Notes from Fr. Roger’s ‘The Pilgrim Manual’
11-16 October, 1999
Although not directly involved in our story, Durham’s Christian Roots are almost as deep as others we have explored this week. St Cuthbert, like Wilfrid, started his religious life associated with Holy Island, in fact at Melrose Abbey. He was taken as a young monk to Ripon when it was to be established as a new monastery. Here our story is touched upon because the monks, of whom Cuthbert was one, were turned out of Ripon because the king wanted to give the Abbey to Wilfrid! Cuthbert became Prior of Holy Island. This was not easy for him, for Cuthbert had come out of the Synod on the ‘wrong’ side i.e. he was of the Celtic tradition and the monks of Lindisfarne were very reluctant to change their ways! Cuthbert became famous as a healer and decided to live a more solitary life as his healing powers brought him much unwanted attention.
He moved to a hermitage on the Farne Islands. Here he was disturbed by visitors and eventually by the king who persuaded him to become the Bishop of Lindisfarne which he did until he perceived that he had little longer to live. After two months he died and was brought back to be buried on Lindisfarne. Many years later, when Lindisfarne and the whole of this coast was upset by Viking attacks the monks abandoned Lindisfarne and wandered — looking for a new home and taking the body of their beloved St.Cuthbert with them. The story goes that on the peninsular of the River Wear at Durham the coffin stuck to the ground and so the monks settled there and buried St. Cuthbert. (Try and find out about the strange story of the ‘Dun Cow’) His shrine is behind the High Altar in the cathedral and his coffin and body were examined about 100 years ago. He was still wearing his pectoral cross, the distinctive cross of Durham.
The present cathedral with its massive architecture was completed in 1133. A visit is a must. There is also the castle, the riverbanks the town, the shops, the university, museums, galleries — so much to do; so make the most of it!
The Lindisfarne Gospels
In a letter to the Editor of the Times on March 1 2004, Mike Tickell, Chairman of the Northumbrian Association, Tom Dunelm, Bishop of Durham and others made a plea for the British Library and the Government to return the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham Cathedral in time for the 900th anniversary of the translation of the relics of Cutherbert to the cathedral on 4th September 1104.
In 875 in the face of Viking raids, Cuthbert’s followers took his body from Lindisfarne and began a seven year journey. With them they took the Lindisfarne Gospels which was a manuscript (made according to an inscription added in the 10th century at the end of the original text by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who died in 721) dedicated to Bishop Cuthbert and God. After a period at Chester-le-Street of 113 years, the monks brought the book and St. Cuthbert’s coffin to Durham. On September 4, 1104, Cuthbert and the Gospels were placed in Durham Cathedral where they lay until 1539 when Henry VIII’s Commissioners pillaged Cuthbert’s shrine and removed the book. The book is now part of the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, (d. 1631) in the British Library, London.