Cuthbert and Women
By the time that Simeon was writing in 1096AD a custom had grown up that women were not allowed into St Cuthbert’s shrine or church. At Durham a line was marked on the ground at the very West end of the nave of the church, women were not allowed to cross the line.
The reason for this exclusion according to Simeon was because of the activities of the Nuns of Coldingham. This was a joint monastery of both monks and nuns in separate buildings "but they grew lax, and receded from their primitive discipline, and, by their improper familiarity with each other, afforded to the enemy (the devil) an opportunity of attacking them. For they changed into resorts for feasting, drinking, conversation and other improprieties, those very residences which had been erected as places to be dedicated to prayer and study."
"The virgins also despising the sanctity of their profession, devoted themselves to the sewing of robes of the finest workmanship, in which they either adorned themselves like brides or gave them to strangers to secure their friendship."
The Abbey burned down when Cuthbert was bishop, which although an accident was seen as divine retribution. Cuthbert separated the monks from the nuns, and on Lindisfarne he set up the Green church for women who were forbidden to enter the monk’s church. Thereafter women were excluded even from the cemeteries of those churches where his body had temporarily rested.
Simeon tells of Sungeova who cut through the churchyard at Durham to avoid puddles in the road and was struck down and died.
Another who had heard of the beauty of the ornaments in the church "was inflamed, woman-like, with the desire of seeing them".
She went mad and committed suicide.
Judith, the wife of Earl Tosti (King Harold’s brother), sent her maid into the churchyard and the servant went mad and died.
This misogyny does not accord with Cuthbert’s life. He made regular visits to his foster mother Kenswith.
H e was frequently in the company of Abbesses and Queens. He met Abbess Aebbe, he was in the company of Aelfflaed. He dined with Abbess Verca. He kept a precious cloth she gave him for his shroud. He was in the company of Ecgfrith’s Queen, Iurminburgh. He frequently cured women. The wife of an Earl was cured. The wife of Hildemer, the prefect. The sister of a priest. Aelfflaed herself and one of her nuns were also cured. The first cure at Durham was of a crippled Scots woman.
A suggested reason for Simeon’s attitude was that the celibate monks who evicted the married Community of Saint Cuthbert, could justify their action by saying that it was the wish of Saint Cuthbert
“Whereas, lately, Matilda Burgh and Margaret Usher, servants, led by devilish incitement and audacious boldness, came clad in men’s clothes to the cathedral of Durham, with this purpose and intent, that they might in person come to the offertory of the most holy confessor Cuthbert, knowing that this is forbidden to all women whatsoever, under pain of the greater excommunication and violation of church liberty. They shall go in procession on three festival days round the church of St Nicholas, and on three other festival days, round the church of All Saints, in the same men’s clothes, and you shall summon them into your church and shall before the people, publicly and solemnly declare the reason why they perform such penance, so that no other women hereafter shall dare to break forth into such boldness of crime.”, Welford