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Cuthbert and the Iron Grip A boy goes bird-nesting in Cuthbert’s church, and finds himself all in a heap.

In two parts

King Henry II 1154-1189
Music: Ernest Tomlinson

© nottsexminer, Wikimeda Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. Source

About this picture …

Eggs in the nest of a carrion crow (corvus corone), found chiefly across the UK and northwest Europe. It was in the pursuit of eggs like these that our unfortunate young lad came to grief, for violating ‘St Cuthbert’s Peace’, defying the saint’s promise to protect his beloved birds not only on Inner Farne, the island where he spent his last years, but in every place consecrated to his memory.

Cuthbert and the Iron Grip

Part 1 of 2

In 1165, a priest came to Durham from Lytham, where his little parish had experienced a number of miracles at the hands of the patron saint, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Reginald wrote them down as he heard them, and one tale in particular stands out for the level of eye-witness detail.

THE little church of St Cuthbert in twelfth-century Lytham was a wattle-and-daub affair,* and when one lad decided to climb onto the roof to raid a crow’s nest disaster beckoned. Scrabbling for a foothold, he reached for eggs with one hand while grasping a wooden peg with the other to steady himself. “Not even the church of Cuthbert” he vowed grimly “will protect you from me!”*

All of a sudden, the roof gave way, and he crashed down to the floor below. They took him up with almost every bone in his body broken, one hand still clutching the peg, the other, the one that had reached out for the nest, so tightly contracted that the nails dug deep into the flesh.* His condition grew dangerously worse, until on his friends’ advice he was taken back to St Cuthbert’s church, and there for three days the weakening boy sought the saint’s forgiveness in prayer.

Jump to Part 2

The identification of Reginald’s ‘Lixtune’ with Lytham in modern-day Lancashire is not certain, but often made. Lixtune was a village on the west coast, at the far northern point of ‘Chester lands’, either mediaeval Cheshire or the Diocese of Chester. Reginald included the story in a section dedicated to events in Copeland, at the southwest corner of Cumbria.

The boy obviously knew about St Cuthbert’s Peace, the promise made to the birds of the Farne Islands by St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, before his death in 687. Perhaps he did not expect it to apply in twelfth-century Lancashire. See posts tagged St Cuthbert’s Peace (4).

Reginald goes into great detail concerning the exact nature of the boy’s wounds and especially the curvature of his fingers under severe muscular contraction, all strengthening the sense that he is passing on an eye-witness account.


A bird-nesting boy climbed onto the roof of a rickety church, and just as he was reaching out for the eggs, his hands went into spasm, and he fell through to the floor. The boy was so badly injured that his friends brought him back into the church to pray to the patron saint, St Cuthbert, for his cure. (59 / 60 words)

Part Two

© Alexander P. Kapp, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. Source

About this picture …

The Lych Gate at St Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham, Lancashire. This church dates from the 19th century, but if Lytham is indeed the Lixtune of Reginald’s account, then a church dedicated to St Cuthbert has stood here since at least the 12th century.

IN the dead of the third night, a brightness filled the church, and Cuthbert himself came out from the altar area. His thin face, ripened by long fasting, was shining, and his eyes sparkled like stars. His vesture was of gold, and pearls softly clicked where his hand grasped his staff; the hair beneath his jewelled bishop’s crown was flecked with grey.

“You violated the peace of my birds”* said Cuthbert, with gentle reproof. “But you were more stupid than malicious; and I am more accustomed to pity than retribution, so you will now feel my power within you.” He led the boy, cured of his broken bones, to the altar, and when he softly rapped each stiffened hand against it the fingers loosed their vice-like grip, and all wounds vanished. One little finger, however, remained in contraction to the end of his days, as a reminder of the love of St Cuthbert towards one very rash young boy.

Copy Book

Miracles of St Cuthbert Next: Cuthbert and the Wry Face

A reference to ‘St Cuthbert’s Peace’, a bond between the saint and birds of all kinds. See all our stories tagged St Cuthbert’s Peace (4).


After three days’ praying in the church, the boy saw St Cuthbert himself enter, dressed as a bishop and bathed in light. The saint gently remonstrated with him, and then cured him of his broken bones and painful hand spasms at the altar. One finger, however, remained in contration as a life-long reminder. (53 / 60 words)


Based on ‘De Admirandis Beati Cuthberti Virtutibus’, chapter 68 by Reginald of Durham (?-?1190).

Suggested Music

1 2 3


Ernest Tomlinson (1924-2015)

Performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Murray Khouri.

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Second Suite of English Folk Dances


Ernest Tomlinson (1924-2015)

Performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Murray Khouri.

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First Suite of English Folk Dances

3. Dick’s Maggot

Ernest Tomlinson (1924-2015)

Performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Murray Khouri.

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