TAS LECTURE REVIEW | Sara Gibson reviews the TAS February lecture in which David Williams discussed the events and controversies associated with St Cuthbert’s body…. after he was buried

TAS Lecture Review.

Sara Gibson reviews the TAS February lecture in which David Williams discussed the events and controversies associated with St Cuthbert’s body…. after he was buried.

David treated us to a fascinating story of mystery and myth as he unfolded the story of the openings of St Cuthbert’s coffin through the ages.  The myth – the incorrupt corpse of St Cuthbert – is well known.  The mystery: “whodunit?” – who placed the beautiful Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet pectoral cross into the coffin – was explored in David’s lecture.  First we were invited to consider St. Aelfflaed, Abbess of Whitby and Princess of Northumbria.  Aelfflaed had the means to acquire the cross and opportunity to place it within the robes of Cuthbert as she wrapped the body of her close friend and saviour after his death in 697.  The remarkable cross is the most ornate of just 5 similar crosses recorded, usually associated with high-status female burials.  It is not, however, mentioned in the records until 1827, even though the coffin was opened at least four times between 698 and 1827, when it was “found” by James Raine, Librarian of Durham Cathedral.  Raine’s claim to have found the cross concealed within Cuthbert’s robes is controversial, given his motivation to debunk the Cuthbert myth and alleged casual treatment of the remains he found.  David’s lecture prompted several questions from Members, but the mystery remains …

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