Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne; 20 March

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne at Durham Cathedral.
     St. Cuthbert is certainly one of Britain's, if not of all Anglicanism's, greatest bishops. The humility, love and compassion that he shared with his community, along with the many centuries of devotion paid to him after his death mark him both as one of the most loving and most loved leaders of English Christianity. Love is a reflexive act; the compassion, and trust shown to him by the Northern community is equally important to the care that he held for the people of his bishopric in the 7th century. His cult has survived war and peace; the Viking invasions beginning in 793, the danish invasions of the 10th century, the Norman Invasion, and it has even survived the impious destruction during the Reformation. His bones still lie at Durham where on March 19, 2012 a restored Banner of St. Cuthbert, a copy of a the medieval relic of his shroud and a symbol of northern England and the latest addition to the treasures of his tomb, will be dedicated.
St. Cuthbert's Shrine at Durham Cathedral.

Cuthbert was born in 634, near Melrose. He was a shepherd until he saw a vision as a boy. It is one of the early chapters in the Vita Sancti Cuthberti by the Venerable Bede that is dedicated to this vision called Quomondo cum pastoribus positius animam Sancti Aidiani Episcopi ad coelum ab angelis ferri aspexerit (literally, how while he was posted with the shepherds, he witnessed the soul of the Holy Bishop Aidan being carried to heaven by angels). This is what prompted him to enter into the monastery of Melrose at an early age. Cuthbert did well as a monk in the eyes of the abbot, Boisil. He came to accept the Roman customs after the Synod of Whitby and was made prior of Melrose. When his new abbot, Eata, went to Lindisfarne, Cuthbert followed and became prior of Lindisfarne where he pursued missionary work in Northumberland and southern Scotland.  In 676 he decided to take monastic life a step further and live as a hermit on the Farne islands of the Northumbrian coast. there he remained for 9 years, living on a simple diet of onions and fish. He built himself an oratory and practiced the Celtic rite of saying the psalms in the cold sea water. It is recorded that when he came out from the water, the otters dried his feet and the birds brought him fish out of their own admiration. And while on the island he would bless those who came to seek his comfort.
Cuthbert leaves Farne to become bishop

In 685 Cuthbert was appointed the Bishop of Hexham, (which he swapped for Lindisfarne) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus. He left the Farne with King Ecgfrith and Bishop Trumwine and returned to his missionary work in the bishopric. During his short episcopate, he traveled through his diocese on foot, ministering to the rural and urban poor alike and performing miracles for their relief. He lived first to extol and praise God and to worship him by living like him and to extend the good news of Christ's love to all people in his flock so that we might be comforted and learn to comfort others.

The site of Cuthbert's first hermitage.
His humility, his sanctity, and his high love for his people make him a model bishop. He died on 20 March, 687 on the Farne islands, where he returned after he predicted his death two months before. He was buried in the church at Lindisfarne, and when the Vikings attacked in 793 and later in 875, the monks carried his body from the island, and embarked on a 120-year journey that brought them to Durham in 995. There, when the ox-cart could no longer move, they laid his body in a tomb where it rests today, still retaining the head of St. Oswald, vestments presented by King Ecgfrith, and his own pectoral cross and portable altar. He was the most popular saint in Northern England as his shrine attracted pilgrims from all over the British isles, and continues to do so.
St. Cuthbert in the Galilee Chapel at Durham.

     Hopefully the Anglican Church, and all Churches will continue to honor St. Cuthbert as one apostle of Christ in England, and a bearer of Christ's love in the same land. The bishops of today's Church have the job of preserving the faith that Cuthbert brought to the people of Northumbria, and extending the love of Christ that he extended to his people. More importantly, the Church needs to continue St. Cuthbert, it needs bishops, priests and laypeople who will dedicate their lives to the extension of Christ's comfort through and in Christ's saving message. It is essential that the Church holds on to the traditions, to the image of Christ and his love in people, and the images and relics of those who spread his love, so that we never forget what our duty is: to spread the words of love of Christ. Only through our perseverance can the "Fire in the North," as he was called by Fr. David Adam of Bamburgh, and us like him, spread to set the whole world ablaze with the light of Christ.

Collect (from the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Holy Island):
We thank you Father for the life of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne: his reverence for all living creatures, his observance of a dedicated life under rule, his missionary zeal, his kindness to all who came  to him for comfort-and all for love of you. So in our pilgrimage of life strengthen us to walk with care in these ways that he observed through the study of prayer and personal example, that we may bring peace and integrity to your world in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Durham window with the miracles in Cuthbert's life and death.

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