Following the death of St. Cuthbert in 687 St. Wilfrid became
Bishop of Lindisfarne, but only for one year. Bede hints that this was a very
difficult year for the monks, but gives no details as to why this was. But we
remember that Wilfrid was the main opponent of the Irish monks of Lindisfarne
at the Synod of Whitby, and perhaps he was rigorous in enforcing his ideas.
Then in 688 Eadberht became Bishop of Lindisfarne. We know nothing of the
events of his earlier life, but Bede tells us two things about his
personality: first that, like many monks in the Irish tradition, he was a
devoted student of the Scriptures, renowned for his learning, and secondly
that he was a very charitable man, who used every year to give away to the
poor a tenth of his animals, his cereal crops, his fruit and even his
We know that during his episcopate he covered with lead the walls and roof of
the wooden church built on the Island by Bishop Finan, the second bishop, who
followed Aidan. Up to this point all the buildings in our first monastery
here had been built in wood. So presumably Eadberht began the process of
introducing more durable materials into the monastic buildings.
Also, while Eadberht was bishop, the posthumous fame of Cuthbert was growing
as more miracles were claimed at his tomb. So it was Bishop Eadberht who
gave permission for Cuthbert's remains to be 'elevated' in 698, fixing the
date for this ceremony on the anniversary of the saint's death. The purpose
of this was to declare St. Cuthbert to be a saint, and to make his relics
available to pilgrims. But of course everyone expected to find bones in the
coffin, and the bishop himself seems to have held a little aloof from the
elevation. He was in fact in retreat on St. Cuthbert's Island (it was Lent,
March 20th) when the undecayed body was discovered. But he permitted the
body to be placed in a new shrine, above ground.
Shortly after this Eadberht himself fell ill and died, so he was buried in
St. Cuthbert's now empty grave. When the monks withdrew from the Island in
875 Eadberht's relics went in the coffin with St. Cuthbert's body, and so
were eventually interred in Durham.
24. HERBERT OF DERWENTWATER:
Herbert or Hereberht was an English hermit. Like many others, both English and Irish, he chose an island for the site of his hermitage: not in his case in the sea, but, in Bede's words, 'an island of that large mere from which sprang the sources of the River Derwent': in a word, Derwentwater. The little island is still there, still called 'St. Herbert's Isle', and has a circular stone ruin which might have been the foundation of his cell.
Herbert was a close friend and disciple of St. Cuthbert. He used to visit Cuthbert on Lindisfarne once a year to discuss the spiritual life. But one year Herbert heard that Cuthbert was in Carlisle, so they met there instead. Cuthbert then told Herbert to raise any matter he wished to talk about, as this would be their last meeting: he already had a premonition of his death. At this dire news Herbert was very distressed and had only one thing to ask - that he would not survive his friend but die on the same day. After prayer both men believed that this would be granted, and so it proved. Herbert had a longer period of actual illness than Cuthbert (which Bede thought was right, as he had not arrived at the same height of sainthood), but both died 'on the same night, at the same hour of the night' (March 20th 687). So they were together carried by angels into the heavenly realms, which was a fitting end to a long spiritual friendship on earth.