St Cuthbert

Nick Lewis, House steward Nick Lewis House steward
A painting of St Cuthbert on Inner Farne by William Bell Scott

St Cuthbert would become one of medieval England’s most famous people, and one of her most significant saints. He spent just over eight years of his life on Inner Farne where he found the closeness and communion with God he so longed for. He died on Inner Farne in 687.

He was born around 634 near Melrose and after seeing a vision of St Aidan’s death, he entered the abbey there as a monk. In 665 he was appointed the Prior of the monastery at Lindisfarne, then after twelve years of unremitting work he longed to devote himself fully to God. In 676 he retired to Inner Farne as a hermit.

Once there he built a cell from turf and stone and a larger guesthouse for visitors – probably on the site of the present ‘Fishe’ House near the jetty.

At first Cuthbert was supplied with food from Lindisfarne, but still craving for isolation he insisted on growing his own and requested tools and grain. He is said to have formed a close relationship with the birds which bred on the islands, especially the Eider Duck – still known locally as ‘Cuddy’s’(or ‘Cuthbert’s) Ducks; to which when the weather was bad he would give sanctuary.

He was elected Bishop of Lindisfarne at the Synod of Twyford (Alnmouth), but was reluctant to leave his island. Only with the persuasion of King Egfrid of Northumbria did he change his mind. After about two years, Cuthbert resigned his position and retired to the Inner Farne to die. He died on the island in March 687.

His body was taken to Lindisfarne, where people flocked to pray at his grave, and many miracles of healing were reported. Then in 689 he was proclaimed a saint when his coffin was opened and an uncorrupted body was found.

St Cuthbert’s eventual resting place of Durham Cathedral became a place of great significance to medieval pilgrims, leading to the formation of the cult of St Cuthbert in the twelfth century. His banner was flown in battle, and up to the Dissolution in the 1530s his tomb was visited by thousands of people seeking his aid.

Today his legacy is found on the Farne Islands through the health of the bird populations and the unique atmosphere that still draws many people to the islands seeking to follow his footsteps.