"Come to me, all who are weary and whose load is heavy - I will give you rest." - Matthew 11-28

Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
   The Body of Cuthbert   
635AD - 687AD
St.Cuthbert died on the Inner Farne island and was buried on Lindisfarne. People came to pray at the grave and then miracles of healing were claimed. To the monks of Lindisfarne this was a clear sign that Cuthbert was now a saint in heaven and they, as the saint's community, should declare this to the world.
 
In those days people felt it important, when they prayed for help or healing, to be as close as possible to a saint's relics. And so, if a community made relics available that was equivalent to a declaration of sainthood. The monks of Lindisfarne determined to do this for Cuthbert.
 
They decided to allow 11 years for his body to become a skeleton and then 'elevate' his remains on the anniversary of this death (20th March 698). We believe that during these years the beautiful manuscript known as 'The Lindisfarne Gospels' was made, to be used for the first time at the great ceremony of the Elevation. The declaration of Cuthbert's sainthood was to be a day of joy and thanksgiving. It turned out to be also a day of surprise, even shock, for when they opened the coffin they found no skeleton but a complete and undecayed body. That was a sign of very great sainthood indeed.
 
So the cult of St.Cuthbert began. Pilgrims began to flock to the shrine. The ordinary life of the monastery continued for almost another century until, on 8th June 793, the Vikings came. The monks were totally unprepared; some were killed; some younger ones and boys were taken away to be sold as slaves; gold and silver was taken and the monastery partly burned down. After that the monastery lived under threat and it seems that in the 9th century there was a gradual movement of goods and buildings to the near mainland.
 
The traditional date for the final abandonment of Lindisfarne is 875ad..
 
The body of St.Cuthbert, together with other relics and treasures which had survived the Viking attack were carried by the monks and villagers onto the mainland.
 
For over 100 years the community settled at the old Roman town of Chester-le-Street. It was said that fear of further attack took them inland to Ripon but not for long and on their journey back from there they finally settled at Durham.
 
After the Norman Conquest (1066) a Benedictine community replaced the "St.Cuthbert's Folk" and began to build the great Norman cathedral at Durham. They proposed to honour the body of St.Cuthbert with a new shrine immediately east of the new High Alter and in 1104 the placed was ready.
 
At this point, it seems spurred on by doubts expressed by others about the truth of the tradition of the undecayed body, the Durham monks opened up the coffin and found, so it was said, that the body was indeed still uncorrupt. Throughout the Middle Ages the coffin was placed in a beautiful shrine and visited by great numbers of pilgrims. But at the reformation, when the monastery was dissolved, the shrine was dismantled and the coffin opened - it seems that the body was still complete.
 
It was buried in a plain grave behind the High Alter. In 1827 the coffin was again opened and a skeleton was found. The objects in the coffin were removed and can now be seen in the Cathedral treasury. The human remains were reburied. In 1899 the coffin was again opened and a doctor carried out a post-mortem on the remains. His opinion was that the skeleton was consistent with all that is known of St.Cuthbert in his lifetime.
 
The human remains were then re-interred in the same place and marked by a plain gravestone with the name Cuthbertus. This feretory, as it is called, is still the site of many pilgrimages today.
 
See also: The Life of Cuthbert.
Kate Tristram
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