Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Cuthbert, Bishop

illustration of Saint Cuthbert, Bishop, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberAt an early age Saint Cuthbert’s thoughts were turned to religion by a vision, in which, while engaged in prayer in the night-time, he saw Saint Aidan’s soul surrounded by a brilliant light, entering Heaven at the very moment that Saint died. This vision made Saint Cuthbert betake himself to the Monastery of Melrose, which at that time was governed by Saint Eatta. The young novice was so pious, so strict an observer of the Rule, and so courteous and pleasing in manner, that, six years after his profession, he was entrusted with the duties of guest-master. On one occasion, when proceeding early in the morning to the guest-house to attend to the duties of his office, he found in front of the door a young man, who seemed exhausted from exposure to the weather and from want of food. The guest-master, pitying the stranger’s condition, took him indoors, washed and warmed his feet, and bade him wait till he prepared and brought him some food. When the Saint returned, he was amazed to find the stranger gone. On the table lay two loaves of surpassing whiteness, which gave forth a delicious perfume, and showed that the Saint had entertained an angel unawares. This was not the only occasion on which Saint Cuthbert enjoyed the converse of angels; often was he honoured by receiving his food from their hands.

It was Saint Cuthbert’s custom, when on a journey, to pass the night in prayer, and unknown to his travelling-companions, to slip out to a church, or to wherever the fervour of his devotion carried him. Once his companions missed him, and curious to know what Cuthbert was doing out of doors at that hour of the night, they followed him, and found him praying, immersed to his neck in the sea. By his holy life, and by preaching the Gospel to the rude inhabitants of the mountainous districts, Saint Cuthbert won them over from their superstitious and idolatrous practices, and gained such an influence over them that they confided to him the secrets of their inmost hearts. They were afraid to conceal from him whatever sins they had committed.

On the death of Boisil the Prior, Cuthbert was chosen in his place. The new Prior inspired his disciples with a zealous desire to emulate his virtues. Many miracles too were wrought by him, such as the driving out of devils, and the extinguishing of sudden outbursts of fire. It is said that, when he was worn out by want of food on one of his journeys, some fish was brought to him by an eagle.

By the command of Eatta, Cuthbert was summoned to Lindisfarne to reform the monks of that abbey, who had become somewhat lax. This he soon effected by his patience, by his persuasiveness, and above all, by his example. When he had succeeded in this task, he, at his urgent request, was allowed by Eatta to retire to the Island of Farn, to lead the solitary life. There for years he subjected himself to the most severe penances, and every day brought himself nearer and nearer to God. By sending her his girdle to wear, he was enabled to cure the Abbess Elfleda, a lady of royal birth, when all hope of saving her life was abandoned by the physicians. He also foretold the death of King Egfrith in the battle against the Picts, the plague that soon after devastated England, and his own departure from his hermitage to the Cathedral of Lindisfarne.

Many letters and messengers had been sent by the Synod of Bishops and by King Egfrith to summon Cuthbert to undertake the charge of this See, but the Saint’s humility shrank from the honour; at last Egfrith himself sailed to Farn and compelled Cuthbert to accompany him to the Synod at York, where he was consecrated.

In this high office Saint Cuthbert preached and laboured for two years, never relaxing the strict discipline of his former life. Finding his strength failing, he retired to his old retreat of Farn to prepare for death. There two months later he breathed his last, on the 20th March, A.D. 687.

When Saint Cuthbert’s body was dug up, four hundred and eleven years after his death, it was found quite free from any signs of corruption. It was again found whole and incorrupt in 1537 by the men who were sent by Henry VIII to destroy the shrine and to scatter the relics of the Saint.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.