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E05871: The Anonymous Life of *Cuthbert (bishop and anchorite of Lindisfarne, ob. 687, S01955), is set in Northumbria (north-east Britain), and records the saint's life, miracles, death, translation and early cult. Written in Latin by a monk of Lindisfarne, 699/705. Overview entry.

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posted on 2018-06-24, 00:00 authored by dlambert
The Anonymous Life of Cuthbert (BHL 2019)


Book one (Cuthbert's youth)
(i) 'Prologue': the author states that Bishop Eadfrith (of Lindisfarne) has commanded him to write the Life. (ii) 'Preface': he asserts that he has not included all of Cuthbert's miracles, since some are known only to Cuthbert, while others are too numerous to fit in the work. (iii) Concerning Cuthbert's youth: how another child prophesied that he would become a bishop; (iv) how an angel gave him medical advice for his injured knee, 'to which no doctor had tended'; (v) how he had a vision of Aidan, 'our holy bishop' (of Lindisfarne), being borne to heaven by angels when he died; and (vi) how at Chester-le-Street (Kuncakester) he was fed at the roadside by an angel. (vii) The author says he will refrain from describing any more childhood miracles, including the times Cuthbert 'put demons to flight and healed the insane by his prayers.'

Book two (Cuthbert's early life as a monk)
(i) The beginning of Cuthbert's monastic life: (ii) how, after joining the monastery at Ripon, he unknowingly gave hospitality to an angel and was rewarded by God with three loaves of bread; (iii) how (according to the priest Plecgils), seals would come to him beside the sea at night at Coldingham, and lick his feet, something he adjured the cleric spying on him to keep as a secret until his death; (iv) how (according to the monk Tydi) God fed him with dolphin meat when he was in the land of the Picts; (v) how (according again to Tydi) he correctly prophesied that an eagle would catch a fish when he was teaching and baptising in the mountains; (vi) how he correctly prophesied that the devil would cause an illusion of a house on fire; (vii) how he preserved the house of Kenswith, a nun and widow who had been his nurse, from a (real) fire; and (vii) how he drove a demon from the wife of a man called Hildmer as soon as she touched the reins of his horse.

Book three (Cuthbert's life as a hermit)
(i) The author describes Cuthbert's arrival at 'our island' of Lindisfarne, where he was invited by Bishop Eata, having already been prior at Melrose: how he worked miracles there (which have been set to writing 'because those that are weak in faith would hardly believe them'), installed a monastic rule, and after 'some years' retired to the island of Farne, where no-one had dared to stay before since it was haunted by devils. (ii) How, when building the cell, he was able to move a stone which four other brothers together were unable to move; (iii) how he was granted by the Lord a spring from the rock, which 'trustworthy witness' say had a 'sweetness' (suauitas); (iv) how, following his prayers, the sea brought him wood to build his house, which can still be seen by mariners; (v) how he drove away birds who then returned to him with a gift; and (vi) how he correctly prophesied to the virgin and royal abbess Æfflæd about the death of her brother, King Ecgfrith, of the accession of King Aldfrith ('who reigns now'), and of his own episcopacy. (vi) The author remarks on the good manner of Cuthbert's life during these years.

Book four (Cuthbert's life as a bishop, his return to his cell, the events of his death and after)
(i) Cuthbert's reluctant appointment by a royal assembly to the bishopric of Lindisfarne, and his retention of 'the ideal of the monk' and 'the virtue of the hermit' even through those years. (ii) How as a bishop he performed miracles, just as the apostles did in Acts: (iii) he healed the wife of the comes Hema, living in Kintis, after she drank water he had blessed; (iv) he healed (according to the priest Æthelwald) a nun at the village of Bedesfeld, anointing her with chrism; (v) he healed (according to 'many reliable men,' including one Penna) a paralytic boy in the Ahse district between Hexham and Carlisle, after his mother asked him to pray for him and heal him with his relics; (vi) he healed (according again to Tydi) a child at the village of Medilwong while preaching during an outbreak of plague; and (vii) he healed using water (according to a priest of Lindisfarne) the servant (seruus) of the comes Sibba, who lived near the river Tweed. (viii) Further miracles: how, when in Carlisle (according to the priests and deacons there) he knew of the death of King Ecgfrith the moment it happened; (ix) how he interceded by prayer so that Hereberht, a hermit from the western lake at Carlisle, was granted his request that he might die at the same time as Cuthbert had prophesied for himself; (x) and how (according to the abbess Ælfflæd) he fell into a trance when feasting at Ovington and saw the monk Hadwald being carried to heaven by 'angels, saints, and martyrs.'

(xi) Cuthbert's return by his own choice to the hermitage at Farne, 'satisfied with the converse and ministry of angels'; (xii) how, when there, he healed Wahlstod by touch of his dysentry; and (xiii) how when he himself died he was carried by ship back to Lindisfarne, and his whole body was washed and clothed in 'priestly garments,' put in a stone coffin, and then buried in the church. (xiv) The translation: how eleven years later Bishop Ecgbert decided to raise the relics and bones, finding both the body and the clothes around it incorrupt (see $E06030).

