St Cuthbert’s Elevation. Church Hill and Alnmouth. First light.
Tidal flats and marshes, some drained others ribboned with oozing brackish streams, connect to the river Aln to the ebbs and flows of the tide. Hugging a small bluff, Alnmouth is squeezed between restless dunes and the North Sea. The complex interaction of tide, dunes, river and saltings, produces an environment that is continually in flux. This place used to be called Twyford. Here, according to Bede’s account in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, the synod of 684, in the presence of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria, elected Cuthbert Bishop of Lindisfarne.
This was a turning point in the life of Cuthbert. His elevation was one he reluctantly accepted. The site of the synod is not known as the area has greatly changed. The mouth of the River Aln is a vulnerable location. The village, an important trading port, declined after the river changed course during a violent storm in 1806. This incident also resulted in the original church, which stood on Church Hill, being destroyed. The church had already suffered much erosion by the river and was in a state of collapse. It may be that this church was the site of the synod in 684. From that point the fortunes of the town declined. Church Hill, which is the low ridge to the right in my painting, was originally much bigger and not divided from the town by the wide estuary. On top of Church Hill is a solitary cross in wood.