The terrible struggle was followed by a season of peace. For four years after the battle of Winwaed Mercia was subject to Oswiu's overlordship. But in 659 a general rising of the people threw off the Northumbrian yoke. The heathendom of Mercia however was dead with Penda. "Being thus freed," Baeda tells us, " the Mercians with their king rejoiced to serve the true King, Christ." Its three provinces, the earlier Mercia, the Middle-English, and the Lindiswaras, were united in the bishopric of Ceadda, the St. Chad to whom the Mercian see of Lichfield still looks as its founder. Ceadda was a monk of Lindisfarne, so simple and lowly in temper that he travelled on foot on his long mission journeys, till Archbishop Theodore in later days with his own hands lifted him on horseback. The poetry of Christian enthusiasm breaks out in his death-legend, as it tells us how voices of singers singing sweetly descended from Heaven to the little cell beside St. Mary's church where the bishop lay dying. Then "the same song ascended from the roof again, and returned heavenward by the way that it came." It was the soul of his brother, the missionary Cedd, come with a choir of angels to solace the Wast hours of Ceadda. In Northumbria the work of his fellow missionaries has almost been lost in the glory of Cuthbert. No story better lights up for us the new religious life of the time than the story of this apostle of the Lowlands. It carries us at its outset into the northernmost part of Northumbria, the country of the Teviot and the Tweed. Born on the southern edge of the Lammermoor, Cuthbert found shelter at eight years old in a widow's house in the little village of Wrangholm. Already in youth there was a poetic sensibility beneath the robust frame of the boy which caught even in the chance word of a game a call to higher things.
Later on, a traveller coming in his white mantle over the hillside and stopping his horse to tend Cuthbert's injured knee seemed to him an angel. The boy's shepherd life carried him to the bleak upland, still famous as a sheep-walk, though the scant herbage scarce veils the whinstone rock, and there meteors plunging into the night became to him a company of angelic spirits, carrying the soul of Bishop Aidan heavenward. Slowly Cuthbert's longings settled into a resolute will towards a religious life, and he made his way at last to a group of log-shanties in the midst of an untilled solitude where a few Irish monks from Lindisfarne had settled in the mission-station of Melrose. To-day the land is a land of poetry and romance. Cheviot and Lammermoor, Ettrick and Teviotdale, Yarrow and Annan-water, are musical with old ballads and border minstrelsy. Agriculture has chosen its valleys for her favourite seat, and drainage and steam-power have turned sedgy marshes into farm and meadow. But to see the Lowlands as they were in Cuthbert's day we must sweep meadow and farm away again, and replace them by vast solitudes, dotted here and there with clusters of wooden hovels, and crossed by boggy tracks over which travellers rode spear in hand and eye kept cautiously about them.
The Northumbrian peasantry among whom he journeyed were for the most part Christians only in name. With Teutonic indifference they had yielded to their thegns in nominally accepting the new Christianity, as these had yielded to the king. But they retained their old superstitions side by side with the new worship; plague or mishap drove them back to a reliance on their heathen charms and amulets; and if trouble befell the Christian preachers who came settling among them they took it as proof of the wrath of the older gods. When some log-rafts which were floating down the Tyne for the construction of an abbey at its mouth drifted with the monks who were at work on them out to sea, the rustic bystanders shouted, "Let nobody pray for them; let nobody pity these men, who have taken away from us our old worship; and how their new-fangled customs are to be kept nobody knows." On foot, on horseback, Cuthbert wandered among listeners such as these, choosing above all the remoter mountain villages from whose roughness and poverty other teachers turned aside.
Unlike his Irish comrades, he needed no interpreter as he passed from village to village; the frugal, long-headed Northumbrians listened willingly to one who was himself a peasant of the Lowlands, and who had caught the rough Northumbrian burr along the banks of the Tweed. His patience, his humorous good sense, the sweetness of his look, told for him, and not less the stout vigorous frame which fitted the peasant-preacher for the hard life he had chosen. " Never did man die of hunger who served God faithfully," he would say, when nightfall found them supperless in the waste. "Look at the eagle overhead! God can feed us through him if He will" - and once at least he owed his meal to a fish that the scared bird let fall. A snow-storm drove his boat on the coast of Fife. "The snow closes the road along the shore," mourned his comrades; " the storm bars our way over sea." " There is still the way of Heaven that lies open," said Cuthbert.
While missionaries were thus labouring among its peasantry, Northumbria saw the rise of a number of monasteries, not bound indeed by the strict ties of the Benedictine rule, but gathered on the loose Celtic model of the family or the clan round some noble and wealthy person who sought devotional retirement. The most notable and wealthy of these houses was that of Streoneshealh, where Hild, a woman of royal race, reared her abbey on the summit of the dark cliffs of Whitby, looking out over the Northern Sea. Her counsel was sought even by nobles and kings; and the double monastery over which she ruled became a seminary of bishops and priests. The sainted John of Beverley was among her scholars. But the name which really throws glory over Whitby is the name of a lay-brother from whose lips flowed the first great English song. Though well advanced in years, Caedmon had learnt nothing of the art of verse, the alliterative jingle so common among his fellows, "wherefore being sometimes at feasts, when all agreed for glee's sake to sing in turn, he no sooner saw the harp come towards him than he rose from the board and turned homewards.