While visiting Durham recently even I was surprised to encounter a funeral procession, apparently making its way through a shopping centre.
In fact, it was a full-size bronze sculpture of some monks carrying the body of St Cuthbert. Cuthbert led a life of prayer and simplicity on Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast. When he died in 687 his brother monks buried his body at the monastery there.
Now when it comes to sending someone on their way from this world these days many settle for some kind words from a friend and tracks from a favourite CD – but not these monks! They soon built Cuthbert a splendid new tomb, and on moving his body found that it had not decayed at all – a sure sign of great saintliness. Pilgrims began flocking to his shrine – but so, too, did Viking raiders.
The monks fled, taking their most precious possessions - including Cuthbert’s body – first to Chester-Le-Street, then to Ripon. The story goes that as they were returning to Chester-Le-Street the saint appeared to one of the brothers in a vision, demanding that his remains be buried on the spot overlooking the River Wear where Durham Cathedral now stands.
There’s a charming video online, worth watching, which uses LEGO figures to tell the story of Cuthbert and Durham Cathedral. It’s a great story, but one that I find humbling - it reminds me that my own attempts at prayer, simplicity and saintliness are still very much works in progress.
Mind you, I do like the thought of my sorrowing parishioners carrying my remains around the parish when I finally go to my Eternal Home, waiting for a sign as to which churchyard to bury it in. But they’re more likely to just make a cup of tea, and go home…