Bede: The Life and Miracles of Saint Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindesfarne (721)



AT the same time the plague made great ravages in those parts, so that there were scarcely any inhabitants left in villages and places which had been thickly populated, and some towns were wholly deserted. The holy father Cuthbert, therefore, went round his parish, most assiduously ministering the word of God, and comforting those few who were left. But being arrived at a certain village, and having there exhorted all whom he found there, he said to his attendant priest, ” Do you think that any one remains who has need that we should visit and converse with him? or have we now seen all here, and shall we go elsewhere? ” The priest looked about, and saw a woman standing afar off, one of whose sons had died but a little time before, and she was now supporting another at the point of death, whilst the tears trickling down her cheek bore witness to her past and present affliction. He pointed her out to the man of God, who immediately went to her, and, blessing the boy, kissed him, and said to his mother, ” Do not fear nor be sorrowful; for your child shall be healed and live, and no one else of your household shall die of this pestilence.” To the truth of which prophecy the mother and son, who lived a long time after that, bore witness.


Between our eastward and our westward sea
The narrowing strand
Clasps close the noblest shore fame holds in fee
Even here where English birth seals all men free–

The sea-mists meet across it when the snow
Clothes moor and fell,
And bid their true-born hearts who love it glow
For joy that none less nobly born may know
What love knows well.

The splendour and the strength of storm and fight
Sustain the song
That filled our fathers’ hearts with joy to smite,
To live, to love, to lay down life that right
Might tread down wrong.

They warred, they sang, they triumphed, and they passed,
And left us glad
Here to be born, their sons, whose hearts hold fast
The proud old love no change can overcast,
No chance leave sad.

None save our northmen ever, none but we,
Met, pledged, or fought
Such foes and friends as Scotland and the sea
With heart so high and equal, strong in glee
And stern in thought.

Thought, fed from time’s memorial springs with pride,
Made strong as fire
Their hearts who hurled the foe down Flodden side,
And hers who rode the waves none else durst ride–
None save her sire.

O land beloved, where nought of legend’s dream
Outshines the truth,
Where Joyous Gard, closed round with clouds that gleam
For them that know thee not, can scarce but seem
Too sweet for sooth,

Thy sons forget not, nor shall fame forget,
The deed there done
Before the walls whose fabled fame is yet
A light too sweet and strong to rise and set
With moon and sun.

Song bright as flash of swords or oars that shine
Through fight or foam
Stirs yet the blood thou hast given thy sons like wine
To hail in each bright ballad hailed as thine
One heart, one home.

Our Collingwood, though Nelson be not ours,
By him shall stand
Immortal, till those waifs of oldworld hours,
Forgotten, leave uncrowned with bays and flowers



(Vatican Radio ) Pope Francis has chosen the motto “Miserando atque eligendo”, meaning lowly but chosen; literally in Latin ‘by having mercy, by choosing him’.

The motto is one the Pope had already chosen as Bishop. It is taken from the homilies of the Venerable Bede on Saint Matthew’s Gospel relating to his vocation:”Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an Apostle saying to him : Follow me.”

This homily, which focuses on divine mercy and is reproduced in the Liturgy of the Hours on the Feast of Saint
Matthew, has taken on special significance in the Pope’s life and spiritual journey.

In fact it was on the Feast of Saint Matthew in 1953 that a young seventeen year-old Jorge Bergoglio was touched by the mercy of God and felt the call to religious life in the footsteps of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Beyond the motto, the coat of arms has a blue field and is surmounted by the mitre and the papal keys. On the crest itself at the centre is the symbol of the Jesuits, a flaming sun with the three letters recalling the name and the salvific mission of Jesus. Underneath we have two more symbols: to the right the star representing Mary and to the left the nard flower representing Joseph.

Whether weakness, ignorance, malice and concupiscence are suitably reckoned as the wounds of nature consequent upon sin?

Objection 1. It would seem that weakness, ignorance, malice and concupiscence are not suitably reckoned as the wounds of nature consequent upon sin. For one same thing is not both effect and cause of the same thing. But these are reckoned to be causes of sin, as appears from what has been said above (76, 1; 77, A3,5; 78, 1). Therefore they should not be reckoned as effects of sin.

Objection 2. Further, malice is the name of a sin. Therefore it should have no place among the effects of sin.

