Northern Saints

Cuthbert — the hermit bishop of Lindisfarne.

St. Cuthbert and the Otters. — A beautiful icon by Christabel Anderson.

The life of the hermit bishop of Lindisfarne who became the great saint of the north country is well documented by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History. Bede was fourteen when Cuthbert died on Inner Farne and must have met and spoken with many who knew Cuthbert well. After his death Cuthbert’s body lay entombed on Lindisfarne, which became an island of pilgrimage for thousands making their way across the sandy causeway between tides to pay homage, and , in many recorded cases to find miraculous healing powers at his shrine. Eleven years to the day after Cuthbert’s death, his body was disintered and found to be incorrupt.

Bede had been dead for more than half a century when the dragon prows of the Viking Longships appeared off the Northumbrian coast and began their raids on their first visit to Lindisfarne. The monks fled their island and retreated inland in search of greater safety, taking with them the body of their beloved Saint Cuthbert in its splendidly carved coffin also containing the great gospel book of Lindisfarne. They journeyed north up to the Firth of Forth and as far west as the Solway, after which they eventually settled at Chester-Le-Street, where Cuthbert’s remains lay for 100 years.

This bronze statue of Lindisfarne monks carrying St.Cuthbert’s body is to be found in Durham city centre. It is a copy of an original wooden sculpture called “The Journeyby Dr. Fenwick Lawson.

By this time the Viking raiders had become settlers and the rising pressure in the north forced the Lindisfarne community to move on once again. They were eventually drawn back towards the river Wear at Durham where they stayed and built their church over the new tomb of their saint. This church was later replaced by the building which has become his resting place for over a thousand years, the magnificent cathedral of Durham.

Cuthbert’s Early Life.
Cuthbert grew up near Melrose Abbey, Scotland, which was then in Northumbria, and in his youth tended sheep on the Lammermuir hills above the abbey. When he was about 18 he had a life changing experience. He had a vision of the soul being carried to Heaven by angels, and , next day he learned of the death of St. Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne. This vision may have inspired him to enter holy orders at Melrose. When the monastery at Ripon was founded, Cuthbert was chosen to be its master.Being adherent of the Celtic Rite tradition of the Catholic church, Cuthbert returned to Melrose in 661 after Ripon decided to adopt the Roman Rite. In 664 he became Prior of Melrose after the death of Prior Biosil, his mentor.

Moving on to Lindisfarne.
His Priorship at Melrose did not last long. In the same year the Synod of Whitby settled the on-going dispute between Roman and Celtic in favour of the former and Cuthbert had to adopt the Roman rule. He was sent to the Priory of Lindisfarne to ease the transition of this process.
In 676 he was given leave to retire to take up the simple life of a hermit, which was his desire. He moved to the nearby Farne Island opposite Bamburgh, which was very remote. After several years as a hermit Cuthbert was reluctantly persuaded by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria to return to a more active role in the church and became Bishop of Lindisfarne.

King Ecgfrith and Bishop Trumwine persuade Cuthbert to leave his seclusion on the Farne Islands to become Bishop of Hexham AD 684.
The above painting is by Victorian artist William Bell Scott, and is one of Scott’s panel paintings in the Central Hall at Wallington, Northumberland. The Eider Duck ( bottom left of painting ) is significant with St. Cuthbert, who protected the colony that breed on the Farnes. About 1,000 pairs still breed there every year.

Cuthberts life as a hermit emphasised his love for all of God’s creatures and he is the north of England’s equivelant of St. Francis. When he instituted the special laws to protect the Eider Duck colony and other seabirds nesting on the Farnes it became the first known instance of bird protection laws.

Cuthbert and the Otters.
Cuthbert visited a monastery at a place called Coludesbyrig on the Berwickshire coast at the request of a nun called Ebba, who was in charge of the monastery. He was asked to attend for the purpose of exhoration. In his customary fashion Cuthbert went out alone at night to pray while the others were at rest, and after keeping long vigil through the dead of night would return to the building in time for them to say office together. One night a young monk secretly followed him out into the night to discover where he went. He followed him down to the sea-shore benieth the monastery and watched Cuthbert go deep into the sea until the waves rose up around his neck and arms. He spent the dark hours watching and singing praises accompanied by the sound of the waves. When dawn approached he went onto the land and again began to pray kneeling on the shore. As he did so there at once came out from the sea two otters. Stretching themselves out in front of him on the sand, they began to warm his feet with their breath, and sought to dry him with their fur. The otters then received his blessing and returned to the sea. The monk was overcome with fear and later confessed to Cuthbert that he had spied on him. Cuthbert forgave him but told him not to tell anyone. The monk kept this secret until after Cuthbert’s death.

