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Cuthbert - saint of the North.

Byline: By Robert Brooks

Scotland has its Andrew, England its George, Ireland has Patrick and in Wales it's David - but here in the North-East, today is that of our own patron saint, Cuthbert.

While perhaps not as famous as his nationally recognised brethren, the Seventh Century hermit has earned his own unique place at the heart of Northumbrian tradition and culture - ever since the days when the region was a kingdom in its own right.

As part of efforts to make 2004 a year of celebration of Cuthbert's pious life, the Northumbrian Association is marking the occasion by walking from Chester-le-Street to Durham to commemorate the transfer of his body between churches in 995. Supporters are also planning to set up a website with information about the saint's life and a route map between sites he visited in both life and death.

At a time when the region is set to decide on its own future with a vote on a North-East assembly later in this year, the association's events organiser and treasurer John Danby says recognition of Cuthbert as an iconic figure takes on new significance.

"We think it's very important that Cuthbert is given the recognition that he justly deserves, as a bringer of learning and culture to the North-East," he said.

"He helped turn Northumbria into the cradle of Christianity, inspiring such great works as the Lindisfarne Gospels, which the association is committed to returning to the region.

"Unlike our national patron, St George, who was likely an Egyptian who never set foot on English soil, Cuthbert really was one of our own, and we should be celebrating that." He added: "We, as a charity, are dedicated to promoting awareness of Northumbrian culture, and Cuthbert sits squarely in the middle of that." Legend has it that Cuthbert was a shepherd boy in the Scottish Borders when he saw a vision of Aidan, founder of the monastic settlement on Lindisfarne, being raised to heaven by a host of angels.

Filled with divine inspiration, the young man travelled to the monastery at Melrose, where he soon became known for his piety and devotion to God.

But it was in 664, at the great Synod of Whitby, that the shepherd boy was chosen to reconcile the monks of Lindisfarne - the so-called Holy Island off the North Northumberland coast - as their Prior.

He then found peace on the tiny island of Inner Farne, off the North- East coast near Bamburgh, then the Dark Age capital of Northumbria, where he lived in isolation for 11 years until his death in 697.

The meek Cuthbert was canonised as one of God's anointed elect after his body was found to be uncorrupted by the passage of time.

* Today's walk starts at 10am at St Mary's and St Cuthbert's Church, Chester-le-Street.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2004
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