Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

From Academic Kids

Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (c. 634 - March 20, 687) was a British monk and bishop who was one of the most important saints of England during the early Middle Ages.

Cuthbert was of Northumbrian origin, probably from the neighborhood of Dunbar, in modern-day Scotland. While still a boy, employed as a shepherd, he thought that he saw one night the soul of Aidan carried to heaven by angels and thereupon went to the monastery of Old Melrose and became a monk (651). Soon afterwards, however, he became a soldier for several years.

After his return to the monastery, his fame for piety, diligence, and obedience quickly grew. When Alchfrith, king of Deira, founded a new monastery at Ripon, Cuthbert became its praepositus hospitum or entertainer of guests.

Alchfrith, however, adopted Roman usages, and in 661 those monks who followed the Celtic tradition returned to Melrose, where Cuthbert was made prior. He spent much time among the people, ministering to their spiritual needs.

After the Synod of Whitby Cuthbert seems to have accepted the Roman customs, and his old abbot, Eata, called on him to introduce them at Lindisfarne. It was an ungracious task, but Cuthbert disarmed opposition by his loving nature and patience.

In 676 he adopted the solitary life and retired to a cave. After a time he settled on one of the Farne Islands, south of Lindisfarne, and gave himself more and more to austerities. At first he would receive visitors and wash their feet, but later he confined himself to his cell and opened the window only to give his blessing. While on the Farne Islands, he instituted special laws to protect the Eider ducks and other seabirds nesting on the islands; these may have been the first bird protection laws anywhere in the world. Consequentially, eider ducks are often called cuddy ducks in modern Northumbrian dialects.

After nine years he was prevailed upon to return to Lindisfarne as bishop and was consecrated at York by Archbishop Theodore and six bishops, on 26 March, 685. After Christmas, 686, however, he returned to his cell on Inner Farne Island, (2 miles from Bamburgh, Northumberland), which was where he eventually died. He was buried at Lindisfarne.

Legend has it that, when Cuthbert's burial casket was opened some years after his death, his body was found to have been perfectly preserved. This apparent miracle led to the steady growth of Cuthbert's posthumous fame, to the point where he became the most popular saint of North England. Numerous miracles were attributed to him and to his remains. The noted 8th century author Bede wrote both a verse and a prose life of Cuthbert around 720.

In 875 the Danes took the monastery and the monks fled, carrying with them Cuthbert's body, in obedience to his dying injunction. After seven years' wandering it found a resting-place at Chester-le-Street until 995, when another Danish invasion led to its removal to Ripon. Then the saint intimated, as was believed, that he wished to remain in Durham. A new stone church was built, the predecessor of the present grand Cathedral.

In 1104 Cuthbert's tomb was opened again and his relics transferred to a new shrine behind the altar of the recently completed Cathedral. When the tomb was opened, a small pocket gospel, now known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, was found.

Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of Northumbria. His feast day is March 20th.

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