The Origins of Saint Cuthbert and His Cult
Date: Thu, September 13, 2007
Topic: Gods & Followers
Many tales purport to give the “true” origin of Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel. This article intends to explore these myths and the legitimate historical record to see what may be made of the various claims.
Though mainly claimed by both Flan and Oeridian tradition, almost all agree that St. Cuthbert was born and lived as a mortal man, though few can agree where or amongst whom(1). In areas dominated by Raoan worshippers the Saint is often said to have been a mortal follower of that god, though in other areas he is claimed to have followed other deities, including Heironeous and Pholtus in the east, and even Lendor in Keoland (2). One tale of Suel origin dates his mortal life to long before the Twin Cataclysms, as a paladin who rose to be a king, ruling wisely with simple, common sense, until he was mortally wounded in the slaying of a great red wyrm who was preying upon the land(3).
Another folk legend popular in the Velverdyva Valley places Cuthbert’s origin in that region in the centuries immediately following the Twin Cataclysms. The tale’s structure is interesting in that the first third is told as a history of the Velverdyva region in that time period, the middle relates the life of the mortal Cuthbert as an Oeridian initiate of the god Delleb who was enslaved by orcs and redeemed in his martyrdom, and the last part is a morality play of the reincarnated Cuthbert instilling his teachings amongst the people(4).
The only extant tale giving him a divine origin is one version of the myth of the “Pact Primeval”, which explains the provenance of the race of Devils (5). In this tale, at the prodding of the archdevil Asmodeus, a godling among the host of Law comes to the conclusion that “retribution is the basis of all law,” thus transforming himself into St. Cuthbert. It is an interesting myth and speaks volumes about Cuthbertine dogma, but is in all likelihood just an element added to embellish the tale.
By dissecting historical fact instead of folklore we are able to discern some clues as to the venerable saint’s origins. Geographically speaking his popularity is restricted to the central and western Flanaess, and with a few exceptions, mainly among the rural peasantry and yeomanry of those lands. The lands where he is most popular are the Viscounty of Verbobonc, Archclericy of Veluna, Realm of Greyhawk, and Duchy of Urnst(6). The relative absence of his cult in the core lands of the former Great Kingdom, those lands “most Oeridian of the Oeridian” as the saying goes, argues that his origin is not to be found among that people, at least not in the Pre-migration period(7). This view is disputed by a heretical history of obscure origin but nevertheless popularized to some extent among the scholarly. While not specifically addressing Cuthbert’s origin he does appear in it, already deified, disguised in the form of the chief of the Aerdy tribe who defeats the Suel Emperor Zinkman ad-Zol and frees the Oeridians from Suloise domination in the year 4434 SD (-437 OR)(8).
Our first legitimate source from the historical record is the aptly named History of the Priests of the Church of St. Cuthbert, written by Dehm Brenner in 466 and copied in 575 by Alard Fenham, Curate of St. Cuthbert’s Church in Admundfort at the time. The book itself does not contain any specific information pertaining to the origins of the Saint but does go into great detail regarding missionary work performed by clerics of the Church in the Shield Lands, Bandit Kingdoms and Tenh in roughly the years -49 to 150 CY(9). These missionaries seem to have originated in the region of Veluna and Furyondy, which does argue for the cult of the Saint having its origins in that area, but no definitive conclusions may be drawn from this. The success of these missionaries in Tenh and the Shield Lands is evident in the popularity of Cuthbert’s cult within their borders even to this day. The lands now known as the Bandit Kingdoms were already given to a reputation for being the abode of brigands and robbers and do not appear to have been fertile soil for the propagation of the creed of the venerable Saint.
