Saint Cuthbert Novena – 20 March – Feast of St. Cuthbert and Thanksgiving for the English Saints

Saint Cuthbert Novena with Images from the York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window

20 March – Feast of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne and Thanksgiving for the English Saints

[ Preceding post in the novena. First post in the series. ]

Image: St Cuthbert.  (© 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.)

On the Feast of St Cuthbert, we ask the prayers of St Cuthbert and all the English saints 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.

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.

(A thanksgiving for the English saints)

We do render unto thee, O Lord, most high praise and hearty thanks for thy grace and virtue declared in all thy saints, and especially those whose service and witness have borne fruit in the Anglican patrimony;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Augustine and his followers, who brought the faith to Canterbury; For Columba, Aidan, Cuthbert, and the apostles of the North;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Benet Biscop, Theodore, and Chad, and all who built thy Catholic Church in England;

Hallowed be thy name.

For the saints who have shown forth Jesus in their lives; And for all the upright and the good, who have served their generations;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Alban and the martyrs of England; And for all who have shed their blood in the cause of right;

Hallowed be thy name.

For popes, archbishops and bishops, wisely ruling thy house; And for all faithful priests and deacons, distributing thy Word and Sacraments;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Bede and Anselm, and the saints pre-eminent in sacred study; And for all who have brought their learning to the service of truth;

Hallowed be thy name.

For the saints who, loving Christ, have chosen poverty; And for all who have laboured for the poor;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Hugh, Thomas of Canterbury, and thy saints who withstood might when it was wrong; And for all champions of the wronged, the helpless, and the oppressed;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Dunstan, and all who have renewed and restored thy Church; And for all reformers of abuse and shame;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Boniface and the missionaries of Jesus; And for all who, venturing on the great seas and in far countries, have commended their faith;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Oswald, Alfred, Edward, and all noble kings; And for all who have governed this people with justice and judgement;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Aetheldreda and all holy queens and matrons; And for all English mothers whose children, rising up, have called them blessed;

Hallowed be thy name.

For Hilda and the virgins of England; And for all who have sweetened England by pureness of living;

Hallowed be thy name.

For writers and poets inspired of thought and tongue; For such as have found out musical tunes;

Hallowed be thy name.

For teachers wise and eloquent in their instructions; For physicians whose healing is from the Most High; For the wealthy furnished with ability and generosity; For the lowly and merciful who have left no memorial;

Hallowed be thy name.

They show the glory of thy kingdom; And talk of thy power.  That thy power, thy glory, and the mightiness of thy kingdom might be known to all humankind.

We therefore pray thee help thy servants: Whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious Blood.  Make them to be numbered with thy saints; In glory everlasting.

Saint Cuthbert, pray for us.

Our Father … 

Hail Mary …  

Glory Be …

The Life and Times of St. Cuthbert

Born ca. 634.  Died 20 March 687. Monk, Hermit, Bishop.

The facts about Saint Cuthbert’s family and childhood are not clear, even though there are two hagiographies about Cuthbert written relatively soon after his death.  The Vita Sancti Cuthberti Auctore Anonymo (Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert) was probably written shortly after Cuthbert’s relics were translated to the main altar at Lindisfarne (4 September 699), perhaps as early as the following year (Colgrave, 13), and St. Bede’s Vita Sancti Cuthberti (Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert) was written around 721 and intended for an even wider readership (Colgrave, 15), which it soon gained, even internationally (Colgrave, 1).  (Bede also wrote a verse life of St. Cuthbert.)  There are indications, however, that Cuthbert might have been of noble birth (possibly related to King Aldfrith of Northumbria).  He had a famous vision about the death of St. Aidan while serving as a shepherd.  But this does not establish shepherding was, as we would say today, his occupation.

Cuthbert also seems to have been orphaned in childhood.  Other than depictions in the York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window of the woman who actually gave birth to Cuthbert, references to Cuthbert’s mother in some of the window’s panels might refer to Kenswith, who had raised Cuthbert from the age of eight and whom Cuthbert called mother.  [Anonymous Life of St. Cuthbert, II:VII, Colgrave, 89-91; Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert, Ch. XIV, Colgrave, 203.]