(xv) Posthumous miracles: how Tydi 'secretly' instructed a man to bring to Lindisfarne his possessed son, who drank water sprinkled with earth from where Cuthbert's body was washed, and was thus healed, prompting him on the following day to 'give thanks to God at the relics of the saints'; (xvi) how, 'lately,' a brother from the household of Bishop Willibrord 'across the sea' fell ill at Lindisfarne, before being healed when taken on request to Cuthbert's body; and (xvii) how 'only this year' a paralysed boy was brought to the 'human doctors' (medicis carnalibus) at Lindisfarne who could not heal him, but on the boy's request he was given the shoes of Cuthbert to wear and was healed: 'on the next day he went round the places of the sacred martyrs, giving thanks to the Lord.' (see $E06030) (xviii) The author states that he has omitted any further miracles, lest the reader get drunk (crapulatus) on too many: he has said nothing of Cuthbert's other exorcisms, prophecies, blessings of bread and wine, nor how Bishop Winfrith was healed twice by his relics.

Text and translation: Colgrave 1940. Summary: B. Savill.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cuthbert, bishop and anchorite of Lindisfarne, ob. 687 : S01955

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Lindisfarne St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Meetings and gatherings of the clergy

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of miracles

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Healing diseases and disabilities Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Bodily incorruptibility

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Angels Demons Animals Children Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Physicians Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Unspecified relic Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Raising of relics Contact relic - water and other liquids Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


The Anonymous Life of Cuthbert survives in seven continental manuscripts, the earliest of which was written in a late 9th or early 10th century Insular hand, probably at Saint-Bertin (north-east Gaul). The author makes clear in his prologue (1. 1) that he is writing at Lindisfarne (a major monastic centre and episcopal see of Irish origin, in north-east Britain), under the instructions of Bishop Eadfrith (?698-?721). His remarks on Cuthbert’s translation (698) as having taken place at least one year ago (4. 17), and to Aldfrith (king of the Northumbrians, 686-705) as the current ruler (3. 6), narrow the date of its composition to 699/705. The probability, moreover, that the Life was commissioned with the express aim of celebrating the translation and promoting the new cult suggests that we can fairly confidently date it as early as 699/700 (Thacker 2016). The Anonymous Life appears to have become immediately well known within Northumbrian ecclesiastical circles. Stephen of Ripon drew upon its text several times in his Life of Wilfrid (c. 713), and Bede reworked it on three occasions, in his verse and prose Lives of the saint (c. 705 and c. 720), and in his Ecclesiastical History (731). Since Bede, who usually identifies his sources, never names the author of the earliest Life, we may safely assume that it circulated as an anonymous work from its earliest appearance.


Alongside the Whitby Life of Gregory (E05872), this is one of the earliest known works of narrative hagiography to survive from Anglo-Saxon England, and the first dedicated to a local saint. Unlike the Whitby Life, however, the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert draws upon established hagiographic models, directly utilising the Evagrian Life of Antony (E00930); Sulpicius Severus’ Life of Martin (E00692); Gregory the Great’s Dialogues (E04383); and the Acts of Sylvester (E03329); as well as, more unusually, Isidore of Seville’s On Ecclesiastical Offices, and a dedicatory letter of Victorius of Aquitaine. These place the Life within a wider European and Mediterranean framework, yet they also have their parallels in contemporary Irish hagiography: Admonan of Iona uses the same Acts of Sylvester quotation in his Life of Columba (E06056), while the letter of Victorius also appears in Cogitosus’ Life of Brigit (E06130) (Stancliffe 2012). The Anonymous Life is not, however, without its own peculiarities. Its four-part division is unconventional, although this may owe something to the structure of Gregory’s Dialogues (Goffart 1988). Cuthbert’s own sanctity also appears unusually ‘static’ across those four books, and the author describes no ‘conversion crisis,’ nor any other form of personal development (Stancliffe 1989; Cubitt 2000). Miracles meanwhile appear frequently, with the author often explicitly naming their Northumbrian locations and witnesses. Perhaps significantly, Cuthbert works alone; beyond references to Scripture, we see no other saints named. Yet they are implicitly present: as a bishop, Cuthbert performs healing miracles with the aid of relics (4. 5), and after his death we find references to other ‘relics of the saints’ (4. 15) and ‘places of the sacred martyrs’ (4. 17) at Lindisfarne. The author does not, however, disclose their identities.


Edition and translation: Colgrave, B., Vita sancti Cuthberti auctore anonymo, in: Colgrave, Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s Prose Life (Cambridge, 1940), 59-139. Further Reading: Cubitt, C., "Memory and Narrative in the Cult of the Early Anglo-Saxon Saints," in: Y. Hen and M. Innes (eds.), The Uses of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2000), 29-66. Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (AD 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), 258-70. Rollason, D., and Dobson, R.B., "Cuthbert [St Cuthbert] (c. 635-687)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Stancliffe, C., "Cuthbert and the Polarity between Pastor and Solitary," in: G. Bonner, D. Rollason, and C. Stancliffe (eds.), St Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD 1200 (Woodbridge, 1989), 21-44. Stancliffe, C., "Disputed Episcopacy: Bede, Acca, and the Relationship between Stephen’s Life of St Wilfrid and the Early Prose Lives of St Cuthbert," Anglo-Saxon England 41 (2012), 7-39. Thacker, A., "Shaping the Saint: Rewriting Tradition in the Early Lives of St Cuthbert," in: R. Flechner and M. Niì Mhaonaigh (eds.), The Introduction of Christianity into the Early Medieval Insular World: Converting the Isles I (Turnhout, 2016), 399-429. Thacker, A., "The Saint in his Setting: The Physical Environment of Shrines before 850," in: M. Coombe, A. Mouron, and C. Whitehead (eds.), Saints of North-East England, 600-1500 (Turnhout, 2017), 41-68.

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