THE year is probably 686, the place Carlisle. Cuthbert, bishop ofj Lindisfarne, comes
again to visit the western parts of his diocese.
An anchorite, Herebert , travels
from his hermitage in the islands of a western lakee, to greet his friend, to receive
instruction from him, and to pray with him. Cuthbert's first biographer reports the
bishop as saying: 'Dearest brother, speak and ask whatever is necessary for you. For
from this time hence we shall never see each other again in this world'. Herbert,
kneeling and weeping, says: 'I adjure you by Jesus Christ the Son of God that you
ask the Holy Trinity that I may not be left bereft of you after your death, but that
He may receive me with you into the joy of the eternal kingdom'. Cuthbert prays,
then replies: 'Rise and rejoice, for your request has been granted according to your
words by the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will undoubtedly receive it'. And so it happened
that both men died on 20th March 687.
This is almost all we know about St Herbert.
The anonymous life of St Cuthbert was written not later than 705 and is reliable.
Bede, writing about 721, adds only the name of the lake - Derwentwater - and the
statement that Herbert suffered a long illness before his death, to make up for his lesser
Brief though it is, Herbert's story has three features which link it with
patterns of Celtic christianity: his residence as a hermit upon an island, like the
monks of Skellig Michael or lona, or Cuthbert himself upon Fame Island; his 'soul-friendship'
with Cuthbert; and the gift of simultaneous death, also granted by a prayer of St
Herbert's memory clearly remained alive in the Keswick area, even after Norse-speaking
landowners had taken over 250 years later. 'Herbert HoIm' was the Norse name for
the island in Derwentwater, first mentioned in 1343. But in 1374 Bishop Thomas Appleby
declared that the facts about Herbert were unknown to almost everyone.
A chapel was consecrated on the island when the cult was revived in 1374, and Bishop
Appleby ordered the vicar of Crosthwaite to celebrate Mass there annually with his
people. Otherwise, surprisingly, the:'~ are only the modern dedications of Braithwaite
and St Herbert, Carlisle. COMMEMORATION: 13th April according to Bishop Appleby, but
the correct date of death is 20th March.
SOURCES: Two Lives of St Cuthbert, ed. B Cot
grave, Cambridge, 1940, reprinted 1985), pp.124-S, 248-51;325-6, 335: Thomas Lees,
'Saint Herbert of Derwentwater', Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian
and Archaeological Society, old series, vol. vi, pp.338-43; A M Armstrong and others,
The Place-Names of Cumberland, (Cambridge. 1950-2), p.371; William Hutchinson, The
History of the County of Cumberland, (Carlisle, 1794-7), pp.172-3.