HIS week in English Catholic History, Ordinariate Catholics around the globe celebrate the life of Saint Cuthbert (September 4th, also commemorated March 20th).
St. Cuthbert was a monk and eventually elected a bishop in Northumbria (now northeastern England) in the mid-600s. He is the patron saint of northern England and of otters, for reasons that we shall elucidate below.
He grew up a shepherd of Melrose in present-day Scotland, until in 651, while tending his father’s flock, he had a vision of St. Aidan ascending to Heaven at the moment of St. Aidan’s death. This inspired St. Cuthbert to embrace the monastic life on the island of Lindisfarne, today called Holy Island.
According to St. Bede (AD 672-735), St. Cuthbert disappeared rather mysteriously from his monastery at Lindisfarne each night after the brothers had said the evening office, only returning the following morning.
One night, one of the brothers secretly followed him to see where he was going. Much to the brother’s surprise, St. Cuthbert went to the beach, then walked into the icy Northumbrian Sea up to his neck. St. Cuthbert stayed there all night, praying and singing psalms, only coming back to shore in the morning when it was time to go to the morning service. When St. Cuthbert returned to the shore, two otters came to him, dried him with their fur, and warmed him with their breath. The otters stayed with Cuthbert as he completed his prayer, kneeling before him in the sand. They would not depart until he offered them his blessing.
When St. Cuthbert was at the point of death, he told his protegé Herebert, “Brother Herebert, remember at this time to ask me all the questions you wish to have resolved, and say all that you design; for we shall see one another no more in this world. For I am sure that the time of my dissolution is at hand, and I shall speedily put off this tabernacle of the flesh.”
Then Herebert begged St. Cuthbert not to forsake him, but to ask God that as they had served God together on Earth, they might die and ascend to Heaven together. God granted their wish, as St. Cuthbert prophesied to Herebert He would: they died soon after on the same day, March 20th, 687.
St. Cuthbert died on one of the Islands of Farne, was buried in Lindisfarne, and was later moved to Durham Cathedral. His body was found incorrupt 11 years later, confirming the holy man’s sainthood.
Centuries later in 1537, King Henry VIII sent his commissioners to destroy St. Cuthbert’s body, since veneration of saints was forbidden by the Protestants Henry had apostatized to support. But it is reported the monks secretly removed the body from the cathedral, reburying it in a secret location within the grounds of Crayke Abbey. Today the mystery continues, for allegedly the location of St. Cuthbert’s holy corpse is known only to 12 monks, its whereabouts only revealed to one of their brothers when one of their number dies.
Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (C) 2018.
John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster is a medical graduate of Nova Southeastern University pursuing post-graduate studies.