Cuthbert on Farne Island

Inner Farne is one of the Farne Islands a group of islands formed from the hard Whin Sill which runs across Northumberland and into the sea off Bamburgh and Seahouses. Bishop Aidan had spent time on Farne Island. He was there when he saw the Pagan Mercian King Penda burn Bamburgh. Cuthbert was following Christian custom by choosing a remote and harsh place to live.

Using rough stones and turf he built a round building about 6 feet high on the outside but deeper inside by excavating the soil. So only the sky could be seen once inside. Bede says that it was 4 or 5 poles across, or 20-25 metres. Inside this structure he built an oratory for prayer and a house to live in both were roofed with straw. He dug a well with the help of theLindisfarne monks.

He also made a toilet with a piece of driftwood placed over a hollow scooped out by the waves. This is the first recorded Northumbrian netty. (W.C.) At the landing place he built a house for visitors.

The Chapel seen today was built in 1370AD probably on the same spot as Cuthbert’s oratory.
There were stories about his life on Farne. He scolded the birds which ate his barley and they flew off. When he rebuked crows who were stealing straw from the roof they returned with a piece of hog’s lard which he used to grease his boots.

The bird he is chiefly associated with is the Eider Duck still called Cuddy’s duck. One still nests on the site of his Oratory.

Meanwhile the Pope had sent Bishop Theodore of Tarsus toEngland to reorganise the Bishoprics. A council was held at Twyford on the River Aln (usually taken to be Whittingham).It was decided to call upon Cuthbert to become a bishop. King Ecgfrith (Oswy`s son) himself and bishop Trumwhine crossed over to Farne Island to beg Cuthbert to accept. He was chosen to be Bishop of Hexham but swapped it to be Bishop of Lindisfarne. Tuda taking Hexham.

The 19th Century painting by William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall, Northumberland (National Trust.) The painter made an image of Theodore rather than Trumwhine.