Saint Cuthbert and Saint Herbert, Hermits and Friends

March 20 is the Feast of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Herbert, Hermits and Friends (in the Celtic sense of “Anam Cara” or “soul friends””).
Saint Cuthbert (c. 634 – 20 March 687) was an Anglo-Saxon monk, bishop and hermit, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne in the Kingdom of Northumbria. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of England, with a cult centred at Durham Cathedral. From 676 until his consecration as Bishop in 685 her lived as a Hermit. However, in 686 he returned to his cell on Inner Farne Island (two miles from Bamburgh, Northumberland), which was where he eventually died on 20 March 687 AD, after a painful illness. He was buried at Lindisfarne the same day, and after long journeys escaping the Danes his remains chose, as was thought, to settle at Durham, causing the foundation of the city and Durham Cathedral. According to Bede’s life of the saint, when Cuthbert’s sarcophagus was opened nine years after his death, his body was found to have been perfectly preserved or incorrupt. This apparent miracle led to the steady growth of Cuthbert’s posthumous cultus, to the point where he became the most popular saint of Northern England. Numerous miracles were attributed to his intercession and to intercessory prayer near his remains.
Cuthbert incorrupt
In 1104 Cuthbert’s tomb was opened again and his relics translated to a new shrine behind the altar of the recently completed Cathedral. When the casket was opened, a small book of the gospels, measuring only three-and-a-half by five inches, now known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, was found. It was also discovered that his vestment was made of Byzantine silk with a “Nature Goddess” pattern, indicating the extent of the silk trade at this time. His shrine was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but, unusually, his relics survived and are still interred at the site (although they were also disinterred in the 19th century, when his wooden coffin and various relics were removed).

St. Herbert of Derwentwater is much less known than his friend, Saint Cuthbert. The date of his birth is unknown but he died on 20 March, 687. He was anchorite of the seventh century, who dwelt for many years on the little island still known as St. Herbert’s Isle, in the Lake of Derwentwater. He was for long the friend and disciple of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Little is known about him, save that it was his custom every year to visit St. Cuthbert for the purpose of receiving his direction in spiritual matters. In the year 686, hearing that his friend was visiting Carlisle for the purpose of giving the veil to Queen Eormenburg, he went to see him there, instead of at Lindisfarne as was usual.
St Herbert
After they had spoken together, St. Cuthbert said, “Brother Herbert, remember that whatever you wish to ask or tell me, you must do so before we part, because we shall not see one another again in this world. For I know that the day of my death is approaching, and I shall soon leave this earthly dwelling.” At these words, the other fell at his feet with sighs and tears, saying “In the name of our Lord, I beg you not to leave me! Remember that I am your most devoted friend, and ask God of His mercy to grant that as we have served Him together on earth, so may we pass away to the heavenly vision together.” And St. Cuthbert prayed and then made answer, “Rise, my brother, weep not, but rejoice that the mercy of God has granted our desire.” And so it happened. For Herbert, returning to his hermitage, fell ill of a long sickness, and, purified of his imperfections, passed to God on the very day on which St. Cuthbert died on Holy Island.

It is said that the remains of St. Herbert’s chapel and cell may still be traced at the northern end of the island on which he lived. In 1374 Thomas Appleby, Bishop of Carlisle, granted an indulgence of forty days to all who, in honour of St. Herbert, visited the island in Derwentwater and were present at the Mass of St. Cuthbert to be sung annually by the Vicar of Crosthwaite.


Saint Cuthbert’s Feast was by far the more popular of the two and Saint Herbert was largely forgotten although St Herbert’s Island is still named after him.


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