Keys to the Past



Saint Cuthbert is a Northumbrian Anglo-Saxon saint. His fame and methods vary to those of his contemporaries Saint Bede and Saint Wilfrid. His biographers provide only a few details of his life prior to him becoming a monk, when prompted by a vision of the Bishop Saint Aidan rising to Heaven in 651AD. Cuthbert became a monk at Old Melrose (Scotland) - but his was later at Lindisfarne, Northumberland, and Ripon, Yorkshire - in the Irish style. Cuthbert travelled and preached widely - but often in remote areas which are often unknown or unnamed. He reached important posts of guest master at Ripon and prior at Lindisfarne in 664AD, where he accepted the Roman styles argued for at the Whitby synod (see Saint Wilfrid).

Cuthbert found further spiritual challenges in building hermitages as a hermit; first on the isle just off Lindisfarne, and later on Inner Farne in 676AD. On Inner Farne Cuthbert intended to be self-supporting. He grew his own crops and built his own accommodation for himself and guests, and an oratory. Whilst preaching he was responsible for many miracles, had premonitions and gave advice (on always followed) to the Northumbrian royal family. Despite his preference for being a hermit Cuthbert was elected a Bishop in 685AD for a short period whilst Saint Wilfrid was away. He soon retired back to his hermitage where he died there in 687AD.

Saint Cuthbert was originally buried at Lindisfarne - but his body was found not to have decayed by 698AD. Miracles were attested to his relics and parts of his hermitage and a cult developed, giving rise to the biographies, called hagiographies, by Bede, (in 716AD and 720AD), and another anonymous Lindisfarne monk. His body and other relics were removed from Lindisfarne in 875AD to avoid further Viking damage after raids from 793AD. Stops were made for long periods of time at Chester-le-Street, (County Durham), in 885AD and later to the predecessor of Durham Cathedral in 995AD. Cuthbert's body was moved in 1069AD to avoid the Harrying of the North - before returning to Durham, where his body was again moved in 1104AD (being witnessed by Symeon of Durham). Articles from the tomb area were thought to bring good luck to pilgrims. As such the English took a banner to the Battle of Flodden in Northumberland (1513AD). Many of the treasures of the tomb were taken by Henry VIII at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In May 1827 the tomb was again opened as an antiquarian excavation, involving members of the Durham Cathedral staff. High-status artefacts were recovered including a jewelled cross, rich vestments (priestly clothes), an ivory comb and parts of the wooden coffins carried around. The bones of the tomb were recorded - not just those of Saint Cuthbert - but also the reputed skull of the Northumbria King and Saint Oswald (605-642AD).

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