Monday, 17 August 2009

Lindisfarne / Lindisfarena: Place in Bernard Cornwell's saxon Series ****

Lindisfarne (variant spelling, Lindesfarne) is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England also known as Holy Island, the name of the civil parish. The name Lindisfarne derives from Farne meaning "retreat" and Lindis, a small tidal river adjacent to the island. It has a population of 162

The island of Lindisfarne appears under the Old Welsh name Medcaut in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum. Following up on a suggestion by Richard Coates, Andrew Breeze proposes that the name ultimately derives from Latin Medicata (Insula) "Healing (Island)", owing perhaps to the island's reputation for medicinal herbs. The Historia Brittonum recounts how in the sixth century, Urien, prince of Rheged, besieged the Angles led by Theodoric at the island for three days and three nights

The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Irish born Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald around AD 635.

King, Saint Oswald

It became the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later Abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. Cuthbert later became Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Aidan of Lindisfarne, from the Lindisfarne Gospels
At some point in the early 700s the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was made probably at Lindisfarne and the artist was possibly Eadfrith, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Sometime in the second half of the tenth century a monk named Aldred added an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) gloss to the Latin text, producing the earliest surviving Old English copies of the Gospels. The Gospels were illustrated in an insular style containing a fusion of Celtic, Germanic and Roman elements; they were probably originally covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit called Billfrith.

In 793, a Viking raid on Lindisfarne caused much consternation throughout the Christian west, and is now often taken as the beginning of the Viking Age. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:
In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on January 8th the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindesfarne.

The more popularly accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is June 8; Michael Swanton, editor of Routledge's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, writes "vi id Ianr, presumably [is] an error for vi id Iun (June 8) which is the date given by the Annals of Lindisfarne (p. 505), when better sailing weather would favour coastal raids."

The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, by Thomas Girtin, 1798

Alcuin, an English monk of that period, noted:
Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. . . .
The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.

Eventually the monks fled the island (taking with them the body of St Cuthbert, which is now buried at the Cathedral in Durham). The bishopric was transferred to Durham in AD 1000. The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumbrians. The priory was re-established in Norman times as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII.

Sir Walter Scott
A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides – something well described by Sir Walter Scott:
“ For with the flow and ebb, its style Varies from continent to isle; Dry shod o'er sands, twice every day, The pilgrims to the shrine find way; Twice every day the waves efface Of staves and sandalled feet the trace. ”

Present day
The island is within the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The monastery is now a ruin in the care of English Heritage, who also run a museum/visitor centre nearby.

Lindisfarne Castle

The neighbouring parish church is still in use.

St. Mary the Virgin Lindisfarne Parish Church

Lindisfarne also has the small Lindisfarne Castle, based on a Tudor fort, which was refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the editor of Country Life, Edward Hudson. Lutyens also designed the island's Celtic-cross war-memorial on the Heugh. One of the most celebrated gardeners of modern times, Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), laid out a tiny garden just north of the castle in 1911. The castle, garden and nearby limekilns are in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors.

Saint Cuthberts Church Centre

Church Carvings

Turner, Thomas Girtin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh all painted on Holy Island.
Lindisfarne had a large lime burning industry and the kilns are among the most complex in Northumberland. There are still some traces of the jetties by which the coal was imported and the lime exported close by at the foot of the crags. Lime was quarried on the Island and the remains of the wagon way between the quarries and the kilns makes for a pleasant and easy walk. This quarrying flourished in the mid-19th century during the Industrial Revolution when over 100 men were thus employed. Crinoid columnals extracted from the quarried stone and threaded into necklaces or rosaries became known as St Cuthbert's beads.
Holy Island was considered part of the Islandshire unit along with several mainland parishes. This came under the jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Durham until the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1788.
Lindisfarne was mainly a fishing community for many years, with farming and the production of lime also of some importance.
Recently Lindisfarne has become the centre for the revival of Celtic Christianity in the North of England; a former minister of the church there, David Adam, is a well-known author of Celtic Christian books and prayers. Following from this, Lindisfarne has become a popular retreat centre, as well as holiday destination.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is well known for mead. In the mediæval days when monks inhabited the island, it was thought that if the soul was in God's keeping, the body must be fortified with Lindisfarne Mead. The monks have long vanished, and the mead's recipe remains a secret of the family which still produces it. Lindisfarne mead is produced at St Aidan's Winery, and sold throughout the UK and elsewhere.
Holy Island was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the North. The Lindisfarne Gospels have also featured on television among the top few Treasures of Britain. It also features in an ITV Tyne Tees programme Diary of an Island which started on 19 April 2007 and on a DVD of the same name.

Nature reserve
Large parts of the island, and all of the adjacent intertidal area, are protected as Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve to help safeguard the internationally important wintering bird populations. Species for which the reserve is important include Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Merlin, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and many others. The situation on the east coast also makes it a good place for observing migrating birds arriving from the east, including large numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare, and also scarcer Siberian birds including regular annual Yellow-browed Warblers. Rare species such as Radde's Warbler, Dusky Warbler and Red-flanked Bluetail have all occurred on Holy Island. Altogether, a total of almost 300 species have been recorded on the Island and adjacent reserve. With the large number and variety of birds present, the area is very popular with bird watchers, particularly in the Autumn and Winter. Grey seals are frequent visitors to the rocky bays at high tide.


Tourists crossing Pilgrim's Way

Tourism grew steadily throughout the twentieth century, and it is now a popular place with visitors — sometimes a little too popular, as space and facilities are limited. By staying on the island while the tide cuts it off (time permitting) the non-resident visitor can experience the island in a much quieter mood, as most day visitors leave when the tide is rising again. It is possible, weather and tide permitting, to walk at low tide across the sands following the older crossing line known as the Pilgrims' Way and marked with posts: it also has refuge boxes for the careless walker, in the same way as the road has a refuge box for those who have left their crossing too late. A popular delicacy on the island is crab sandwiches, which are sold to tourists at many shops and cafés.

Visitors wishing to walk between the mainland and the island are urged to keep to the marked path, check tide times and weather carefully, and seek local advice if in doubt. Visitors driving should pay close attention to the timetables prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about 3 hours after high tide until 2 hours before the next high tide, but there is no substitute for checking the timetables for a specific date, and the period of closure may extend during stormy weather.
Leave me alone with God as much as may be. As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, Make me an island, set apart, alone with you, God, holy to you.
Then with the turning of the tide prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again and fold me back to you.
Prayer attributed to St. Aidan

1 comment:

  1. A note about the icon of St. Aidan-- this is not 'from the Lindesfarne gospels', as wikimedia misleadingly puts it. It is a modern icon, I believe from Britain, but I have been unable to find out who the iconographer is. If anyone knows anything more about it, I would like to hear about it.