Herbert of Derwentwater, Priest and Hermit
March 20 is the Feast of Saint Herbert of Derwentwater
“Saint Herbert of Derwentwater (?-687) was an Anglo-Saxon priest and hermit who lived on St. Herbert’s Island, a small island in Derwentwater. The life of St. Herbert is recorded in Book IV Chapter 29 of St. Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People.”
His date of birth is unknown. He was for long the close friend and disciple of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, at whose request he took up the life of an anchorite, dwelling for many years on the little island still known as St Herbert’s Island, in the Lake of Derwentwater. He ate fish from the lake and grew vegetables around his tiny cell.
He visited Cuthbert in Lindisfarne every year 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. After they had spoken together, St. Cuthbert said, “Brother Herbert, tell to me now all that you have need to ask or speak, for never shall we see one another again in this world. For I know that the time of my decease is at hand.” Then Herbert fell weeping at his feet and begged that St. Cuthbert would obtain for him the grace that they might both be admitted to praise God in heaven at the same time. 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 indeed Herbert, returning to his hermitage, fell ill of a long sickness, and, purified of his imperfections, passed to God on the very March 20, 687 on which St. Cuthbert died on Holy Island.
Cuthbert’s feast was by far the more popular of the two and Herbert was largely forgotten although St. Herbert’s Island is still named after him.
Each year the parish of Our Lady of the Lakes and St Charles arranges to celebrate Mass on St. Herbert’s Island in his memory. Since 1983 pilgrimages have been made from Chadderton to Cumbria, parishioners joining others from churches in the Lake District in crossing Derwentwater and concelebrating Mass on St. Herbert’s Island.
The remains of the hermitage are still visible. 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.
His feast day is March 20.”
FOR THE SPOT WHERE THE HERMITAGE STOOD ON ST. HERBERT’S ISLAND, DERWENTWATER. William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
IF thou in the dear love of some one Friend
Hast been so happy that thou know’st what thoughts
Will sometimes in the happiness of love
Make the heart sink, then wilt thou reverence
This quiet spot; and, Stranger! not unmoved
Wilt thou behold this shapeless heap of stones,
The desolate ruins of St. Herbert’s Cell.
Here stood his threshold; here was spread the roof
That sheltered him, a self-secluded Man,
After long exercise in social cares
And offices humane, intent to adore
The Deity, with undistracted mind,
And meditate on everlasting things,
In utter solitude.–But he had left
A Fellow-labourer, whom the good Man loved
As his own soul. And, when with eye upraised
To heaven he knelt before the crucifix,
While o’er the lake the cataract of Lodore
Pealed to his orisons, and when he paced
Along the beach of this small isle and thought
Of his Companion, he would pray that both
(Now that their earthly duties were fulfilled)
Might die in the same moment. Nor in vain
So prayed he:–as our chronicles report,
Though here the Hermit numbered his last day
Far from St. Cuthbert his beloved Friend,
Those holy Men both died in the same hour.