A visit to Lindisfarne in Northumbria is well worth it. It feels remote and peaceful and boasts a fascinating history. The island gets cut off from the mainland by the tide so this means that all the day-trippers to the island have to leave in the afternoon and I was lucky enough to stay for a couple nights on the island itself! The sense of peace and isolation feels incredibly restorative. There are few hotels, no camp-sites and almost the whole island is a nature reserve.
Holy Island is located off the coast, close to Berwick-Upon-Tweed
The holy island of Lindisfarne is especially well known for its famous book – The Lindisfarne Gospels. Although, before you visit the island, you should probably be aware that you won’t find them there, they are on display at the British Library.
Find more information on the Gospels on the BL website here.
Here is what English Heritage, who currently manage the priory ruins in Lindisfarne, say about the Gospels,
Created at the ancient island monastery around 698AD by Bishop Eadfrith in ‘memory of God and Cuthbert’ the Lindisfarne Gospels are now held in the security of the British Library in London. Probably by far the most valuable book of its type in their possession, the gospels hark back to a time in Anglo-Saxon history, long before the arrival of the Normans, when, under the influence of the Germanic King Oswald, paganism had been overcome in a euphoric wave of Celtic Christianity.
Image: Page from the Gospel of Matthew in the Lindisfarne Gospels – By Eadfrith (Lindisfarne Gospels, c 700 AD) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My reason for visiting Lindisfarne was to see, first hand, the site which became famous for kicking off the Viking era in the UK. Although raids were happening in this country before 793AD this is the traditional date for the beginning of it all, with a violent raid on the monastery here being recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
A quote from the Chronicle on the events of the year 793,
This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. …and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.
This video has used a variety of clips from the wonderful History Channel drama, Vikings, set to music, to imagine what the raid may have looked like,
Here is a (very!) potted timeline of historic Lindisfarne:
635AD……….King Oswald gives the island to St. Aidan in order to have a base from which to convert Pagan Northumbria to Christianity.
685AD……….Cuthbert is made Bishop.
687AD……….Cuthbert dies on Inner Farne.
698AD……….The monastic community becomes the focal point for the cult of St. Cuthbert and work on the Lindisfarne Gospels begins.
737AD……….King Ceowulf becomes a monk.
793AD……….The Vikings raid.
875AD……….The monastery has been subjected to so many Viking raids that the monks decide to abandon the island and they take Cuthbert’s remains with them.
1082AD……….The priory is refounded and the island first becomes known as ‘Holy Island’.
1083AD……….The monastery becomes a Benedictine monastery and a sister house to Durham.
1122AD……….Parish Church of St. Mary’s is built.
1536AD……….Dissolution, the remaining monks leave for Durham. This is the end of monasticism on Lindisfarne.
Staying on the island meant having the opportunity to visit the priory ruins and the church when very quiet. As you can see we were also fortunate in our view from the hotel bedroom.
And… although I went to the island in search of Vikings I was delighted to learn so much about the cult of St. Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels, wander around silent priory ruins (we even had a cat accompanying us within the ruined walls!), gaze at the seals from the warm viewing tower and generally detox from the modern world in a way only afforded by a piece of land that gets cut off from from the world so completely.
Please see my video below – it’s only a short one – of some of my favourite photos of our visit, which include the priory cat. 🙂 I hope it makes you want to visit!