Celts to the Creche: St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

St. Cuthbert by Aidan Hart. It is said that otters licked his feet as he stood in the icey waters to pray for hours on end.

St. Cuthbert icon written by Aidan Hart. It is said that Cuthbert stood in the icey waters to pray for hours on end and that otters licked his feet dry when he came back on land.

Celts to the Crèche

Day 6

November 20

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

c634-March 20, 687 AD

On this 6th day of our Advent pilgrimage with the Celts to the Crèche, we join St. Cuthbert who was the much loved 7thc. Bishop of Lindisfarne. He is also known as the patron saint of Northern England. Cuthbert’s life was filled with gentle strength, wisdom, skillful speaking, prayerful life, and devotion to Christ. His body was lovingly and devotedly carried all over northeastern England by the Lindisfarne monks to protect his body from the Vikings. He is buried in Durham Cathedral where thousands of visitors come annually to visit his shrine. The stunning 8thc. Lindisfarne Gospels were made in his honor. We can still the items that were in Cuthbert’s casket in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit at Durham Cathedral. 

You may desire to continue reading about Cuthbert or to go on down the page to the Meditation for the day.

Ruins of Melrose Abbey in Scotland where Cuthbert first became a monk. . photo from wikipedia

Early Life: Cuthbert grew up in southern Scotland, near Melrose Abbey.  It is said that on the night that St. Aidan (day 1 of Celts to the Crèche) of Lindisfarne died, that Cuthbert saw a vision of Aidan’s body being carried to heaven which led him to sense a call to become a monk.

His calling: Soon after that vision, Cuthbert became a monk and entered Melrose Abbey under the direction of its prior Boisil whom Cuthbert admired.1 In the late 650’s, he and his Abbot Eata transferred to Ripon Abbey and they then returned to Melrose where Boisil died of the plague about 664.  About 665-700 Cuthbert went to Lindisfarne as Abbot.

A view of the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne

A view of the ruins of the abbey at Lindisfarne. Visited in 2007, 2014, 2017, 2019. Photo from english-heritage.uk.com

After the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, Cuthbert helped transition Lindisfarne from the Celtic to the Roman way.  While serving as Abbot, he would often sense the need for solitude to renew his spirit and would take a little boat several miles away to one of the isolated Farne Islands. It is interesting that he would not visit with anyone who came to see him while there.

Rode on the St. Cuthbert boat to the Inner Farne Island where Cuthbert’s hermitage was. The return back to Seahouses was a very rough and unnerving ride! I am standing next to the 13th c. church near his hermitage. This hollow place by the beach is thought to be where Cuthbert’s hermitage was and where he died on the Inner Farne. October 2017. Photos by Brenda Warren and Janet Davis

Cuthbert meeting Abbess AElfflaed of Whitby at Coquet Isle.

Cuthbert meeting Abbess AElfflaed of Whitby at Coquet Island.

He might open the window to speak with someone who showed up, but when the Abbess of Whitby, Ælfflæd, (Day 29 of Celts to the Crèche), who was the second abbess of Whitby and succeeded Abbess Hilda wanted to meet with Cuthbert, he left his little cell and met her at the Isle of Coquet.

Bishop of Lindisfarne: Cuthbert retired in 676 to permanently live on the Isle of Inner Farne as a hermit.

King Ecgfrith and a band of other leaders actually rode a boat out to the Inner Farne to Cuthbert’s hermitage to call (more like beg!) him out of retirement to become the Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Cuthbert reluctantly accepted this call and was ordained by Archbishop Theodore and six bishops at York on Easter Sunday, March 26, 685, but less than two years later at Christmas he decided he had enough of a good time and moved back to his little hermitage on the Inner Farne.

Place of Resurrection: Cuthbert predicted his own death and he died on the Inner Farne on March 20, 687. He was buried at Lindisfarne, but to protect his remains from the Viking onslaught to the area in the mid-800’s, his sarcophagus was carried by the monks of Lindisfarne throughout Northumbria.

Cuthbert's monks carrying his body to safety by Fenwick Lawson. Original wood carving at Lindisfarne, 2008 bronze at Durham Cathedral

Cuthbert’s monks carrying his body to safety by Fenwick Lawson. Original wood carving at Lindisfarne, 2008 bronze at Durham Cathedral. Saw the wooden version  on each visit to Lindisfarne and Durham Cathedral. 

