The life of the revered Anglo-Saxon saint, Prior of Lindisfarne and patron saint of Durham Cathedral.
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
At A Glance
Although tradition says that Cuthbert was the son of an Irish king, it is most likely that he was born in the vicinity of Melrose, in present day Scotland, of poor parents. Certainly we know that he tended sheep on the hills above the abbey when he was older.
Cuthbert was a perfect choice for such a sensitive role; his reputation for devotion and sanctity, and the fact that he himself had been raised in the Celtic tradition and now supported Roman rule made his gentle leadership ideal for the job at hand. He spent a great deal of his time at Lindisfarne evangelizing among the people of the area, and exercising the tact and patience for which he was renown to lead the conversion to Roman Christianity.
Cuthbert's time at Lindisfarne was short, however. He desired the peace of a life of contemplation, and in 676 the abbot granted him leave to retire to take up the simple life of a hermit. Just where Cuthbert chose for his retreat is uncertain. Some traditions say that the rocky islet of St. Cuthbert's Island, near Lindisfarne, was the spot. Other traditions place him in St. Cuthbert's Cave, near Howburn. In any case, he did not stay long, and soon moved to Farne Island, opposite Bamburgh.
After several years of austere life on Farne, Cuthbert was reluctantly persuaded to return to a more active role in the church, and became Bishop of Lindisfarne. His consecration was held at York on Easter, 685. He returned to Lindisfarne, but his time was short. By Christmas, 686 he felt his death approach, and Cuthbert resigned his see and returned to Farne Island. He died on March 20, 687.
But the story of Cuthbert does not end there. He was buried at Lindisfarne Priory, where his tomb quickly became a magnet for pilgrims. Miracles were reported at his grave; in fact, so numerous were the reported miracles that Cuthbert was called the "Wonder-worker of England".
In 875 the monks of Lindisfarne became alarmed by the threat of Danish invasion. They fled the island, taking with them their most precious possessions, including the relics of Saint Cuthbert. The monks of Lindisfarne wandered for a full seven years, lugging the saint's bones about with them, until in 883 they were given a church at Chester-le-Street, near Durham. Ironically, their benefactor was a Danish king who had converted to Christianity.
A series of churches were built to house the relics. The first stone church was built on the site of the present cathedral, and was consecrated in about 999. During William the Conqueror's "Harrying of the North" (1069) the bones were moved to Lindisfarne for safety, but soon returned to Durham.
Saint Cuthbert is also associated with the Lindisfarne Gospels. This illuminated manuscript was produced by Eadfrid, Bishop of Lindisfarne, in the 8th century. It is without question one of the best surviving examples of traditional Celtic calligraphy and illustration. The gospel was placed by Eadfrid on the shrine of Cuthbert, where it stayed until the monks fled the priory.
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