Saint Cuthbert Novena with Images from the York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window
18 March – For Stewardship of Creation – Saint Cuthbert, Animals, and Nature
Image: St Cuthbert and the otters (© Taken by The York Glaziers Trust, reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of York.)
(See below for more information on this and related panels.)
In preparation for the Feast of St Cuthbert, 20 March, we ask the saint’s prayers for the Church, for the world, for visible unity among the diversity of Christian churches and ecclesial communities—especially among Catholics and Anglicans—and for the flourishing of the Anglican patrimony.
The focus of this day of the novena is stewardship of creation. Centuries before St Francis, in Umbria, preached to birds and tamed a wolf, St Cuthbert, in Northumbria, protected eider ducks and had his feet dried by sea otters. Kinship with animals as fellow creatures was part of monastic lore from the days of the Egyptian Desert Fathers. Food delivery via a raven, for example, is a legend associated with St. Paul of Thebes (died ca. 341), and contaminated-food removal—poisoned-food, actually—by a crow is set down in chapter eight of St. Gregory’s Life of St. Benedict. Celtic monasticism teems with animal stories. (See Edward Sellner, _Celtic Saints and Animal Stories_ [Paulist Press, 2020]).
Whether this ancient monastic rapport with animals and nature was alike, on all four corners, with what we know in our own day as having pets, nature-conservation, or even animal-rights movements, is perhaps not as easy a question to address as might at first seem to be the case. That the Franciscan mendicants of the thirteenth century have, thanks to the legends associated with St. Francis himself, become most closely associated with animals and nature is probably fine with most monastics, yours truly included. But I suspect that if St. Cuthbert were not to become popularized as a kind of St. Francis of the north, both he and Francis perceived nature similarly: not as something to be overawed by or worshiped or dominated but to be lived in with a sense of grace.
Cuthbert’s respect for creation was more than theoretical. Whether by any formal legislative process or simply because he was the venerable hermit who moved to the Inner Farne in 676, Cuthbert is said to have established a law that made the island a safe haven for eider ducks. This might have been the first bird-conservation law in history. A name locals still give the birds is Cuddy’s ducks, “‘Cuddy’ being the familiar form of ‘Cuthbert’.”
Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(Prayer throughout the novena, for the Anglican patrimony)
O HOLY Ghost the Lord, who on Pentecost gavest the Church the gift of tongues that Christ might be known, loved, and served by peoples of divers nations and customs: Watch over the Anglican heritage within thy Church, we pray thee, that, led by thy guidance and strengthened by thy grace, this worthy patrimony may find such favor in thy sight that the people formed therein may increase both in holiness and number, and so show forth thy glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Son, one God world without end. Amen.
(Prayer for stewardship of creation)
O merciful Creator, whose hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us, we beseech thee, ever thankful for thy loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Saint Cuthbert, pray for us.
Our Father …
Hail Mary …
Glory Be …
Featured Panel Related to St Cuthbert, Animals, and Nature
Panel 13d – St Cuthbert and the Otters (© Taken by The York Glaziers Trust, reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of York. Descriptions of the Saint Cuthbert Window panels are taken from the York Glaziers Trust Stained-Glass Navigator.) – This panel is the first of two that show the miracle of St Cuthbert and the otters. It is the only panel in the window that shows St Cuthbert twice. On the left, Cuthbert stands in the sea, his hands raised in prayer. On the right, he is shown seated on the shore, where otters (now displaced) dry his feet. In the upper left, a monk secretly watches Cuthbert. [Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert, II:III, Colgrave, 79-83; Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert, X, Colgrave, 189-191.]
Other Panels Related to St Cuthbert, Animals, and Nature
Panel 15c – St Cuthbert forgives the spying monk – This panel probably shows St Cuthbert forgiving the monk who spied on him while he was praying in the sea, an episode shown in panel 13d. The monk kneels before Cuthbert, surrounded by a group of laymen and monks, who witness Cuthbert hear the monk’s confession, forgive him, and swear him to secrecy.
Panel 22a – Monks prayers fail to calm the storm – This panel is one of two which together show St Cuthbert saving boats which were being blown out to sea by praying for God’s help. In written versions, he saves rafts of monks, but here sailors are shown in boats with full sails. In this panel, monks are shown praying ineffectively for the boats to be saved. In panel 10b, St Cuthbert is shown successfully praying for the boats to be blown back to safety.
Panel 10b – St Cuthbert’s prayers calm a storm and save sailors – This panel is one of two which together show St Cuthbert saving boats which were being blown out to sea by praying for God’s help. In written versions, he saves rafts of monks, but here sailors are shown in boats with full sails. Panel 22a shows monks praying ineffectively for the boats to be saved. In contrast, this panel shows St Cuthbert’s prayers causing the boats to be blown back to safety.
Panel 17d – St Cuthbert predicts the end of a storm – This panel is the first of three that show miracles performed by St Cuthbert when journeying to Scotland [“the land of the Picts”]. The sequence in the window is slightly different to Bede’s version, perhaps to emphasise the different miracles that happen in the episode. Here, as Cuthbert and his companions are arriving by boat, a severe storm has arisen, delaying their journey. Cuthbert predicts the end of the storm. [Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert, XI, Colgrave, 193-95.]
Panel 17a – St Cuthbert rebuking a raven – This panel is the first of two which represent an episode where St Cuthbert rebukes birds that stole thatch from the roof of his guest house on Farne. The birds are shown perched on the guest house, listening attentively to St Cuthbert, who commands them to stop damaging the roof and fly away. Curiously, the building appears to have a blue tiled roof, rather than thatch, as described by Bede.
Panel 17b – The ravens apologise – This panel is the second from an episode where St Cuthbert rebukes birds who stole thatch from his roof. It simultaneously shows two moments that occurred three days after Cuthbert had rebuked the birds (shown in panel 17a). In the lower right, a bird approaches Cuthbert while he is digging, to apologise and seek permission to return. Above, three birds are shown flying towards Cuthbert, carrying pieces of lard, to thank him for allowing them to return.