While still a boy, employed as a shepherd, he thought that he saw one night the soul of Aidan carried to heaven by angels, and thereupon went to the monastery of Old Melrose and became a monk (651).
His fame for piety, diligence, and obedience was soon great. When Alchfrith, king of Deira, founded a new monastery at Ripon, Cuthbert became its praepositus hospitum or entertainer of guests.
Alchfrith, however, adopted Roman usages, and in 661 the Scottish monks returned to Melrose, where Cuthbert was made prior. He spent much time among the people, ministering to their spiritual needs.
After the Synod of Whitby he seems to have accepted the Roman customs, for his old abbot, Eata, then at Lindisfarne, called him to introduce them there. It was an ungracious task, but Cuthbert disarmed opposition by his loving nature and patience.
In 676 he adopted the solitary life and retired to a cave. After a time he settled on one of the Farne Islands, south of Lindisfarne, and gave himself more and more to austerities. At first he would receive visitors and wash their feet, but later he confined himself to his cell and opened the window only to give his blessing.
After nine years he was prevailed upon to return to Lindisfarne as bishop and was consecrated at York by Archbishop Theodore and six bishops, on March 26, 685. After Christmas, 686, however, he returned to his cell, which was where he eventually died. He was buried at Lindisfarne.
Legend has it that, when Cuthbert's burial casket was opened some years after his death, his body was found to have been perfectly preserved. This apparent miracle led to the steady growth of Cuthbert's posthumous fame, to the point where he became the most popular saint of North England. Numerous miracles were attributed to him and to his remains. The noted 8th century author Bede wrote both a verse and a prose life of Cuthbert around 720.
In 875 the Danes took the monastery and the monks fled, carrying with them Cuthbert's body, in obedience to his dying injunction. After seven years' wandering it found a resting-place at Chester-le-Street until 995, when another Danish invasion led to its removal to Ripon. Then the saint intimated, as was believed, that he wished to remain in Durham. A new stone church was built, the predecessor of the present grand Cathedral.
In 1104 Cuthbert's tomb was opened again and his relics transferred to a new shrine behind the altar of the recently completed Cathedral. When the tomb was opened, a small pocket gospel, now known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, was found.