Posted by: kljolly | July 9, 2013

Morecambe Bay in the Prologue

Several good comments showed up on my Prologue efforts to trace the route of Cuthbert’s entourage on their seven year journey with the saint from Lindisfarne to Chester-le-Street.  In particular, Dan Elsworth who is on site there suggested a better route.  Instead of reposting the page, I am putting the revised section here for comment.  Once I travel the roads myself next month, I may have a better sense of the landscape (and some pictures!).

I did try and add Kirkby in Furness and the Roman road Streetgate that Dan mentioned, but am not sure of its location (will need to get Dan’s 2007 article).

One thing I did note using GoogleEarth was that Aldingham, a place with a Cuthbert association, is three miles south of Conishead, the location Dan posits for Whithorn and the idea of an iron-tarnished horse.  According to Symeon, the men retrieving the Gospelbook walked three miles across the sands.  So I had them move southward parallel to Aldingham, where I have Hunred finding the red horse.  The only difficulty is whether Aldingham would be a lonely place at that time.

           Still anxiously seeking a sign, the companions traveled into the Furness peninsula.  By now it was early spring and the roads were muddy.  They lost a wheel trying to cross the sands at Broughton and stopped at Kirkby in Furness while a wheelwright helped repair it.  As they continued across the peninsula on the old Roman road called Streetgate, their food ran short, even for their sparse Lenten meals, and the celebration of Cuthbert’s feastday [March 20] was subdued.  Some considered whether they might have to sell some of their hidden valuables to survive, but no one dared even think to take a jewel or bit of gold off of any of the relics.

They finally arrived on the wide sandy shore of the vast bay called Moricambe by the Britons, “sea-bend.” They camped at Conishead in the ruined foundations of a church once known as Whithorn, the White House named after the famed monastery of St. Ninian in the north.  Covered with a red dust from the iron rich soil of the region, they were too hungry and weary even to pray.   Sometimes that is when God speaks.

Hunred slept uneasily.  Of all of the companions, he felt the greatest guilt for the loss of the Gospelbook.  He should have reached it, or died in the attempt.  If he had had the faith of St. Peter, could he not have walked out on the waters to His Savior, the Word made flesh, dancing on the waves?

He dreamed again that agonizing nightmare of the Gospelbook in its reliquary floating and glowing on the water, just out of his reach.  But this time he was able to follow it.  He seemed to be flying like a seabird, skimming above the waves, the book flying in front of him, just beyond his grasp.  Looking to the left, he saw the coastline.  They were sailing just off a large headland.  He thought he saw a tall woman standing on the cliff edge, staring out to sea.

But the book went on around the headland, skipping atop the waves like a stone thrown by a boy across a still lake.  It entered Moricambe bay and disappeared.  He landed on an island in the bay near where they were camped.

A deep voice from the waters behind him said “Look for me when the tide is out.”  He heard a great sucking sound, as if a Leviathan was swallowing all of the water, and turned to see the waters retreating out of the bay.

He looked across the expanse of open sand, and found that he could walk across the bay, as if he were walking on water.  On the shore, he saw a red horse near a tree on which a bridle hung.  The voice told him to get up immediately, and take hold of the bridle.  “The horse will come to you, and you will bridle it. Bring it to me, and harness it to my cart.  Then I will be able to lead you to a place of safety,” the voice promised.  Cuthbert.

The name woke Hunred with a start.  He jumped up, waking the others with his sudden movement.

“What is it?  Thieves?  Who is on guard?”  Calmed from their panic, Hunred told them about his vision, some appearing doubtful, but the bishop taking it as a sign of hope.  It was near time for the pre-dawn prayers, so they gathered around the relics within the white walls of the roofless church and sang the psalms.

Then Hunred directed his companions out onto the beach and told them to keep the rising sun on their left.  The men were amazed at what they saw.  The tide had receded so far that they were able to walk three miles into the ocean bay across wet sand.  At first they were near the shoreline, but as they continued on a direct path southward the land receded.  That far out, fearful that the waters would crash in on them like the Red Sea on pharoah’s army, they looked for a cloud or pillar of fire to guide them.  Instead, they saw a few yards away an iridescent gleam in the sand.  Running toward it, they discovered the Gospelbook sealed in its reliquary.

Meanwhile, Hunred walked south along the sandy shore looking for the place where in the vision he had seen the red horse.  Finally, near Aldingham he saw the tree with the bridle hanging from it.  Turning, he saw the horse just standing there in the middle of nowhere.  It seemed to be waiting for him, like the donkey prepared for the Savior’s triumphal ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which, he realized, was today [April 16 881].  Taking the bridle in his hand, he made the clicking noises he used to call his warhorse from the field, but the red horse was already trotting toward him and was easily haltered.  Looking east from the Aldingham shore, he saw the brothers on the sands of the bay, holding aloft the Gospelbook.

They met back at Whithorn, Hunred leading the horse and the brothers carrying the recovered Gospelbook. Reverently they handed the reliquary to the bishop, who wordlessly opened the case and found the book inside dry, its illuminated pages untouched by its sea journey.

Hope swelled in them. Surely the one sign, the miraculous preservation of the Gospelbook, assured the other sign, the horse leading Cuthbert’s body to a safe haven.  Eagerly they hitched the horse to the cart.  Quickly saying their morning prayers, they released the horse and followed as it ambled off, surefooted, on a path set before it by God.

It too crossed the bay sands, but eastward from Conishead, taking them first to Cartmel, where they rested for awhile at the small community there.

From there, the horse took them to Heversham monastery….

Any comments are more than welcome.


  1. Hi Karen, that sounds great – I had initially thought of them washing up in their boat at Cartmel and then heading north via Conishead and Kirkby but it does specifically say in Simeon’s account that they returned to land after the waves washed the gospelbook overboard (as far as I recall!) so it would make sense that they came from the north down to Conishead. I need to scan my 2007 article anyway so if I manage it I will email you a copy.

  2. Yes, that is the tricky bit: they had to have gone back to Derwentmouth because the people who wept on their departure greeted them on their return.

  3. […] and their confusion when recovering the Lindisfarne Gospels from the sands, which I am placing at Morecambe Bay following Dan Elsworth’s […]

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