Born in Northumbria, England (?) or Ireland, c. 634; died on Inner Farne
in March 20, 687; feast of his translation to Durham, September 4.
Saint Cuthbert is possibly the most venerated saint in England,
especially in the northern part of the country, where he was a very
active missionary. Yet his real nationality is debated. His
(f.d. May 26),
did not specify it. Of
course, the English claim him, but so do the Scottish.
There is a good likelihood the he was an Irishman named Mulloche,
great-grandson of the High King Muircertagh of Ireland because,
according to Moran citing documents in Durham Cathedral, the rood screen
bore the inscription:
Saint Cuthbert, Patron of Church, City and
Liberty of Durham, an Irishman by birth of royal parentage who was led
by God's Providence to England.
The cathedral's stained glass windows,
which had been registered but destroyed during the reign of Henry VI,
depicted the saint's life begin with his birth
This fact is corroborated by an ancient manuscript viewed by Alban
Butler at Cottonian Library. One tradition relates that his mother, the
Irish princess Saba, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome, left Cuthbert in
the care of Kenswith, and died in Rome.
Thus, Cuthbert, like David, was a shepherd boy on the hills above Leader
Water or the valley of the Tweed. Of unknown parentage, he was reared
in the Scottish lowlands by a poor widow named Kenswith, and was a
cripple because of an abscess on the knee made worse by an attempted
cure. But despite this disability he was boisterous and high-spirited,
and so physically strong that after he became a monk, on a visit to the
monastery at Coldingham, he spent a whole night upon the shore in
prayer, and strode into the cold sea praising God.
According to one of Saint Bede's two "vitae" of the saint, when Cuthbert
was about 15, he had a vision of angels conducting the soul of Saint
Aidan to heaven. Later, while still a youth, he became a monk under
(f.d. October 26)
at Melrose Abbey on the Tweed River. The
prior of Melrose,
(f.d. July 7),
Scripture and the pattern of a devout life. Cuthbert went with Eata to
the newly-founded abbey of Ripon in 661 as guest steward. He returned
to Melrose, still just a mission station of log shanties, when King
Alcfrid turned Ripon over to
(f.d. October 12).
from Melrose that Cuthbert began his missionary efforts throughout
Cuthbert attended Boisil when the latter contracted the plague. The book
of the Scriptures from which he read the Gospel of John to the dying
prior was laid on the altar at Durham in the 13th century on Saint
Cuthbert's feast. Thus, in 664, Cuthbert became prior of Melrose at the
death of Boisil. Soon thereafter Cuthbert fell deathly ill with the
same epidemic. Upon hearing that the brethren had prayed throughout the
night for his recovery, he called for his staff, dressed, and undertook
his duties, but he never fully recovered his health thereafter.
In 664, when
(f.d. February 18)
refused to accept the
decision of the Synod of Whitby in favour of Roman liturgical custom and
migrated to Ireland with his monks,
(f.d. October 21)
consecrated bishop in his place, while Eata was named abbot and Cuthbert
prior of Lindisfarne, a small island joined to the coast at low tide.
From Lindisfarne Cuthbert extended his work southward to the people of
Northumberland and Durham.
Afterwards Cuthbert was made abbot of Lindisfarne, where he grew to love
the wild rocks and sea, and where the birds and beasts came at his call.
Then for eight years beginning in 676, Cuthbert followed his solitary
nature by removing himself to the solitude of the isolated, infertile
island of Farne, where it was believed that he was fed by the angels.
There built an oratory and a cell with only a single small window for
communication with the outside world. But he was still sought after, and
twice the king of Northumberland implored him to accept election as
bishop of Hexham, to which he finally agreed in 684, though unwillingly
and with tears.
Almost immediately Cuthbert exchanged his see with Eata for that of
Lindisfarne, which Cuthbert preferred. Thus, on Easter Sunday 685,
Cuthbert was consecrated bishop of Lindisfarne by
(f.d. September 19),
archbishop of Canterbury, with six bishops in attendance
at York. For two years Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne, still
maintaining his frugal ways and
first doing himself what he taught
He administered his see, cared for the sick of the plague that
decimated his see, distributed alms liberally, and worked so many
miracles of healing that he was known in his lifetime as the
Wonder-Worker of Britain.
Then at Christmas in 686, in failing health
and knowing that his end was near, he resigned his office and retired
again to his island cell hermitage on Farne Island. Three months later
he died there having received his communion from the Abbot Herefrith.
