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date: 19 October 2019

John of Bridlington [St John of Bridlington, John Thwing]free

(c. 1320–1379)
  • Michael J. Curley

John of Bridlington (c. 1320–1379)

manuscript painting

John of Bridlington [St John of Bridlington, John Thwing] (c. 1320–1379), prior of Bridlington, was born in the Yorkshire village of Thwing in the Wolds, some 9 miles west of Bridlington, to a distinguished family with extensive landholdings in the East Riding. He showed signs of deep devotion to the church early in life, and took a vow of chastity at the age of twelve. Between the years 1336 and 1339 he studied at Oxford, returning to Yorkshire as tutor in a prominent family. He entered the convent of Augustinian canons at Bridlington in 1340, where he distinguished himself as cellarer and then as prior, the position he held from c.1362 until his death, perhaps of the plague, on 10 October 1379.

The holiness of John of Bridlington, who was also known as John Thwing, was widely recognized during his own lifetime. A canon named Hugh, who may himself have been a member of the Bridlington community, wrote the first biography of John between 1379 and 1401. A Middle English verse life in the northern dialect by one who claimed to have witnessed Thwing's deeds appeared about the same time. Reports of miracles occurring at his tomb prompted Alexander Neville, archbishop of York, to delegate Robert Dalton, his vicar-general, to interview witnesses to these miracles in 1386. In 1388, 'out of regard for John de Thweng, late Prior', Richard II gave permission to the Bridlington Priory to crenellate its buildings. According to Walsingham, reports of miracles at Thwing's tomb had spread all over England by 1389. Henry Bolingbroke made an offering at Bridlington in 1391 upon returning from a campaign in Prussia and, as King Henry IV, he sent John Guisburn, a canon of Bridlington, to Rome in 1400 to secure Thwing's canonization. In a bull of Boniface IX, dated 24 September 1401, John Thwing was officially canonized. With the aid of a grant from Henry IV, a shrine for his remains was constructed adjacent to the Bridlington Priory. In 1404 Archbishop Scrope and the bishops of Lincoln and Carlisle officiated at the translation of Thwing's body. Henry IV placed his son Prince Henry under the patronage of St John of Bridlington, and the prince made an offering of 5 marks at the shrine in 1407 in fulfilment of a previous vow. The hagiographer John Capgrave's edition of the life of St John of Bridlington added new accounts of miracles to those mentioned in the first biography by Hugh.

Personally, John of Bridlington impressed his contemporaries with his generosity, compassion, humility, and zeal for the contemplative life. He supported poor students from the monastery's resources, and as prior he slept in the dormitory along with the other members of the community rather than in the prior's more comfortable quarters. The Middle English life mentions his hospitality towards minstrels. Tradition also attributed to John of Bridlington the composition of certain Latin prophetic verses, couched in highly obscure symbolism, and concerned principally with English affairs during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III. These verses circulated in some copies with an elaborate prose commentary that pretended to untangle the dense symbolism of the prophecy. The commentary (c.1364) was dedicated to Humphrey (IX) de Bohun, seventh earl of Hereford and twelfth earl of Essex, who assumed his titles in 1361 and died in 1373. Bohun family members were patrons of the Augustinian friars.

M. R. James demonstrated that the commentary was composed by John Ergome (fl. 1385–1386), Augustinian friar, who became both master regent and prior of the York convent in 1385. Ergome came from a prominent family in the East Riding, studied at Oxford, and was probably the Johannes de Anglia who was admitted to the faculty of theology in Bologna in 1380. He became master of the studium of the Roman curia in 1386, and in the same year served as magister antiquus (‘senior master’) in the Naples convent. The date of his death is unknown. Ergome's library, which numbered over 220 books, was one of the largest personal collections in England during the middle ages, and included a wide range of classical and medieval authors. It was a collection, unique in size, of mathematical, astronomical, alchemical, and astrological treatises, and prophecies, both secular and religious, some of which were accompanied by commentaries. He also possessed a number of histories, as well as books on civil and canon law and medicine. Two copies of the Bridlington prophecies and an explanation of them (possibly the same as his commentary dedicated to Humphrey de Bohun) were also among Ergome's books. It seems doubtful whether John Thwing had a hand in the composition of these obscure prophecies, although they are attributed to him in some manuscripts. Whether they were composed by Ergome himself has been a topic of debate. Ergome says simply that they were penned by a 'canon regular, according to the common opinion of folk'. A number of the prophecies were cited by the Bridlington chronicler in his Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon of about 1377, but without identifying the prophet; and about 1370–76 the Kirkstall chronicler cites the prophecies, attributing them simply to ‘Bridlington’.

Sources

  • P. Grosjean, ‘De S. Iohanne Bridlingtoniensi collectanea’, Analecta Bollandiana, 53 (1935), 101–29
  • Acta sanctorum: October, 5 (Brussels, 1786), 137–44
  • C. Horstman, ed., Nova legenda Anglie, as collected by John of Tynemouth, J. Capgrave, and others, 2 (1901), 64–78
  • M. Amassian, ‘A verse life of John of Bridlington’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 71 (1970), 136–45
  • J. S. Purvis, ‘St John of Bridlington’, Journal of the Bridlington Augustinian Society, 2 (1924), 1–50
  • The Kirstall Abbey chronicles, ed. J. Taylor, Thoresby Society, 42 (1952)
  • J. A. Twemlow, ‘St John of Bridlington’, A miscellany presented to J.M. MacKay (1914), 128–31
  • J. A. Twemlow, ‘The liturgical credentials of a forgotten English saint’, Mélanges d'histoire offerts à M. Charles Bémont (1913), 365–71
  • M. J. Curley, ‘The cloak of anonymity and the prophecy of John of Bridlington’, Modern Philology, 77 (1979–80), 361–9
  • A. G. Rigg, ‘John of Bridlington's prophecy: a new look’, Speculum, 63 (1988), 596–613
  • M. R. James, ed., ‘The catalogue of the library of the Augustinian friars at York’, Fasciculus Joanni Willis Clark dicatus (1909), 2–96
  • F. X. Roth, The English Austin friars, 1249–1538, 2 (1966), 408–13, 535–7 [John Ergome]
  • Emden, Oxf. [John Ergome]
  • P. Meyvaert, ‘John Ergome and the Vaticinium Roberti Bridlington’, Speculum, 41 (1966), 656–65

Likenesses

  • window image, 1400–1500, Morley parish church, Derbyshire
  • window image, 1400–1500, Ludlow parish church, Shropshire
  • window image, 1400–1500, Beauchamp chapel, Warwick
  • sculpture, 1440–1470, St Andrew's Church, Hempstead-by-Eccles, Norwich
  • illumination, York Minster, Bolton Hours, 5 Add. MS 2, fol. 46
  • manuscript painting, BL, MS Royal 2 A.xviii, fol. 7v [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

personal library; John Ergome: James, ‘Catalogue of the library’

A. B. Emden, , 3 vols. (1957–9); also (1974)
T. Rymer & R. Sanderson, eds., , 20 vols. (1704–35); 2nd edn, 20 vols. (1726–35); 3rd edn, 10 vols. (1739–45); new edn, ed. A. Clarke, J. Caley, & F. Holbrooke, 4 vols., RC, 50 (1816–69); facs. of 3rd edn (1967)
(1891–)