Who is St. Cuthbert? St. Cuthbert (c. 634 – 20 March 687) was a saint of the early Northumbrian church in the Celtic tradition. He was a monk, bishop and hermit. But not in that order. Or maybe. After his death (and this is when he got mega famous) he became one of the MOST notable medieval saints of Northern England as he is regarded as the patron saint of Northern England. His feast day is 20 March. Cuthbert grew up near Melrose Abbey (which twins with Melrose Place). It is located in Lindisfame, present day Scotland. Cuthbert decided to become a monk after seeing a vision on the night in 651 that St. Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne, died. I have visions ALL the time but it doesn’t want make me want to go and join a monastery. But that’s just me.
As St. Cuthbert was a pious man, there was an expectation of miracle performing. Further, central to St Cuthbert’s cult was the greatest miracle of all: his uncorrupt body, a sign of great purity and holiness. This miracle was first witnessed in AD698, and occurred approximately 11 years after his death, when Cuthbert’s body was elevated from its tomb on Lindisfarne and found to be undecayed, as flexible as a living man. The miracle of incorruption is certainly not unique to Cuthbert. What is unusual is that this miracle was witnessed and recorded on many more occasions. Enter scary music and a hand held camera. Yup. And in the 16th Century, Henry VIII’s men were so awestruck by the preserved state of Cuthbert that they ceased their destruction at Durham Cathedral. And for anyone who knows me at all, knows that I have mad love for Durham Cathedral.
St Cuthbert’s medieval cult attracted devotees from far and wide, most of them seeking a cure. As a living hermit on Lindisfarne and then on the Farne Islands, Cuthbert had healed Northumbrian royalty and other local people. He was that good. And later, by the 12th and 13th Centuries, Cuthbert was reported to be curing nobles and paupers, lay and religious, from across England and Scotland, and one man from Norway. Ailments cured ranged from paralysis and demonic possession to gout, leprosy, haemorrhages and toothache-but the cure for the common cold largely alluded him. Shame. Many of those seeking a cure would make a pilgrimage to the shrine, but miraculous intervention could also be sought at one of the many churches dedicated to St Cuthbert around England and southern Scotland. Amazing.
Finally, I would like to add that in such a rich saintly market, it was important to show the pre-eminence of Cuthbert’s abilities, and Durham accounts of competitive sainthood show him outshining others including St Edmund and Thomas Becket. And if you don’t know whom I am referring to in bold, we may have to rethink our friendship. I kid.