His body was taken back to Lindisfarne and laid to rest on the right
side of the altar on March 20 which is kept as his festival.
In the very act of lifting his hands in prayer
his soul sped its way to
the joys of the heavenly kingdom.
News of his death was flashed by
lantern to the watchers at Lindisfarne. Bede reports:
As the tiny gleam flashed over the dark reach of sea,
and the watchman hurried with his news into the church,
the brethren of the Holy Island were singing the words
of the Psalmist: "Thou hast cast us out and scattered us
abroad . . . Thou hast shown thy people heavy things.
He was buried at Lindisfarne, where they remained incorrupt for several
centuries, but after the Viking raids began his remains wandered with
the displaced monks for about 100 years until they were translated to
Durham cathedral in 1104. Until its desecration under Henry VIII, his
shrine at Durham was one of the most frequented places of pilgrimage for
the power of healing that Cuthbert possessed during his lifetime lived
on after him. The bones discovered in 1827 beneath the site of the
medieval shrine are probably his.
He is said to have had supernatural gifts of healing and insight, and
people thronged to consult him, so that he became known as the
wonder-worker of Britain. He had great qualities as a preacher, and
made many missionary journeys. Bede wrote that
Cuthbert was so great a
speaker and had such a light in his angelic face. He also had such a
love for proclaiming his good news, that none hid their innermost
secrets from him.
Year after year, on horseback and on foot, he
ventured into the remotest territories between Berwick and Galloway. He
built the first oratory at Dull, Scotland, with a large stone cross
before it and a little cell for himself. Here a monastery arose that
became Saint Andrew's University.
His task was not easy, for he lived in an area of vast solitude, of wild
moors and sedgy marshes crossed only by boggy tracts, with widely
scattered groups of huts and hovels inhabited by a wild and heathen
peasantry full of fears and superstitions and haunted by terror of pagan
gods. His days were filled with incessant activity in an attempt to
keep the spirit of Christianity alive and each night he kept vigil with
But unlike the Celtic missionaries, he spoke their language and knew
their ways, for he had lived like them in a peasant's home. Once, when a
snowstorm drove his boat onto the coast of Fife, he cried to his
companions in the storm:
The snow closes the road along the shore; the
storm bars our way over the sea. But there is still the way of Heaven
that lies open.
Cuthbert was the Apostle of the Lowlands, renowned for his vigour and
good-humour; he outstripped his fellow monks in visiting the loneliest
and most dangerous outposts from cottage to cottage from Berwick to
Solway Firth to bring the Good News of Christ. Selflessly he entered the
houses of those stricken by the plague. And he was the most lovable of
saints. His patience and humility persuaded the reluctant monks of
Lindisfarne to adopt the Benedictine Rule.
He is especially appealing to us today because he was a keenly observant
man, interested in the ways of birds and beasts. In
fact, the Farne Islands, which served as a hermitage to the monks of
Durham, are now a bird and wildlife sanctuary appropriately under the
protection of Cuthbert. In his own time he was famed as a worker of
miracles in God's name. On one occasion he healed a woman's dying baby
with a kiss. The tiny seashells found only on his Farne Island are
traditionally called Saint Cuthbert's Beads, and are said by sailors to
have been made by him. This tradition is incorporated in Sir Walter
The ample sources for his life and character show a man of extraordinary
charm and practical ability, who attracted people
deeply by the beauty of holiness.
His cultus is recalled in places names, such as Kirkcudbright
(Galloway), Cotherstone (Yorkshire), Cubert (Cornwall), and more than
135 church dedications in England as well as an additional 17 in
Scotland. A chapel in the crypt of Fulda was dedicated to him at its
* * *
The following legends about Saint Cuthbert reveal as much about their
(f.d. May 26)
as they do about Saint
Cuthbert. Though they repeat in detail some of what is outlined above,
they show the historian's care to note source and authority and show his
quick eye that observes nature in detail.
"One day as he rode his solitary way about the third hour after sunrise,
he came by chance upon a hamlet a spear's cast from the track, and
turned off the road to it. The woman of the house that he went into was
the pious mother of a family, and he was anxious to rest there a little
while, and to ask some provision for the horse that carried him rather
than for himself, for it was the oncoming of winter.
"The woman brought him kindly in, and was earnest with him that he would
let her get ready a meal, for his own comfort, but the man of God denied
I must not eat yet,
because today is a fast.
indeed Friday when the faithful for the most part prolong their fast
until the third hour before sunset, for reverence of the Lord's Passion.
