.” Bay horses were first mentioned in the 1600s and we cannot find evidence for their workhorse ancestors being called bays.

The 1855 survey shows no medieval earthworks at Baydale, though by then the area immediately eastward was clay pits and waterworks. A survey done in 2018 of Red Barn,29 a farm to the east, revealed no medieval features.

A site at or near the present Baydale Beck Inn site, (fig 7) next to Baydale Beck’s tree-lined ravine, is persuasive. The two northeast outbuildings on the map have gone. Was one of them originally a chapel? Fortunately, a watercolor of the inn30 has survived (fig 8) from around 1760-1820, judging by the colors, costumes, and condition. The picture is well-drafted. The door frames look ruled and other features detailed and studied. Though naïve, this was no lazy or inaccurate artist.

Bay motifs possibly explaining the name of Baydale
Fig 6. Scallop and bay (laurel) motifs symbolizing survival and healing. Infirmary undercroft capitals, Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire, twelfth century, contemporaneous with Godric’s Rievaulx association. ©Author 2021, permission for academic and non-commercial use.

The walls are clearly of stone. There is a turning external stair like Durham’s Kepier and Greatham hospitals, with smaller steps for mounting horses. The chimneys and multiple front doors are cell-like, unusual for an inn. Near water, on an airy, elevated site, suggests efforts to balance Galen’s humors.31

Erratic window shapes and sagging roof ridges often indicate centuries of development. A wall east of Baydale Beck Inn has re-used early masonry of some smooth ashlar stones crafted by skilled masons, (fig 9) fitting the standard of a church-sponsored leper hospital.

Most helpfully, the direct route on Google maps from St. Cuthbert’s Church in the center of medieval Darlington to Baydale Beck Inn is almost three miles, which is Reginald’s exact phrase: “tribus fermes miliaribus.” It seems the leper hospital of Badele may no longer be lost.



Reginald’s medical terms illustrate a remarkable depth of twelfth-century clinical concepts. Godric’s patients came from Edinburgh, Northumberland, and North Yorkshire, a vast swathe of northern Britain, such was his reputation. Flambard, Reginald, and quite possibly Guðrøðr all substantiated it. Godric seems to have transferred the energy of his convincingly adventurous youth into attending the sick. He moved his hermitage from Eskdale near Whitby to the more powerful Durham; perhaps his last vestige of opportunism before holiness.

That Reginald knew Godric personally and provided such a long and well-written account is exceptional. His Latin is relatively easy to understand, taken a bit at a time; a manifestation of Reginald being a clear thinker. He was driven to catalogue miracles, which were such an important part of medieval faith that they had to be reported.

Faith healing is prominent across world religions. In any medical work, overlapping elements of trust, relaxation, hope, and patience are always worth clinicians’ conscious effort to foster in patients. In that respect, we can all learn from Godric.


Baydale (Badele) Inn today Baydale (Badele) Inn Stone wall of Baydale (Badele) inn
Fig 7. Baydale Beck Inn today. The slope in front of the inn and the road shape have not changed. ©Author 2021, permission for academic and non-commercial use. Fig 8. Baydale Beck Inn, c. 1780-1820. Watercolour. Darlington Borough Art Collection, reproduced in Hektoen with their kind written permission. Source: Artuk. Fig 9. Wall east of the inn, with reused early stone. ©Author 2021, permission for academic and non-commercial use.