Objection 3. Further, concupiscence is something natural, since it is an act of the concupiscible power. But that which is natural should not be reckoned a wound of nature. Therefore concupiscence should not be reckoned a wound of nature.

Objection 4. Further, it has been stated (77, 3) that to sin from weakness is the same as to sin from passion. But concupiscence is a passion. Therefore it should not be condivided with weakness.

Objection 5. Further, Augustine (De Nat. et Grat. lxvii, 67) reckons “two things to be punishments inflicted on the soul of the sinner, viz. ignorance and difficulty,” from which arise “error and vexation,” which four do not coincide with the four in question. Therefore it seems that one or the other reckoning is incomplete.

On the contrary, The authority of Bede suffices.

I answer that, As a result of original justice, the reason had perfect hold over the lower parts of the soul, while reason itself was perfected by God, and was subject to Him. Now this same original justice was forfeited through the sin of our first parent, as already stated (81, 2); so that all the powers of the soul are left, as it were, destitute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue; which destitution is called a wounding of nature.

Again, there are four of the soul’s powers that can be subject of virtue, as stated above (Question 61, Article 2), viz. thereason, where prudence resides, the will, where justice is, the irascible, the subject of fortitude, and the concupiscible, the subject of temperance. Therefore in so far as the reason is deprived of its order to the true, there is the wound of ignorance; in so far as the will is deprived of its order of good, there is the wound of malice; in so far as the irascible is deprived of its order to the arduous, there is the wound of weakness; and in so far as the concupiscible is deprived of its order to the delectable, moderated by reason, there is the wound of concupiscence.

Accordingly these are the four wounds inflicted on the whole of human nature as a result of our first parent’s sin. But since the inclination to the good of virtue is diminished in each individual on account of actual sin, as was explained above (Question 1, Article 2), these four wounds are also the result of other sins, in so far as, through sin, the reason is obscured, especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult and concupiscence more impetuous.

Reply to Objection 1. There is no reason why the effect of one sin should not be the cause of another: because the soul, through sinning once, is more easily inclined to sin again.

Reply to Objection 2. Malice is not to be taken here as a sin, but as a certain proneness of the will to evil, according to the words of Genesis 8:21: “Man’s senses are prone to evil from his youth”.

Reply to Objection 3. As stated above (82, 3, ad 1), concupiscence is natural to man, in so far as it is subject to reason: whereas, in so far as it is goes beyond the bounds of reason, it is unnatural to man.

Reply to Objection 4. Speaking in a general way, every passion can be called a weakness, in so far as it weakens the soul’sstrength and clogs the reason. Bede, however, took weakness in the strict sense, as contrary to fortitude which pertains to the irascible.

Reply to Objection 5. The “difficulty” which is mentioned in this book of Augustine, includes the three wounds affecting theappetitive powers, viz. “malice,” “weakness” and “concupiscence,” for it is owing to these three that a man finds it difficult to tend to the good. “Error” and “vexation” are consequent wounds, since a man is vexed through being weakened in respect of the objects of his concupiscence.

I came across this claim in a local history written in 1924: Newcastle-upon-Tyne by F. J. C. Hearshaw. In the year 1138 Newcastle was occupied by King David I of Scotland (Feast Day May 24th) it did not return to the Kingdom of England until 1157. The New Castle on the ruins of the Roman fortress of Pons Aelius had been built in 1080 by Robert II of Normandy eldest son of William the Conqueror and hero of the First Crusade. David’s family already had associations with Newcastle because his Grandmother and Aunt fled there after the death of Malcolm III and St Margaret in 1093. Malcolm III was killed at Alnwick with his eldest son on the way back from a campaign in Northumbria during which he had attended the foundation of the new Cathedral Church at Durham. Hearshaw continues…
“Queen Margaret of Scotland (sister of Edgar Atheling) survived this double loss only four days, and Scotland became the prey of civil war and anarchy. In these circumstances Margaret’s aged mother, Agatha, and her sister Christina, fled to England, their native land, sought shelter in Newcastle, and there ‘were espoused to Christ’ in the newly founded Nunnery of St Bartholomew, first of Newcastle’s religious houses.”