The most spectacularly unsuccessful of these missions though appears to have been the single one to the land of the Arapahi, the so-called Rovers of the Barrens. This was undertaken by the blessed Elador the Martyr, a holy man faithful in his service to St. Cuthbert, but suffering since childhood from a fever of the brain that sometimes made him give forth vile and profane oaths at most inopportune moments. As given witness to by his guide, who survived the encounter, in the first Arapahi village they came to Elador called the pagan Flan tribesmen to hear his preaching with the unfortunate words “Listen now and heed the call of St. Cuthbert you mother-humping heathen snow monkeys, lest I bash your lice-ridden heads in!” Unfortunately one of the senior members of the tribe’s society of warriors spoke Common and translated the words of Elador to his fellows. Though the cleric did impress the tribesmen with his manful stoicism during the various gruesome and eventually fatal tortures they put to him over the next few days, no other Cuthbertine missionary was ever made welcome among those people, and they still to this day remain benighted savages, ignorant and devoid of the mercy of any civilized deity.
The next written mention of Cuthbert’s cult is, interestingly enough, in the Suloise-dominated nation of Urnst. The narrative concerns a priest of Cuthbert named Herkluth who introduced the faith into Urnst during the latter half of the first century CY and was buried in a temple dedicated to that deity (10). Cuthbert’s temples and following in Urnst were not strong at the time – the particular temple dedicated to Herkluth fell into ruin roughly about the time that the Urnst finally acceded to a peaceful union with the Great Kingdom – but his cult is strong in that nation today, mainly among the peasantry.
Over the centuries the cult of the Saint grew from small groups of wandering preachers with small flocks to a well-organized and centralized church wielding considerable political power in a number of states, with thousands of priests and nearly a million if not more lay followers. Cuthbert’s current popularity in the Duchy of Urnst is probably only second to that in the Viscounty of Verbobonc, which is virtually a Cuthbertine theocracy. The faith’s preeminence in that state came about in the late 430's when Cuthbertine clerics displaced the Raoan ecclesiarchy in the Viscount’s government(11). The faith of Cuthbert was also strong in Veluna at the time as evidenced in 446 by the role of a group of orthodox Cuthbertines in the Velunese College of Bishops in the formal secession of Veluna from Furyondy(12). The faith is also shown to have been strong in Perrenland in the late 400's, during the Witch-Queen Iggwilv’s hold over that nation, when the center of resistance to her rule was at the monastery-fortress of St. Cuthbert in Kershane Pass in the canton of Clatspurgen(13).
The most striking historical evidence of Cuthbert’s cult was what many consider to have been the appearance of the saint himself in mortal aspect during the late fifth and early sixth centuries, amongst the armies arrayed along Furyondy’s eastern borders against the threat of Iuz. Among these forces were many men of Veluna and Verbobonc who heeded the call to crusade made by the Canon of Veluna coming to the support of their Furyondian neighbors. Other accounts of oerthly manifestations of the Saint have been given since the time of the Migrations -- indeed what are claimed to be the mortal remains of some of these manifestations are preserved as relics in some places -- but the eyewitness accounts of numerous literate and influential participants, including the Plar of Veluna and Viscount of Verbobonc, beg the significance of this appearance. In form the Saint walked among the hosts and camp followers as a simple pilgrim who preached with great fervor and performed numerous miracles. This mysterious preacher appeared at several critical junctures in the conflict, giving hope to the so-called Western allies, as well as the Furyondian levees of peasant infantry, with his fiery sermons.
While many pressed the identity of the Saint upon the preacher he would not confirm such to be true, although he did not deny it with any vigor. The appeal of the mysterious preacher to the Furyondian common infantry was viewed with alarm by some amongst that nation’s gentry and nobility, who are always on the lookout for signs of rebellious thinking amongst the lower orders of society, though they did misunderstand the dogma of Cuthbert’s cult in this. This alarm led to some written accounts which denounced this “so-called avatar of Cuthbert” as nothing more than “an illiterate peasant zealot, preying on the simple passions of the common folk.” However, most of the Furyondian host, amongst whom were the Paladins and Templars of Heironeous, seemed to view the preacher in less hostile a manner, while still being somewhat doubtful of the attributions of divinity made by their neighbors from across the Velverdyva. With the mysterious disappearance of Iuz in 505, so too vanished the preacher and much has been made among Cuthbert’s faithful of the significance of his disappearance, especially in conjunction with the rumors of Iuz’s imprisonment beneath Castle Greyhawk by Zagig Yragerne, the Mad Archmage(14). The Saint did however leave behind an object of some significance, his simple, well-used mace(15) which was enshrined in the Great Cathedral in Verbobonc City, though it disappeared a few decades later.
