Saint Cuthbert

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Cuthbert, St (d. 687). Known, from two near contemporaries, an anonymous biographer at Lindisfarne and Bede, who wrote three accounts, as a man who conversed with angels, struggled against demons, had prophetic vision, and mortified his flesh. Probably of aristocratic Anglo-Saxon origin, and born in Northumbria c.635, Cuthbert was prompted by a vision of the soul of Aidan to enter the monastery at Melrose, where he trained under Boisil. With Abbot Eata, he entered Alchfrith of Deira's new monastery at Ripon (late 650s), but returned after refusing to accept Roman practices. Cuthbert became prior in 664 and undertook teaching tours in Northumbria. He also visited Pictish Christians, with whom he was apparently on friendly terms. After the Synod of Whitby (664), Eata removed to Lindisfarne. Cuthbert followed and became prior, but had some difficulties managing the monks. He retreated to Farne Island (c.676) but was, reluctantly, made bishop of part of Northumbria under Archbishop Theodore (685). His seat was at Lindisfarne. He retired in 686, in failing health, and died in 687, on Farne. In 698, in promotion of his cult, his remains, buried at Lindisfarne, were exhumed and enshrined, in which process they were found to be incorrupt, and for which the Lindisfarne Gospels may have been produced. Near the royal seat at Bamburgh, Lindisfarne enjoyed royal patronage and prospered and the cult of Cuthbert became a political force. Tenth-cent. West Saxon kings' patronage of Cuthbert in the north, and promotion of his cult in the south, were, partly, attempts to unify their realm and legitimize their authority. Legitimization is the motive behind the tale of Cuthbert promising Alfred, in a vision, rule of all Britain for himself and his descendants, in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto. This was written mainly in the mid-10th cent., at Chester-le-Street, Scandinavian pressure having caused the community to move. In 995 it reached Durham, where a new shrine was established in 1104. Here Cuthbert attracted many pilgrims, gained a reputation for misogyny, and was perceived as champion of the community. His repose suffered from Henry VIII's commissioners, and again in 1827, when his grave was reopened, likewise in an atmosphere of religious tensions, and some of his relics were dispersed. His 698 decorated coffin survives, in fragments, now displayed with his pectoral cross and some Anglo-Saxon gifts to his shrine in the cathedral.

Cuthbert was no stranger to politics. We see him discussing the royal succession with Abbess Ælfflæd of Whitby (684), as adviser to King Ecgfrith, and to his widow Iurminburg (685). Becoming bishop involved opposition to Wilfrid who claimed all Northumbria. His retirement may have discreetly anticipated Wilfrid's forthcoming return. Cuthbert's promotion as saint, and his historiography, are, in part, episodes in the long-running dispute between two parties, each emphasizing its positive contribution to Northumbrian Christianity and its adherence to Roman practice. There is for example a propagandist element in the depiction of St Peter on Cuthbert's coffin.

This makes it hard to discover what Cuthbert was really like and really stood for. His training, some episodes in his career, his asceticism, and some of his miracles (often involving animals and birds) suggest his values were in the Irish tradition, ascetic and contemplative. But his cross suggests that as bishop he cut a more magnificent figure than this might imply. Both biographers give some continental dimension to his traits, behaviour, and values. In Bede's pages Cuthbert harmoniously combines both traditions, as a Northumbrian St Benedict (of Nursia) and embodiment of the episcopal virtues expounded by Pope Gregory I: an exemplar for Bede's contemporaries.

A. E. Redgate

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Cuthbert, St (d. 687), English monk, who lived as a hermit on Farne Island before becoming bishop of Lindisfarne. After Viking raids on Lindisfarne at the end of the 9th century, Cuthbert's body was taken by the monks seeking a new home for the community; after years of travel, they settled at Durham, where Cuthbert's shrine now is. His feast day is 20 March.
St Cuthbert's beads detached and perforated joints of fossil crinoids found along the Northumbrian coast.
St Cuthbert's duck a name for the eider duck, which breeds on the Farne Islands.

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Cuthbert, St (d. 687). Bishop of Lindisfarne from 685. After the synod of Whitby, he was instrumental in winning acceptance of Roman usages at Lindisfarne. The cult of Cuthbert was especially popular from this time in N. England. Feast day, 20 Mar.

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