Discovering John Bradburne
Held at Boarbank Hall, 21st-24th June 2019.

First may I say that honey bees
Live lives like the lives of saints

as John Bradburne, a great lover of bees, writes in one of his poems.

John Bradburne
Our weekend was spent exploring his own life and poems, the life of a man whose cause for sainthood will officially be opened in September. And an extraordinary life it was: inwardly totally focused on the search for God, outwardly that of a restless vagabond, until he found his home looking after lepers in Mutemwa in Zimbabwe. He poured out both his day-to-day experience and his religious meditations in thousands of lines of poetry, twice as many as Shakespeare, four times as many as Wordsworth.

Professor David Crystal, ably supported by his wife, Hilary, led the weekend. He introduced us to John’s life, using also an interview with John and DVDs to illustrate this.

Discovering John Bradburne

He also led two sessions focused on the poetry itself, with participation from the group.

Dr Julia Pigott, an expert on bees, supplemented his talks with a fascinating account of the history of the honeybee, including its relationship with the Church. We were even visited most suitably, by a bee, on our final morning.

 Skirwith Church Langwathby
 The Old Vicarage Skirwith  Poetry at Skirwith

One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to John’s birthplace at Skirwith. We picnicked en route near the River Eden at Langwathby, and was met at Skirwith Church by the vicar, Revd Stephen Pye, churchwarden and other local people, who showed us the church, including the baptismal register in which the birth of John and his siblings was recorded.

We read some appropriate poems there, and shared an ecumenical Vespers. Bernard and Monica, a couple who had known John, generously came some distance to share their experience of him with us. The drive back, through the spacious and lovely scenery of north Cumbria, in sight of Cross Fell, was part of the pleasure of the whole day.

The relaxed timetable allowed plenty of opportunity for shared conversations and ideas, and the group participated with enthusiasm in the sung Office and Mass of the Community. We also learned a great deal from the excellent exhibition provided by David and Hilary, which included a relic of John’s Franciscan habit.

 John Bradburne Exhibition  John Bradburne Exhibition

CLICK HERE to see Prof. David’s full report of the weekend

The official Masses to celebrate the opening of John’s cause for beatification will be held in Mutemwa, Zimbabwe on 5th September this year, and at Westminster Cathedral on 21st September at 14.30. (Order tickets online at or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 01568 760632 for more info.) For more about John, see

We are hoping to follow up this rich and fascinating weekend in some way this weekend. If you are interested in coming, please keep an eye on our website or email Sr Margaret (LINK).