Page 7, 23rd March 1979

23rd March 1979
Page 7
Page 7, 23rd March 1979 — The hermit who left mark on the North

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Organisations: National Trust


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The hermit who left mark on the North

D. H. Farmer, author of the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, looks at St Cuthbert. WHY is St Cuthbert northern England's most popular saini? If ac look at the records of his life, 04.'mill find that he was a sesenth-century monk ys ho vy as a bishop for I yy(1 years and died as a hermit on the Inner Fame Island ill687.

Certainly he was an attractive character, whose extraordinary goodness was realised by his contemporaries. He also had a reputation for miracles and prophecies. Ile was specially fond of animals: horses, dolphins, eagles, otters and birds all figure in his contemporary life. But above all he was a contemplative, a man of God, who longed for solitude, which he found in the bleak surroundings of his island in a cell Irma which only the sky could be seen, adjacent to U chapel, primitive and tiny. this is not to say that he e as inactive. On the contrary, he took an important part in the development of Christianity in his lifetime, not only inside his monastery at :Melrose and later at Lindisfarne, but also by missionary tours for a week or a month at a time.

lie was formed in Irish monastic tradition, but after the Synod of Whitby (663) at which Northumbria agreed to adopt Bonian customs and Easter dating, Cuthbert was sent to rule the monastery of Lindisfarne, where by his patient persistence he gradually united mid reformed the community, which came to observe the Rule of St Benedict as modified by Cuthbert's own statutes.

After 13 years there he withdrew to complete solitude on the Inner Farne. After nine years as a hermit, during which he became known through visitors, he was chosen by St theodore of Canterbury and King Egfrith of Northumbria to be a bishop.

Ile then returned to Lindisfarne: he preached and visited in his diocese, which extended as far west as Carlisle. At the same time he went to see his old friend Herbert, a hermit on an island in Derwentwater. He realised that he had not long to live and he died in his own island hermitage, aged only 53.

His cult began almost at once, but was immensely strengthened by the discovery that his body was incorrupt I I years after his death. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels, a masterpiece of illumination (now at the British Museum), was written "in honour of God and St Cuthbert".

The collection of relics, some of which were his, such as the pectoral cross, the portable altar and the liturgical comb, and others offered later and placed in his original oak coffin, all surlived various travles through northern . England and southern Scotland after the sack of Lindisfarne by the Vikings.

Eventually the shrine was brought to Durham in 995. In 1104 the body, still incorrupt, was translated into Durham Cathedral, where it became the object of one of the most important pilgrimages in England. This concrete reminder of the early days of the Church in Anglo Saxon England inspired the monks of Durham through the Middle Ages.

The shrine remained intact until the Reformation, when it was buried in Durham cathedral until the excavation of 1828. Now the Cuthbert relics are on view at Durham, but the body is no longer incorrupt.

Cuthbert's island home is owned by the National Trust, which preserves it as a sanctuary for birds. on it are a medieval chapel, built on the site of Cuthbert's, and a fort built by priors of Durham, nowadays occupied in the summer by birds archers.

It is one of the least spoiled of England's holy places: sidling it is an unforgettable experience.

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