St. Bega, otherwise known as St. Bee of Egremont, was an Irish princess who, from an early age, had pledged her life to God. In return for her religious devotion, she received, from an angel, a miraculous bracelet decorated with an image of the cross. Her father arranged her marriage to the king of Norway, and laughed scornfully when Bee pointed out her bracelet, sign of her religious consecration. But when her father and the Norwegian king were passed out in a drunken stupor following a night of pre-nuptial revelry, Bega escaped by sailing across the sea on a turf clod, fed along the way by the murres and guillemots.
Bee landed on the coast of Cumberland, at a promontory that is known as Bee’s Head. She lived there for many years as a hermit, until increased Viking raids caused her to move inland for her safety and join a nunnery. She later formed her own nunnery, in Copeland, and led an exemplary life.
In the Middle Ages, she was especially appealed to against oppressors of the poor, to whom she had been devoted.
As is the case with many saints who purportedly lived in the 7th and 8th centuries, there is little historical record to corroborate the stories that have grown around St. Bee. In fact, there is some discussion as to whether she actually existed at all. It was the custom in the area to swear oaths on St. Bega’s bracelet, and it has been suggested that St. Bega was the personification of a Cumbrian cult centred on her bracelet, especially considering that Old English for bracelet is ‘beag.’
As the web page for the town of St. Bee’s says,
On the other hand, if we say that Sancta Bega simply means “holy bracelet” then we must regard the bracelet as a “ring of power” brought to the area by pagan Saxon or Scandinavian settlers, used for oath-taking, and attributed to a mythical saint at some later date.
Here comes St. Bee, sailing out of the mists of myth, on her clod of turf.