In 883AD, his body rested at the church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert at Chester-le-Street for a long while, but Cuthbert’s final resting place was Durham Cathedral, where his body still remains. His burial is intriguing. It is said that when his sarcophagus was opened eleven years after he died that his body was incorrupt. He looked like he was asleep and his limbs were still flexible. His vestments still looked new.

St. Cuthbert's body found to be incorrupt when his tomb was opened.Illustrations from British Library MS Yates Thompson 26, a manuscript of Bede's prose life of Cuthbert, written c. 721, copied at the priory of Durham Cathedral in the last quarter of the 12th century. The 46 full page miniatures include many miracles associated with Cuthbert both before and after his death.[57]

St. Cuthbert’s body found to be incorrupt when his tomb was opened. Illustration from British Library MS Yates Thompson 26, a manuscript of Bede’s prose life of Cuthbert, written c. 721, copied at the priory of Durham Cathedral in the last quarter of the 12th century. The 46 full page miniatures include many miracles associated with Cuthbert both before and after his death. photo from Wikipedia

In 1104, Cuthbert’s tomb was opened once again and a small book of the Gospel of John, measuring only three-and-a-half by five inches, now known as the St. Cuthbert Gospel, was incredibly found! Even the original goat leather with raised Celtic design on the red bookbinding was still intact.

Formerly known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, it was purchased in April 2012 by the British Library for $14.3 million (9 million British Pounds).2 It is available to view online through the St. John’s Gospel of St. Cuthbert at the British Library.

St. Cuthbert's Gospel of St. John found inside his sarcophagus

Early 8th c. St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John found inside his sarcophagus. Likely produced at Wearmouth Jarrow Abbey. It is now housed in the British Library.  photo from Wikipedia via The British Library

Also found in Cuthbert’s casket was a set of  early 10th century  vestments placed by King Æthlestan while on a pilgrimage to Cuthbert’s shrine at Chester-le-Street. These vestments were made of Byzantine silk with a stole decorated with Anglo-Saxon embroidery. Also, in his coffin, a stunning gold, garnet, and shell pectoral cross was found on his body. In addition, Cuthbert’s personal portable altar table covered in silver was discovered in his coffin. It is recorded that also an ivory comb, scissors, and a chalice made of onyx with a gold lion was in the coffin.

St. Cuthbert's pectoral cross found on his incorrupt body. I purchased an inexpensive copy of this at Durham Cathedral that I treasure.

St. Cuthbert’s mid 7th c. pectoral cross found on his incorrupt body. It had likely been handed down to him.

Cuthbert’s very simple wooden coffin carved with primitive looking angels along with some of the coffin relics can be viewed in the well conceived and produced Treasures of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. It is recorded that at the Dissolution of the Monasteries that Durham Priory was dissolved about 1539/1540 and the gold, silver, and gemstone shrine of Cuthbert in the Cathedral was torn asunder by a goldsmith and others sent to plunder by Henry VIII. One cannot help but wonder if Cuthbert was relieved that his ostentatious shrine was now gone.

We know of St. Cuthbert through The Venerable Bede’s Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne written in verse after 705 which he later revised and a prose life that was composed between 710 and 720AD.3 Bede’s works on Cuthbert were likely composed based upon an original  Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk at Lindisfarne that Abbot Eadfrith commissioned in honor of Cuthbert’s life. 4

A reproduction of St. Cuthbert's portable altar table that was buried with him

A reproduction of St. Cuthbert’s portable altar table that was buried with him. photo from W & G Robinson

Lindisfarne Gospels: The Lindisfarne Gospels were likely produced in honor of St. Cuthbert by a monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne (see day 7 of Celts to the Crèche) in 698 and died in 721. Eadrith designed, illuminated, and penned the Lindisfarne Gospels. Current scholarship indicates a date around 715-721 for the production of the Lindisfarne Gospels.  However, some think that Eadfrith produced them prior to 698, in order to commemorate the elevation of Cuthbert’s relics in that year.

The original Lindisfarne Gospels is housed in the British Library as one of their most treasured pieces. The Lindisfarne Gospels are available for viewing online from the British Library. The pages of this remarkable book can be viewed page by page.

Gospel of Matthew page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. British Library.

Gospel of Matthew page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. photo from The British Library.

