Bede vs. Cuthbert

Sure, almost everything we know about Cuthbert, we learned through the writings of Bede. Had Bede known that he would one day square off against Cuthbert in the saintly smackdown, perhaps he would have written a different tune? Nonetheless, these two face one another in a rare battle of contemporaries. The winner will go up against Molly Brant.

Yesterday we saw one of the greatest routs in Lent Madness history with Kamehameha spanking William Laud 84% to 16%. He'll go on to face David Oakerhater in the Round of the Saintly Sixteen.

Speaking of routs, our bracketologists did a bit of digging to unearth where Kamehameha's victory ranked among the annals of Lent Madness blowouts. In 2013 Florence Li-Tim Oi, the first woman ordained in the Anglican Communion, defeated Chad of Lichfield by the same percentage, 84% to 16%. Talk about your hanging Chad...

But the greatest blowout in Lent Madness history, percentage-wise, came in the very first year this devotional started. In 2010, Francis of Assisi defeated Aelred of Riveaulx 87% to 13% in the Elate Eight. For the record, Francis lost to Julian of Norwich in the Faithful Four that year and is now back in the bracket for the first time since.


The Venerable Bede is among Christianity’s greatest scholars, having produced numerous commentaries on scripture, hagiographies of the saints, and studies of chronology and timekeeping. He is best known for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the premier source of information about the development of Christianity in England from the time of Augustine’s arrival in 597 until 731 CE.

Very little is known about the details of Bede’s life. He was his own primary biographer, offering the briefest annotations at the beginning and end of his Ecclesiastical History. Preferring to remain a simple “servant of Christ and Priest,” Bede traced the broadest outlines of his life: he entered the monastery at Wearmouth at age seven, and, when a new abbey was founded at Jarrow in 682, he transferred there. He was ordained as a deacon at age nineteen and a priest at age thirty and ultimately remained at Jarrow for the vast majority of his life. Over the course of his life, he joyed in “wholly applying myself to the study of scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.”

Bede’s delight in learning, teaching, and writing provides us with much of the history of the Church in England. Bede reported Pope Gregory the Great’s dispatch of Augustine to England in 597, and after the baptism of Ethelbert in 601, Augustine’s appointment as the First Archbishop of Canterbury. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History introduced us to the tale of Alban, the first martyr in England, and his faithful confession that “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” Through Bede we learn much of our history of the various abbots of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, most especially Cuthbert. And Bede introduces us to Hilda and the influence of her abbey at Whitby.

As one of the church’s saints, Bede’s witness shines brightest in his constant dedication in bringing the world to know the light of Christ shining in countless others, so that their witness may shine to the Church throughout all ages.

Collect for Bede

Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship: Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-David Sibley

LMCuthbertCuthbert of Lindisfarne

In the Venerable Bede’s The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindesfarne, we read, “He was affable and pleasant in his character...he would introduce, in the meekest way, the spiritual benefits which the love of God had conferred upon himself. And this he took care to do in a covert manner, as if it had happened to another person.”

Cuthbert’s life, marked by miracles and adventure, was also a life of profound kindness. He grew up an orphan shepherd and spent days in quiet solitude tending flocks in the pastures of Scotland. He took holy orders at age seventeen after having seen a vision of angels bearing a saintly man toward heaven. This vision coincided with the death of Saint Aidan — ostensibly Cuthbert saw the saintly man being carried to heaven.

Cuthbert became the abbot of Melrose but was always more comfortable in the wild solitude of nature. He often went out to the sea, standing waist-deep in freezing waters to pray. His communing with the natural world was such that it was said that sea otters dried his legs when he finished prayers. He spent eight years as a hermit on the island of Inner Farne and the animals of the island came under his protection.

When the yellow plague hit the land, Cuthbert traveled extensively to minister to victims. Miraculous healings began to be attributed to him, and he was famed as the “Wonder Worker of Britain.” He saw his journeys as a time to not only comfort the afflicted but also to renew their Christian faith.

His adroit handling of church matters and administration were amply displayed in his work at the Synod of Whitby (664), which fixed the date of Easter and aligned the liturgy of the Celtic Church with the liturgy of the Church in Rome. This repair of the breach with Rome demonstrated his gifts for not only healing individuals but also in reconciling groups of people who disagreed vehemently with each other.