"The woman, full of hospitable zeal, insisted.
the road that you are going, you will find never a clachan or a single
house upon it, and indeed you have a long way yet before you, and you
will not be at the end of it before sundown. So do, I ask you, take
some food before you go, or you will have to keep your fast the whole
day, and maybe even till the morrow.
But though she pressed him hard,
devotion to his religion overcame her entreating, and he went through
the day fasting, until evening.
"But as twilight fell and he began to see that he could not come to the
end of the journey he had planned that day, and that there was no human
habitation near where he could stay the night, suddenly as he rode he
saw close by a huddle of shepherds' huts, built ramshackle for the
summer, and now lying open and deserted.
"Thither he went in search of shelter, tethered his horse to the inside
wall, gathered up a bundle of hay that the wind had torn
from the thatch, and set it before him for fodder. Himself had begun to
say his hours, when suddenly in the midst of his chanting of the Psalms
he saw his horse rear up his head and begin cropping the thatch of the
hovel and dragging it down, and in the middle of the falling thatch came
tumbling a linen cloth lapped up; curious to know what it might be, he
finished his prayer, came up and found wrapped in the linen cloth a
piece of loaf still hot, and meat, enough for one man's meal.
"And chanting his thanks for heaven's grace,
I thank God,
Who has stooped to make a feast for me that was fasting for love of His
Passion, and for my comrade.
So he divided the piece of loaf that he
had found and gave half to the horse, and the rest he kept for himself
to eat, and from that day he was the readier to fasting because he
understood that the meal had been prepared for him in the solitude by
His gift Who of old fed Elijah the solitary in like fashion by the
birds, when there was no man near to minister to him; Whose eyes are on
them that fear Him and that hope in His mercy, that He will snatch their
souls from death and cherish them in their hunger.
"And this story I had from a brother of our monastery which is at the
mouth of the river Wear, a priest, Ingwald by name, who has the grace of
his great age rather to contemplate things eternal with a pure heart
than things temporal with the eyes of earth; and he said that he had it
from Cuthbert himself, the time that he was bishop."
And a second story recorded by Bede:
"It was his way for the most part to wander in those places and to
preach in those remote hamlets, perched on steep rugged mountain sides,
where other men would have a dread of going, and whose poverty and rude
ignorance gave no welcome to any scholar. . . . Often for a whole week,
sometimes for two or three, and even for a full month, he would not
return home, but would abide in the mountains, and call these simple
folk to heavenly things by his word and his ways. . . ."
[He was, moreover, easily entreated, and came to stay at the abbey of
Coldingham on a cliff above the sea.]
"As was his habit, at night while other men took their rest, he would go
out to pray; and after long vigils kept far into the
night, he would come home when the hour of common prayer drew near. One
night, a brother of this same monastery saw him go silently out, and
stealthily followed on his track, to see where he was going or what he
"And so he went out from the monastery and, his spy following him went
down to the sea, above which the monastery was built; and wading into
the depths till the waves swelled up to his neck and arms, kept his
vigil through the dark with chanting voiced like the sea. As the
twilight of dawn drew near, he waded back up the beach, and kneeling
there, again began to pray; and as he prayed, straight from the depths
of the sea came two four-footed beasts which are called by the common
"These, prostrate before him on the sand, began to busy themselves
warming his feet with pantings, and trying to dry them with their fur;
and when this good office was rendered, and they had his benediction,
they slipped back again beneath their native waters. He himself returned
home, and sang the hymns of the office with the brethren at the
appointed hour. But the brother who had stood watching him from the
cliffs was seized with such panic that he could hardly make his way
home, tottering on his feet; and early in the morning came to him and
fell at his feet, begging forgiveness with his tears for his foolish
attempt, never doubting but that his behaviour of the nights was known
"To whom Cuthbert:
What ails you, my brother? What have you done?
Have you been out and about to try to come at the truth of this night
wandering of mine? I forgive you, on this one condition: That you
promise to tell no man what you saw, until my death.
