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St.Cuthbert and Cumbria

Cuthbert was born in about 634 and became a monk in his teens at Melrose then in the English Kingdom of Northumbria. It is alleged that having observed angels descending and then ascending and taking a holy soul to God and the next day discovering that St.Aidan has died (31st August 651), he offered himself at the monastry at Melrose.
After a spell at Ripon with his abbot where they established the monastry, they were expelled with their group for refusing to adopt Roman monastic reforms and returned to Melrose.

He became prior at Lindisfarne in 664 and his first task was to introduce the new Roman practices which he adopted, perhaps reluctantly, after the Synod of Whitby in 663/4.
He ‘retired’ to the nearby Island of Inner Farne in 676 to live the life of a hermit but in 685 was ‘persuaded’ to return to the mainland and was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in that year. He resumed the journeys of preaching and ministering to the people of a wide area which was of course characteristic of his life as a Celtic monk.

He returned to Inner Farne after two years and died there on 20 March 687. He was buried at Lindisfarne.

For more on the life of St.Cuthbert see ‘Fire of the North’: The Life of St.Cuthbert (2003) by David Adam, published by SPCK

Cuthbert’s links with Cumbria are intriguing. Certainly he was no stranger to Carlisle, probably because it fell within the diocese of Lindisfarne; a grant of land some fifteen miles in circumference in Carlisle was made to him by Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria in 685. Shortly after Ecgfrith was killed in battle in May of that year Cuthbert was back in Carlisle to ordain some priests. He was also visited there by his old friend and hermit, Heribert who had his hermitage on an island on Derwentwater.
It is said that a second grant of land was made to Cuthbert in 685, outside of Carlisle, in fact ‘the district of Cartmel’, complete with its British population, and that of course includes the Furness Peninsulas. It says much about the attitude of the Anglican rulers towards the local Celtic inhabitants in that they were given as part of the donation!

There is no evidence that Cuthbert actually visited Low Furness or Cartmel in his life time but the story doesn’t end there.

Within the Furness Deanery there are two Churches dedicated to St.Cuthbert, St.Cuthbert’s in Kirkby in Furness who think their church ‘might have been built by the monks from Lindisfarne who were fleeing from the Danes around 875AD’.

St. Cuthbert’s Aldingham cannot trace any evidence of an earlier building before the 12th Century but there is a fragment of an Anglo Saxon cross in the East wall of the chancel which suggests that the monks of Lindisfarne might also have rested the bones of Cuthbert there about the same time during their seven years of wandering around to escape the Vikings. They had intended to escape with them to Ireland but again legend suggests that when the holy relic was placed on board ship at ‘the mouth of the river which is called Dyrwenta’ (modern day Workington on the west coast of Cumbria) by Bishop Eardulf of Lindisfarne and abbot Eadred, former abbot of Carlisle, a violent storm blew up, three huge waves fell on the ship, the water they contained turning immediately to blood, suggesting Cuthbert’s strong disapproval of their actions!

More on St. Cuthbert in Cumbria can be found in an article by Dr.V.Tudor in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archeological Society, Volume 84 (1984).