Lindisfarne … the name has always held a hint of mysticism for me. This is a place of saints and sinners, a tidal island only accessible at low tide, where beautiful illustrated gospels were produced and where Vikings began their sacking of England. Holy Island.
Bamburgh was the seat of the King of Northumberland, Oswald. In pagan Anglo Saxon times, Oswald had been brought up a Christian and wanted to introduce Christianity to his people. He asked the Irish monks of Iona to send him someone, they sent a man called Corman – he was useless and soon went home.
He was replaced by this man. Aidan was an Irish monk who had a way with people. He set up his mission on Lindisfarne, within sight of his benefactor Oswald at Bamburgh, and spent his days walking the towns and villages of Northumberland talking to people about their lives and their needs. As he became well known for his charity and support, people began to embrace Christianity and he built churches, monasteries and schools throughout the county.
A pagan uprising in 651 saw an attack on Bamburgh Castle. From the monastery on Lindisfarne, Aidan saw the plumes of smoke as the castle was besieged. Legend has it he knelt and prayed and the wind changed and blew the flames towards the attacking force. They believed Bamburgh was protected by the Christian spirits and called off the attack.
St Aidan died leaning on the walls of the church he created and was buried beneath the walls of the Abbey.
Now ruined, it was once a seat of scholarly learning and it was here that the illustrated Lindisfarne Gospels were created.
He was made prior of Lindisfarne in 665 but then lived for many years as a hermit on the island of Inner Farne. He was made Bishop of Lindisfarne in 684 but two years later returned to his hermitage as he felt he was about to die.
He was also buried at Lindisfarne but the monks took a decision to let his body decay for 11 years and then they planned to raise his skeletal remains and create a shrine where pilgrims could go and pray. When they raised his remains, however, in 698 they did not find a skeleton but a perfectly preserved body. They believed this must have made him a very great saint indeed.
When the Vikings launched their surprise attack on Lindisfarne in June 793, many were killed, the treasures looted and the Abbey sacked. But the monks took St Cuthbert’s coffin safely to the mainland and walked with it to Chester-le-Street in Durham where it was safely reburied.
This life-sized sculpture in the Church of St Mary the Virgin behind the abbey ruins commemorates the journey.
Around 160 people now live on the beautiful island of Lindisfarne.
The castle dominates the skyline. Built around 1550, about the same time as the monastery was dissolved, stones from the abbey were used in its construction.
Although small, it was a strategic fortification in the battle against the Scots.
It was heavily remodeled by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century, who roped in his friend and collaborator Gertrude Jekyll to redesign the gardens. Now it is owned by the National Trust and the abbey ruins by English Heritage.
I’m so glad we made it to Lindisfarne when we visited Northumberland. It is absolutely beautiful and I loved the history of this tiny place.