Mysteries of the world are fascinating subjects and we rely on scientists, archaeologists and storytellers to bring them out of the dark. Finding a mystery closer to home can add more interest.
This was the case for former South Shields resident Dan Green. Dan is a British author, broadcaster, researcher and writer, he recently got in touch and told me some interesting stories that he researched when living in the town.
I lived in South Shields for over forty years and this is one of my better investigations, originally introduced to the public as a centre page article in the Shields Gazette in 1989.
I’d come across ‘The Cuthbert Code’ first told to me by a retired Benedictine monk who was living in the town. He told me how St Cuthbert was originally buried at Lindisfarne and eventually found a resting place in Durham Cathedral, only to be disturbed by Henry VIII’s marauding commissioners looting for treasure during the Reformation.
While orthodoxy tells us that he was reburied at this shrine in 1542, the Cuthbert Code records that his loyal monks looked to safeguard his body against any further attempts at sacrilege, so reburied him in a secret location. A substitute skeleton was placed in the tomb. The secret of his reburial location is closely guarded by no more than 3 monks at any one time.
I discovered an 1895 manuscript tucked away in the safe of St Hilda’s Church in South Shields, called ‘The legend of the Fairies Kettle’. It mentioned Cuthbert and how a gold cup had been stolen from its fairy guardians at Trow Rocks on the coast at Marsden. Then it was whisked away to Westoe, then taken to Durham Cathedral to be buried alongside Cuthbert.
Knowing a bit about Freemasonry I deduced that there was a broader message here and that a treasure linked to St Cuthbert was telling us that something thought to be in Durham Cathedral was in fact at Westoe. This ‘treasure’ being Cuthbert himself – bear in mind that during medieval times the monks of Durham owned Westoe Village.
I set off on the scent of the saint and a hunch led me to Westoe Village. In 1989 there stood a derelict Nunnery once owned by The Order of The Poor Sisters of Mercy. At the time of my interest the Nunnery had just started to be re-developed and the ground was disturbed. The builders allowed me access and on the stone floor under inches of dust and grime I found a five pointed star mosaic.
By now I had my centre page in the Gazette and they promised they would carry a follow up. I’d accumulated a lot of evidence including a curious plaque high up on a wall in the village stating, ‘Follow the Paths of the Lord and you will find him’. Was this telling us to follow some subterranean path or tunnel under the Nunnery leading to Cuthbert?
The new owner of the land was intrigued by my Gazette article and allowed us three days to nosey below the site before it would be filled in. Hurriedly I took two burly ex-Westoe miners, plus a stonemason friend of theirs and entered an accessible dark mazy passageway that led to another sealed off passage. I hadn’t told the owner that my crew were armed with lump hammers, they smashed a hole through the passage wall.
Using plastercine we took an imprint of a Freemasonry mark on a brick in the wall. We were now under a stairwell and a hollow cavity. Our stonemason accomplice told us that there should be something below – the perfect place to hide something of value. Cuthbert?
Frustratingly, our time was up, with no chance of being able to return or continue. At least, with photos we had taken each step of the way, we had the follow up Gazette article. But then the Editor took fright at the implications and refused to print it. I also did a short phone interview for The Sunday Times.
What happened next is a mix of comedy and tragedy. My Cuthbert Code resurfaced in 1997, just before I left South Shields when new evidence again cast doubt on the final resting place of another Catholic saint, Thomas Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral. A similar situation to mine then.
I arranged to meet up with the latest Gazette editor and try again to see if what had been my intended second article could at last be presented to the awaiting Shields’ population. I took a dossier in and after studying the work he broke his silence with, ‘Is this a wind up?‘ I found the question disappointing and assured him it wasn’t and we continued talking for some time. He concluded he’d think about running a feature and be in contact in a few days.
He did and said that he couldn’t possibly run it. I pressed him why and here’s his reply which I still remember clearly, ‘Because I live in the flat above your location!’
What was the odds of that? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but it was true, his flat was right above the location. Perhaps, if he’s still there, with lesser odds, St Cuthbert and his treasure is also there below him.
More mysterious stories from Dan will be posted soon, for further info contact www.dangreencodex.co.uk/
Gary Alikivi October 2019