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7 Things you Might Not Know About St Cuthbert

During my life as a priest in the Church of England, my longest tenure was in a church dedicated to St Cuthbert. For this reason, I have always felt a great affinity with St Cuthbert, whom the church commemorates on March 20th.

He is a fascinating figure in church history, so there are plenty of interesting facts to share. Here are NINE fascinating things you might not know about Cuthbert.

1. His birth

St Cuthbert was born around 634 in the region of Northumbria, which was then a kingdom in northern England. The exact location of his birth is unknown, but it is believed to have been in or around the village of Old Melrose, which is now in southeastern Scotland.

At the time of his birth, Northumbria was a centre of Christian culture and learning, and St Cuthbert was likely exposed to the faith from an early age.

2. His faith

Cuthbert is known for his remarkable piety and devotion to God. He was said to have been deeply committed to prayer and fasting, and he often withdrew from the world to spend time in solitude and contemplation.

One of the most famous legends about St Cuthbert concerns his encounter with a group of otters. According to legend, Cuthbert once came across a group of otters who had gathered around the body of a dead fisherman. The otters appeared to be mourning the man's death, which moved Cuthbert. He blessed the fisherman's body and the otters, and from that day on, it was said that the otters would come to Cuthbert's feet whenever he prayed by the river.

3. His missionary work

St Cuthbert's early life was marked by his work as a missionary, spreading the Gospel to the people of Northumbria. After being ordained as a priest in the late 660s, he travelled throughout the region, preaching and teaching to Christians and non-Christians alike.

One of St Cuthbert's most famous acts of evangelism occurred when he was serving as prior of the monastery at Melrose. According to legend, he encountered a group of horse thieves who had stolen a valuable mare from a local landowner. Rather than punish the thieves, St Cuthbert convinced them to return the horse and repent of their crime. This act of mercy and forgiveness is said to have inspired many in the region to turn to Christ.

4. His work as a Bishop

He was appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of Northumbria, in the year 685. As bishop, he was known for his humility, kindness, and concern for the poor and the marginalised.

One of St Cuthbert's most significant contributions as bishop was his involvement in the Synod of Whitby in 664. This was a council of the Church in Britain, at which the question of whether to follow the Celtic or Roman method of calculating the date of Easter was decided. St Cuthbert was a staunch defender of the Celtic tradition, but ultimately the decision was made to adopt the Roman method.

Although this disappointed him and many others, St Cuthbert remained committed to the unity of the Church and to his role as a bishop.

5. His withdrawal from public life

After serving as Bishop of Lindisfarne for several years, St Cuthbert felt a strong desire to withdraw from the world and devote himself entirely to a life of prayer and contemplation. In 676, he left his position as Prior of the monastery at Lindisfarne and retired to the small island of Inner Farne, which is located off the coast of Northumbria.

On Inner Farne, St Cuthbert lived in a small hut and spent much time praying and meditating. He continued to engage in acts of charity, ministering to the local people visiting the island and seeking his counsel and blessing.

He remained on Inner Farne for much of the remainder of his life, returning to Lindisfarne briefly in 684 to attend the consecration of Bishop Eadberht. He died on the island on March 20, 687, and was buried at Lindisfarne. Today, both Inner Farne and Lindisfarne are popular pilgrimage sites for Christians who seek to honour the memory and legacy of St Cuthbert.

6. His mythology

Cuthbert is the subject of several legends passed down through the centuries. Here are a few of the most notable ones:

The Miracle of the Girdle: According to this legend, a woman suffering from a severe illness prayed to St Cuthbert for healing. In response, the saint appeared to her in a vision and instructed her to make a girdle (a type of belt) and wear it around her waist. When she did so, she was instantly cured of her illness.

The Miracle of the Ravens: This legend tells of a time when St Cuthbert lived as a hermit on Inner Farne. One day, a flock of ravens stole his provisions and flew away with them. When St Cuthbert called out to them, the ravens returned and laid the food at his feet.

The Miracle of the Boat: According to this story, St Cuthbert once travelled by boat when a violent storm blew up. The boat was tossed about on the waves, but St Cuthbert remained calm and prayed for safety. Suddenly, the storm subsided, and the boat was carried safely to shore.

These legends and others like them testify to St Cuthbert's reputation as a holy and miraculous figure whose intercession was sought after by many. While we can't know whether these stories are historically accurate, they continue to capture the imagination and inspire awe and wonder in those who hear them.

7. His relics

St Cuthbert's relics were the subject of much veneration in the centuries after his death. His tomb at Lindisfarne became an important pilgrimage site, and many miracles were attributed to his intercession. In the 9th century, when Viking raiders threatened Northumbria, the monks of Lindisfarne took St Cuthbert's body with them as they fled.

The monks eventually settled at Durham, building a magnificent shrine to house the saint's relics. His reliquary can be observed today in Durham Cathedral.

Almighty God, who gave your servant Cuthbert
a deep love for you and a burning zeal for your Gospel:
Grant that we, inspired by his example and encouraged by his prayers,
may follow in his footsteps of faith and devotion.
May we seek your face with the same fervour and dedication
that he showed in his life of prayer and contemplation,
and may we bear witness to your love and grace in the world,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


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