This Nunnery was destroyed at the Reformation. The indoor Granger Market and Nun Street mark the land where it once stood. Now Hearshaw is certainly wrong about England being “their native land” as neither of them can have been born there. In fact the place of Agatha’s birth and how she fits into the great extended family of saints surrounding St Stephen of Hungary and St Henry the Emperor is a great historical mystery. Agatha lived out her remaining years as a nun in Newcastle but her daughter did not stay in Newcastle. Christina went on to be the Abbess of Romsey where she educated Malcolm and Margaret’s daughter Edith (later renamed Matilda) by whose marriage to Henry I the royal line of Wessex was united to that of Normandy. This union was later threatened by the survival of only one child of Henry I, his daughter Matilda. Although the Barons agreed to accept her as heir before Henry I’s death, when the King actually died most rallied to her cousin Stephen (famous coward of the First Crusade) sparking a protracted civil war. This helped to provide a pretext for expansion southward by David I (son of Malcolm III and uncle of Matilda)…

“In 1137 a muster of local troops at Newcastle prevented David from pressing his attack far to the south. In 1138, however, his host reached Northallerton in Yorkshire; but there it met with a heavy defeat at the hands of the militia of Yorkshire in the famous ‘Battle of the Standard.’ Nevertheless, though this English victory saved Yorkshire from Scottish occupation, it did nothing to relieve Northumberland, nearly all of whose castles were by this time in David’s possession. The hopeless Stephen, distracted by civil war and debilitated by baronial treachery, felt constrained to make peace on his adversary’s terms. Hence by the Treaty of Durham (1139), the much coveted Earldom of Northumberland was revived and conferred upon Henry, David’s eldest son and heir. Newcastle was not included in this grant. In spite of that fact, however, the Scots took possession of it and held it for some eighteen years.
The Scottish occupation was a notable episode in the history of the town. It was quite clear that David regarded Northumberland as permanently incorporated into his kingdom, and many things indicate that Newcastle was soon in fair way to supersede Edinburgh as his capital and seat of government. He himself was much in the town; he showed it peculiar favour; he issued his laws therefrom; he adopted its customs as models for the four Scottish boroughs of Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh and Berwick (hence the inclusion of the customs of Newcastle in the Scottish Statute Books); he caused, it is supposed, the old English church near the White Cross to be refounded and rededicated to the Scottish St Andrew; he refounded the nunnery of which his grandmother and his aunt had been inmates. From Newcastle he extended his wide authority over Northern England. Before the end of 1141 (when the cause of Stephen appeared to be ruined and that of Matilda triumphant) he had secured Carlisle, and had made himself master of Cumberland, Westmorland, and a large part of Lancashire. A dependent of his moreover acquired the palatine bishopric of Durham, and the largest dreams of Scottish expansion seemed likely to be realised.
Three deaths, however – viz., those of Henry, Earl of Northumberland, in 1152; of David himself in 1153; and of Stephen in 1154 – completely changed the political situation, and prepared the way for the English recovery of Newcastle and North.”
Of course, the Scottish Kings were rather more English than the Kings of England at this time as they represented the elder branch of the house of Wessex. Hearshaw is probably wrong about St Andrew’s as well. It is likely that it was always dedicated to the Apostle on account of the devotion to him in the region stemming from St Wilfred’s translation of relics of Andrew from Rome to Hexham in the seventh century. In fact, I am reliably informed, it is quite likely that the relics of St Andrew in Fife and the consequent dedication to Scotland to him probably stems from the theft of some or all of these relics in one of the many raids of the period or their transportation to Fife by a disgruntled deposed Abbott of Hexham. In fact, it was not until after the period discussed here that the term Scotia was used to include the region bellow the Firths of Clyde and Forth. The eastern part of this region still being seen as Northumbrian, giving rise to the surprising fact that St Cuthbert is the patron of Edinburgh and St Andrew of Newcastle.

On Boisil’s death Cuthbert became prior, and for many years discharged his duties with the most pious zeal, as became a saint: for he not only furnished both precept and example to his brethren of the monastery, but sought to lead the minds of the neighbouring people to the love of heavenly things. Many of them, indeed, disgraced the faith which they professed, by unholy deeds; and some of them, in the time of plague, neglecting the sacrament of their creed, had recourse to idolatrous remedies, as if by charms or amulets, or any other mysteries of the magical art, they were able to avert a stroke inflicted upon them by the Lord. To correct these errors, he often went out from the monastery, sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, and preached the way of truth to the neighbouring villages, as Boisil, his predecessor, had done before him.