His fame for miraculous healings, his competence in ministry, and his kindness in personal relationships caused him to be elevated to the bishopric of Hexham in 684 while still maintaining his see at Lindisfarne. His life was cut short by illness, and he died in 687.

Cuthbert is the most revered saint of the early Anglo-Saxon Church. In honor of his memory, the Gospels of Lindisfarne were commissioned and a church was built to house his relics. Even after his death, he continued to be credited with all manner of healings and miracles such that Bede compiled a collection of the testimonies and penned his famous work on Cuthbert.

Collect for Cuthbert

Almighty God, you called Cuthbert from following the flock to be a shepherd of your people: Mercifully grant that, as he sought in dangerous and remote places those who had erred and strayed from your ways, so we may seek the indifferent and the lost, and lead them back to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Robert Hendrickson


Bede vs. Cuthbert

  • Cuthbert (63%, 4,313 Votes)
  • Bede (37%, 2,511 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,824

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314 comments on “Bede vs. Cuthbert”

          1. Exactly write, Gay! My devotion to study and learning about the Bible and all that of which it speaks makes me a Bede fan through and through. Besides which, I owe to him my first scholarly publication. In 1964 my professor of paleography, Chauncey Finch, assigned me a small ms. by Bede for analysis, and that essay was, by his good graces, published in Manuscripta. So thanks, Bede! Come on, folks! This guy is really important to us all!

        1. Cuthbert's ability to reconcile got my vote although I had a difficult time choosing between two worthy souls.

    1. Come on guys no contest. It would be more of a contest if you put two healers against each other or two academics.

    2. Bede's scholarly work -for that time-"learning teaching, writing" is invaluable. immensely important and interesting. And I like his "new name" which was "servant of Christ and priest." A new name like that one fits the lectionary readings and my sermon for this 2nd Sunday in Lent

    3. When confronted by a problem, complain about the rules. The Supreme Executive Committee is cruel by making us choose between such saints. Being outside the Anglican inner circle, I go with the more well known venerable, while in prayer of praise for Cuthbert.

  1. The is an act of cruelty by the SEC. How can one begin to choose? You might as well cut them in half like a Solomonic baby.

      1. Hardest choice yet - but without Bede how much would we know about not only Cuthbert, but so many others?

    1. I so agree. As an historian, I have to appreciate Bede. As someone who values kindness, Cuthbert is so attractive. I'll give it time today and vote later.

      1. My final decision ... we would not even know about St. Cuthbert if it were not for the Venerable Bede,.. so Bede gets the nod.

        1. that's exactly where I landed today. Besides, how can you not vote for someone whose name is Venerable?

        2. I'm with Carolyn, we would not know[as much?] about St. Cuthbert if it were not for the Venerable Bede. I voted for Bede.

        3. I agree. I may be in the voting minority, but without Bede's biographies of the Saints of his day we would not have known about Cuthbert.

        4. that was my thought. I also like the fact that Bede did not write of his own accomplishments. For all we know the sea otters not only dried his legs but his arms and body, too! Bede gets it.

          1. Fezzes are way cool, yes! LOL, I didn't expect a Who comment in Lent Madness, so you've totally made my day - Thanks! 🙂

          2. And I actually had given my vote to Bede this morning, so maybe it was the subliminal connection 🙂 though I also appreciated how it was his work that brought info about Hilda, in addition to Cuthbert, to the world.

      1. Probably not SEA otters, probably British river otters (who also go out in the sea.) But otters DO 'dry' their friends: Gavin Maxwell's Mij always dried--or tried to dry--Gavin when Mij came in from the sea. The description in Ring of Bright Water is delightful. This bit of lore is fully believable--Cuthbert just had to have the raising of a couple otters, which could not have been difficult if he observed and cared for God's creatures around him so. Hard one today; I shall not hurry my vote.

        1. Just how DO they dry them, though? Leg-licking otters sound a little kinky to me. What would Bede thought of that?

    2. I could not agree with Elaine more. What a shame these two had to be against one another.

  2. Would we know anything much about Cuthbert if not for Bede ? Neither seem very dynamos in the present age. I don't anticipate either one making it passed this round.

    1. Sometimes Godliness trumps pizzazz...Sometimes! I find them both to be so simple, sincere and loving and wise, I would vote for either/both of them over some of the more flashy ones.

