St Cuthbert by Fenwick Lawson
St Cuthbert is everywhere on Lindisfarne and I donʼt just mean the Tea Shoppes and Gifte Shops, even though the village of Holy Island has a fair smattering of those. No, even 1300 years after his death, his spirit still seems to pervade the place.
Cuthbert first came to Lindisfarne about AD654 to run the monastery founded some thirty years earlier by St Aidan. After ten years he decided to become a hermit, and moved to a cell on the nearby island of Inner Farne. No doubt he would have been happy to spend the rest of his days there, but it was not to be.
At the age of fifty he was appointed Bishop of Durham, but this seems to have hastened his death, as after a couple of years he returned to Inner Farne where he died and was buried in Lindisfarne Priory. From here on, though, the story gets very strange. Eleven years after his death, as he was about to be declared a saint, his coffin was opened and his body was found to be intact. It would seem that, like a handful of other Holy Men, St Cuthbert had achieved a state of self-mummification through meditation.
St Cuthbert's Garden
His body, however, was not allowed to rest in peace. In AD875 when Lindisfarne was finally abandoned after a series of Viking raids, it was carried to the mainland by the monks, along with all the other relics and treasures. From there it was moved to Chester-le-Street and then further inland to Ripon before finally journeying back to Durham where it remains to this day.
It was still, apparently, uncorrupted at the time of the Reformation when the shrine the Normans built in their new cathedral was dismantled, and St Cuthbert was finally laid to rest in a grave behind the High Altar.
The sad part is that all Cuthbert wanted was to live out his days on Inner Farne and to be buried there when he died. Perhaps thatʼs it; the feeling that he is wandering around Holy Island to this day, trapped between the worldly demands of Durham and his longing for the spiritual peace of Inner Farne, just as Holy Island itself is neither part of the mainland nor an island in the full sense of the word, tethered as it is by its causeway.
Whilst youʼre on the island, donʼt miss Lindisfarne Castle, (Tudor, but converted to a house by one of my favourite architects, Edwin Lutyens). Check the Opening Times as these depend on the tides as does the mini-bus service from the car park to the castle, and much else on Holy Island.
Also worth looking out for is the touch screen "Interactive Turning Pages" version of the Lindisfarne Gospels in the Heritage Centre