Cuddy; a sonnet for St. Cuthbert

cuthberts-tombOn the 20th of March we remember with thanksgiving St. Cuthbert, the great Apostle of the North, in whose honour the Lindesfarne Gospels were made and on whose breast was found the beautiful Gospel of St. John which is our oldest complete book. And fittingly for Cuthbert, or ‘Cuddy’ as he is known affectionately in the North, was a man whose whole life was shaped and lived in and by the Gospel, by reconciliation, by good news for the poor and supremely by that free movement of the Holy spirit, flowing like water, and like the wind, blowing where it listeth. Though Cuthbert worked tirelessly for the church and for the poor he was at heart a hermit and a mystic, in intimate communion with God in his hermitage on his beloved inner Farne island . I feel a particular connection with Cuthbert and have walked on pilgrimage along the Cuthbert Way from Melrose Abbey in Scotland to the Holy island of Lindesfarne in Northumberland.

This sonnet will appear in my next collection for the Canterbury Press. My current volume Sounding the Seasons can be bought direct from Canterbury Press, from Amazon, or on Kindle

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

‘Cuthbertus’ says the dark stone up in Durham
Where I have come on pilgrimage to pray.
But not this great cathedral, nor the solemn
Weight of Norman masonry we lay
Upon your bones could hold your soul in prison.
Free as the cuddy ducks they named for you,
Loosed by the lord who died to pay your ransom,
You roam the North just as you used to do;
Always on foot and walking with the poor,
Breaking the bread of angels in your cave,
A sanctuary, a sign, an open door,
You follow Christ through keening wind and wave,
To be and bear with him where all is borne;
The heart of heaven, in your Inner Farne

Lindesfarne where Cuthbert was Bishop

Lindesfarne where Cuthbert was Bishop

the heart of heaven in your inner Farne

the heart of heaven in your inner Farne


Filed under imagination

10 responses to “Cuddy; a sonnet for St. Cuthbert

  1. Apparently he was also responsible for some of the first bird protection laws:

    “A particularly famous colony of eiders lives on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, England. These birds were the subject of one of the first ever bird protection laws, established by Saint Cuthbert in the year 676.”

    An eco-saint, like many of the Celtic saints 🙂

    • malcolmguite

      Excellent, definitely an eco saint, He was himself an anglo-saxon, not a cely, but his Lindesfarne represents a fruitful fusion of Celtic and English art and a parable of community and reconciliation!

  2. Your phrase “keening wind and wave” is very evocative of Lindisfarne, which I have visited – beautiful place. And I like the contrast between the Norman masonry of the tomb and the freedom of the ducks, the wind and the waves, and also the idea that the door to heaven is everywhere.

  3. Great poem. Very evocative. Ummm. I thought Cuthbert was from the Border Country and was more Celt than Anglo-Saxon…certainly Lindisfarne represents the Celtic tradition of Iona right up until Whitby when the Irish left to go back to Iona.

    • malcolmguite

      He was a lowland scot but in that period part of the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria his predecessor on lindesfarne, Aiden was Irish but his genius was to ensure that the Celtic influence would not be lost post Whitby. Or that’s how I read it. Certainly he was popular as a Saxon saint to whom Saxons suffering Norman oppression could appeal hence the Durham sanctuary knocker to which I gently allude 🙂

  4. malcolmguite

    Reblogged this on Malcolm Guite.

  5. “You roam the North just as you used to do;
    Always on foot and walking with the poor,”

    Wounding words. (“And there’s not any reason/No, not the least/Why I shouldn’t be one too.”)

    Precious words, Malcolm. Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Lent 13: For God’s Sake | Pootling along ... revhillers' blog

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