A lowly shepherd named Cuthbert became a monk after he had a vision in which he saw the soul of the Celtic missionary Aidan carried to heaven by angels. In entering the church, he was influenced by one of his playmates, who prophesied that one day he would become a bishop. Like Aidan, Cuthbert was a monk in the Irish tradition. In the seventh century, the Irish observed Easter on a different date than Rome and cut their hair differently, too. This prompted spats in England. King Alhfrith even refused to allow Abbot Eata and Cuthbert to settle at Ripon unless they agreed to the Roman forms.
The issue was resolved at the synod of Whitby in 664, which opted for the Roman observances. Cuthbert accepted the decision. A hardworking preacher, he spread the gospel throughout parts of Northumbria. According to Bede, "He was mostly accustomed to travel to those villages which lay in out-of-the-way places among the mountains, which by their poverty and natural horrors deterred other visitors. Eata made him prior of Lindisfarne although his own inclination was to become a hermit. Eventually he was allowed to live alone on the Isle of Farne where many visited him for spiritual advice.
His solitude did not last. On this day, March 26, 685, he was named bishop of Hexam. Rather than leave Lindisfarne, he swapped sees with Eata and became bishop of Lindisfarne instead, after which he was consecrated at York. He remained a man of deep spiritual sensitivity. His biographers said he never could celebrate mass without tears, so strongly did Christ's sacrifice affect him. Two years after becoming bishop, Cuthbert died. But his story had only begun.
Eleven years later, in 698, his body was dug up. It had not decayed. This awed everyone. Surely it was proof of his sanctity!
In the Medieval way, he was venerated. People prayed to him. Traditions grew around him. Admirers wrote and embellished his story. In his honor, monks produced The Lindisfarne gospel, one of the most elegant English manuscripts ever illuminated. Bede researched his life and wrote of prophecies, miracles of healing and meals from God.
The monks moved Cuthbert's body in time to save it from the Viking destruction of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert's shrine in Durham was considered one of the holiest places of Medieval England. When King Henry VIII sent commissioners to pillage the tomb, Cuthbert was found still incorrupt. Out of respect, the king's men permitted him to be reburied. Objects from his tomb survive to this day.
- Albertson, Clinton, editor and translator. Anglo-Saxon Saints and Heroes. Bronx, N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 1967.
- Bede. A History of the English Church and People [Ecclesiastical History of England]. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1968.
- Burton, Edwin. "St. Cuthbert." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Cuthbert." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921-1996.
- "Cuthbert, Saint." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
- "Cuthbert, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church #6. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1964. p. 70.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.