By Rex Gardner
British Medical Journal, Vol.283 (1983)
Introduction: The vigorous hybrid culture of Briton and Angle’ blossomed in the seventh century into the amazing Northumbrian golden age whose artefacts still astonish and delight US. Its stimulus was the reintroduction of dynamic Christian faith by dedicated Celtic missionaries. Despite its defeat in 664 by the Roman party, the Celtic faith long remained pervasive, completely shaping the life of Cuthbert and determining the private spirituality even of its arch opponent Wilfrid.
We know that Celtic monks supplied medicines and that surgery was practised, perhaps by clerics as well as laymen. Miraculous healings, however, loom largest in contemporary records. They have been conveniently catalogued by Highfield.” In later centuries “miracles” were to degenerate into “wonders”” and to become as important for the curriculum vitae of the potential saint as are publications for the aspiring senior registrar in modern medicine. In this springtime of the faith, however, miracles were not wonders but “signs” of the power of God.”
Some writers have laughed at miracle. A nineteenth century churchman wrote “If Bede may be credited Cuthbert’s only amusement (on the Farne Islands) must have been the performance of miracles . . . which notwithstanding their absurdity were duly credited and implicitly believed for centuries.” A more recent historian has written of “benevolent magic.”