    2. I'll quote from a commenter named Sandi below:

      'Bede tells us that during the years Cuthbert was a monk at the monastery in Melrose he would disappear for weeks and even a month at a time. He would be out visiting and preaching in far distant inaccessible places, where “others feared to visit and whose barbarity and squalor daunted other teachers. Cuthbert, however, gladly undertook this pious task…”. '

      Sounds pretty dynamic to me!

  3. I vote for Cuthbert. He spent his life in "profound kindness"m he ministered to the sick, spread the love of God. He felt at peace in nature and cared for the animals. He's my kind of guy!

  4. As a historian and Anglophile, I am miffed about this pairing. However, as a historian (my husband once gave me the Ecclesiastical History for a Christmas present and I have actually read it), I have to go with Bede. I really love Cuthbert, too.

  5. The description of Cuthbert was quite moving. He was truly a man of God.
    BTW, in the email there was another misspelling. "elate(eight)" should be "elite". Just keepin' ya'll informed...

    from North Carolina where the snow storm we had last night covered the branches of all the trees making a beautiful display of God's wonder.

    1. The "elate" is deliberate, Lyn. This is the way to differentiate from March Madness, like the Faithful Four" instead of the "Final Four." That SEC is tricky!!!!! XOXO

  6. Cuthbert. Not to downplay Bede's amazing contributions, but I have to admire an obvious introvert who succeeded in good leadership, administrative skills and kindness for all. He is an inspiration for all us "quiet people."

    1. My thoughts exactly. I opened the page all ready to vote for Bede, and voted for Cuthbert for that very reason.

      1. To reconcile the Celtic church with the Church of Rome took some doing! As Scott Elliott said, I opened the page all ready to vote for Bede, and voted for Cuthbert as an obvious introvert who succeeded in good leadership, administrative skills, and kindness - an inspiration for all us "quiet people"...

      2. I agree! This is a toughie. But Cuthbert got me at, "He was affable and pleasant in his character." "Cuthbert's life, marked by miracles and adventure, was also a life of profound kindness." Such a gentle soul.

  7. My vote goes to Cuthbertus. His faithful followers carried his body around for years until they came to the place they were looking for:Durham. They built his shrine/church there and later it rose to be the beautiful Durham Cathedral. A fitting place for a beloved man of God.

    1. The Venerable Bede is buried in Durham Cathedral, too: he's in the Gallilee while Cuthbert is in the apse behind the high altar.

  8. They are both blessings, examples of holiness and constant. One of the advantages of Lent resides in the ability to pause and consider our spirtual life and refuse to be swept away by the sound and light show that consumes life in the 21st century and so many of the attention spans of those who live now.

  9. The visuals in this article aren't helping Bede's case here - I'm sure it will skew the results! Cuthbert looks refined, mild and extremely holy...while Bede looks like a poison gnome. Just sayin'.

    1. Preach it, sister! Poison gnome, indeed. This is why I am glad I used the Saintly Scorecard to make my determinations: no pictures.

      1. Hahaha! My thoughts exactly! Although the fez alone may have been enough reason to vote for Bede. Fezzes are cool, right Whovians?

  10. I disagree that they have nothing to contribute to this age. Their collective skills speak volumes to me. Bede's self-effacing and concentration on God's work in others dovetails nicely with Cuthbert's kindness and skill at human relations, and, especially his connection to nature. This vote leaves me in a quandary. While inclined toward Bede, I come away with the conclusion that Bede himself, with his humility, would feel most gratified by the election of Cuthbert as it gives meaning to Bede's own writings.

    1. Thank you James. You gave me the rationale needed to cast a vote. Very well said. I have a
      natural bias toward the teacher/writer, but Cuthbert's life as a mediator speaks volumes for
      life in 2015. This was a cruel choice.

  11. Tough choice.. The educator or the shepard. Have to go with Bede. My curate named his cat after him!

    1. But wouldn't you rather have a cat named Cuthbert? Wow. Cuthbert of Lindesfarne. Come to think of it, I'm going out right now to the Humane Society to adopt a cat just so I can name it Cuthbert!

  12. These are two wonderful, wonderful people. They'll be over-looked in the tumult of more exotic choices, but this is a real toughie for me. They both exemplified profound lives of humble serving, the quiet work that does so much for the benefit of so many and is pretty much always undervalued. One of the best experiences of my life was visiting Durham Cathedral, where remains of each reside. I don't know how I'll ever choose between them!

