King Henry VIII (1509-1547)
Cvthbertvs : Henry VIII’s experts declared that saints were nothing special, but St Cuthbert had a surprise for them.

Based on The History of St Cuthbert by Charles Eyre (1887).

In the Reformation, King Henry VIII’s University men told him research had shown that praying for miracles at the shrine of a saint was superstitious nonsense. So he let them smash the shrines, break open the coffins with a sledgehammer, and recover any nice jewellery before the human remains were incinerated.

IN 1537, Henry VIII’s experts Dr Ley, Dr Henley and Dr Blythman travelled to Durham Cathedral to superintend another demolition: the shrine of St Cuthbert.

When the goldsmith – someone had to assay the jewellery – broke open Cuthbert’s coffin, he saw to his astonishment that Cuthbert looked to have been buried only a matter of days. His face showed a fortnight’s growth of beard, his limbs were supple, and his priestly garments were soft and fresh. Yet all had lain there for nearly nine centuries.*

Dr Henley down below was calling impatiently for the bones (and Cuthbert’s sapphire-crowned ring) to be tossed out, but Ley cut him short. ‘If you will not believe me’ said Ley, a little shaken, ‘come up and see him yourself!’ The poor goldsmith noticed he had wounded one of the saint’s legs, and wept.**

After some delay, Bishop Tunstall secured permission to reinter the body in the same spot, marked today by a marble slab inscribed with a single word: Cvthbertvs.

* ‘There’ being the coffin, made in 698. The coffin itself had travelled extensively: from Lindisfarne in 875, it went to Chester-le-Street, then Ripon a century later, and finally Durham in about 1020. During this period, it was opened countless times; one Chester monk used comb the saint’s hair.

** Apparently, a bruise showed. A contemporary, Archdeacon Harpsfield, tells us that a blow “fell upon the body of the Saint itself, and wounded the leg, and of the wound the flesh soon gave a manifest sign.”

Based on The History of St Cuthbert by Charles Eyre (1887).

More like this

Lives of the Saints (98) History (419) St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (13) Tudor Era (10) Northumbrian Enlightenment (30) Northumberland (26) Bible and Saints (113)

Picture: Photo by John Hamilton, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: public domain. View original
The grave of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. St Cuthbert the Wonderworker was a monk and Bishop of Lindisfarne (‘Holy Island’) in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, and died in 687.

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