THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

30 January 2013

A Menagerie of Miracles: The Illustrated Life of St Cuthbert

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of a kneeling monk kissing the feet of St Cuthbert.

Miniature of a monk (Bede?) kissing the feet of St Cuthbert, from the preface to Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 1v

Last year the British Library was pleased to announce the acquisition of the 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel (Add MS 89000) following the largest public fundraising campaign in our history; read our blogposts 'Happy St Cuthbert's Day!''St Cuthbert Gospel Saved for the Nation' and 'St Cuthbert Gospel - Thank you!' for more.  Following the acquisition, the St Cuthbert Gospel was exhibited in our Treasures Gallery alongside another manuscript equally well known to lovers of all things Cuthbertian, Yates Thompson MS 26.

This 12th century manuscript is our latest addition to the Digitised Manuscripts website.  Yates Thompson MS 26 contains a number of texts about England's favourite hermit and bishop, most notably Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert (vita beati Cuthberti).  But it is probably most famous for its extensive programme of illumination, which documents almost every episode in St Cuthbert's holy life.  Key events depicted include the establishment of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert's ridding the wife of King Ecgfrith's prefect from the demons that beset her, the saint's much-mourned death and subsequent healings at his tomb.  These miniatures are beautifully interspersed with those of more 'mundane' miracles, like a crow bringing lard in atonement for stealing straw and Cuthbert curing a monk of diarrhoea.  Some of our other favourites are below:

 

An opening from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of St Cuthbert praying beside the river Tyne and two monks arriving at the monastery of Tynemouth.

Miniature of St Cuthbert praying to God to change the winds beside the river Tyne; miniature of two monks at the monastery of Tynemouth praying for the safety of those blown away in a gale, from Chapter 3 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, ff. 10v-11r

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of a young St Cuthbert kneeling in prayer.

Miniature of the young St Cuthbert kneeling in prayer, interrupted by his horse finding bread and cheese wrapped in linen hidden within a roof, from Chapter 5 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 14r

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of St Cuthbert performing a miracle in the sea.

Miniature of (lower left) Cuthbert praying in the sea, and, after he has finished (lower right), otters coming to warm and dry his feet with their breath and fur, while (above), another monk secretly watches the miracle, from Chapter 10 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 24r

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of St Cuthbert in a boat with two men.

Miniature of St Cuthbert in a boat at sea, with two other men, from Chapter 11 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 26r

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of an eagle bringing a fish to St Cuthbert and his companion.

Miniature of an eagle bringing St Cuthbert and his companion a fish, which they then share with the eagle, from Chapter 12 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 28v

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of St Cuthbert building a hermitage.

Miniature of St Cuthbert building his hermitage on the island of Farne, with the help of an angel, from Chapter 17 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 39r

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of St Cuthbert discovering a roof beam for his church.

Miniature of St Cuthbert miraculously discovering a roof beam for his church in the waves of the ocean, from Chapter 21 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 45v

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of one of St Cuthbert's visions.

Detail of a miniature of St Cuthbert's vision of the soul of a man, who was killed by falling from a tree, being carried to heaven, from Chapter 34 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 63v

 

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing an illustration of monks signalling with torches that St Cuthbert has died.

Miniature of monks at St Cuthbert's hermitage signalling with torches to the monks of Lindisfarne that Cuthbert is dead, from Chapter 40 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, England (Durham), 4th quarter of the 12th century, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 74v

 

The Life of Cuthbert is the first British Library manuscript from the Yates Thompson collection to be made available on Digitised Manuscripts, but we can promise you that it will not be the last.  Much more information about the extraordinary collector Henry Yates Thompson and his eponymous collection can be found in our virtual exhibition appropriately titled Henry Yates Thompson's Illuminated Manuscripts

Sarah J Biggs

Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval

Comments

These are just glorious! I look forward to paging through the entire manuscript. I've just made a post about this on my Haliwerfolc blog where I collect All Things Saint Cuthbert.

Absolutely beautiful. So moving.
Thank you.

Wonderful addition to the equally wonderful and growing digitised collection: thanks! I remember first reading about Cuthbert's otters in Helen Waddell's delightful book 'Beasts and Saints', which also relates plenty of other hagiographic animal stories.

The comments to this entry are closed.