Short return as Bishop of Lindisfarne.
After King Ecgfrith’s persuasion Cuthbert’s consecration was held at York on Easter 685. He returned to Lindisfarne but his time was short. By Christmas 686 he felt death approaching, resigned as Bishop and returned to Farne Island, where he died on 20th March 687 and was buried at Lindisfarne the same day.

St. Oswald – The King who took his cross onto the battlefield.

Wooden sculpture of St. Oswald by Jethro Harris at St. Oswald’s church, Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

The above photograph is used with the kind permission of Early British Kingdoms website address :- .

Oswald was born in 604, the son of King Aethelfrith of Bernicia. Aethelfrith was killed in battle around 616, and, his sons including Oswald, fled in exile to Iona. Oswald became King of Northumbria in 634, after defeating the Welsh King Cadwallen at Heavenfield near Hexham in Northumbria. Before battle Oswald had a wooden cross erected, prayed and asked his meagre army to join in, informing them that on the previous night he had a vision of Columbo in which he was told they would be victorious. Cadwallen’s large army was routed despite their superior numbers and Cadwallen himself was killed. Oswald took back his Kingdom bringing Bernicia and Deira together again as a single Kingdom.
Oswald promoted the spread of Chrisianity in Northumbria and together with Aidan founded the monastery at Lindisfarne.
Oswald was killed in battle at Maserfelth, known today as Masefield by the heathen Mercian army led by Penda on 5th. August 642. During his lifetime Oswald never failed to provide for the sick and needy and to give alms and aid. Many miracles are reported as having occurred at the spot where he was slain at Masefield and also at Heavenfield where  his army were victorious. 
Bede — The Father of English History.

“THE LAST CHAPTER” ~ Oil on canvas. Painting by J.D.Penrose


On the eastern wall of the vestry of St.Paul’s in Jarrow, hangs an imposing print of a  picture of the Venerable Saint Bede, the scholar monk known as the “Father of English History”, who since his arrival at the monastery as a young boy, spent his entire lifetime there doing God’s work.
The picture is an image of Bede only hours before he died. In attendance are two of his fellow monks looking somewhat distressed, while Bede himself however, carries on working. A young scribe is by his side and he is determined to finish his present task before he goes to meet his maker. It is no mere coincidence that he finishes his work in hand, translating St.John’s Gospel into the English tongue, which he dictates to the scribe and completes just hours before his soul departs on the eve of Ascension Day 735.
It is also no coincidence that he arrived at this particular monastery in the first place, especially as the monastery was to become a seat of learning acquiring world-wide fame. We are told by the man himself that his relatives took him to the monastery when he was 7 years old and he was entrusted into the care of the founder of the monastery and it’s first Abbot, St. Benedict Biscop. Due to Biscop’s workload and frequent travels to Rome, Bede was later entrusted into the care of Brother Ceolfrith, who was to become the Abbot of the new foundation at Jarrow, to which Bede was transferred at the age of 12 in 685. The libraries at Jarrow and Wearmouth were a haven for monks like Bede with a thirst for knowledge and Bede himself was enthusiastic to impart such knowledge onto his fellow monks. Biscop was the man who adorned the libraries at Jarrow and Wearmouth with the many books he had collected on his travels. This resulted in the monastery having libraries second to none and it became a one of world-wide renown. No doubt the young Bede would have taken full advantage of having at his disposal the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of modern day unlimited access to the Reading Room of the British Library.
During his lifetime Bede wrote over sixty books, which also included manuscripts and commentries on the scriptures, and his writings are of immense interest to current day historians. Unfortunately most of the books he wrote are beleived to have perished during the Viking invasions of the monastery in the 8th. and 9th. centuries. His most famous book still available in print today is “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” This book is regarded as the first recognisable written history of England, covering the period from the Roman Conquest until the decades that preceded the first onslought of the Vikings. Bede completed this book in AD 731, four years before his death. It is interesting to note that these great works of English history were penned by a scholar monk, born in the 7th. century, living a humble life in a monastery in the north-east of England, who seldom left the confines of his monastic home.
Apart from his literary skills, Bede was adept at speaking several languages including Greek, Hebrew and Latin, and his command of these languages was necessary for his translating abilities.
In 1899 Bede was made a “Doctor of the Church” by Leo X111, a position of theological significance. He is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation.
The original oil painting of “THE LAST CHAPTER” dated 1902 is by J.D.Penrose. It is oil on canvas and measures 20″ X 16″. It was sold on 21st. April 2010 by a private owner at Bonham’s Auction Gallery, New York for $11,000 and is now in a private collection in Vancouver.