It was at this time customary for the English people to flock together when a clerk or priest entered a village, and listen to what he said, that so they might learn something from him, and amend their lives. Now Cuthbert was so skilful in teaching, and so zealous in what he undertook, that none dared to conceal from him their thoughts. They confessed every sin openly – indeed they thought he would know if they kept anything back – and made amends by ‘fruits worthy of repentance’, as he commanded. He made a point of searching out those steep rugged places in the mountains which other preachers dreaded to visit because of their poverty and squalor.  This, to him, was a labour of love. He was so keen to preach that he often remained a week, sometimes two or three, nay, even a whole month, without returning home, living with the rough hill folk, preaching and calling them heavenwards by his example.

St Bede, Life of St Cuthbert  – a recent pressie from Aelianus, though most of the above is from an older translation on the interweb.

Now one night, a brother of the monastery, seeing him go out alone followed him privately to see what he should do. But he when he left the monastery, went down to the sea, which flows beneath, and going into it, until the water reached his neck and arms, spent the night in praising God. When the dawn of day approached, he came out of the water, and, falling on his knees, began to pray again. Whilst he was doing this, two quadrupeds, called otters, came up from the sea, and, lying down before him on the sand, breathed upon his feet, and wiped them with their hair after which, having received his blessing, they returned to their native element. Cuthbert himself returned home in time to join in the accustomed hymns with the other brethren. The brother, who waited for him on the heights, was so terrified that he could hardly reach home; and early in the morning he came and fell at his feet, asking his pardon, for he did not doubt that Cuthbert was fully acquainted with all that had taken place. To whom Cuthbert replied, ” What is the matter, my brother ? What have you done? Did you follow me to see what I was about to do? I forgive you for it on one condition,-that you tell it to nobody before my death.” In this he followed the example of our Lord, who, when He showed his glory to his disciples on the mountain, said, ” See that you tell no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead.” When the brother had assented to this condition, he give him his blessing, and released him from all his trouble. The man concealed this miracle during St. Cuthbert’s life; but, after his death, took care to tell it to as many persons as he was able.

St. Bede, Life of Cuthbert

It being St. Cuthbert’s Day, I toddled off to Mass in Toon. Not being a properly motorised Catholic this was necessarily the common-or-garden variety, not the splendid-sounding extraordinary sung one somewhere near Blaydon, of which I have heard tell. Nevertheless, there was an understated but discernible tone of fervour in the pleasingly ample congregation. One’s heart boomed a little louder when the Priest prayed for ‘The Lord Bishop Seamus, successor of St  Cuthbert’. One thing did surprise me, however. It was clear from one comment that the good father was under the misapprehension that the body resting beneath the tomb stone in Durham Cathedral marked ‘Cvthbertvs’ is that of the saint. As I was told very long ago and many times thereafter by the greybeards of the Diocese, the good Monks of Durham managed  to remove the still incorrupt body of St Cuthbert from its tomb because Henry VIII’s vandals were so disconcerted to find the saint whole uncorrupt with his face bare, and his beard as of a fortnight’s growth, and all the vestments about him as he was accustomed to say mass‘. They were too wily to rebury the body in the same place to be desecrated when the ‘reformers’ regained their composure, so they hid it and substituted another. The real body is concealed somewhere else in the Cathedral. This tradition is discussed in the Catholic Encyclopaedia article on St Cuthbert. This was in accord with St Cuthbert’s dying command to his brothers, ‘have no communion with those who err from the unity of the Catholic faith … I would rather that you should take up my bones, and leave these places, to reside wherever God may send you, than consent in any way to the wickedness of schismatics’. It is said that in any generation there are only two priests (one secular and one Benedictine according to some accounts) who know where the body really is.


For most of my life I assumed that there was a good chance that this story was just a consoling legend for the dispossessed faithful of Northumbria. But then, about ten years ago, an extremely reliable cleric of my acquaintance told me that not only was the story true but that he knows who one of the two priests is and this person had confirmed the accuracy of the tale to him.

Another story floating about, which my source could not confirm or deny, is that some time in the nineteenth century, a group from Ushaw concealed themselves overnight in the Cathedral, with a stone mason, in order to retrieve the body and take it back to Ushaw. To their joy they discovered St Cuthbert was still incorrupt but disappointingly that it would be more than a night’s work to retrieve the body. They therefore left it concealed pending the Restoration…


Anyway, for them as is interested (which should be everyone naturally) here is Bede’s prose Life of Cuthbert.