Aside from shepherding in his curriculum vitae, Cuthbert seems also to have spent time in military service.  This would not have been unlikely in so violent a time, especially if Cuthbert was indeed from the nobility.  But the focus of Cuthbert’s life in the hagiographies begins with his entering Melrose Abbey in what is now the southeast of Scotland.  According to the hagiographies, the prior at Melrose, St. Boisil, immediately foresaw the important contribution Cuthbert would make, though Boisil was not to live long enough to see these prophecies fulfilled.

Monastic observance as “fuga mundi” (“retreat from the world”)—which is the essence of Christian monasticism’s beginnings in 4th-c Egypt and Palestine, primarily—was certainly part of monastic practice in Cuthbert’s day.  In the Egyptian desert, St. Anthony the Great, St. Pachomius, St. John Cassian, and many others developed the ideal that among the many charisms of Christianity, some emphasize the apostle’s “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  That is the monastic apostolate—not preaching, teaching, healing, ministering to the poor, and so on, but contemplating divine things and assiduous union with God through prayer.  Later monastic reforms reclaimed this ideal, especially as the later creation of new religious institutes regarded prayer not as the sole apostolate but as the support for other apostolates.  That call of the desert—and thus a life of prayer without ceasing—was always present in the heart of St. Cuthbert.  Hence his decision to end his days not in office as bishop but in solitude as a hermit.  It is also why, had he been presented with the variety of charisms of consecrated life that would have been available in later centuries, he would probably still have chosen the monastic manner of life.

But Cuthbert was born into a world that did not present those options.  Christianity’s place in seventh-century Northumbria was tenuous.  King Edwin of Northumbria had converted to Christianity as recently as 627.  When Edwin was slain in battle only a few years later, his kingdom was divided between two cousins, and neither cousin remained Christian.  Monasticism, the only recognized form of consecrated-religious life, had to respond to the demands for basic evangelization.  Anglo-Saxon minsters (the etymology of the word “minster” being related to the word “monastery”) were centers for missionary activity rather than enclosures for prayer and contemplation. From the minsters, small groups “ventured out into the nominally Christian but often culturally pagan territory which surrounded them, and preached and ministered from bases established within local settlements, such as stone crosses in villages… at which local devotions would be performed.” (Spencer, 74)  So, though Cuthbert was a monk at Melrose Abbey, then at Ripon, and finally at Lindisfarne, his service included preaching, teaching, almsgiving, and healing beyond the monasteries’ walls.

Complicating matters in that era were tensions between Celtic and Roman Christianity in the north of England.  A kind of ecumenical irenicism was called for, if not always achieved.  St. Wilfrid has often been regarded as an example of combativeness in the Celtic-versus-Roman struggles.  But no such reports are associated with Cuthbert’s name.  Moreover, when the Synod of Whitby (663-64) settled the controversy in favor of Roman customs, Cuthbert seems to have accepted the decision without difficulty.

Around 676, Cuthbert moved to Inner Farne island, off the Northumbrian coast, to live as a hermit.  There, it seems, he intended to remain for the rest of his days.  For when ecclesiastical opportunity came knocking in the form of offering him the episcopal see of Hexham, he would have been happy to let the opportunity fall to someone else.  But he was indeed elected bishop of Hexham in 684, though he exchanged sees with St. Eata and became bishop of Lindisfarne instead.  Cuthbert’s episcopal consecration took place in York in 685.

Cuthbert labored as a bishop for only two years before returning to the Inner Farne to spend his last days in solitude.  It was a solitude, however, that involved physical illness and spiritual trials, not to mention a tempest that prevented anyone from approaching the island for five days. Cuthbert asked that he be buried on Inner Farne. But, as Bede’s account tells us, Cuthbert knew his body would likely be moved at least as far as Lindisfarne, which is what took place soon after his death. [Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert, Chs. XXXVII-XL, Colgrave, 279-89.]

