Saint Cuthbert was a very energetic young man who loved physical games. But one day, a young boy approached him and asked: "Why do you, most noble Cuthbert, waste your energies in such pursuits when God has something much better in store for you?" Cuthbert noticed that the young boy was weeping and realised that God must have something special in store for him.
It was some time later, as Cuthbert was helping keep his father's sheep, he saw in a vision a group of angels flying across the midnight sky when they were joined by a human soul, which they then escorted into heaven. Cuthbert had witnessed the spiritual reality of Saint Aidan's death, and it was now that he decided to serve God with all his life, only he didn't go Lindisfarne, instead he went to Holy Island's sister community at Melrose.
At Melrose, Cuthbert trained under Saint Boisil, and was chosen by Saint Eata to help found a new community at Ripon where he acted as Prior: the monk in charge of providing hospitality to visitors.
The monks' work at Ripon didn't last long as the king's son asked Wilfrid to take charge of the work, and Wilfrid's preference for the Roman style of Christianity as opposed to the Celtic style proved too much. These differences came to a head in 664 AD, when King Oswy called the Synod of Whitby to discuss the differences between the Celts and the Romans, and in particular the different way that they calculated the date of Easter.
As the whole of Europe followed the Roman method, King Oswy decided in favour of Rome with the result that many of the monks on Holy Island went back to Iona. It was now that Eata became the new Abbot, leaving Melrose, and Cuthbert became Prior.
Cuthbert's main task was to guide the brothers through the decisions made at the Whitby Synod, and apply them to their rule of life. The discussions that followed sometimes erupted into stormy arguments, at which point Cuthbert would simply smile and walk out. Cuthbert's action made the ensuing debate worthless as the monks couldn't make any decisions without their Prior. The following day Cuthbert would begin the discussion again with the words, "now brothers, where were we?" The monks quickly learned that discussion was more fruitful that argument, and it was Cuthbert's patience that not only brought the lesson home, it saved the community on Lindisfarne from destruction.
After a period as a hermit on Inner Farne, Cuthbert was persuaded to become Bishop of Lindisfarne, a task he undertook with great dedication. He particularly helped Saint Ebbe with her community at Coldingham, where not all the values of the Celtic monks were steadfastly adhered to.
Cuthbert died in 687, and was buried on Holy Island but, as his grave became an increasingly popular destination for pilgrims, the monks were forced to move his body. This was not uncommon in those days as saints were often exhumed and their bones washed in order to venerate them however; when the monks uncovered Cuthbert's body it was found to be completely uncorrupted.
Cuthbert is often portrayed carrying Saint Oswald's head as the monks considered it a holy relic, and carried both Cuthbert's body and Oswald's head with them when they were forced to flee Lindisfarne, eventually settling in Durham where Cuthbert was finally laid to rest.