Lindisfarne is a small island
off the north east coast of England which is linked to the mainland island by a causeway
which is covered at high tide.
This setting provided the seclusion that the early monastic communities desired. The monastic tradition was established by St Aidan who came with 12 other monks from Iona. They were charged with the mission of bringing the Gospel to the pagan peoples who had settled in Northumbria.
Aidan did this with a characteristic simplicity - he walked everywhere chatting to the people he met on the road and, through conversation began to introduce them to the person of Jesus and to the Gospel.
Eventually, Aidan became a bishop - but continued the practice of walking everywhere. King Oswald felt that this was not appropriate behaviour for a bishop and gave him a horse - which Aidan promptly gave to a beggar!
His holiness attracted people to the community and Aidan established a school where boys could come and learn to read and also to learn how to become priests, monks and missionaries. Some communities of the time were mixed but the community of Lindisfarne was only for men and boys. The purpose of the community was to prepare people for missionary work which could not have been undertaken by women at that time. However, Aidan insisted that nuns should also be educated and was the one who encouraged Hilda who later became abbess of the mixed community in Whitby.
Another famous saint from Lindisfarne was Cuthbert. He was also renowned as a man of great holiness. Following the Synod of Whitby, many of the Lindisfarne monks fled to Ireland but Columba stayed as Prior of Lindisfarne. He attracted huge crowds but longed to be a hermit. He was eventually give permission to live in the solitude he desired choosing the remote Farne Islands as his sanctuary.
A few years later - and against his will, he was elected bishop and moved back to Lindisfarne. He spent the last two years of his life looking after his diocese and caring for victims of the plague ravaging the region at the time. He worked numerous miracles of healing. He died at Lindisfarne and, 7 years after his death, his body was found to be uncorrupted. It remained on Lindisfarne until the Viking raids forced the monks to move it. There followed two hundred years of travelling and finding temporary refuges in the north of England until, finally, Cuthbert was laid to rest in Durham Cathedral - his tomb simply engraved - Cuthbertus.
In honour of Cuthbert, the monks of Lindisfarne created the Lindisfarne Gospels - an exquisitely illuminated book which is now counted amongst one of Britain's greatest treasures. It was damaged during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when its gilded and be-jewelled binding was removed - but, miraculously, the book itself survived. It is now housed in the British Library - although there are those who feel strongly that it should be brought back to its northern home...
The photograph is taken from the Lindisfarne site
and is used with the kind permission of Geoff Porter
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