Hospitality to Angels

lindscriptorium

Holy Island, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

Created: 2013

Words:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2.

Background:

From Bede’s Life of Cuthbert ‘CHAPTER VII HOW HE ENTERTAINED AN ANGEL, AND WHILST MINISTERING TO HIM EARTHLY BREAD, WAS THOUGHT WORTHY TO BE REWARDED WITH BREAD FROM HEAVEN’

…It chanced that Cuthbert was appointed to the office of receiving strangers, and he is said to have entertained an angel of the Lord who came to make trial of his piety. For, as he went very early in the morning, from the interior of the monastery into the strangers’ cell, he found there seated a young person, whom he considered to be a man, and entertained as such. He gave him water to wash his hands; he washed his feet himself, wiped them, and humbly dried them in his bosom; after which he entreated him to remain till the third hour of the day and take some breakfast, lest, if he should go on his journey fasting, he might suffer from hunger and the cold of winter. For he took him to be a man, and thought that a long journey by night and a severe fall of snow had caused him to turn in thither in the morning to rest himself. The other replied, that he could not tarry, for the home to which he was hastening lay at some distance. After much entreaty, Cuthbert adjured him in God’s name to stop; and as the third hour was now come, prayer over, and it was time to breakfast, he placed before him a table with some food, and said, “I beseech thee, brother, eat and refresh thyself, whilst I go and fetch some hot bread, which must now, I think, be just baked.” When he returned, the young man, whom he had left eating, was gone, and he could see no traces of his footsteps, though there had been a fresh fall of snow, which would have exhibited marks of a person walking upon it, and shown which way he went. The man of God was astonished, and revolving the circumstances in his mind, put back the table in the dining-room. Whilst doing so, he perceived a most surprising odour and sweetness; and looking round to see from what it might proceed, he saw three white loaves placed there, of unusual whiteness and excellence. Trembling at the sight, he said within himself, “I perceive that it was an angel of the Lord whom I entertained, and that he came to feed us, not to be fed himself. Behold, he hath brought such loaves as this earth never produced; they surpass the lily in whiteness, the rose in odour, and honey in taste. They are, therefore, not produced from this earth, but are sent from paradise. No wonder that he rejected my offer of earthly food, when he enjoys such bread as this in heaven.” The man of God was stimulated by this powerful miracle to be more zealous still in performing works of piety; and with his deeds did increase upon him also the grace of God. From that time he often saw and conversed with angels, and when hungry was fed with unwonted food furnished direct from God…

This piece celebrates Cuthbert and his miraculous life by illustrating, in the style of a plate from the medieval ‘Life of Cuthbert’, his experience of entertaining an angel and being given heavenly bread. The piece also shows St. Cuthbert’s Island also known as Hobthrush, a tiny Island just off Lindisfarne where it is said that Cuthbert escaped to be alone with God. Also included is a pattern from the cover of the Cuthbert’s Gospel, a small book also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St. Cuthbert Gospel of St John. It is a 7th-century pocket gospel book, written in Latin that was placed in Cuthbert’s tomb a few years after his death. This piece was started whilst working in Durham Cathedral for the St. Cuthbert’s celebrations in February.

Mary Fleeson, August 2013.

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