. . . And the
promise given, he blessed the brother and absolved him alike of the
fault and the annoyance his foolish boldness had given: The brother
kept silence on the piece of valour that he had seen, until after the
Saint's death, when he took pains to tell it to many"
Bede relates another story:
After many years at Lindisfarne Abbey, Cuthbert set out to become a
hermit on an island called Farne, which unlike Lindisfarne,
a day by the upswelling of the ocean tide . . . becomes an island, and
twice a day, its shore again bared by the tide outgoing, is restored to
its neighbour the land. . . . No man, before God's servant Cuthbert, had
been able to make his dwelling here alone, for the phantoms of demons
that haunted it; but at the coming of Christ's soldier, armed with the
helmet of salvation, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit
which is the word of God, the fiery darts of the wicked fell quenched,
and the foul Enemy himself, with all his satellite mob, was put to
Cuthbert built himself a cell on the island by cutting away the living
rock of a cave. He constructed a wall out of rough boulders and turf.
Some of the boulders were so large that
one would hardly think four men
could lift them, and yet he is known to have carried them thither with
angelic help and set them into the wall. He had two houses in his
enclosure, one an oratory, the other a dwelling place. . . . At the
harbour of the island was a larger house in which the brethren when they
came to visit him could be received and take their rest. . . .
At first he accepted bread from Lindisfarne, "but after a while he felt
it was more fit that he should live by the work of his own
hand, after the example of the Fathers. So he asked them to bring him
tools to dig the ground with, and wheat to sow; but the grain that he
had sown in spring showed no sign of a crop even by the middle of the
summer. So when the brethren as usual were visiting him the man of God
said, 'It may be the nature of the soil, or it may be it is not the will
of God that any wheat should grow for me in this place: So bring me, I
pray you, barley, and perhaps I may raise some harvest from it. But if
God will give it no increase, it would be better for me to go back to
the community than be supported here on other men's labours.'
"They brought him the barley, and he committed it to the ground, far
past the time of sowing, and past all hope of springing: and soon there
appeared an abundant crop. When it began to ripen, then came the birds,
and its was who among them should devour the most. So up comes God's
good servant, as he would afterwards tell--for many a time, with his
benign and joyous regard, he would tell in company some of the things
that he himself had won by faith, and so strengthen the faith of his
hearers--'And why,' says he, 'are you touching a crop you did not sow?
Or is it, maybe, that you have more need of it than I? If you have
God's leave, do what He allows you: but if not, be off, and do no more
damage to what is not your own.' He spoke, and at the first word of
command, the birds were off in a body and come what might for ever after
themselves from any trespass on his harvests. . . .
"And here might be told a miracle done by the blessed Cuthbert in the
fashion of the aforesaid Father, Benedict, wherein the
obedience and humility of the birds put to shame the obstinacy and
arrogance of men. Upon that island for a great while back a pair of
ravens had made their dwelling: And one day at their nesting time the
man of God spied them tearing with their beaks at the thatch on the
brethren's hospice of which I have spoken, and carrying off pieces of it
in their bills to build their nest.
"He thrust at them gently with his hand, and bade them give over this
damage to the brethren. And when they scoffed at his command, 'In the
name of Jesus Christ,' said he, 'be off with you as quick as ye may, and
never more presume to abide in the place which ye have spoiled.' And
scarcely had he spoken, when they flew dismally away.
"But toward the end of the third day, one of the two came back, and
finding Christ's servant busy digging, comes with his wings lamentably
trailing and his head bowed to his feet, and his voice low and humble,
and begs pardon with such signs as he might: which the good father well
understanding, gives him permission to return.
"As for the other, leave once obtained, he straight off goes to fetch
his mae, and with no tarrying, back they both come, and
carrying along with them a suitable present, no less than a good-sized
hunk of hog's lard such as one greases axles with: Many a time
thereafter the man of God would show it the brethren who came to see
him, and would offer it to grease their shoes, and he would urge on them
how obedient and humble men should be, when the proudest of birds made
haste with prayers and lamentation and presents to atone for the insult
he had given to man. And so, for an example of reformed life to men,
these did abide for many years thereafter on that same island, and built
their nest, nor ever wrought annoyance upon any"
In art, Saint Cuthbert is dressed in episcopal vestments bearing the
crowned head of
(f.d. August 5)
Lindisfarne). At times he may be shown (1) with pillars of light above
him; (2) with swans tending him; (3) as a hermit with a tau staff being
fed by an eagle; (4) rebuking crows; (5) rebuilding a hut and driving
out devils; (6) praying by the sea; (7) with a Benedictine monk kissing
his feet; (8) when his incorrupt body was found with a chalice on his
or (9) tended by sea otters, which signifies either his
living in the midst of waters, or alludes to a legend. It is said that
one night as he lay on the cold shore, exhausted from his penances, two
otters revived his numb limbs by licking them
There is a
stained-glass icon of Cuthbert in York Minster from the late Middle
Ages, as well as paintings on the backs of the stalls at Carlisle
The shrine of Saint Cuthbert is at Durham, but he is also venerated at
Ripon and Melrose. His feast is still kept at Meath, Saint Andrews, and
the northern dioceses of England
He is the patron of
shepherds and seafarers, and invoked against the plague
patronage of sailors was the result of his appearance in the midst of
violent storms at sea, wearing his mitre, as late as the 12th century.