End Notes

  1. Reginald. (Stevenson J, Ed.) Libellus de vita et miraculis S. Godrici, heremitae de Finchale. Surtees Society, Vol 20, London and Edinburgh, 1847. Accesssed at: archive.org One medieval copy is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
  2. Dr. Michael Stansfield of University College, Durham, brought Godric to our attention in his lecture on Finchale Priory Archives, Middridge History Society, 2018. The feast of St. Godric is on the 21st of May, reflecting his medieval popularity, although he was never formally canonized.
  3. This mammoth task needs the Victorian Surtees Society edition and the medieval manuscripts to correct apparent transcription spelling errors, eg Dernigntune makes no linguistic sense and originally must have been Derllingtune. We have done literal translation from Surtees Society.
  4. Reginald op cit, p. 456. It appears to have run for about three centuries. Bishop Hugh de Puiset is the best candidate founder for Baydale. Contemporaneous with Godric, he built extensively in the late 1100s, including a riverside palace in Darlington that stood into the nineteenth century before demolition.
  5. Stevenson’s footnote analysis in the Surtees Society edition discussed Badele possibly being a lost place called Battlefield, with a recorded chantry chapel. This might have been Baydale Field. It would make sense for this leper hospital to have a chapel, like Durham’s medieval Sherburn, Magdalen, Kepier, and Greatham hospitals. The first OS map was not yet published, otherwise we think Stevenson would have spotted Baydale. No battle is recorded anywhere; the nearest in the twelfth century was the Battle of the Standard a long way south.
  6. Barlow F. The English Church 1066–1154: A History of the Anglo-Norman Church. Longman, New York, 1979, pp. 73-74, discusses Flambard’s friendship with Godric. Flambard died in 1128.
  7. Bradley S, Pevsner N. The Buildings of England. London 6: Westminster. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003. Working for William the Conqueror’s son, King William Rufus, Flambard had overseen building the walls of Westminster Hall, which still stand today in the Houses of Parliament. Flambard also built the first bridge in Durham City, still in use for some traffic: Flambardswellgate Bridge, now corrupted to Framwellgate, with a silent w.
  8. Reginald op cit, pp. 33, 52. Also: Archer T A. Godric. Dictionary of National Biography. Vol 22, Smith Elder and Co, London, 1185-1900, pp. 47-49. Archer reviewed five sources, opining there was “no need to doubt” that Godric was “Gudericus, pirate of the kingdom of England.” Pirate did not necessarily imply criminality, but covered privateers—independent merchant seamen with Royal military licenses. Gudericus helped King Baldwin of Jerusalem escape after the Battle of Ramla. English long-distance seafarers were very rare and it was only after Godric’s time that his name became common, for which see date evidence in: Bardsley CW. A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with Special American Instances. London, 1901 & Heraldry Today, Ramsbury, 1988, p. 323. Reginald gave three examples named after Godric, pp. 418, 419, 434, 435.
  9. Reginald op cit, p. 34. Santiago = St. James, whose badge is a scallop shell, which surrounded him after his shipwreck survival and served as a begging bowl. The conclusion that Godric made extraordinarily long pilgrimages by sea is justified in: Poole AL. From Domesday Book to Magna Carta 1087-1216. OHE. OUP, Oxford, 1955, p. 94. As an intelligent master mariner, merchant, and shareholder (Reginald op cit, pp. 25-30), there is a good chance he learned to read and write.
  10. Reginald op cit, p. 36.
  11. Reginald op cit, p. 67.
  12. Pronounced now as Finckul.
  13. It was then a large Benedictine Priory.
  14. Reginald op cit, pp. 183-184.
  15. Reginald op cit, pp. 121-122.
  16. Reginald op cit, pp. 455-457. It is also quoted in Victoria County History, Co. Durham, London, 1907, Vol II, pp. 114-115.
  17. He was of Viking descent, ruling very different British borders from today, defined by seafaring between northern England, Ireland, The Isle of Mann, and Scotland’s western isles. Manx monumental stone crosses of the 1100s were still inscribed with Viking runes. One, of Hedin in Maughold churchyard, shows an ocean-going sailing ship. Britannic Viking descendants retained Scandinavian culture, well into settlement and Christianization.
  18. Diplomatorium Norvegicum. Vol 19, Dip 35. Sheriffen i Worcestershire Willelmus de Bello Campo aflægger regnskap til kong Henrik IIIII for en pakhest og en høk og for vaaben, givet til kongerne av Øerne. “. . . Disse Øernes konger er sandsynligvis Godred . . .” This is discussed in many secondary sources.
  19. Folio 40r, Cotton Julius A VII, British Library, and in Munch P A, Goss A, Eds. Chronica Regvm Manniæ et Insvlarvm: The Chronicle of Man and the Sudreys. Vol 1. Douglas, IoM. Manx Society, 1874, p. 76. Written at the Cistercian’s Rushen Abbey, Mann, 1261-1262. Phingola lived c. 1150-1187. Her grandfather was Muircheartach, High King of Ireland. After expanding his site, Godric probably died in 1170 (Stevenson’s footnote in Reginald op cit, p. 317).
  20. Sylvan’s predecessor, St. Ailred of Rievaulx, was well-documented, known to Godric and mentioned between 1147-1167.
  21. This gap in the Manx Chronicle is an explanation for why Finchale’s origin has remained a mystery. Guðrøðr’s smaller bequests were chronicled. Also, he would have been likely at some time to make a pilgrimage to St. Cuthbert’s shrine in Durham.
