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cult of Saint Cuthbert, High Middle Ages, church


This paper describes the use of the cult of Saint Cuthbert in the High Middle Ages by both the bishops of Durham and the Benedictine community that was tied to the Episcopal see. Its central contention is that the churchmen of Durham adapted this popular cult to the political expediencies of the time. In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, when Bishop William de St. Calais ousted the entrenched remnants of the Lindisfarne community and replaced them with Benedictines, Cuthbert was primarily a monastic saint and not, as he would become, a popular pilgrimage saint. However, once the Benedictine community was firmly entrenched in Durham, the bishops, most prominently Hugh de Puiset, sought to create a saint who would appeal to a wide audience of pilgrims, including the women who had been excluded from direct worship in the earlier, Benedictine version of the saint. Evidence for this shift in the image of Cuthbert occurs both in the historical writings of the town’s monks—Symeon in the earlier period and Reginald in the later—and in the evolving architecture of Durham cathedral.