Still popular in the 20th and 21st Centuries: In 1987, on the anniversary of Cuthbert’s Resurrection Day in 687 the magnificent early 8th century Anglo-Saxon illuminated  Lindisfarne Gospels was displayed in Durham Cathedral. This sacred gospel book was most poignantly laid upon Cuthbert’s shrine for a short while.5

In 2013, Durham Cathedral once again hosted the Lindisfarne Gospels on loan from the British Library and of course the much loved St. Cuthbert was at the forefront of these  festivities. The Lindisfarne Gospels are permanently kept at the British Library and are magnificent to behold.

St. Cuthbert’s Way, a beautiful 62 mile hike from Melrose Abbey in Southern Scotland to Lindisfarne  is a popular walking path through the hilly terrain of the Scottish borders.

Pilgrims from all over the world flock to Durham Cathedral, Lindisfarne, Melrose Abbey, and the Inner Farne to be in the presence of the places where this gentle wise Celtic Bishop lived. He still touches lives 1300 years later.

In June 2017, archaeologists digging on a rocky promontory on Lindisfarne discovered the ancient stone foundation likely resting on the original wooden foundation of either Aidan’s or Cuthbert’s church.This archaeological dig through Dig Ventures on the church was ongoing in the summer of 2018 and Dig Ventures continues to dig on Lindisfarne.

Cuthbert’s wooden coffin with angels carved into it. On display in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit at Durham Cathedral. I have viewed this treasure several times including with  the Celtic Pilgrimage group I led in October 2019.

Treasures of St. Cuthbert. Durham Cathedral. In late summer of 2017, a wonderful multi-million British pound Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibition of the 1300 year old wooden sarcophagus of Cuthbert opened in the former monks kitchen in Durham Cathedral. One can view some of the relics found in his oak sarcophagus mentioned earlier in this post  like his gorgeous gold and red pectoral cross,  ivory comb, portable altar, along with later silk vestments. There is also a wonderful display of carved stone Celtic and Anglo-Saxon crosses.

Stone foundation on earlier wooden church of either Aidan or Cuthbert found on Lindisfarne in June, 2017.Photo from archaeology.org

Archaeologists and volunteers working on the stone church foundation excavation on Lindisfarne, June, 2017. Photo from church times.co.uk


Feast Day March 20

Here on this first week of Celtic Advent, 2022, as we are beginning  to  find our way back to some pre-quarantine normality, yet we discover that the long quarantine has taken a toll on us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Many churches and businesses are still struggling. Some of us discovered that we are social folks more than we thought as we have sorely missed the physical presence of family and friends. Some of us like Cuthbert have decided we could wistfully live on a small isle like Lindisfarne in a monastery with a few friends and animals to keep us company for many years to come.  Some of us have taken intrepid steps outside our homes into stores, airports, and churches without a mask only to discover that covid is still very real.

Pre-Covid, Cuthbert might have said to us on this 6th day of  journeying with the Celts to the Crèche, in the midst of this usually overwhelmingly busy and sometimes crazy Advent season, seek some solitude. Yet, perhaps, you feel that you have had too much solitude the past two years. It has been a lonely time for many, especially for extroverts or those who are single and live alone. As we begin to see some proverbial light that this season of quarantine is declining, be considering how you might make a sacred place that can be your personal “Isle of Inner Farne.” As we are getting some glimpses of packed airports and stores once again,  it may not be too long before we may even wistfully look back at those quiet, quarantine times of renewal in our homes that had a sense of  our own personal isles of Lindisfarne. 

Prayer: O Spirit of the Living God, remind me to rest, to find some sacred quiet in Your presence. Amen.



1 Blackwell Encyclopaedia, 131.

British Library Press. British Library Acquires the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel.

Bonner, 24.

4 Brown, Lindisfarne Gospels, 65.

5 Ibid, 139.


© Brenda G. Warren and http://www.saintsbridge.org, 2018-2029. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenda G. Warren and http://www.saintsbridge.org (Celts to the Creche) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Some Resources:

Battiscombe, C. F, ed. The Relics of Cuthbert. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1956.

Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

Blair, John. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Bonner, Stancliffe, and Rollason, David. St. Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to 1200. Woodbridge,UK: The Boydell Press, 1989.

Breay, Claire and Bernard Meehan, eds. The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John. British Library Publishing, 2015.

British Library. The Lindisfarne Gospels Back at the British Library. December 15, 2022. 

Brown, Michelle P. How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland.  Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2006.