He is said to have used his crosier sometimes as an oar and at other
times as a helm to save the struggling sailors from shipwreck. He is
also said to have appeared to King Alfred, the conquering Canute the
Dane, William the Conqueror, and others at critical moments. Thus,
until the time of Henry VIII, soldiers marched under a sacred standard
containing the corporal Cuthbert had used at Mass
Life and Miracles of Saint Cuthbert,
by the Venerable Bede
Icons of Saint Cuthbert
Shrine of Saint Cuthbert
Pectoral Cross of Saint Cuthbert
Monastery of St Anthony and St Cuthbert
The Preface from the Ancient Mass of St. Cuthbert:-
It is truly meet and just, right and availing to our salvation, that we
should always and in all places give thanks to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father
almighty, everlasting God, upon this day of the departure to Christ of
the most holy priest Cuthbert, who first of all became an example to
saints in his daily life, a life of most temperate and most chaste
conduct, and afterwards followed the contemplative life in the
wilderness for many years, nourished only by the love of the God of
deathless life, and then was chosen to the rank of the episcopate, being
invited not by his own will but by God's providence, and the counsel of
the churches. For he had ever fought manfully and mightily against flesh
and blood, and the rulers of this ?rial realm, seizing victory with the
helmet of hope for salvation, and the breastplate of righteousness, and
with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Word of God, and being
protected on the right hand and on the left, the soldier of God overcame
the battle-formations of the enemies, and the Lord wrought many miracles
by him, and he foretold his death many days before. For he commended the
governance of the people to the King and the Bishop, and he set out for
the holy desert, and he gave up his spirit to God the Father almighty
accompanied by a heavenly, holy multitude from the Gospel. Thee,
therefore, O Lord, we entreat, that by the intercession of holy Bishop
Cuthbert, we may be counted worthy to reach the harbour of joy, and the
heavenly realms of Him before Whom there stand innumerable choirs of
Angels and Archangels, and they say: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of
(from the complete Old Sarum Rite Missal
, publ. St. Hilarion Press,
tr. Fr. Aidan Keller)
St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne:
The English St. Seraphim of Sarov
I know that though they despised me during my life,
yet after my death they will see that my teachings are
not to be cast aside so lightly.
St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, known as
the Wonderworker of Britain,
seventh-century English hermit and bishop and St. Seraphim of Sarov,
preacher of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, a nineteenth century Russian
priest and monk. It might seem extraordinary to those outside the Orthodox
Church to compare two such people of different nationalities who lived
twelve centuries apart - but it should not.
Both St. Cuthbert and St. Seraphim dwelt and laboured in the selfsame
monastic spirit, which has its roots in the Gospels and the Apostles and the
Desert Fathers led by St. Antony the Great. From the third, fourth and fifth
centuries on, the influence of these Fathers was to spread both south and
north, east and west. Going south, their way of life spread down the Nile to
Ethiopia and the Sudan. Going east and then north, their ascetic teachings
and practices spread to Palestine, to what is now Turkey and Greece, to what
is now Armenia, Georgia, Iraq and Iran, later into the Balkans and Russia
and ultimately across the Volga into Siberia, Japan, China and Alaska. Going
west and then north, they spread to North Africa, Italy and Gaul, to Ireland
and the rest of the British Isles, then to Iceland and all Western Europe.
Thus the comparison between Russian and English holiness should not seem
strange: St. Seraphim and St. Cuthbert, both among the greatest saints of
their respective lands, shared the same spirit, that of the Desert Fathers.
Indeed had England remained within the Orthodox fold, we would today know
St. Cuthbert's life better than that of St. Seraphim. And thus today we
would be writing not of St. Cuthbert the English St. Seraphim, but rather of
St. Seraphim the Russian St. Cuthbert. Who then was St. Cuthbert?
