< Back < Back


Life of Cuthbert by the Venerable Bede

Life of Cuthbert illustrated manuscript

Fig. 1

Bede’s Life of Cuthbert tells the story of Cuthbert (c.635-687), an early Christian monk who became Prior and Bishop of Lindisfarne.
Cuthbert lived at a time of great religious change. Following the spread of Christianity to England in c600, Roman and Irish (or Insular) traditions emerged with different practices that often placed them in disagreement. The most divisive issue concerned the date upon which Easter was celebrated with each tradition regularly observing different days. In 664 the Synod of Whitby resolved the dispute for Northumbria in favour of the Roman church.

Life of Cuthbert manuscript with illuminated characters

Fig. 2

Despite having been educated in the Irish tradition, Cuthbert accepted this decision and led a quiet and contemplative life on Farne, preaching and working miracles. Following his death, the cult of Saint Cuthbert developed with reports of miracles caused by his body and relics. During this time, four accounts of his life were also written including three by the Venerable Bede (673/4-735), a monk and historian whose notable works include the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Life of Cuthbert

Fig. 3

Whilst Bede wrote a Life of Cuthbert in both verse and prose, Univ’s MS 165 contains an example of the prose work. It was probably produced in the first half of the twelfth century and is divided into 46 chronological chapters beginning with Cuthbert as a child and ending with his death and the miracles that followed.

The manuscript contains several painted initials (see Figure II, fol. 6r) and each chapter is illustrated by a series of miniatures. In Figure I (fol. 5v), you can see the prophesy of Cuthbert’s bishopric which was given by a boy with whom Cuthbert had been playing as a child. In Figure III (fol. 60v), you can see the moment at which Cuthbert’s body was discovered uncorrupted nine years after his death.

Selected bibliography

Alexander, J J G & Temple, E (1985). Illuminated Manuscripts in Oxford College Libraries, the University Archives and the Taylor Institution. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bede. (1887). The life of St. Cuthbert (J Stevenson. Trans.). London: Burns & Oates, Ltd; New York; Catholic Publication Society Co.
Campbell, J (2008). Bede (673/4–735), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1922
Colgrave, B (1940). Two lives of Saint Cuthbert: a life by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne and Bede’s prose life: texts, translation, and notes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[Durham University] [2013]. Lindisfarne Gospels Durham: one amazing book, one incredible journey: exhibition Guide. [Durham: Durham University].
Rollason, D & Dobson, R B (2004). Cuthbert [St Cuthbert] (c.635–687), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6976

Published: 1 September 2013

Further selected Univ Treasures are detailed below or explore the whole collection on our News and Features Treasures pages.

Explore Univ on social media
University College Oxford

Contact Univ

If you have any questions or need more information, just ask: