Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
Cuthbert, the Bridle and the Book : One of England’s most precious artefacts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, was nearly lost at sea.
Cuthbert, the Bridle and the Book

Based on ‘The History St Cuthbert’ (1887), by Charles Eyre, in turn based on the early mediaeval writers Simeon of Durham and Reginald of Coldingham.

Just before the Danes sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793, the monks smuggled out the body of St Cuthbert, carrying it on their shoulders all over Northumbria in the hope of finding a place free from violence. Eventually, their successors led by Bishop Eardulf and Abbot Eadred lost heart, and decided to take refuge in Ireland.

IN about 882, the little band of monks who cared for St Cuthbert’s coffin boarded a ship at Workington, seeking refuge in Ireland from the Danish invasion.* But three miles out a storm arose, washing their cherished hand-painted copy of the Gospels overboard, and tossing their little ship ashore at Whithorn in Galloway.**

As the shipwrecked monks slept fitfully that night, Hunred dreamt that Cuthbert spoke to him, urging him to search the shoreline for the lost book. ‘And you will find’ the saint continued ‘a harness hanging on a tree, and a horse nearby, so you will no longer have to carry my coffin.’

Down on Whithorn sands next morning they found the missing book. Not only was it unstained, but every page seemed brighter. They also found the harness. As they fingered it, a chestnut horse trotted up expectantly, and then someone also noticed a little wooden cart. They settled Cuthbert’s coffin comfortably in it, and returned to their wanderings with renewed courage.

* The town of Workington, an Anglo-Saxon settlement founded near an old Roman fort, stands by the mouth of the River Derwent on the west coast of modern-day Cumbria. Thirty miles northwest across the Solway Firth is Whithorn in Galloway, Scotland; a little over seventy miles to the west of Workington, beyond the Isle of Man, lies Ireland.

** This is the book known today as the Lindisfarne Gospels, kept in the British Library in London. It was made by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 to his death in 721, in honour of St Cuthbert. It should be distinguished from the Cuthbert Gospel (Stonyhurst Gospel or St Cuthbert Gospel of St John) kept in the saint’s coffin, and so also present throughout events in the story above.

Based on ‘The History St Cuthbert’ (1887), by Charles Eyre, in turn based on the early mediaeval writers Simeon of Durham and Reginald of Coldingham.

More like this

Lives of the Saints (98) History (419) Anglo-Saxon History (45) St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (13) Northumbrian Enlightenment (30) Northumberland (26) Bible and Saints (113)

Picture: © Mick Garratt, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
The waters of Whithorn harbour in Galloway, Scotland, are tranquil enough in this picture, looking south towards the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man. The mouth of the Derwent on the west coast of Cumbria in England, from which the monks set out that day, is thirty miles away off to the left, across the Solway Firth.

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