  22. Stevenson in Reginald op cit, p.69, speculates etymologically it was Finchhaulgh = Place of finches; it does not fit well linguistically and has no corroborative evidence. Reginald’s three mentions of Finchale contemporaneously in his other book were in the 1170s from context, all post-dating Godric’s death, consistent with naming Finchale some time after Fingola’s marriage. See: Reginaldi Monachi Dunelmensis Libellus de Admirandi Beati Cuthberti Virtutibus quae novelis patratae sunt temporibus. Latin text. Surtees Society. Nichols & Son, & Pickering, London, 1834, pp. 255, 267, 270. Also, Finchale is not mentioned at all in any context in the Bishop’s county survey, Boldon Book, of 1180, strongly suggesting it was new and not significant then. See text in Victoria County History, op cit, Vol I 1905, p. 327 et seq. The Domesday Book did not cover County Durham.
  23. British Library, Royal MS 5 F VII, 2) Galfridus of Finchale. Vita beati Godrici heremite. In the same bundle there is a letter from Pope Alexander III to Godric. Galfridus was later Prior of Durham in the early fourteenth century, which fits the style of this music and lettering.
  24. The medieval mode of both hymns, effectively their key signature, is dorian/hypomixolydian, with the verses ending on F-E-D, similar to D minor. The reference note C is indicated on the top line. It is archived under Godric’s contemporary, Bernard of Clairvaux. His Cistercian monastery in France was of the same religious order as Rievaulx Abbey, vau(l)x reflecting selected, isolated valleys.
  25. Stalked notes are two beats, squares one beat, and diamonds half, with no bar lines. Godric’s literacy is evident from his extensive reports, and it is conceivable that he composed too. On returning from seafaring, he briefly lived in an Eskdale hermitage near Whitby Abbey, (Reginald op cit, 58-59) where he would have had the opportunity to hear plainsong. He could also have heard it later at Durham.
  26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdaJKv2VJrQ Original disc: Sequentia Ensemble. English Songs of the Middle Ages, 1988, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/WDR Köln. Link published in Hektoen with the kind written permission of the rights holders Sony Music and Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia.
  27. Nayak S, Nalabothu P, Sandiford S, et al. Evaluation of wound healing activity of Allamanda cathartica. L. and Laurus nobilis. L. extracts. Complement Altern Med. 2006; 6: article 12. Accessed: BMC. We found no bay tree descendants on inspecting the ravine; not as far-fetched as you might think, because several woods of medieval abbeys still have the tree species described in early documents, eg oaks on the Leven in Rosedale, which belonged to Guisborough Priory. Rievaulx Abbey infirmary has capitals of bay leaves and scallop shells, which shout of Godric’s Mediterranean and Santiago influence—we know he met the Cistercians and knew Rievaulx’s abbot. Both Rievaulx and Fountains Abbeys’ infirmary halls have a sense of divine power underneath with symbolic design and river culverts respectively. Reviewed in https://hekint.org/2021/06/21/the-monastic-infirmaries-of-north-yorkshire/
  28. Isolation was not complete. The lepers of Sherburn Hospital were still allowed to see their friends. Notably, Baydale is quite close to the main road to Teesdale. See: Sherburn archives quoted by Robert Surtees in The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham. Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1816-1823. Republished by E P Publishing, 1972, vol 1, p. 129.
  29. By GSC Grays, chartered surveyors. Its alternative name Baydale Farm only appears on later maps. Nearby St. Clare’s Abbey, Darlington, was founded in Victorian times.
  30. The unusually high wall to the rear is in keeping with a monastic precinct, not a normal secular yard. Medieval-looking stonework survives in the northern bridge parapet and abutment, the boundary wall to the east of the inn and displayed loose by the entrance. Some is masoned and eroded consistent with a twelfth-century date, other pieces show early limewash. A number of stones are rounded river cobbles. The current inn looks entirely Edwardian brick on the line of earlier foundations. The field to the rear has no earthworks. The historian W H D Longstaffe in the 1850s described it having been an inn “since time immemorial,” though a dig of his drew a blank. See: Durham Record Office, Denham Archive, DX1338/9/50. Waste pottery as far back as 1100 would likely be very deep from soil build up. We suspect the medieval walls were probably still standing in 1850.
  31. It is at a height of about twenty-five feet above the beck to the east and River Tees to the south. Victoria County History op cit, reviewed evidence for the hospital being near the River Tees, west of the town and documented until 1437. See: hekint.org/2021/05/14/the-medieval-hospitals-of-county-durham/ and Martin Monastic infirmaries op. cit. for discussions of Galenic influences on medieval hospital sites. Galenic theory, illness philosophy and other infirmary findings are reviewed in: Gilchrist R. Spirit, mind and body. The archaeology of monastic healing. In Sacred Heritage. Dec 2019, online, Cambridge Core, pp. 71-109.



STEPHEN MARTIN is a retired psychiatrist and a Fellow of The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Summer 2021  |  Sections  |  Hospitals of Note

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