Life Story of St Cuthbert

Cuthbert was born in 634/5. He was a shepherd for the monks at Melrose when he had a vision telling him of the death of St Aidan, far away in Bamburgh. Throughout his youth, other instances like this happened. In 651, he was admitted as a monk at Melrose. The prior Boisil became his teacher. Recognising him as a leader, Boisil and Eata, the abbot, sent Cuthbert to Ripon to set up a new monastery; not an easy place, as Cuthbert favoured the more contemplative Celtic traditions of the church and Wilfred, under whose jurisdiction he fell, favoured the Roman practices. Eventually, Wilfred took over Ripon and Cuthbert and his men had to return to Melrose. Cuthbert and Boisil along with many others caught the plague which was ravaging the population. Cuthbert recovered, but Boisil died in 661. In 663 the Synod of Whitby decided to follow the Roman usages of the church and the Celtic ways were out of favour. Cuthbert became the prior of Melrose. He was determined that after the decision at Whitby the church should not be divided. He travelled all over the countryside, helping and converting the people, and he was much revered. They called him “the fire of the north”. Cuthbert, though, was really one to find out-of-the-way places to meditate and worship such as mountaintops or the coast. The busier he became, the more he needed the solitude.

There were many accounts of miracles performed by him, such as the time when he and other monks were stranded further north in a storm, and Cuthbert said they should head back to the beach where they found fish for three days and after that the storm abated and they came home safely. On another occasion, he and another monk were miles from anywhere and had nothing to eat, but Cuthbert stood with his arms stretched out in the shape of a cross and an eagle flew down and caught a fish and set it at their feet. They shared the fish with the eagle. Cuthbert was transferred from Melrose to Lindisfarne. He still spent much of his time on the mainland preaching and healing the sick. At busy times he hardly slept, using the night time as his solitude time. Eventually he obtained permission to build a cell for himself on Inner Farne, where he could be secluded. There he grew his own food, and his only company were birds. Later in his life, he was persuaded to be consecrated bishop, a thing that Boisil had foreseen but Cuthbert dreaded, feeling he would not be worthy of the job. When he thought his life was coming to an end, he retired, and returned to his beloved Inner Farne and the birds. He wanted to be buried there, but the monks, knowing how much he meant to all the people, persuaded him that he should be buried in Lindisfarne abbey. He was buried in a sarcophagus he had made, but eventually the monks lifted the sarcophagus up and set it up above ground. Many pilgrims visited his resting place and many were the miracles which were recorded. When in 793 the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne for its wealth, the monks fled with St Cuthbert’s body in a wooden casket and travelled over many years seeking for a permanent resting place for it. He was finally placed in Chester-le-Street, but then later transferred to Durham Cathedral.