Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

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Cuthbert was born in North Northumbria in about the year 635 – the same year in which Aidan founded the monastery on Lindisfarne. He came from a well-to-do English family and like most boys of that class, he was placed with foster-parents for part of his childhood.
It seems, from stories about his childhood, that he was brought up as a Christian. He was credited, for instance, with having saved by his prayers, some monks who were being swept out to sea on a raft.
There is some evidence that, in his mid-teens, he was involved in at least one battle, which would have been quite normal for a boy of his social background.
A life changing moment occurred on when he was about 17 years old. Gazing into the night sky he saw a light descend to Earth and then return. He believed, it was escorting a human soul to Heaven. The date was August 31st 651AD – the night that Aidan (the founder of Lindisfarne Monastery) died. Cuthbert may have already been considering a possible monastic calling but that was his moment of decision.
The remainder of his life was one of prayer and dedication, but not always within the closed walls of monastic life although he entered the monastery at Melrose, which Aiden had also founded. For the next 13 years he was with the Melrose monks before being asked to help found a new monastery at Ripon and became the guestmaster. In his late 20s he returned to Melrose and found that his former teacher and friend, the prior Boisil, was dying of the plague. Cuthbert became prior (second to the Abbot) at Melrose.
Cuthbert seems to have moved to Lindisfarne at about the age of 30 and lived there for the next 10 years, running the monastery. He was an active missionary and was much in demand as a spiritual guide developing the gift of spiritual healing. He was an outgoing, cheerful, compassionate person and no doubt became popular.
But when he was 40 years old he believed that he was being called to be a hermit and to do the hermit’s job of fighting the spiritual forces of evil in a life of solitude.
After a short trial period on the tiny islet adjoining Lindisfarne he moved to the more remote and larger island known as ‘Inner Farne’ and built a hermitage where he lived for 10 years. Of course, people did not leave him alone – they went out in their little boats to consult him or ask for healing. However, on many days of the year the seas around the islands are simply too rough to make the crossing and Cuthbert was left in peace.

He was about 50 when the Church and the King asked him to leave his island isolation to become a bishop. He reluctantly agreed and for two years was an active, travelling bishop as Aidan had been. He seems to have journeyed extensively.

In 687ADhe returned to the hermitage on the Inner Farne where, in the company of Lindisfarne monks, he died on March 20th.
His body was brought back and buried on Lindisfarne.
People came to pray at his grave and miracles of healing were claimed. To the monks of Lindisfarne this was a clear sign that Cuthbert was now a saint in heaven and they, as the saint’s community, should declare this to the world.
In those days people felt it important to be as close as possible to a saint’s ‘relics’ when they prayed for help or healing. And if a community made relics available, that was equivalent to a declaration of sainthood.
The monks of Lindisfarne determined to do this for Cuthbert, but decided to allow 11 years for his body to become a skeleton and then ‘elevate’ his remains on the anniversary of this death (20th March 698).

_If you wish to read further about the surprise they had when opening his coffin and what happened in subsequent years, read on

His body now lies in Durham Cathedral and can still be visited today.

This photo was taken by my husband on a visit to Lindisfarne. So… it is ©John Stead

Artwork Comments

  • trisha22
  • Jan Stead JEMproductions
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