St Cuthbert Reburied in Durham Cathedral
September 4th, 1104
Cuthbert was the most revered and formidable saint of the North. Such was the force of his personality that people who were deathly ill, when told that he was coming, recovered before he had even arrived. Prior of Lindisfarne from the year 664, he died in his hermitage on an island off the coast in 687, in his fifties. He was buried beside the altar at Lindisfarne and when the monks dug him up some years later, according to the Venerable Bede, instead of the skeleton they expected to discover, they ‘found his body entire, as if he were still alive, and his joints were still flexible, as if he were not dead but sleeping.’
The body was put in a fine oak coffin and kept above ground for the veneration of the faithful, but two hundred years later, after fiercely destructive Viking raids on Lindisfarne, the monks left the island, taking with them the coffin and other treasured possessions, which included the Lindisfarne Gospels. The head of King Oswald, a great patron of Northumbrian Christianity, and the bones of St Aidan and other saints were placed in Cuthbert’s coffin.
This was in 875. There followed a remarkable odyssey in which the monks and their wives and children wandered about for seven years, all over Northumbria and Cumbria, carrying the coffin and their treasures with them, without being able to settle safely until they found a refuge at Chester-le-Street. At one point they set off for Ireland by ship from the Cumbrian coast, but were driven back by an overwhelming storm. The Lindisfarne Gospels fell overboard, but the book washed up on shore, where the monks recovered it, the pages stained with sea-water.