‘Saint Cuthbert’s Way with Dr Emma Wells’ – Episode 1 Old Melrose to Maxton

‘Saint Cuthbert’s Way with Dr Emma Wells’ – Episode 1 Old Melrose to Maxton


Hi I’m Dr. Emma Wells and join me as I
explore this fantastic historical trail St. Cuthbert’s Way. Here at Melrose on the banks of the
River Tweed, St. Cuthbert began his ministry over thirteen hundred years ago
and this is where we begin our journey – come on! Together with the chapel, the former
abbey site lies on a peninsula formed by a wide eastward bend of the Tweed,
cutting into Bemerside hill. Although the present St. Cuthbert’s Way
route begins at the site of Melrose Abbey two and a half miles to the west,
Cuthbert was actually accepted as a novice here at the Abbey of Old Melrose
by St. Boisil in the 7th century. Old Melrose was founded by King
Oswald and St. Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne, along with monks from the
island of Iona in 635 AD. However the abbey was destroyed in 839
AD on the order of Kenneth MacAlpin, king of the Scots. In 1080 a
chapel of Durham Cathedral was built on the site of the former abbey on what is
now known as Chapelknowe, dedicated to their most notable saint, Cuthbert. This
site was a place of pilgrimage until the Reformation in the 16th century when
both the site and chapel were left in ruins. The monastic community then chose
to re-site their new abbey at the current location of Melrose Abbey. During the
Viking raids, when Cuthbert’s body was ‘wandered’ around this landscape, it was
also buried here for protection. I wrote a book about the Saints and of all of the
saints, Cuthbert for me is the one that reconciles the the the disparate aspects
of what it meant to be an anglo-saxon same most completely because he has an
early life possibly as a warrior possibly it was suddenly in a secular
world he’s probably from a noble family and from this life he then enters a
Celtic monastic environment which is different to the Benedictine rules
that we see rolled out on the Continent but he develops within this context and
then he goes to Lindisfarne at a point really that that Lindisfarne is having
to redefine itself having to set itself up as a place where Roman and Celtic
ideas can be merged together and what we hear about Cuthbert we don’t get it from
him we get it from the people that write about him that writes about his his life
and the artworks that survive associated with him, which is all very carefully
coordinated in order to present him in a certain way; what we learn is that he is
this wonderful kind of point of reconciliation, he’s all things to all
men, he’s the perfect saint the perfect monk the perfect Bishop. Of course that
isn’t possible as a living breathing individual but but that’s the impression
we get from him through down the ages and actually the stories you do read
about him there’s a lot of stories associated with him in nature lovely
stories about him talking to the Ravens and took it to the otters and and
those things kind of humanised him in a way but we always had to be a bit
careful that we are getting a secondhand account who he is. The medieval church here at Maxton was
first recorded as St. Cuthbert’s Church of Mackistun afterwards Machiston, some
500 years after the Saint’s era, but was very likely served by the monastic
community of Old Melrose. Maxton was certainly linked to the later
Melrose Abbey as the landowner allowed the monks to utilize its land for
pasture and quarrying. Not only was the church therefore dedicated to the saint
but until the 1960s a well of Saint Cuthbert was sited at the west end of
the village, although now it is completely untraceable due to later road
improvements. The present building has lost its medieval character due to
extensive enlargements and successive restorations throughout the centuries.
The only medieval feature to survive is this beautiful western entrance
on the south side with the round headed doorway and it’s moulded Archivolt’s. And
join me next week for more of my travels along St. Cuthbert’s way. you

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