20 March. This saint was born of Saxon parents in Northumbria, and was early left an orphan. While tending sheep on the slopes of Lammermoor the youth had a remarkable vision, in which he saw the heavens at night-time all bright with supernatural splendour and choirs of angels bearing some soul of dazzling brightness to its eternal reward. Next day he learned that Aidan, the holy Bishop of Lindisfarne, had passed away. Cuthbert had often before thought of embracing the monastic state, and this vision of the blessedness of one who was a brilliant example of that way of life decided him. He therefore presented himself at the gates of the monastery of Melrose, being probably in his twenty-fourth year. He was received as a novice by Saint Boisil, the Prior, who, on first beholding the youth, said to those who stood near: “Behold a true servant of the Lord,” a prediction abundantly fulfilled in Cuthbert’s life.
For ten years the saint remained hidden at Melrose perfecting himself by the routine of monastic observance. Then on the foundation of Ripon he was sent there as one of the first community. After a short stay he returned to Melrose, and on the death of Saint Boisil was made Prior. To the greatest zeal for all that concerned monastic life he added a tender charity for the souls of others, which led him to make many missionary excursions into the surrounding territory.
When Abbot Eata in 664 received the charge of the Abbey of Lindisfarne in addition to Melrose, Cuthbert was sent thither as Prior. For twelve years he was a teacher to his community, both by word and example, of the precepts of the perfect life. Then, desiring more strict seclusion, he retired to a solitary cell on Fame Island, that he might give himself more completely to prayer. Here he lived eight years, visited on great feasts by some of the Lindisfarne monks, and at frequent intervals by pious Christians who sought his direction and intercession.
Having been thus prepared, like Saint John Baptist in his desert, for the work God had in store for him, he was chosen Bishop of Lindisfarne. During the two years he exercised this office he was to his flock a model of every virtue, and a pastor full of zeal and charity. He preserved, notwithstanding his high dignity, the humility of heart and simplicity of garb which belonged to his monastic state. Numerous and striking miracles attested his sanctity.
Foreseeing his approaching end he retired to his little cell at Farne where he passed away, strengthened by the Sacraments, with his hands uplifted in prayer. He was buried at Lindisfarne; but incursions of the Danes necessitated the removal of his remains, and for nearly two hundred years his body was conveyed from place to place till it was eventually laid to rest in the Cathedral of Durham. There it became an object of pious pilgrimage from all the three kingdoms. More than 800 years after death the sacred body was found still incorrupt, and there, in a secure hiding-place, it still awaits the restoration of Saint Cuthbert’s shrine to its rightful custodians, the sons of Saint Benedict, the guardians of the secret. Among the churches dedicated to Saint Cuthbert in Scotland were those at Ballantrae, Hailes, Ednam, Glencairn, Kirkcudbright, Drummelzier, Gienholm (Broughton), Malton, Edinburgh, Prestwick, Eccles, Drysdale, Girvan, Maybole, Mauchline, Weem, and even distant Wick. Besides Kirkcudbright (Church of Saint Cuthbert), which gives the name to a whole county, Northumbria is studded with churches built in his honour, which recall the resting-places of his body, and witness to the devotion inspired by those sacred remains to this great saint. Fairs were formerly held on his feast-day at Ruthwell (Dumfries-shire), and Ordiquhill (Banffshire)—both for eight days—and probably in other localities also. His holy wells were at Saint Boswell’s and in Strathtay (Perthshire).