Seemingly then we cannot be sure of the origins of Saint Cuthbert and the faith that has grown up around him. For every myth and folktale there is a contradictory myth or folktale. From reputable histories we can discern little pertaining to the question of the Saint’s identity or even the veracity of his many manifestations, we may only make guesses. However, the matter appears to be irrelevant, for despite the confusion over the plain-spoken god’s origins, few can doubt that he and his church have been as strong as any other force in opposing the ambitions of the Old One and protecting the realms of men from a dire fate.
1. Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. p. 182. “St. Cuthbert may have once been a mortal man as his worshipers claim, but if so it was long ago and from an unknown people.” To my own thinking the title of “saint” would confirm that he was originally a mortal, though he has ascended to heights of divine power unreached by most other ascended mortals, who with the exception of Vecna remain at the power level of demigod.
2. This “nonspecific” view has been put forth mainly by CanonFire’s own Rasgon in various places and posts, and seems to be one of the more popular views of Cuthbert’s “origin.” It’s definitely the one I favor here. Sean K. Reynolds’s recent “Core Beliefs: Saint Cuthbert.” Dragon # 358. pp. 24-36, indicates that the Saint’s origins are unclear but hints at the theory that he comes from Earth. This is an old theory, identifying Cuthbert as the real world St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and given it’s most popular presentation in the Robert Schroeck adventure “The City Beyond the Gate.” Dragon # 100. pp. 45-68.
3. Jared “CruelSummerLord” Milne. “The Gods of the Flanaess: St. Cuthbert” Canonfire! 2007. <http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=843>.
4. Sam “Samwise” Weiss. “The Early History of the Velverdyva and the Origin of St. Cuthbert.” Oerth Journal # 20. pp. 22-26.
5. Robin D. Laws and Robert J. Schwalb. Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells. pp. 4-5
6. Anne Brown. Player’s Guide to Greyhawk. p. 9. “His worshipers are most numerous in the Central Flanaess, in the City of Greyhawk and vicinity, the Wild Coast, Urnst, and Verbobonc. In these areas his places of worship are large, elaborate, and well-maintained.”
7. This analysis is based on the contents of the “religions” entry for the various nations described in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.
8. Steve Wilson. “The History of Oerth.” Oerth Journal # 1. pp. 4-20.
9. Scott Casper. “A Treasure Trove of Tomes.” Dragon # 253. p. 46.
10. Tom Prusa. “All for a Hat.” Treasures of Greyhawk. pp. 85-86
11. Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. p. 132, “In these years (after the end of the Short War, 438 CY), the church of St. Cuthbert came into great prominence in Verbobonc, displacing Raoan clerics in important government roles.”
12. Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. p. 130. “...a contingent of orthodox Cuthbertine Overseers rallied the more conservative Raoans to their cause, urging Veluna formally cede from Furyondy...”
13. Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, and Frederick Weining. Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. p. 86. “In the canton of Clatspurgen, the monastery-fortress of St. Cuthbert in Kershane Pass was the center of opposition to Iggwilv, holding the great valley through which the Velverdyva leaves the realm.”
14. Carl Sargent. From the Ashes. p. 5. “Iuz disappeared in 505 CY, imprisoned beneath the towers of Castle Greyhawk by a group including Zagig, aided by St. Cuthbert (it is said).”
15. Gary Gygax. Dungeon Master’s Guide (1st edition). p. 159. “This weapon is said to be that actually used by the Venerable Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel when he demonstrated the folly of error to the unbeliever. Over the decades since then, holy relics of the Saint himself have been encased within the Mace...”