1902 Encyclopedia > St Cuthbert

St Cuthbert
(St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne)
Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop and mediaeval saint
(c. 634 - 687)

ST CUTHBERT (...-687). The precise date and place of the birth of Cuthbert are unknown. Some writers assert that he was born in Ireland. It is much more probable, or rather it is almost certain, that he wag of English descent, and born in that part of the kingdom of Northumbria which lay north of the Tweed, and was afterwards included in the Scottish kingdom. The original abbey of Melrose—to be distinguished from the later Cistercian foundation of that name, which lies higher up the Tweed—had been founded before the middle of the 7th century. The first abbot was Eata, one of the twelve English disciples of the Scottish Aidan; and under him Cuthbert, then probably in early youth, became a monk. He accompanied Eata on the latter being appointed superior of the monastery at Ripon, founded by Alchfrid, son of Oswy, king of Northumbria. When the dispute arose between the English and Scottish ecclesiastics as to the proper time of keeping Easter, Eata, rather than con-form to the English usage, returned to Melrose along with Cuthbert, who soon afterwards was appointed prior of that monastery. Eata having subsequently adopted the English rule was appointed abbot of Lindisfarne by king Oswy, and Cuthbert, still accompanying him, held the office of prior. Under the influence of that intense desire to lead a life of absolute solitude by which the Scottish monks of the school of St Columba were so frequently impelled, Cuthbert, after a residence of considerable duration at Lindisfarne, resigned his office and retired to the neighbouring island of Fame. From this seclusion Egfrid, king of Northumbria, endeavoured to recall him. Cuthbert at first resisted the king's entreaties, but was at last induced to comply and to become bishop of Lindisfarne. He was consecrated at York during the Easter festival of 685 by Theodore, arch-bishop of Canterbury. After exercising his episcopal office for two years he again retired to his solitude of Fame, where he died on the 20th of March 687.

During his lifetime Cuthbert had been reverenced as a saint, a reverence which his holy life and faithful discharge of all his duties had well deserved. His austere and secluded mode of living added greatly to the estimation in which he was held, and as usual at that period the per-formance of miracles was freely ascribed to him. Two accounts of his life were written within a short time after his decease, one by an unknown author, the other by the most distinguished ecclesiastic of the age—the Venerable Bede. They give an interesting account of Cuthbert while prior of Melrose. His labours were not confined to his monastery. He went about the country, sometimes on horseback, but more frequently on foot, preaching to the rude people, and instructing them in their religious duties, following in all respects the example of St Aidan and the other early Scottish missionaries. When bishop of Lindisfarne he continued to act in the same manner, as well knowing, to use the words of Bede, that " He who said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, also said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

The fame of Cuthbert increased as time went on, and excelled that of all the saints of the north. His remains were preserved at Lindisfarne as the most precious treasure of the church; and, when the island towards the end of the 9th century was attacked by the heathen Danes, the monks fled, carrying the relics with them, which were finally deposited at Durham, when that city became the seat of the Northumbrian bishopric. During the Middle Ages his shrine at Durham was almost asfamousasthat of St Thomas at Canterbury, and attracted the visits of innumerable pilgrims. The English army rallied round the banner of St Cuthbert at the battle of Neville's Cross, and it is said to have been carried for the last time at the rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, in the reign of Henry VIII. When the whole mediaeval system was beginning to crumble, and after its entire overthrow, the popular reverence for his name did not cease in his own northern region. The last Roman Catholic bishop of Durham, and not the least famous of his line, was Cuthbert Tunstall; and in the present century one of our most renowned seamen was Cuthbert Collingwood, the friend and colleague of Nelson.

The original authorities for the life of St Cuthbert are the two biographies already referred to and the notices in Bede's Ecclesias- tical History. Bede mentions that what he wrote, whether in the history or in the life, was derived from the records of the monastery of Lindisfarne, or from the testimony of those to whom Cuthbert was personally known. (G. G.)

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