St Cuthbert's Final Journey

Following 9th century monks as they flee from invading vikings with the body of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels – and undertake a momentous journey that helps shape England

Inspired by the Gospels…Calfskin, Migrating Birds, School Kids and the Return of Cuthbert

I haven’t been to see the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition yet, but I’m looking forward to it and I’ve been told it’s fantastic. What I have seen though, is inspiration all around, as artists and communities react to the return of the Gospels and remember a time when the North East of England (or Northumbria as it was then known) was a leading light in culture, religion and art – with Lindisfarne, Wearmouth and Jarrow and Whitby at the forefront.

The Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition lists more than three hundred related events all over the North-East, but there’s plenty more than that; the first school in my village hasn’t been included on any official lists but they’ve been inspired and have created.

Here’s just a small sample for you to taste…

First, we have a beautiful tapestry in Bede’s World, created by their ‘A-list volunteers’, more affectionately known as the Bede’s World Nana’s. Working with Susan Moor of the Northumbrian Scribes they used a quote from Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert; his vision of the soul of Aidan being taken up to heaven. The colours were influenced by those found in the Lindisfarne Gospels and were dyed from plants, some of which came from Bede’s World garden, while the wool came from the sheep on Bede’s World farm.

Photo 11-07-2013 19 21 06

Photo 11-07-2013 19 21 46

Judy Hurst is an artist with an impressive pedigree and is also a lovely woman. I’m planning to spend time with her in the near future, to find out more about her and her work, and I’ll share it all when I can. Her work  is  “inspired  by  her  knowledge, respect  and  deep  love  of  the  architecture,  Celtic  history  and  wildlife  of  Britain  and  France.” The following work, also in display in Bede’s World, was created using a full calfskin (that’s what the Gospels were made with), sourced and prepared in the traditional way…

Photo 11-07-2013 19 38 05

Photo 11-07-2013 19 38 46

Next comes Bob Beagrie; a poet from Middlesbrough with various awards and prizes. Bob is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University, but what impresses me most is not his academic credentials, but his writing. He reads with pace and precision, which is why you don’t find a break in the following poem about Cuthbert. I first heard him a few years ago at a poetry event and I was bowled over. If you appreciate what follows do check his reading of Seer Sung Husband on youtube, set to live music.



On the return to the North of the Lindisfarne Gospels

A column of light, momentary pillar, out there,

this side of the turbines and taller,

no end to it, and no beginning,

as if it plunges into the cold depths,

slices down into the hidden bed,

not for the congealed blood of prehistory

nor to tap a yet to be depleted reservoir

of natural gas, but straight through the crust,

the mantle to the white hot molten core;

out there between the cargo ships and tankers

and the patterns the frail descendants

of tempests make as they limp ashore

in frothy bubbles that look like frogspawn;

speaking the one long call of, Oh,

a column of light, momentary pillar

and Spring on its way, at last, at last!

after such a stubborn Winter, and its him,

standing on a kind of raft

made from lobster pots, driftwood, rope,

lashed and tangled, paddling it inward, its him,

thin and straight as a razor fish

and are those seals that dip and frolic

in his wake in the long call of Oh?

But neither the dogs nor their walkers

have noticed anything unusual,

the toddler with his ball misses a kick

falls onto his bottom, his mummy

laughs, picks him up and off he trots,

the queue into Cod Almighty lengthens

by the minute, an ice cream splatters

onto the pavement, someone cries, Oh,

Mrs Morrison trapped in the rockshop

sells another rainbow candy lollypop,

but he is bringing the light of his wisdom,

returning from his long isolation to wash

off the contempt we feel for ourselves

and each other, the wealthy for the poor

the needy for the privileged, the strivers

and the shirkers, the inborn and newcomers

the haves and the have nots, the entitled

and the beholden, the inner and the outer;

