Monday, September 04, 2006

Translation of the Relics of St. Cuthbert

Image and video hosting by TinyPicTonight at half seven, we will be at the Durham Cathderal to celebrate the translation of the relics of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert is obviously a very important saint for Durham as his body lies at the end of the cathedral behind the High Altar. The story of the translation of his relics is quite remarkable. Chamber's Book of Days has some great details on the story of this day's celebration. What is so exciting about it all is that I live right in the heart of where all this happened. The reference below to Neville's Cross is about 100 yards from my present home. We live at the top of Redhills Lane which was named after the Battle of Neville's Cross due to the redness of the hill seen from the castle and cathedral where the blood ran down it. A section from Chamber's Book of Days is found below. Do read it and I am confident that the mystery of it will enrich your prayers as we ponder the mystery of God this day and give thanks for St. Cuthbert.
Cuthbert—originally a shepherd-boy in Lauderdale, afterwards a monk at Old Melrose on the Tweed, finally bishop of the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, in which capacity he died in the year 688—is remarkable for the thousand-years' long history which he had, after experiencing that which brings most men their quietus. Fearing future incursions of the Danes, he charged his little religious community that, in case any such event should take place, they would quit the island, taking his bones along with them. Eleven years after his death, having raised his body to give it a more honourable place, they were amazed to find it had undergone not the slightest decay. In consequence of this miraculous circumstance, it became, in its new shrine, an object of great popular veneration, and the cause of many other miracles; and so it continued till the year 875, when at length, to escape the Danes, the monks had to carry it away, and commence a wandering life on the mainland.

After seven years of constant movement, the body of St. Cuthbert found rest at Chester-le-Street; but it was, in a sense, only temporary, for in 995, a new incursion of the Danes sent it off once more upon its travels. It was kept some time at Rippon, in Yorkshire, and when the danger was past, the monks set out on their return to Chester-le-Street. They were miraculously arrested, however, at a spot called Duirholm (the deer's meadow), on the river Wear, and there finally settled with the precious corpse of their holy patron, giving rise to what has since been one of the grandest religious establishments of the British empire, the cathedral of Durham. This is the event which was for some ages celebrated as the Translation of St. Cuthbert.

For upwards of a hundred years, the tomb of St. Cuthbert, with his uncorrupted body, continued to be visited by devout pilgrims, and in 1104, on the erection of the present cathedral of Durham, it was determined to remove his remains to a shrine within the new structure. Some doubts had been expressed as to the permanence of his incorruptibility, and to silence all such misgivings, the clergy of the church, having met in conclave beside the saint's coffin the night before its intended removal, resolved to satisfy themselves by an actual inspection. After preparing themselves for the task by prayer, they removed, with trembling hands, the external fastenings, and opened the first coffin, within which a second was found, covered with rough hides, and enclosing a third coffin, enveloped in several folds of linen.

On removing the lid of this last receptacle, a second lid appeared, which on being raised with much fear and agitation, the swathed body of the saint lay before them 'in a perfect state.' According to the narrative, the monks were appalled as if by some fearful interposition of Heaven; but after a short interval, they all fell flat on the ground, repeated amid a deluge of tears the seven penitential psalms, and prayed the Lord not to correct them in his anger, nor chasten them in his displeasure. The next day the miraculous body was shewn to the multitude, though it is honestly stated by the chronicler that the whole of it, including the face, was covered with linen, the only flesh visible being through a chink left in the cerecloths at the neck. Thereafter it was placed in the shrine destined for it behind the great altar, where it remained undisturbed for the ensuing four hundred and twenty-six years, and proved the source of immense revenues to the cathedral.

No shrine in England was more lavishly adorned or maintained than that of St. Cuthbert; it literally blazed with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, and to enrich the possessions of the holy man, and his representative the bishop of Durham, many a fair estate was impoverished or diverted from the natural heirs. The corporax cloth, which the saint had used to cover the chalice when he said mass, was enclosed in a silk banner, and employed in gaining victories for the Plantagenet kings of England. It turned the fate of the day at the battle of Neville's Cross, in 1346, when David of Scotland was defeated; and it soon after witnessed the taking of Berwick by Edward III. But all the glories of St. Cuthbert were to be extinguished at the Reformation, when his tomb was irreverently disturbed. It had, however, a better fate than many other holy places at this eventful epoch, as the coffin, instead of being ignominiously broken up, and its contents dispersed, was carefully closed, a new exterior coffin added, and the whole buried underneath the defaced shrine.
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Blogger wyclif said...


Is +NTW in residence for this service?

