To Cuthbert’s Place for Cuthbert’s Book

Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition

Making the most of the continuing lovely summer weather, I had a short trip over the northern Pennines to see the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition that is currently taking place in Durham. The 8th century gospels, made to honour St Cuthbert, are normally held at the British Library in London but are on loan, with other exhibits, just across Durham’s Palace Green from the Cathedral which houses St Cuthbert’s shrine. It is a kind of homecoming.

The drive to Durham took me through lovely countryside via Kirkby Stephen and Barnard Castle. Barnard Castle, aside from the ruins of the castle itself, has many fascinating buildings. The parish church has recently commissioned a labyrinth – something of a growing trend – and we enjoyed mooching around the market town – and the Book Aid theological bookshop provided a bit of wholesome retail therapy, too.

Durham looked fantastic in the summer sun and we spent a day around the Cathedral and the exhibition. Celtic Christianity has this notion of “thin places” where the earthly and divine meet more closely and Durham Cathedral is certainly one of these places – particularly in Cuthbert’s Feretory (his shrine) where I received communion. This was prior to visiting the Gospels exhibition in the afternoon and feeling touched by seeing his pectoral cross, his portable alter and bishop’s ring. Although the exhibition was fascinating it was the saint’s personal objects that affected me most. Following the exhibition we headed back to the Cathedral for Choral Evensong; a lovely way to end our day.

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Our drive back was via a different, higher, route through Alston and Penrith. Alston (highest town in England) was in the middle of a French festival with films being shown and local shops kitted out in Gallic style. Someone had managed to rustle up a 2CV car and a guillotine. We popped in to the Parish Church to have a look at an art exhibition and notice the very “proper” Victorian stained glass and the historic Derwentwater clock (complete with winding instructions!).

In the Alston graveyard there’s a tombstone with this inscription:

The Cobbler’s Epitaph

My cutting board’s to pieces split,
My size-sticks will no measure mete,
My rotten last’s turned into holes,
My blunted knife cuts no more soles,
My hammer’s head flown from the haft,
No more Saint Mondays with the craft,
My nippers, pincers, stirrup and rag
And all my kit have got the bag;
My lapstone’s broke, my colour’s o’er,
My gum-glass froze, my paste’s no more;
My heels sewed on, my pegs are driven,
I hope I’m on the road to heaven.

We descended from Alston over the Hartside Top and visited Penrith, with its contrasting Parish Church (and Giant’s Tomb), before reaching home.