He was born in c. 634 in Northern England, in the area of the present
Scottish Border. Of noble Anglian birth, at the age of eight he was taken in
by a foster-mother Kenswith, a widow and nun. Aged seventeen he became a
novice at the monastery of Melrose (now in southern Scotland). With other
monks he followed his Abbot and moved to Ripon in Yorkshire to start a new
monastery. Later he moved back to Melrose and then to Lindisfarne, an island
off the north-east coast of England. On small islands nearby, called St.
Cuthbert's Isle and Inner Farne, he was to live as a hermit. Visitors noised
his holiness abroad and in York on Easter Sunday 685, much against his will,
he was consecrated bishop by the Greek St. Theodore of Canterbury and six
other bishops. He reposed two years later, aged about fifty-three, on 20
March 687. Such is the outer history of St. Cuthbert, but what of his inner
From the outset, Cuthbert's life is permeated by his contact with the other
reality, the other world. Rebuked as an eight-year old child for his
light-hearted games and pranks, 'unseemly for a holy bishop', from this time
on he became serious and 'the Spirit spoke to him in the secret places of
his heart'. Visions were granted to him. Once he was healed of lameness by
an angel. Another time, when still a shepherd-boy on the Lammermuir Hills
and not yet a monk, he saw angels taking heavenward the soul of the great
St. Aidan. And as a monk, Cuthbert was to have visions and visitors from the
other world. As guestmaster at the monastery of Ripon, he entertained an
angel. This miracle did not make him proud, but humbled him and increased
his zeal. From then on angels often appeared to him and conversed with him.
Virtue and grace grew in him and at the age of thirty he became prior or
assistant-abbot at Lindisfarne. After many years, accomplished in the
obedience of monastic life and the renunciation of his own will, he received
the blessing to live as a hermit on Inner Farne. Here too he had contact
with another world, not that of the angels, but that of the fallen angels,
the demons who haunted that small island. Often they strived to cast him
from a rock into the ocean, or hurled stones at him, or sought to tempt him
and discourage him, but they failed to harm him or terrify him. Assailing
him, they were defeated by Cuthbert's prayer and strict fasting. Once these
devils had been cast out of the island, angels came and helped the hermit
build a cell and chapel. Another time, towards the end of his life, Cuthbert
was to see angels taking the soul of a devout monastic servant to heaven.
These visions of the real world, the world of the spirit which runs parallel
to this world of illusion, were granted to Cuthbert on account of his
humility and piety, expressed in his asceticism. Without prayer and fasting
and humble-mindedness, none of this would have been given him. Thus while
others slept, by the monastery of Coldingham he was once seen standing the
whole night up to his waist in the cold water of the North Sea, prayerfully
chanting the Psalter, returning to the monastery in the early morning in
time for the first service of the day. He lived the life of the Fathers of
the Early Church, as St. Gregory the Great, the Apostle of the English, had
recommended to St. Augustine. The first life of Cuthbert, written a few
years after his repose, records:
He was wonderfully forbearing and his courage
in bearing hardship in body and mind was unsurpassed ... .
Such was his zeal for prayer that sometimes he kept vigil
for three or four nights in a row without ever sleeping in
his bed. Whether he was praying alone in some hidden
place or reciting the psalms, he always did manual work
to fight off the heaviness of sleep.
He would spend Great Lent and Advent Lent, both forty days long, in prayer,
strict fasting and tears. His lowly spirit is summed up by his attitude to
his foreknowledge, given him by St. Boisil (Boswell) the Abbot of Melrose,
that one day he would be a bishop. Cuthbert said: 'If I could live in a tiny
dwelling on a rock in the ocean, surrounded by the swell, cut off from the
sight and knowledge of all men, I would still not be free from the cares of
this fleeting world, nor from the fear that the love of money might yet
snatch me away . This life is one which Cuthbert
led when he moved to Inner Farne, seven miles across the sea from
Lindisfarne. Here, having built a cell and chapel, he surrounded them with a
high, circular wall of rough stone and turf, so that all he could see was
the sky - this was all that was needful for his spirit.
The grace which Cuthbert acquired through his asceticism was revealed in his
pastoral activity. In theological terms, his love of God was followed by the
love of his neighbour. As prior at Melrose, Cuthbert gave advice not only to
the monks inside the monastery but also to the lay-people who lived around.
Often he would visit these surrounding villages, usually on foot, preaching.
