The Life of Cuthbert
was born in North Northumbria in about the year 635 - the
same year in which Aidan founded the monastery on Lindisfarne. He
came from a well-to-do English family and like most boys of that
class, he was placed with foster-parents for part of his
childhood and taught the arts of war. We know nothing of his
foster-father but he was very fond of his foster-mother,
It seems, from stories about his childhood, that he was
brought up as a Christian. He was credited, for instance, with
having saved by his prayers, some monks who were being swept out
to sea on a raft. There is some evidence that, in his mid-teens,
he was involved in at least one battle, which would have been
quite normal for a boy of his social background.
His life changed when he was about 17 years old. He was
looking after some neighbour's sheep on the hills. (As he was
certainly not a shepherd boy it is possible that he was mounting
a military guard - a suitable occupation for a young
warrior!) Gazing into the night sky he saw a light descend to
Earth and then return, escorting, he believed, a human soul to
Heaven. The date was August 31st 651AD - the night that Aidan
died. Perhaps Cuthbert had already been considering a possible
monastic calling but that was his moment of decision.
He went to the monastery at Melrose, also founded by Aidan,
and asked to be admitted as a Novice
For the next 13 years he was with the Melrose monks. When
Melrose was given land to found a new monastery at Ripon,
Cuthbert went with the founding party and was made guestmaster.
In his late 20s he returned to Melrose and found that his former
teacher and friend, the prior Boisil, was dying of the plague.
Cuthbert became prior (second to the Abbot) at Melrose.
In 664AD the Synod of Whitby decided that Northumbria should
cease to look to Ireland for its spiritual leadership and turn
instead to the continent the Irish monks of Lindisfarne, with
others, went back to Iona. The abbot of Melrose subsequently
became also abbot of Lindisfarne and Cuthbert its prior.
Cuthbert seems to have moved to Lindisfarne at about the age
of 30 and lived there for the next 10 years. He ran the
monastery; he was an active missionary; he was much in demand as
a spiritual guide and he developed the gift of spiritual
healing. He was an outgoing, cheerful, compassionate person
and no doubt became popular. But when he was 40 years old he
believed that he was being called to be a hermit and to do the
hermit's job of fighting the spiritual forces of evil in a life
After a short trial period on the tiny islet adjoining
Lindisfarne he moved to the more remote and larger island known
as 'Inner Farne' and built a hermitage where he lived for 10
years. Of course, people did not leave him alone - they went out
in their little boats to consult him or ask for healing. However,
on many days of the year the seas around the islands are simply
too rough to make the crossing and Cuthbert was left in
At the age of about 50 he was asked by both Church and King to
leave his hermitage and become a bishop. He reluctantly agreed.
For two years he was an active, travelling bishop as Aidan had
been. He seems to have journeyed extensively. On one occasion he
was visiting the Queen in Carlisle (on the other side of the
country from Lindisfarne) when he knew by second sight
that her husband, the King, had been slain by the Picts doing
battle in Scotland.
Feeling the approach of death he retired back to the hermitage
on the Inner Farne where, in the company of Lindisfarne monks, he
died on March 20th 687AD.
His body was brought back and buried on Lindisfarne.
But that was not the end of his story - see The Body of Cuthbert.