8 June 793 A.D. Vikings Loot Lindisfarne: Background on Lindisfarne
The Holy Islanders' web site with information on heritage, community and for those visiting us.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne: In 635AD Saint Aidan came from Iona and chose to found his monastery on Lindisfarne. The Christian message flourished here and spread throughout the world.
The Golden Age of Lindisfarne: The period of the first monastery is referred to as the "Golden Age" of Lindisfarne. Aidan and his monks came from the Irish monastery of Iona and with the support of King Oswald (based at nearby Bamburgh) worked as missionaries among the pagan English of Northumbria. In their monastery they set up the first known school in this area and introduced the arts of reading and writing, the Latin language and the Bible and other Christian books (all in Latin). They trained boys as practical missionaries who later went out over much of England to spread the Gospel. Aidan also encouraged women to become nuns and girls to receive education but not in this monastery. In time Lindisfarne became known for its skill in Christian art of which the Lindisfarne Gospels are the most beautiful surviving example.
The Benedictine Period: After the Norman Conquest (1066) the Bendictine monks of Durham possessed the undecayed body of St.Cuthbert and saw themselves as the inheritors of the Lindisfarne tradition. Here on the Island they built the second monastery, a small Benedictine house staffed by Durham monks. This monastery was beset by a number of troubles, especially during the border wars between England and Scotland. It was finally dissolved by HenryVIII in 1536.
The ruins of the second monastery can be seen on the Island today. The first monastery, originally built entirely in wood, has disappeared. But there is evidence that the present parish church of St.Mary the Virgin stands on the site of Aidan's original monastery.
The Parish Church: Our beautiful parish church, of which the oldest part of the stonework is pre-1066, has been the villagers' church down the centuries. It is a living church, which holds three services of worship everyday, as well as extra services for the large number of visitors who use it. It is of course still used for the baptisms, marriages and funerals of the island people. Many schools and other organisations come here and ask for talks on the church itself or the story of the island.
The Presbyterian Period: In the 18th century a number of the Islanders became Presbyterians and during the 19th century they built the smaller St.Cuthbert's church. This became a "United Reformed Church" after the union of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. At present there are no Island families which are regular members of this church but the building is being adapted and is seeking a new role, particularly in service to the huge number of Island visitors.
The Roman Catholic Centre: The centre comprises a large youth hostel belonging to the Society of St.Vincent de Paul where groups of children, often deprived, are brought in the Summer to experience a sea-and-country holiday. This centre is also available for use by other groups.
Masses are celebrated weekly here during the Summer months. Currently there is no Roman Catholic priest, though a United Reformed minister and several Anglican clergy do reside on the Island.
Pilgrimage: The Island is a center of pilgrimage, particularly during the Summer season. Pilgrimages range from those of individuals or small groups to diocesan pilgimages of several thouseand people. There is a retreat house for groups and individuals. Several other Christian organisations use the Island as a focal point and recent interest is Celtic Christianity has brought many seekers and enquirers.
Holy Island has a very special place in history as the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, among the most celebrated illuminated books in the world.
According to an inscription added in the 10th century at the end of the original text, the manuscript was made in honour of God and of St. Cuthbert by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who died in 721.
Eadfrith played a major part in establishing Cuthbert's cult after his relics had been raised to the altar of the monastery church on 20th March, 698, the eleventh anniversary of his death. The Gospels may have been made in honour of that event.
The book's original leather binding was provided by Ethelwald, who followed Eadfrith as bishop and died about 740. He had been associated with Cuthbert in his lifetime. An outer covering of gold, silver and gemstones was added by Billfrith the Anchorite, probably about the middle of the 8th century.
Both covers have long since vanished but the manuscript itself has survived the thirteen centuries associated with Cuthbert's relics at Durham during the Middle Ages and preserved from destruction after the Reformation through the scholarly interest of Tudor antiquaries.
The Lindisfarne Gospels is now part of the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, (d. 1631), in the British Library in London, where it is seen by visitors from all over the world.