The people would gather round him to listen to this angel-like monk,
confessing every sin to him, not daring to keep anything back, he would know
what was in their hearts anyway. He was full of sorrow at sin and could not
serve without tears. As penitents spoke of their sins, he would burst into
tears of compassion at their suffering and weakness. As a true spiritual
father he would himself do penance for them. In his labour of love he would
search out even the most rugged places in the hills and would live with the
rough folk for up to a month, setting an example of piety and preaching
among them. At Lindisfarne he did the same, taking on the role of Elder. By
his attitude he inspired all to live as the Christian should. Already a
hermit, people came to him, not only from Lindisfarne, but from all over
Britain, having heard of his miracles. They confessed to him, spoke of their
temptations, seeking consolation. It is written that no-one left unconsoled.
He warmed the hearts of the weak, he gave hope to the anxious, spoke of
heavenly joy to the disconsolate. He explained the wiles and workings of the
devil to those tempted, explained that this world is transitory, all passes
and that a soul lacking in love for God or man is always easy prey for the
And when he was made bishop, he followed the teachings and practices of the
apostles, praying for his spiritual flock, giving them first his own
example. He gave comfort to all and brought sinners to repentance. He
maintained the strictness of the monastery amid the temptations of worldly
glory: 'He fed the hungry, clothed the needy, and had all the marks of the
perfect bishop'.As a result of his humble asceticism, Cuthbert acquired many
gifts from the Creator. Firstly seeing his obedience to the Creator, the
Creator made Creation obedient to Cuthbert: in the Saint was restored the
obedience of Creation to Adam, whom Creation had formerly obeyed on account
of Adam's sinless humility: 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit
the earth'. This gift was shown in Cuthbert's power over the four elements,
earth, air, fire, water, and over the animal world. Once he stopped a fire
through praying for a change in the direction of the wind, on two occasions
he calmed storms at sea and another time the sea obeyed him, yielding him up
wood as he needed it. Many times birds and animals obeyed him. Once, fasting
on a Friday till the late afternoon, as he was wont, a horse found him half
a loaf of bread in the thatch of a house. He gave half of the bread to the
horse and took the rest for himself. Another time, after he had prayed all
night long in the sea, two sea-otters came to warm his feet and dry him with
their fur; they received his blessing. Again, after fasting, a large fish
was brought to him by an eagle. The fish was cut in two, half for the eagle,
half for a family and himself. 'Learn to have constant faith and hope in the
Lord. He who serves God shall never die of hunger', said Cuthbert. Another
time, when he ordered birds who had come to eat barley he had sown to
depart, they obeyed him. Ravens were reproved by
him and then later brought him lard as a sign of their repentance. 'What
care should men not take to learn obedience and humility', he said, 'when
even birds hasten to wash away their faults'.
A second gift for Cuthbert's gentle humility was the gift of prophecy, and
his second sight, knowledge of what was happening at the same time but in
another place. So close was he to the Eternal, that he overcame time and
space. Once, journeying by boat to Scotland, he and other monks were
beleaguered by a storm and had nothing to eat. Cuthbert remained trustful,
foreknowing that God would provide. Indeed they found portions of a dolphin
to eat, as though they had been prepared for them. Another time he cast
demons out of a sheriff's wife from a distance. Strong in the spirit of
prophecy, he foretold Abbess Elfleda that her brother King Ecgfrith would
die, that the next king would be Aldfrith and that he himself would become a
bishop, but only for two years. Later he was to see in spirit the death of
King Ecgfrith. To his soul-friend, the hermit Herbert of Derwentwater, he
foretold his own death, saying that their souls would leave their bodies at
the same time, 'that they would go forth together and behold the glory of
God's Mercy in Heaven'.
Another proof of the grace won by Cuthbert was in his miracles which healed
many from disease and affliction, including those infected with demons. As a
hermit he found water on barren rock, he healed Abbess Elfleda with his
belt, he healed with holy water, with holy oil, with blessed bread. By
prayer he healed a young man who had been brought to him dying and a boy
dying of the plague. His power over the demons was no less significant. Once
he stopped a phantom fire which the demons used to frighten the
faint-hearted, he banished demons from Inner Farne and again fought them
away before his death when they tempted him when for five days he lay ill.
Once he changed water into wine. And even on his death-bed he healed a
monastic servant. This was only the beginning for his healings and miracles
have continued after his death, even to the present day. Thus just as St.
Seraphim, born in Kursk, saved Russia through his intercessions at the
famous tank-battle of Kursk in 1943, so in 1942 St. Cuthbert, his relics
resting in Durham Cathedral, saved that city from the bombs of the Luftwaffe
shrouding the city in thick fog on the night of their raid.