“What man the wondrous gifts of God shall tell?
What ear the joys of paradise shall hear?
Triumphant o’er the gates of death and hell,
The just shall live amid the starry sphere”

I must admit, I know it’s terribly sentimental, but the video I posted bellow really gets to me. Chesterton once said that the Catholic Church is the only power on earth capable of delivering a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his time and Augustine called us a high born race of foreigners on earth. This power of temporal and spatial emancipation is (especially for an historian) one of the most wonderful gifts with which Christ endowed the Church. And yet, oddly, though it renders us homeless wanderers it also gives us back our homes more truly than pagans could ever realise.
I cannot think of Ss Cuthbert, Bede and Aidan without thinking of them as my personal friends who have been looking out for me all these years. I found out a few years ago that the street where my family have lived for thirty years is named after a very senior Freemason who risked his entire career to convert to Catholicism. I found out I had unknowingly visited his tomb with my school. How much I and my sister (both converts) must secretly owe to his prayers. I found out a sainted monk from the long ruined Abbey next to the ex-mason’s tomb founded another Abbey just next to my Mother’s office. Doubtless he storms heaven for her every day.
When St Cuthbert commanded his children never to let his body fall into the hands of schismatics, heretics or pagans I know he was addressing me just as much as his confreres in the room. When I went to Jerusalem it was really strange to think that the two founders of my own city had been there before me (I left the place in less of a mess). But, dodgy Norman adventurer though he was, I know I am connected to Robert Curthose in way that Hadrian can never match. When Robert of Normandy founded Newcastle he was on his way back from Edinburgh just like Pius II. He had been negotiating a peace with Malcolm III brokered by St Margaret’s brother Edgar Ætheling. I always imagine St Margaret is rather like Boeciana. Malcolm ended up being slain by the keeper of Bamburgh Castle (also shown on the video) and was buried in Tynemouth Priory. It is strange to think they all knew each other but stranger still that they know us and share in our trials through our prayers and theirs.
I have mentioned before the strange feeling elicited in me when I serve Mass on top of Hadrian’s Wall but it is the reverse of Gibbon’s feeling of revulsion as he sat in the ruins of the Capitol and contemplated the barefoot friars. My sympathies are with the (shod) friar saying Mass not the neo-pagans outside. The Capitol is ruined materially and spiritually but barefoot friars are immortal. A couple of summers ago I took Notburga and Berenike to the mediaeval shrine of Our Lady near my house. It is a ruin but not a ruin like the wall. It only slumbers in the sure and certain home of final restoration. The mediaeval pilgrims who walked past my house to visit the shrine are my friends. I trust that when they see our trials and sorrows (small though they are) their cry goes up ‘how long!’ They pray for us and we pray for them. Martin V who attached indulgences to the shrine now shares in the same communion of spiritual goods with those pilgrims and their modern successors.
There is another passage from Pius II’s memoirs where he visits the English College villa on lake Albano, some centuries before it was bought by the College. This passage too generates a wonderful rush of atemporality. According to a local tradition the ruins of Alba Longa (the home town of Brutus the legendary founder of Britain) lie under the cricket pitch of the English College villa. That was a pleasing thought to dwell upon as I gazed out across the lake with Berenike sipping my G&T. But this is a mere allusion, a poetic echo. It is no mere poetic fancy but the empyrean fire of charity that cuts like lightening between the ages and the leagues that separated us from Pius II on the same terrace, Robert Curthose storming the walls of Jerusalem, the pilgrims on their knees in the Chapel, from Malcolm III and Margaret and the dying Cuthbert surrounded by his monks. As Oscar Wilde said, the Catholic Church is strictly for saints and sinners only, for merely respectable people the ‘Church’ of England must suffice.
I took part in a pilgrimage to another shrine of Our Lady last year. It ended on the anniversary of my baptism. I carried the cross at the head of the last group of pilgrims into the church. Thousands of pilgrims had got there ahead of us in other groups and were waiting for our arrival to begin Mass. The church was completely packed, I’m sure it must have been illegal. The pilgrims rose up tier upon tier around us singing Alleluia with all their hearts, most tunefully (they were not of Anglo-Saxon origin). I was holding back the flood gates. Afterwards everyone said it was like heaven, and so it was.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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