St. Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham

St. Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham

St. Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham

St. Cuthbert: His Life and Cult in Medieval Durham

Synopsis

This work tells the story of Cuthbert's life and of the efforts to rejuvenate his cult in late 12th century Durham. It also focuses on one of the contemporary "Lives" of Cuthbert and explains its central importance to the revival of the cult.

Excerpt

A hermit, prior and then bishop to the monastic community at Lindisfarne, Cuthbert became, upon his death in 687, one of the most important medieval saints in Europe and one of the foremost saints of medieval England. His importance is demonstrated by the large number of pilgrims attracted to his shrine and by the number of gifts bestowed upon him by pilgrims and Kings alike. During his lifetime he was visited by Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria (670-85) at his hermitage on Farne Island and, furthermore, his popularity with the nobility even extended beyond his death when, during the ninth century, Cuthbert miraculously 'appeared' to King Alfred at Glastonbury. His shrine was later visited by subsequent kings of England, Aethelstan in 934, Edmund in 945 and Cnut in 1027. Lands and other treasures were bestowed upon Cuthbert by Aethelstan and others inevitably making Cuthbert's monastic community one of the most powerful and wealthy in England.

Indeed, Cuthbert was considered perhaps the most popular saint in England prior to the death of Thomas Becket in 1170. By the late eleventh century his feast days were celebrated in many monasteries throughout England and Europe. His popularity in Europe is apparent by the number of his Lives (or Vitae) which were carefully penned by continental scribes in order that their monastic communities should have a copy. in addition, his name appears in many European Martyrologies, liturgical books containing readings on the lives of the saints, and in all parts of England many churches were dedicated to him. To this day his shrine in Durham Cathedral and his home in Lindisfarne receive many pilgrims and visitors.

The cult of the saints in the Middle Ages encompassed the practice of certain rituals associated with the saint's physical remains and the establishment of important feast days. in addition, biographies of the holy person were written (Lives) and shrines and buildings were constructed in order that the saint should be properly housed and a focal point be provided for pilgrims to visit and venerate the saint. Also, objects, such as the remains of the saint, beautiful books, vestments and metalwork were displayed in order to embellish the shrine and further testify to the saint's special character. Cuthbert was the particular focus of a great deal of artistic and architectural production. the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Library, the Cuthbert Gospel of St John, the seventh-century gold and garnet pendant cross, King Aethelstan's gift of vestments and the coffin itself, all housed in Durham Cathedral Treasury, and the London Life of Saint Cuthbert (British Library, Yates Thompson nis 26) (PLATES 1-46) are just some of the beautiful and historically significant objects inspired by Cuthbert and associated with his following.

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