will he wield the column of light,

momentary pillar, staff of life, to shear away

the trappings of our closely held devisions,

cleave the difference with a common vision,

but looking again I see the glare of the sun

upon the waves, clouds, their shadows

and he, along with the raft and his seals

was nothing more than a brief flight of fancy

a romance, instant of wishful thinking,

glint on my glasses, symptom of brain ache

so I stride over dry sand and shell, upon

the belittled citadels of glory, wealth,

knowing how a man of my age of this age

should know better than pin any hope

upon a legend even those from illuminated books –

for God’s sake, the things they can do

these days with CGI, with soft focus

montaged edits and backing music

subliminal messaging and NLP to beckon you

into the swell and sweep of commercial belief

that it’s possible to fill the hole, to plug the leak,

to heal the wound; oh, how it would make

those poor, devout, scribbling monks choke,

and the sea, well, it continues, as ever

to mouth its one drawn out call of, Oh.

Stephen Livingstone is an artist currently living in Durham. Inspired by nature, by landscape and habitats, he often uses natural or found substances in his work. It seems Stephen is finding inspiration easy to come by at present; he was part of an exhibition at the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle recently and has work at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Durham, on the way up the cathedral. The following work (and what follows are only very small sections of much bigger pieces of work) are currently on display at Bede’s World (noticing any pattern yet?).  Inspired by migrating birds of the Northumbrian coast and the carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels, his work is much more impressive and large-scale than my photographs show…

Photo 11-07-2013 19 14 35

Photo 11-07-2013 19 16 50

And finally, for here at least, Seaton Sluice First School were inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels after a visit by BBC Newcastle and an historian. Green Class teacher Mrs Allan invited me to speak  about my journey but unfortunately we couldn’t find a time convenient to both of us before the summer break – and so she let me take away some of the kids artwork to look at it. It was all brilliant, and I’ll leave you with a selection…

Photo 12-07-2013 13 10 49

Photo 12-07-2013 13 13 12

Photo 12-07-2013 13 14 25

Photo 12-07-2013 13 15 32

Photo 12-07-2013 13 30 36

Photo 12-07-2013 13 29 53

Photo 12-07-2013 13 28 13

7 comments on “Inspired by the Gospels…Calfskin, Migrating Birds, School Kids and the Return of Cuthbert

  1. Heather Martin
    July 14, 2013

    It’s wonderful that the children have been so inspired, though the local artists have also carried that flame wonderfully well, too.
    The story, retold by one of the children, of why the front of the Gospels was stolen did bring a big smile to my face. I’ve always thought Henry VIII was a bad man!

  2. kljolly
    July 14, 2013

    Such a wonderful range of artwork. I can’t wait to get there in August, unfortunately after your photographic exhibit is done.
    However, my sister has been working on a quilt for me for several years that is based on the Luke carpet page. If I can get her to finish it and it will fit in my carry on luggage, I will try to bring it to the Gospels in Durham.

  3. richardwhardwick2013
    July 14, 2013

    Thanks Karen. There’s a chance the exhibition might be able to stay another week, until the 10th August, but that depends on the space not being sold and it is in a prime location. We’ll see. How long are you over here for? The exhibition will be going to Durham University after, and then Bede’s World. There will be a launch at the University, with readings and a short film about the great sculptor Fenwick Lawson, so if you’re around I’ll happily invite you.
    Hope you have a great trip regardless.
    Take care – Richard

    • kljolly
      July 15, 2013

      I have a ticket for Aug. 6. If the exhibit does move to Durham University by then, I can see it there. I love Fenwick Lawson’s sculptures and would be delighted to know more about him.

      • richardwhardwick2013
        August 4, 2013

        Enjoy the gospels. Our exhibition is definitely coming down today (4th August) as another exhibition is taking the space next week. I feel a little sad as ours links beautifully and tastefully to the Gospels, but we’ve had a good run and the feedback has been wonderful. Durham University is next but probably not until September….

  4. Mary Gilmartin
    July 14, 2013

    Thanks for posting a glimpse into the exhibition and liked the poem by Bob Beagrie, reading it non-stop; and, I agree the sea does continue, as ever…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: