The iconic Lindisfarne Gospels will be returning to their homeland with a display at The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle from 17 September until 3 December 2022. To celebrate this occasion, a challenging 140 mile journey will be undertaken with pilgrims carrying a replica of St Cuthbert’s Coffin containing facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels and Cuthbert’s Gospel of John from the River Tees to Lindisfarne itself.
Journeying to the Ancient Future
This pilgrimage will be about learning from the past, to live well in the present and to contribute towards shaping a better future. This is a summary of the ancient story we will tell in imaginative and creative ways as we travel…
St Cuthbert’s coffin with monks by St Cuthbert’s Cave from the album cover of Take Up My Bones by Arð - Artist: Gabriel Danilchik
The Lindisfarne Gospels were written some years after the great St Cuthbert died in 687. When the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne in 793, they fled taking with them a coffin containing the body of St Cuthbert along with Lindisfarne Gospels and other relics. When it was safe they returned, but further Viking raids led to more coffin journeys between 875 and 995. The stories of these wanderings of St Cuthbert in the coffin became a foundational myth for the region. A monk called Symeon of Durham writing in 1107, likened it to the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant. As the people of Israel were fashioned through their forty years in the wilderness, so the identity of people of the North East was shaped by these stories and their affection for “Cuddy” - their nickname for St Cuthbert.
To help us live well in the present and shape a better future, we will focus on three themes that were prominent in the life of St Cuthbert and are also major themes in his favourite gospel of John. They are Love, Life and Light.
- Love. St Cuthbert was a man of great compassion. He reached out to the needy and marginalised, especially when he travelled to remote parts of Northumbria where people were illiterate and very poor. As we seek to follow St Cuthbert’s example, we will be supporting the charity Feeding Families.
- Life. The original stories of Cuthbert are about the way he seemed to live on after his death. It was said that his body had not decomposed when they opened his coffin before interring him at Durham Cathedral, more than 300 years after his death. Although we will be carrying a coffin, we will be talking about life. Gospel means ‘good news’, so we will be carrying the good news that if we follow the example of St Cuthbert in following Jesus Christ, we will know life in all its fulness!
- Light. A 10th century poem describes how through St Cuthbert “God's shed His radiance gleaming across the water and Britain.” His life was suitably celebrated through a great illuminated manuscript. Light for us is therefore associated with creativity and we want to encourage creative responses to the pilgrimage especially through decorative handwriting.
The route of the pilgrimage
The final journey of Cuthbert’s coffin in 995 was from Ripon to Durham. One of the possible crossing points for the coffin across the Tees was Gainford and this is where the pilgrimage will begin. The route will continue via the historic Saxon church at Escomb and Bishop Auckland to Durham. Remembering the fact that the monks were originally intending to take the coffin to Lindisfarne, the route will continue to Chester-le-Street where the coffin and the gospels found their longest resting place and where the interlinear translation in early English was inserted. From there we will continue to Newcastle Cathedral, arriving on the day the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition opens. We will then proceed to the coast at Seaton Sluice, before following near the coast to Lindisfarne itself.
This is an approximate map of the proposed route. It is appropriate that the whole can be completed on or close to pilgrimage routes, using four of the newly established Northern Saints Trails along with St Oswald’s Way.
The Way of Life between Gainford and Durham
The Way of Learning between Durham and Chester-le-Street
The Angel’s Way between Chester-le-Street and Seaton Sluice
The Way of the Sea between Seaton Sluice and Warkworth
St Oswald’s Way from Warkworth to Lindisfarne
There could be some potential for additional spur route pilgrimages to take place which could then join the main route.
Click here to view the plan for the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage is a partnership project and the lead partners are the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle. The pilgrimage is their main contribution to events in connection with the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition.
Other partners include:
- The North East Religious Learning Resources Centre
- The Northumbria Community
- The Auckland Project
- The Friends of the Finchale Camino
How you can get involved..
- You can join the pilgrimage for days or half days, bringing your own food and making your own transport or other arrangements. We will publish more detailed information about where to join the pilgrimage by early August.
- We will welcome some people to assist with carrying the coffin which is likely to be a moving experience. It would be best to find a partner of about the same height. If you would like to apply please use the contact details.
- We will be looking for accommodation for the core team of 8 people and if you are able to help or know others close to the route who might be able to help with this please contact us.
What we can offer schools and youth groups
There is a strong educational element to the pilgrimage and we are able to offer the following to schools:
A presentation at the school either before or when the pilgrimage passes by your school. At that presentation or when the pilgrimage passes your school, we hope to show facsimile editions of The Lindisfarne Gospels and St Cuthbert’s Gospel of St John. The two books make a striking contrast with the bejewelled Lindisfarne Gospels weighing nearly 9 kgms and St Cuthbert’s Gospel only measuring 14 x 9cms. Some pupils will be able to handle these books. On the pilgrimage itself pupils will be able to see the specially made replica of St Cuthbert's coffin
Our hope is that the Lindisfarne Gospels will be a starting point for learning about calligraphy and for inspiring creative responses from pupils, such as decorative handwriting expressing hopes and prayers for peace. There are parallels between the Viking incursions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some of the children's work will be displayed on online galleries on the Durham and Newcastle Dioceses facebook pages. We hope work by pupils might also be displayed in churches and community centres along the route after the pilgrimage.
We shall be able to supply some resources in connection with the Lindisfarne Gospels through our partnership with the Religious Learning Resources Centre in Durham who are also loaning the facsimiles. These resources will include complimentary copies of Discover The Lindisfarne Gospels which would be appropriate for years 2-6.
There will be a continuous schools relay between Gainford and Durham and we would welcome other schools on the rest of the journey also walking and learning with us. Some older pupils may be able to carry the coffin.
We would very much welcome the involvement of churches on or close to the route. That involvement could include the following:
- Churches will generally be appropriate places where the coffin and the gospels can stay overnight. It has been suggested that some form of prayer vigil with candles might be appropriate, but it would be good to enable local people to come and see the coffin and the gospels. It would be very much up to local people to determine what they would like to do. Of course it would be important to ensure the church is secure for the night after the evening event.
- We are looking for accommodation each night which could be in people’s homes or perhaps in churches or church halls.
- We would like to find one person to be a local organiser for each day of the pilgrimage and if your church is able to find such a person please let us know
The New Haliwerfolk
The core team on the pilgrimage will consist of 8 people which is exactly the same number that was assigned to take care of St Cuthbert’s coffin and the gospels in the original journeys.
One of the most interesting aspects of the original coffin journeys was that the people who guarded and traveled with St Cuthbert’s coffin were called haliwerfolk. The word is made up of three words with hali meaning holy and wer meaning man, so the whole meaning was “people of the holy man or saint.” Over time the word was extended to mean not just the descendants of the original attendants of St Cuthbert, but all those who had a special attraction and affection for St Cuthbert as a model follower of Christ. Later still, it was not just the people, but also the whole area between the Tyne and the Tees that became known as Haliwerfolk in just the same way that Norfolk and Suffolk became county names.
Those who will be carrying the coffin may well be called “new haliwerfolk.”
A final word…
In the late 10th century, Aldred, who was provost of the community in Chester-le-Street and who inserted his translation in early English into the Lindisfarne Gospels, added some valuable information at the end of the book. He mentions that Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne “wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert.” In both the planning and the execution of this pilgrimage, we can do no better than adopt the same purpose. May all that is done “for God and St Cuthbert” be a rich source of encouragement, enlightenment and blessing for all who participate.
Diocese of Durham