    1. I agree, Katharine! These are two of some of my favorite saints in terms of how much they did for the early northern Church, and also for how dedicated they were as people. I hate having to choose!

      I think I'm going to go with Bede, though, if only because I translated a bunch of his work in college for various Latin courses and, every time one professor would assign a piece, he would announce we would be working with the "Venerable Beeeeeeeeeeede!" It makes me chuckle still, and also remember working with his really interesting writings. (Maybe some other year, Cuthbert!)

  13. Perhaps the most unhappy pairing. But. Cuthbert all the way. I visited his tiny isle off Lindisfarn where he had a hermitage and his cave inland where he hid from marauding Vikings.

  14. Thanks to Bede, we know of Cuthbert. I vote for the saintly scholar who reported to posterity so that we might be inspired to follow.

  15. It was a tough choice. Ministering otters (after ravenous seals) were certainly tempting, but I could have sworn my Scots DNA perked up at the sweet sound of bagpipes as I read about Cuthbert. And Lindisfarne Gospels--well, that's probably the only thing that trumps an otter.

    1. I hope the Moderator will see fit to scratch that comment--too many bagpipes skirling in my snowbound brain....

  16. Brendan had his dolphins, Thecla had her seals, Cuthbert's got sea otters, Tim's got ferrets, Lydia had her snails — they all need to be in the Lentorium next year! Along with enough Saintly Scorecards for beyond the first week of voting.
    I had a kitten who dried my ankles after my shower so it's CUTHBERT all the way!!

    1. Thank you for reminding. I was trying to figure out what was going on in Cuthbert's head to stand out there in the sea. He was looking for the return of Brendan!

  17. I agree with Barbara. He sounds a gentle soul. What sealed it for me, though, was that he was able to reconcile groups of people who disagreed vehemently with each other. We need someone like Cuthbert now! He gets my vote.

  18. Actually, I like this pairing- I think it is more fair to pair up relative contemporaries rather than an obscure ancient Saint with little to recommend them with some of the more recent Saints who have achieved much.

  19. This was a difficult choice. Reconciling people who disagree sharply as Cuthbert did, probably tipped the scale for me.

  20. Toughest match-up yet for me. I love Celtic Christianity and, thus, am drawn to Cuthbert. But I am an historian by training and inclination. I gave the nod to Bede, but wish I could vote for both.

    As someone noted above, they now rest side by side in Durham Cathedral. That is reason enough to visit there. If they could participate in Lenten madness---who knows, the bracket may be a nice diversion to the saints in glory---each would, I am certain, vote for the other. No loser here, just two remarkable saints.

  21. Cuthbert lost me at Whitby. That debacle entrenched the subjugation of women that continues today. It was a supreme example of spineless selling out. The decisions at Whitby threw the doors wide open empowering a few bad tyrants to speak unilaterally for God, to enforce the doctrine of "might is right", and to strip women of their dignity and any semblance of basic human rights. Thanks SO MUCH, Cuthbert (et al)!

    1. I agree about Whitby. In addition to what that decision did for women, all of us are the less because the Romans & Augustine of Hippo were so bound & determined that we have committed "manifold sins & wickedness" & are thus deserved of God's "wrath & indignation" rather than focusing on being made in God's image & likeness (see Genesis 1). Celtic Christianity lives on the edges of our "common" spiritual lives, thank God, & the fact that the Romans left the Celts alone for a couple of hundred years.

    2. Thanks, Jeanie. Hilda was a mitered abbess who got railroaded into caving in to Rome. The Celtic church favored full equality for both women and men, including ordination and consecration. The Council of Whitby spelled out doom for any equality in the Church Catholic for centuries.

      1. "The Celtic church favored full equality for both women and men, including ordination and consecration."

        I'd love to know which sources tell us this. Do you have them?

  22. Lyn, look at your bracket. It is the Elate Eight. It's a joke—it comes from the Latin meaning elevated—the ones who make the Elate Eight are elevated to a higher level. I'm sure they are also filled with joy and pride, or elated...Of course, they are also elite.

  23. The SEC is sadistic! Why must we wrestle with this decision? Much wailing and gnashing of teeth here in Atlanta!
    *sigh* I love them both... But in the end I'll cast my vote for dear, dear Bede. My historian's heart is so very grateful for his incomparable work.

    1. Susan, I'm glad to see you used the word "sadistic" here!! My sentiment exactly! This is cruel! I may have to toss a coin!