Skip to content ↓

About St Herbert

The Hermit of Derwentwater

There is but little information on record respecting St Herbert, and had it not been for his intimacy with St Cuthbert, his name probably would not have been handed down to posterity at all. In truth, he did little more than pray and meditate on this spot. It was his wish to love and die unknown. Though one in spirit, St Cuthbert and the Hermit of Derwentwater were entirely dissimilar in character. St Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne, and eminent preacher in his day, whose eloquence influenced the will of many, and whose active zeal contributed to the advancement of the then dominant church, of which he was one of the main pillars and rulers. St Herbert was altogether a man of prayer. He retired from the world to this solitude, and passed his days in devotion. The two saints used to meet once a year for spiritual communion. Which had most influence with the Ruler of heaven we cannot say.

The venerable Bede writes thus of the “Hermit of Derwentwater”:- "There was a certain priest, revered for his uprightness and perfect life and manners, name Herberte, who had a long time been in union with the man of God (St Cutherbert of Farn Isle), in the bond of spiritual love and friendship. For living a solitary life in the isle of that great and extended lake, from whence proceeds the river of Derwent, he used to visit St Cuthbert every year, to receive from his lips the doctrine of eternal life. When this holy priest heard of St Cuthbert's coming to Lugubalia, he came after his usual manner, desiring to be comforted more and more, with the hope of everlasting blisse, by his divine exhortations. As they sate together, and enjoyed the hopes of heaven, among other things the bishop said:

`Remember, brother, Herberte, that whatsoever ye have to say and ask of me, you do it now, for after we depart hence, we shall not meet again, and see one another corporally in this world; for I know well the time of my dissolution is at hand, and the laying aside of this earthly tabernacle draweth on apace.'

When Herberte heard this, he fell down at his feet, and with many sighs and tears beseeched him, for the love of the Lord, that he would not forsake him, but to remember his faithful brother and associate, and make intercession with the gracious God, that they might depart hence into heaven together, to behold His grace and glory whom they had in unity of spirit served on earth; for you know I have ever studied and laboured to live according to your pious and virtuous instructions; and in whatsoever I offended or omitted, through ignorance and frailty, I straightway used my earnest efforts to amend after your ghostly counsel, will, and judgement. At this earnest and affectionate request of Herbertes, the bishop went to prayer, and presently being certified in spirit that his petition to heaven would be granted, - `Arise,' said he, `my dear brother, weep not, but let your rejoicing be with exceeding gladness, for the great mercy of God hath granted unto us our prayer.'

The truth of which promise and prophecy was well proved in that which ensued; for their separation was the last that befel them on earth; on the same day, which was the 19th day of March, their souls departed from their bodies, and were straight in union in the beatific sight and vision; and were transported hence to the kingdom of heaven, by the service and hands of angels."

Extracted from Tales and Legends of The English Lakes (1891), Wilson Armistead

The Desolate Ruins of St Herbert's Cell

From an inscription for spot where the hermitage stood on St Herbert's Island Derwentwater, William Wordsworth

If thou in the dear love of some one friend
Hast been so happy that thou know'st what thoughts
Will sometimes in the happiness of love
Make the heart sink, then wilt thou reverence
This quiet spot; and, Stranger! not unmoved
Wilt thou behold this shapeless heap of stones,
The desolate ruins of St. Herbert's Cell.
Here stood his threshold; here was spread the roof
That sheltered him, a self-secluded Man,
After long exercise in social cares

And offices humane, intent to adore
The Deity, with undistracted mind,
And meditate on everlasting things,
In utter solitude.--But he had left
A Fellow-labourer, whom the good Man loved
As his own soul. And, when with eye upraised
To heaven he knelt before the crucifix,
While o'er the lake the cataract of Lodore
Pealed to his orisons, and when he paced
Along the beach of this small isle and thought

Of his Companion, he would pray that both
(Now that their earthly duties were fulfilled)
Might die in the same moment. Nor in vain
So prayed he:--as our chronicles report,
Though here the Hermit numbered his last day
Far from St. Cuthbert his beloved Friend,
Those holy Men both died in the same hour.