Two Lives of St. Cuthbert

A Life by an Anonymous Monk of Lindisfarne and Bede's Prose Life

Two Lives of St. Cuthbert

These two complementary lives of Cuthbert illuminate both the secular history of the golden age of Northumbria and the historic shift from Celtic to Roman ecclesiastical practice which took place after the Synod of Whitby. Cuthbert was very much in the Irish monastic tradition. He adopted Roman usages, becoming prior and eventually bishop of Lindisfarne, but the essential nature of his commitment changed little and he lived for much of his later life as a hermit on the island of Farne, with the birds as his only companions. The two lives make an interesting contrast: the earlier, anonymous Life of 698–705 is clear, concise and rich in Lindisfarne tradition, viewing Cuthbert as no more than the great saint of his own house. Bede's prose Life of 721, however, is polished, literary, more than twice as long and altogether more didactic; treating Cuthbert as a model from which to draw lessons about how to be a perfect bishop and monk. Taken together, the lives vividly evoke the character of a remarkable churchman and provide a compelling picture of early monastic life.

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