aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Happy St. Cuthbert's Day!

March 20 is the Feast Day of Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne. He died in 687. He was a great Christian leader. I have prayed at his tomb (in Durham Cathedral). Off the coast of Holy Island (the site of Lindisfarne), there is a little spit of land, where Cuthbert built himself a hut when he was the head of the monastic community (and later, bishop). At low tide, it is joined to the rest of the island. At high tide, it is cut off. When Cuthbert needed to get away from the press of duties and the clamor of others wanting his attention, he would retire to his hut and for the next several hours enjoy complete peace and quiet.

Cuthbert had his spiritual training in the Celtic monastic tradition. When the Northumbrian church agreed to align its practices with Roman ones at the Synod of Whitby, he accepted the result. His leadership helped smooth the difficulties of the transition. He was a peacemaker, unlike his prickly contemporary, Wilfrid. As a bishop, Cuthbert travelled his diocese on foot. He carried a portable folding altar with which he could celebrate the eucharist in whatever village he happened to be.

When he felt his death approaching, he resigned his office and retired to the Farne Islands, where he forbade anyone to hunt the local waterfowl (since known as cuddy ducks, or "Cuthbert's ducks"). His command was the first such known environmental regulation in European history; the Farne Islands are still a bird sanctuary. He died on Farne and was buried there, but he didn't stay there. His followers reinterred his body on Holy Island. When the Vikings sacked Lindisfarne Abbey, Cuthbert's body was moved to the mainland, finally ending up at Chester-le-Street for many years. When Durham Cathedral was built, his body was moved there. Buried with him was the beautiful piece known as St. Cuthbert's cross, a pocket edition of the Gospel of John, and his portable altar.

Cuthbert was one of the famous "incorrupt" saints. His body didn't decay normally, despite being dragged around all over Northumbria. His face remained recognizable for many centuries. Before the Reformation, they used to open his tomb on his feast day every year, so that everyone could see the saint. His tomb is still covered with metal doors that were made to be opened, but they are now permanently sealed shut.

He was a man of great learning and also great humility. He is one of my personal heroes.

St. Cuthbert with Otters

St. Cuthbert with Otters

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