This grace that St. Cuthbert won did not leave his body with his soul. After
his repose everything that belonged to him was touched by grace, be it his
shoes which healed a paralytic, a calf-skin which healed the hermit St.
Felgild, or even soil from where the relics of the saint of God had lain.
Eleven years after his repose in 698, when the monks of Lindisfarne were
prompted to open St. Cuthbert's coffin, they found the relics intact, the
body looked alive, even the saint's vestments looked new. The monks were
instructed by Bishop Edbert to put new vestments on the relics in place of
those that they had taken off, saying: 'See how is honoured the form of an
earthly body, foretokening the much greater glories to come! Thou Lord hast
brought forth might from these dear bones of Cuthbert, filling the Church
with the very air of Paradise'.
Having then related something of the life of St. Cuthbert, the reader might
well wonder how all this was possible. Why were such extraordinary gifts
granted to Cuthbert? The answer we find in the Life of the Saint written
shortly after his repose. Speaking of the healing at a distance of the
sheriff's wife from a demon, it is written that Cuthbert was 'filled with
the Holy Spirit' and that this was why, sensing Cuthbert's prayer, the demon
was forced to leave the woman, being unable to bear the Saint's approach.
Again, in all the difficulties Cuthbert faced in the coenobitic life with
other monks, it is written that, 'it was clear to all that it was the Holy
Spirit within that gave him strength to smile at attacks from without'. Like
St. Seraphim, St. Cuthbert too had 'acquired the Holy Spirit', the same Holy
Spirit, borne by the Church of God, Who indwells in all the faithful,
uniting all ages, cultures and lands.
'Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved', said St. Seraphim of
Sarov. It is not difficult to hear St. Cuthbert saying the same. In England
and Scotland some eighty-three churches were to be dedicated to St.
Cuthbert, making him the most popular native Saint. And after St. Cuthbert,
Lindisfarne was to be called 'Holy Island', becoming the Athos of England.
Its holy Abbots succeeded one another: St. Aidan, St. Finan, St. Colman, St.
Eata, St. Cuthbert, St. Edbert, St. Edfrith, St. Ethilwald. Here in honour
of St. Cuthbert St. Edfrith wrote, and St. Billfrith the hermit adorned, the
Lindisfarne Gospels, magnificent treasure of Christendom, with their
portraits of the four Evangelists, their names written in Greek in Latin
letters (1). And when in 1104 St. Cuthbert's relics were translated, a still
surviving seventh-century copy of the Gospel of St. John was found lying on
an inner lid of the coffin - it may well have been St. Cuthbert's own. When
in 1827 St. Cuthbert's relics were examined again, the coffin lid was found
to depict Christ with the symbols of the four Evangelists. The sides of the
coffin were adorned with the Twelve Apostles, five Archangels and the Holy
Mother of God. Inside were the holy relics, together with a wooden
altar-top, a bone-comb, silks from Constantinople and Persia, a stole
embroidered in the Eastern Roman style by devout English ladies in the tenth
century, and St. Cuthbert's own pectoral cross, with at its centre a shell
from the Indian Ocean.
Monastic life has never been restored at Lindisfarne since the Viking
onslaught of 794. And today Holy Island with St. Cuthbert's Isle and Inner
Farne, now a bird sanctuary, with their cormorants and cliffs, seals and
gannets, stormy seas and eider duck, still today called St. Cuthbert's duck,
are the only visible remains of that place where once St. Cuthbert prayed
and fasted, healed and preached, advised and consoled, drove out the
demon-hordes, doing penance for mankind, until, 'strengthened by the Body
and Blood of the Lord and made ready for the death that he knew was now at
hand, he raised his eyes heavenwards, stretched his arms aloft and with his
mind rapt in the praise of the Lord, sent forth his spirit to the bliss of
Holy Father Cuthbert, pray to God for us!
(1) Bishop Edfrith toiled for over two years on these Gospels, icons of the
Word of God. Although the holy man used such simple materials as soot, glue
and water for ink, and egg white for adhesion, he did use forty five
different colours to illuminate the manuscript. These colours came from egg
yolk, animals, insects, berries, fruit, flowers, red and white lead,
verdigris, indigo (made from an oriental plant) and blue lapis
lazuli -obtainable only from the Himalayas. How in the early eighth century
this Himalayan precious stone came to the shores of Northumbria is one of
the unwritten but still fabulous stories of Orthodox Christianity in these
More details of the book The Lighted Way
and where to buy it, can be found
on The English Orthodox Trust page of the site.