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The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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Lindisfarne Priory

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, is located off the north-eastern coast of England.  It became a centre for Celtic Christianity under the Saints of Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadbert, with a reputation for healing the sick, using herbs.

The old English name was Lindisfarena, as recorded by the Parker Chronicle and Peterborough Chronicle of 793.  How the name Lindisfarne originated is unknown, but it may be Celtic in origin.  For Lindis means stream or pool, a reference to a small river or lake on the island.  Faren, from the nearby Farne Islands … But is no more than pure guess work.

The island measures 2¼ miles x 1½ miles, comprising of some 1,000 acres, and located two miles off the north-east coast of England, and close to Scotland’s border.  Access is at low-tide only, by crossing the sand and mud flats.

An Irish monk; Saint Aidan was dispatched on a pilgrimage, from the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria, at the request of King Oswald (604-642) to restore Christianity to the area.

So it was in 634 a priory was founded, and became the only seat of a bishopric in Northumbria for best part of thirty years.

Bishop Finian built the first church on the site, which was constructed of timber and thatched reeds.  Some years later Bishop Eadbert removed the thatch, and the walls and thatch were covered in lead.

Lindisfarne, became known as a holy place, and Monks from the Irish community of Iona settled there.

Saint Cuthbert, patron saint of Northumbria was a monk originally, and later became abbot of the monastery, and eventually Bishop of Lindisfarne.  The oldest piece of writing; An anonymous life of Cuthbert, about the man and his miracles was written at Lindisfarne between 685-704 AD.

Originally buried at Lindisfarne, his remains were exhumed in the late 9th century when he was moved to Durham Cathedral along with Bishop Eadfrith and Bishop Eadbert.

Saint Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham Cathedral became the centre of pilgrimage, attracting people far and wide visiting the shrine of this man of God.

In 1539-1539, was a hard time for our religious buildings, it was the time of the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” tearing down and destroying much, within our churches, cathedrals and priory’s.

In 1827, Saint Cuthbert’s grave was opened, and enclosed within were a number of artefacts dating back to his time on Lindisfarne:

A Pectoral Crosss, made of gold and mounted with garnets and tracery, as worn against the chest.

An Elephant’s ivory comb.  An embossed silver Travelling Altar.

Other items were removed from the shrine in 1104.

A Paten; a silver or gold plate as used for bread during communion.

Scissors.  A Gold and Onyx Chalice.  St.Cuthbert’s Gospel, decorated and embossed with leather bindings.

In the year 735, the Northern Ecclesiastical Province of England was formed, with the Archbishopric located at York, and became head for Hexham, Lindisfarne and Whithorn.  Lindisfarne’s diocese consisted of; Strathclyde, Lothian, Northern Northumbria and Cumbria.

Around 698-721 AD, an illustrated set of gospels were produced in latin (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) believed to have been the works of Bishop Eadfrith, and duly named the “Lindisfarne Gospels.”

A 10th century Monk named Aldred, added Anglo-Saxon gloss to the text, to enhance the works.  The gospels themselves were bound by Ethelwald, and a hermit named Billfrith, covered them in a metal case.  These exquisite gospels, nearly thirteen hundred years old can be found in the British Library.

The year 793, and recorded records spoke of excessive winds, lightning and fiery dragons across the skyline.  This was followed by a period of famine across the land.

Without warning, Vikings, a race of seafaring and barbaric fighters landed on Lindisfarne, destroying all that lay in their path.  These heathens poured out blood of the saints around the altar.  By 866 they had battled their way across England with little resistance.

Any remaining monks fled the island of Lindisfarne and carried the bones of Saint Cuthbert with them.

The Lindisfarne Priory was rebuilt by the Normans in 1093 as a Benedictine House, located on a different site, whilst the original priory site was used for the parish church built out of stone.  Remains of the Saxon church still exist as the chancel wall and arch.  The nave was extended in the 12th century.

In 1492 during the “Wars of the Roses,” it is said 400 troops seeked shelter on Lindisfarne during a storm at sea, and surrendered to the Yorkists.

Like so many monastic buildings, the “Dissolution of the Monasteries,” in 1539, left the buildings on the island ransacked, until the restoration of 1860.

The restored church is built of coloured sandstone, and the north aisle is referred to as the “Fisherman’s Aisle,” which houses the altar of St.Peter.  The south aisle formerly held the altar of St.Margaret of Scotland, but now houses the church organ.

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