636 - 687AD


St. Cuthbert’s name is believed to be Saxon, not Celtic. At the age of 8 years he was living with a widow named Kenswith, whom he regarded as a mother. Reared a shepherd in Northumbria, he had adequate opportunity to quietly commune with God on the great pasturages and hills of that beautiful county. When he was 15, at the end of August 651, he had a vision which decided him to consecrate his life to God.

From his boyhood he had always longed to enter the religious life, and as soon as he could, he became a monk, and in 651 AD he entered the monastery of Melrose on the banks of the River Tweed, then ruled by the Abbot Eata, who later became the bishop of the church of Hexham.

In 661, Cuthbert was made Prior of Melrose on the death of Boisil, the prior who had received and instructed him there at his entry into the religious life. Cuthbert did not restrict his teaching to the monastery, but worked to rouse the ordinary folk far and near to exchange their foolish customs for heavenly ones. At the time of plague, many had resorted to idolatry, and other devilish and secret arts. He used mainly to to visit and preach in the villages amongst the high and inaccessible mountains, which others feared to visit, often staying away for two weeks or even an entire month, before he returned home.

In 664, after many years of faithful service at Melrose, the Abbot Eata transferred him to be Prior of Lindisfarne, Eata being at this time also Abbot of Lindisfarne as well as Melrose.

Here at Lindisfarne, Cuthbert felt more and more drawn to a life of seclusion and solitary contemplation, and in 676, he withdrew to the island of Farne. Here, the brethren helped him to build a tiny dwelling surrounded by a ditch, together with an oratory and a communal shelter. He then directed them to dig a well in the floor of the shelter, and this filled with water, and provided an ample supply for all who came there. He became able to support himself with corn and food by his own labour. For years, Cuthbert served God in a hut surrounded by an embankment so high that he could see nothing but the heavens for which he longed so ardently.

In 685, he was elected Bishop of the church at Lindisfarne, at the great Synod under the leadership of the Archbishop Theodore, and in the presence of King Egfrid, but nothing would induce him to abandon his hermitage. At length, the King in person, accompanied by Bishop Trumwine and other devout men, took boat to the island. Profoundly reluctant, Cuthbert at last bowed to the unanimous decision of the whole assembly, and was persuaded to assume his new. position. After the .Winter he was consecrated at York on Easter Day in the presence of the King and the primate Theodore, assisted by six other bishops.

After spending two years in his bishopric, Cuthbert returned to his island hermitage, God having shown him that the day of his death was drawing near.

There was a priest named Herebert, who had for a long time been a spiritual friend of Cuthbert, and who lived the life of a hermit on an isle in the great lake which is the source of the River Derwent, in Cumberland, and who used to visit Cuthbert each year to converse on the things of God. Having heard that Cuthbert was visiting the city of Lugubalia, (Carlisle) he went to visit him as usual, and became distraught when told of Cuthbert’s premonition of his death. He asked Cuthbert to pray to Almighty God that they might pass away together. Cuthbert prayed, and then assured Herebert that his prayer was heard. After they parted, they never again saw each other in this life, and on the twentieth of March, 687, their souls left their bodies on the same day, and passed into the keeping of God. Cuthbert died on Farne Island, and had at first asked the brethren to bury him there in the place where he had served God for so long, but at length he had yielded to their entreaties, and his body was taken back to Lindisfarne and buried inside the church. He was succeeded by Eadbert.

In his life, Cuthbert was known as a man of prayer, and like any good teacher, he taught others to do only what he first practiced himself. Above all, he was afire with heavenly love, unassumingly patient, and kindly to all who came to him for comfort. His self-discipline and fasting were exceptional, and he was always intent on the things of Heaven.

His body remained on Lindisfarne for 188 years, until the Danes began to descend upon the Northumbrian coast. In 875, his body was moved by monks, who wandered with it all over Northumbria. In 883 it came to rest at Chester-le-Street in County Durham. Because of further danger it was moved again in 995 to Ripon, and on its return north in 999 was finally buried at Durham Cathedral in a magnificent shrine.

At the Dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIIIth. the shrine was desecrated, but the monks secretly reburied his bones. In 1827 these were re-discovered.

Cuthbert is usually represented as carrying in his hands the head of King Oswald. This was buried with him, and found when the coffin was opened at Durham in 1104.

The South window in the chancel of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Nether Denton, by Charles Alexander Gibbs, records this tradition.

Note: The source of much of this information was Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Books, 1955 rev. 1990)

This page was compiled by Dennis Adams and Fred Chipchase on behalf of Nether Denton Parochial Church Council (c) 1999

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