Language and History English a traditional approach to grammar and composition
Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
St Cuthbert and the Phantom Fire

Based on St Bede’s Life of Cuthbert.

While he was a monk at Melrose in the Scottish Borders, then part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, St Cuthbert used to visit lonely villages to tell people about a God very different from the capricious pagan spirits they feared and worshipped. He became a popular figure, able to draw surprising crowds.

CUTHBERT was once addressing a crowd gathered in the street of a small Northumbrian village, when he broke off in mid flow to say:

‘Whatever happens, never let yourselves be distracted by the devil’s trickery.’

Then he resumed his sermon.

Cuthbert was still speaking when a neighbouring house burst abruptly into crackling flame. The villagers, ignoring Cuthbert’s frantic gesticulations, raced off to drench the building in water. But it seemed a most uncanny, unquenchable sort of fire. Soon the whole street was alight.

With a sigh, Cuthbert gave up trying to restrain them, and began to pray instead. And as suddenly as the roaring sheets of flame had come, they gathered themselves up and rolled indignantly away, leaving the hamlet quiet, and the dripping houses not even scorched. The whole drama had been a devilish illusion – a phantasm, a desperate ruse to break up Cuthbert’s congregation.

The shamefaced villagers drifted back, and after some words of comfort and reassurance, Cuthbert continued his preaching.

Based on St Bede’s Life of Cuthbert.

More like this

Lives of the Saints (93) History (386) Anglo-Saxon History (43) St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (13) Northumbrian Enlightenment (29) Northumberland (26) Bible and Saints (108)

Picture: © Walter Baxter, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
The village of Cappercleugh nestles in a corner of St Mary’s Loch in the Scottish Borders, a few miles south of Peebles. A year before this picture was taken, a fire on the hills to the right got out of hand, and the village was fortunate to escape without damage.

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