Lindisfarne – The Holy Isle

Lindisfarne, or Holy Isle, is one of the earliest and most important monastic sites in Britain. Set on an island connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway, Lindisfarne is home both to the remains of a monastery and a still living church dating back to the seventh century. There’s also a castle.

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Lindisfarne was founded as a daughter house of Iona, the principle monastic site in the British Isles, at the request of a local king to help spread Christianity through the North of England. Obligingly a selection of monks led by St. Cuthbert came down and set up a monastic community, which was the centre of Christian authority in the North of England until the Synod of Whitby brought the region inline with Rome and that authority transferred to Canterbury instead. Lindisfarne was still seen as one of the holiest places in Britain however, even without that spiritual authority, as it was the place Christianity was launched into England and the dwelling place of several saints.

The viking age literally began on Lindisfarne, with the first of the Danish raids happening to the monastery. St. Alcuin of York wrote a letter to the monastic community afterwards, in which he lays the blame for the raid either on the unforgiven sins of the community or the start of a greater tribulation for Christendom. When it turned out to be the latter the monks fled inland and the community was abandoned, not to be re-established until after the Norman Conquest. There’s actually a very charming letter on the wall of St. Mary the Virgin from Denmark, sent sometimes in the last fifty years or so, apologising for the raid and formally ending hostilities with Lindisfarne.

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The ruined monastery dates from the Norman period, only being dissolved and left to decay under Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The parish church next to it, St. Mary the Virgin, is still standing and in use today because like most parish churches it was converted for use by the Church of England at this time rather than being torn down.

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And you can’t forget the ubiquitous English Heritage cat that these sites always seem to have. This one was sat on a bin by the monastery gates so we called him the ticket collector.

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If you want to read more about the history of Lindisfarne I suggest checking out the works of The Venerable Bede who wrote a history of the region, as well as any book dealing with the Christianisation of Britain.

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