Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was an Anglo-Saxon monk, bishop, and hermit who is widely regarded as the patron saint of Northumbria. While his life and legacy are associated with many miracles and religious practices, one of his most notable contributions was the creation of one of the first bird protection laws in history.
The common eider, a large sea-duck found along the northern coasts of Europe, North America, and eastern Siberia, has been of interest to humans for centuries. A famous colony of eiders lives on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, England, where Saint Cuthbert established a law protecting the birds in the year 676.
Legend has it that Saint Cuthbert was moved by the eiders’ beauty and the value of their down feathers. He recognized the need to protect them from over-hunting and established a law forbidding the taking of the birds and their eggs from the Farne Islands. This law is considered to be one of the earliest recorded instances of bird protection in history.
Today, about 1,000 pairs of eiders still nest on the Farne Islands each year. The birds are often called Cuddy’s ducks in the area, as “Cuddy” is a familiar form of “Cuthbert.” The eider remains Northumberland’s emblem bird and a symbol of Saint Cuthbert’s legacy as a protector of the natural world.
After retiring from his monastic duties in 676, Saint Cuthbert lived a contemplative life as a hermit. He first moved to a spot identified as St Cuthbert’s Island near Lindisfarne and then to Inner Farne island, where he gave himself up to a life of great austerity. According to legend, he may have lived in a natural sandstone cave on the island known as St Cuthbert’s Cave or Cove.
Saint Cuthbert is celebrated on March 20th as a feast day in the Catholic Church, Church of England, Eastern Orthodox Church, and Episcopal Church, among others. His legacy as a protector of the natural world and a patron saint of Northumbria continues to inspire people today.
Saint Cuthbert, pray for us!