Regarded as saintly during his life, Cuthbert was venerated as a saint after his death.  His tomb was the site of miracles, and his body was reported to be incorrupt when the sarcophagus was opened, eleven years after his death, at the time of the translation of his relics to the main altar in the church at Lindisfarne.  Mostly because of the Viking invasions starting in the ninth century, Cuthbert’s relics were moved inland and were eventually settled at Durham, which is where his shrine still exists—though the exact location of his relics is a history all its own.

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.

Large Panel of St Cuthbert

Panel 3-4c – St Cuthbert (© 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.) – St Cuthbert (634-87) is wearing full episcopal [vestments], as if about to celebrate mass. The borders of his chasuble are decorated with ‘gems’ made of fused glass, a costly technique which shows the importance of the saint. He raises his right hand in blessing, with a crozier in the crook of his arm. He is shown holding the head of St Oswald in his left hand. This is because St Oswald’s head was carried in the coffin of St Cuthbert when the monks fled Lindisfarne in the ninth century.

Panels of Christ and Saints

Panel A1 – St Paulinus – This tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Paulinus (d.644), an Anglo-Saxon monk who became the first bishop of York. He is shown wearing a pallium and holding a cross-staff because he was appointed Archbishop of York. But he actually had to leave York shortly before he received the pallium, after the Christian King Edwin of Northumbria was defeated in battle by the pagan King Penda.

Panel A2 – St James the Deacon – This tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St James the Deacon. St James accompanied St Paulinus (shown in panel A1) on his mission to England and helped him baptise members of the Northumbrian nobility. When Paulinus left York, following the death in battle of the Christian King Edwin of Northumbria at the hands of the pagan King Penda, James remained. He went to Catterick, where he continued preaching and performing baptisms.

Panel A3 – St Edwin – This tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Edwin (584-633), an Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria. Initially a pagan, he married Ethelburga, a Christian princess from Kent, allowing St Paulinus (shown in panel A1) to accompany her as her chaplain. He also built a church in York, probably on the site of the Minster, of which Paulinus was made bishop. Edwin was later baptised by St Paulinus. He was defeated in battle by the pagan King Penda, so is sometimes listed as a Christian martyr.

Panel A4 – St Etheldreda – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Etheldreda (d.679), an Anglo-Saxon queen and founder and abbess of Ely Abbey. For twelve years, she was married to Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria, who features in the Life of St Cuthbert. When Ecgfrith no longer wanted the queen to remain a virgin, Etheldreda left him to become a nun at Coldingham, and later founded the abbey at Ely, where she became abbess.

Panel B1 – St Cuthbert – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Cuthbert (634-87), an Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop of Lindisfarne. He is the subject of the window and is represented as a large standing figure in the lowest section, as well as throughout the narrative scenes, which show his life. Knowles has depicted Cuthbert holding the head of St Oswald, following a common medieval convention that arose because St Oswald’s head was carried in the coffin of St Cuthbert when the monks fled Lindisfarne.

Panel B2 – St Oswald – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Oswald (d.642), a Christian Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria, who died in battle against a pagan king, Penda of Mercia. The large fifteenth-century standing figure of St Cuthbert, in panels 3-4c, is shown holding the head of St Oswald because it was carried in Cuthbert’s coffin when the monks fled Lindisfarne in the ninth century.

Panel A7 – St Hilda – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Hilda (614-80), an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman and Abbess of Whitby. She was related to the Northumbrian and East Anglian royal families, and was baptised into Christianity by St Paulinus (shown in panel A1) alongside St Edwin, King of Northumbria (shown in panel A3). Aged 33, she became a nun and founded the Abbey of Whitby, a double-monastery, where she served as Abbess.

Panel A8 – St John of Beverley – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St John of Beverley (d.721), an Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop of York. He was initially educated in Canterbury, before becoming a monk at the double-monastery of Whitby, founded by St Hilda (shown in panel A7). John was first made bishop of Hexham, where he ordained Bede (shown in panel C2) as deacon and priest. He later became Bishop of York While Bishop of York and founded the monastery at Beverley.

Panel A9 – St Edward the Confessor – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Edward the Confessor (1003-66), a King of England who was renowned for his holiness. His cult was incredibly popular during the medieval period and he appears in several medieval windows within York Minster. Knowles has represented him holding a ring, in reference to a miracle where Edward gave his ring to a beggar, who was St John in disguise. A fifteenth-century figure of St Edward holding a ring is shown on the shrine of St Cuthbert in panel 23e.

Panel A10 – St Augustine of Canterbury – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Augustine of Canterbury (d. c.604), an Italian monk who was sent by Gregory the Great to lead a mission to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. He arrived in Kent in 597 and was allowed to preach in Canterbury by the pagan Ethelbert, King of Kent. Augustine baptised Ethelbert by 601 and founded the first cathedral at Canterbury, as well as a monastery outside the city walls.

Panel C2 – Venerable Bede – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows the Venerable Bede (673-735), an Anglo-Saxon monk. Bede was a biblical scholar and English historian, and wrote prolifically on a wide range of topics, with many of his texts remaining popular throughout the medieval period. He was the author of both a verse and prose life of St Cuthbert. Around eighty percent of the narrative scenes in the window are based on Bede’s prose Life of St Cuthbert.

Panel C3 – St Gregory – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Gregory the Great (c.540-604), who was a pope and one of the most influential and popular writers of the medieval period. Among his many achievements was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Gregory first sent St Augustine (shown in panel A10) and later St Paulinus (shown in panel A1), supported by small retinues of monks. Gregory’s campaign of conversion was continued by his successors.

Panel D1 – St Peter – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Peter (d. c.64), the leader of the apostles. York Minster is dedicated to Peter. Knowles has represented him holding a large key, in reference to Jesus promising the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter. Peter is traditionally depicted alongside St Paul, which is why the two figures occupy adjacent tracery panels.

Panel D2 – St Paul – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows the apostle St Paul (d. c.65). Paul was originally named Saul of Tarsus and was a Jewish persecutor of Christians, but converted after having a vision of Christ. Paul’s writings profoundly influenced Christian theology and around half of the books of the New Testament are attributed to him. Paul is traditionally depicted alongside St Peter, which is why the two figures occupy adjacent tracery panels.

Panel C6 – St Jerome – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Jerome (c.341-420), a monk and Doctor of the Church. After learning Hebrew to study Scripture in its original language, he undertook the work for which he is best known, the production of a standard Latin text of the Bible, which became known as the Vulgate version. Jerome also wrote extensively on monasticism, theology and asceticism.

Panel C7 – St Katherine – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. It shows St Katherine, a Christian martyr, who is said to have lived in the 4th century. Her cult was incredibly popular across Europe throughout the medieval period. Knowles has represented her with a wheel, one of the instruments of her torture, which miraculously broke, sparing her. This was a common way of depicting Katherine in the medieval period and a similar image was included in one of the lost fifteenth-century tracery panels.

Panel H2 – Virgin Mary – This  tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. Knowles has represented the Virgin Mary enthroned as Queen of Heaven, in the tracery panel adjacent to Christ enthroned. She is shown seated upon a throne, crowned and with a nimbus around her head. The details of her embroidered mantle show that Knowles was drawing upon the fifteenth-century glass when designing the new panels.

Panel H3 – Christ – This tracery panel was designed and made by J.W. Knowles under the direction of Rev. J.T. Fowler in 1886-8. Christ is shown enthroned alongside the Virgin Mary in the apex of the window. He is crowned and holds a sceptre topped with a cross, raising his other hand in blessing. The embellishment of Christ’s mantle with a jewelled border and silver-stained motifs show that Knowles was drawing upon the fifteenth-century glass when designing the new panels.

For a list of sources used in compiling this novena, follow this link and scroll to the end of the post.

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