Saint Cuthbert’s Banner

The first mention of Saint Cuthbert’s banner is in Reginald of Durham’s account of the miracles of the saint, written over a period of time in the 1160’s and ‘70’s. The banner was primarily a liturgical banner carried in procession several times a year but was also considered to be an embodiment of the saint’s power. From the time of Edward I’s Scottish wars and for the more than 200 years afterwards the banner is documented as going to war against the Scots as a holy relic to be displayed on the sidelines of battle.

Much earlier, in 1097, Edgar, the rightful heir to Malcolm III of Scotland, carried the banner into Scotland supported by his uncle Edgar Aethling with an Anglo-Norman army, to reclaim the throne from the usurper Donaldbane. Interestingly Malcolm III appears to have been present at the foundation of the cathedral of Durham.

There is no mention of what this early banner was like.

It is not mentioned in reports of the Battle of the Standard in 1138, where the banners of St John of Beverley and Saint Peter of York were displayed to rally the English troops, although the battle was fought on land belonging to St Cuthbert, near Northallerton. 

There is a record of Edward I, The Hammer of the Scots, giving a grant for two lights to be carried before the banner when in procession on Feast Days. It seems to have been carried in Edward’s campaigns and it may have been at the siege of Caerlaverock Castle in 1300. It seems even more likely that Bishop Anthony Bek would have had it with him in 1298 when Edward I defeated William Wallace at the battle of Falkirk.

When David Bruce, King of Scotland invaded in 1346 it is said that Prior John Fossor of Durham had a vision telling him to take the corporeal cloth (the cloth used to cover the host during the Mass) of Saint Cuthbert and place it on a spear and take it to the Maidens Bower near the Flass vale outside Durham. There a battle was fought, (now called the battle of Neville’s Cross) and the Scots decisively defeated and David captured.

The cloth was made into a proper banner.

It was then much in demand, particularly in battles against the Scots. It is said to have played its part in the English triumph over King James IV at the battle of Flodden in 1513 and became a symbol of the North.

In 1536 it was brought out by protestors on the Pilgrimage of Grace and carried before the devout laity as local people protested against the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The author of The Rites of Durham recounts how the banner was burned by the wife of Dean Whittingham, the puritan Dean of Durham, whom Elizabeth I and her adviser William Cecil, Lord Burgleigh, had placed in Durham in 1563 to counter the catholic inclinations of the north.

If you would like to read more about Saint Cuthbert's Banner and the banners of the other Northern Saints you can find an interesting article here and you can read about the new Saint Cuthbert's Banner created by the Northumbrian Association here.

The new Saint Cuthbert's Banner 

Here is a description of the original Banner from The Rites of Durham:

“The baner cloth was a yerd brode, and five quarters deape, and the nether part of it was indented in five parts, and frenged, and maid fast withall about with read silke and gold. And also the said baner cloth was maid of read velvett, of both sydes most sumptuously imbroidered and wrought with flowers of grene silke and gold. And in the mydes of the said baner cloth was the sayde holie relique and Corporax cloth inclosed and placed therein, which Corporax cloth was covered over with white velvett, half a yerd square every way, having a red crosse of read velvett on both sydes over the same holie Relique, most artificiallie and cunyngly compiled and framed, being fynely fringed about the edge and scirtis with frenge of read silke and gold, and three litle fyne silver bellis fest to the scirtis of the said baner cloth, like unto sackring bellis, and, so sumptuouslie finished and absolutelye perfitted, was dedicated to holie St Cuthbert, of intent and purpose that the same should be alwaies after presented and carried to any battell, as occasion should serve, and which was never caryed or showed at any battell, but, by the especiall grace of God Almightie and the mediacion of holie St Cuthbert, it browghte home the victorie.”