________. The Book and the Transformation of Britain, c.550-1050. London: British Library, 2011.

________. The Lindisfarne Gospels. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

________. The Painted Labyrinth: the world of the Lindisfarne Gospels. rev. ed. London: British Library, 2004.

Colgrave, Bertram, ed. Two Lives of St. Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life. Cambridge,  UK: Cambridge University Press, 1940, 1985 ed.

Cronyn, Janet M. and C. V. Horie. St. Cuthbert’s Coffin: The history, technology, and conservation. (with an introduction by R. J. Cramp). Durham, UK: The Dean and Chapter, Durham Cathedral, 1985.

“Cuthbert” by Alan Thacker  and “Lindisfarne” by John Blair in Lapidge, Blair, Keynes, and Scragg.  The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford:Blackwell, 1999.

Dig Ventures. The Monk, the Midden, and the Monastery. Lindisfarne dig July 2017.

Duckett, Eleanor. The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages. London: The Catholic Book Club, 1959.

Durham Cathedral. The Story of St. Cuthbert. March 31, 2020. (note: easy to understand and could be also used for teaching children and youth about Cuthbert).

Durham World Heritage Site. St. Cuthbert

Earle, Mary C. and Sylvia Maddox. Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2004.

Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England, c.600-900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Higham, Nicholas J. and Martin J. Ryan. The Anglo-Saxon World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

Historic Scotland. Melrose Abbey online.

____________. Melrose Abbey, rev. ed. n.p., 2005.

Hume, Basil. Footprints of the Northern Saints. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1996, 2006 reprint.

Jones, Andrew. Every Pilgrim’s Guide to Celtic Britain and Ireland. Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002.

Jones, Kathleen. Who are the Celtic Saints? Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2002.

Keys, David. Archaeologist’s Dig Reveals Ancient Lindisfarne Church. Church Times, July 7, 2017

Leyser, Henrietta.  Beda: A Journey Through the Seven Kingdoms in the Age of Bede. London: Head of Zeus, 2015.


Mayr-Harting. The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, Pa.:  The University of Pennsylvania Press, 3rd ed. 1991.

Medievalists.net.British Library Purchases the St. Cuthbert Gospel for 9 million. (British pounds) April, 2012. 

Mitton, Michael. The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints. Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996.

Ramirez, Janina. Treasures of St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral. Video. April, 2018.

Rees, Elizabeth. An Essential Guide to Celtic Sites and Their Saints. London: Burns & Oates, 2003.

___________. Celtic Saints in Their Landscape. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing, 2011.

 ___________.Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Rollason, David. Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The birth of western society. Edinburgh: Pearson, 2012.

Sadgrove, Michael. Durham Cathedral: The Shrine of St. Cuthbert. Norwich, UK: Durham Cathedral and Jarrold Publishing, 2005.

____________. A Pilgrim in Durham Cathedral. Norwich, UK: Jarrold Publishing, 2006.

Sawyers, June Skinner. Praying with Celtic Saints, Prophets, Martyrs, and Poets. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2001.

Sellner, Edward C. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, rev. and expanded. St. Paul, MN: Bog Walk Press, 2006.

The St. Cuthbert’s Gospel: Looking Pretty Good at 1,300. NPR April 20, 2012.

Tristram, Kate.  The Story of Holy Island: An illustrated history. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2009.

St. Cuthbert’s Way

Warren, Brenda G.  St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.  March 20, 2017. Godspacelight.com.

Weightman, M. Scott. Holy Island. UK: Claughton Photography. n.d.

Wells, Emma. Saint Cuthbert’s Way with Dr. Emma Wells. available on youtube.  March, 2018.

Woods, Richard J. The Spirituality of the Celtic Saints. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000.

About Brenda

Rev. Warren is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) retired Pastor, that still does some preaching. I am married to a wonderful guy with two grown awesome sons; an equally awesome daughter-in-love; adorable grandchildren; and a very large, much-adored Maine Coon cat. I love reading, writing, travel, mountains, and beachcombing. As a former public and theological Library Director, I love doing research that has helped me in composing this Advent devotional, “Celts to the Creche” at www.saintsbridge.org. My research has been enriched by libraries, way too many books and journals purchased, and numerous pilgrimages to the places where these saints lived and worked and had their being. I cannot even begin to express what a great gift it has been to meet like-minded friends along the path who have generously and kindly shared their scholarship, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints. I often wonder if the saints have in some way been instrumental in introducing me to their friends on both sides of the thin veil.
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