9:29 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

I do not think +Tom will be there tonight. Though I am not 100% sure of that. He has been on holiday and may still be on it. I know he is quite busy with international issues as well as the C of E and our own diocese. The celebrant is the Bishop of Beverly Martyn Jarrett. He is the Forward in Faith PEV for the Diocese and is an assistant Bishop here in Durham.

10:08 am  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

It's probably more appropriate for Jarrett to preside at this service. I respect Wright for his scholarship, but his churchmanship leaves a lot to be desired.

5:17 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

I posted a response last night and it doesn't seem to have made it. Interesting. Anyway, what I said was that since it was a mass sung for Catholic Renewal in association with Forward in Faith it was proper for Bishop Martyn to celebrate. He is the PEV and an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Durham. There is a great relationship between many of the Catholics and Bishop Tom and it is growing ever closer due to +Tom's graciousness and catholicity of mind with regards to those who have a more Catholic expression of Anglicanism in the Church of England. He's very supportive and not pevish with those he may differ with on finer issues. No doubt the major issue is WO.

I must also say that in the many times that I have seen +Tom celebrate, he has numerous 'catholic' expressions in his own presiding. I do not think he would have had any problem at all leading this service last evening. So, what exactly are you thinking of Dan when you say that 'his ecclesiology leaves a lot to be desired?' Were you thinking of something particular? Possibly something in the Windsor Report? I think I would take some issues with the way he looks at tradition but I haven't heard him out fully on that and it would be good to hear more from him.

9:01 am  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

I had more in mind the sentiment that was conveyed in the illustration I saw (I think over at Al Kimel's blog) of the evangelical bishop of an Anglo-Catholic priest who genuflected at the tabernacle when crossing the priest's sanctuary. The priest was amazed and asked, "Why on earth would you do such a thing?" (Sorry to repeat this if you've already heard it.) The bishop replied, "Out of respect for you and your parish." Then the priest said something to the effect that the bishop should not "commit adultery" out of respect for him, or something like that; the point being that the bishop did not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so should not go through the motions as if he did.

Following suit, I think it's more appropriate for the translation of relics to be done by someone who isn't merely going through the motions out of respect for those who take this much more seriously. I may be wrong about +Tom. I have nothing against him. In fact, I like him a lot. But apart from a few "catholic" gestures at the altar, I don't perceive him as overtly catholic.

11:04 pm  
Blogger Joel said...

Perhaps I'm just not aware of catholic beliefs about relics, but what is it about the commemoration and celebration of the translation of Cuthbert's body and effects that would be peculiarly "catholic"?

I don't consider myself particularly "catholic" in the Anglo-Catholic sense, but visiting the shrines of Cuthbert and Bede - and prayerfully celebrating the life and witness of these great saints in the presence of their earthly remains - were among the highlights of my pilgrimage to Durham earlier this year.

1:26 am  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

Would this ever be done in the Church of Scotland?

3:50 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

The celebration was praise and thanksgiving for Cuthbert and it was a celebration and a thanksgiving of the care that was taken to give S. Cuthbert a resting place from any would-be destroyers of his grave at Lindisfarne. There isn't some sort of 'special power' to his bones but rather a Christian view of the Resurrection Life that we will all share much like S. Cuthbert. As Augustine said concerning Eucharitic celebrations for the saints that they are offered, not to the Saint, but to Christ giving thanks for the saint commemorated.

S. Cuthbert is naturally a very important saint for the NE of England as is Bede, Aidan of Lindisfarne, Oswald, and S. Hilda the abbess.

To answer Dan's question, no, I do not think the Church of Scotland would celebrate the translation of Cuthbert's relics to Durham. (Refrained from comment that passed through the brain.)

I find what Joel has mentioned to be a view that all Christians should be able to hold at the very least. The issue of what was 'catholic' was that it was a celebration for the 'renewal of the catholic spirituality' in the Church of England found in such expressions within Forward in Faith. It was a celebration in the communion of saints; it was that simple and quite moving as it was offered in the beauty of holiness.

12:11 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

One can also note on the Durham Cathedral web site that on the Eve of the translation of the relics there was an Evensong celebration that would have included a procession to the Shrine of Cuthbert as well. So, as typical, diverse expressions of Anglicanism would celebrate this memorial.

1:37 pm  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

In case you misunderstood, I didn't mean to ask whether the CoS would celebrate the translation of Cuthbert's relics to Durham per se, but rather whether the CoS would celebrate such an observance at all. I doubt it.

6:10 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

What you said is how I understood your question and responded in that manner. I agree that they probably wouldn't do anything like that except in some small fashion on 'Reformation Sunday'.

6:43 pm  

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