Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
19. ALCUIN:
 
Alcuin, who lived from 732 to 804, was one of the greatest scholars of his age.
 
His life just overlapped with that of Bede: he was three years old when Bede died in 735. Alcuin was born in Northumbria, of a noble family, and was sent at an early age to the monastic school at York. He was the most brilliant pupil of the master of the school, Albert, who himself was related both to the Archbishop and to the King. As a young man Alcuin assisted in teaching in the school and helped to build up the library at York. He became a deacon but never a priest, and he does not seem to have taken monastic vows.
 
He was very happy at York, but life changed for him when, on a journey to Rome, he met the great Emperor of the Franks, Charlemagne, one of whose ambitions was to revive Christian learning which had almost died out in his realm. Alcuin was persuaded to go to Charlemagne's court to lead the revival of learning there, which he did with great success.
 
His numerous letters show that he cared deeply for his native Northumbria and was often homesick for York. Some of his letters show us most clearly the impact of the first Viking attack on Lindisfarne. He wrote: "Such a voyage was not thought possible. The Church of St. Cuthbert is spattered with the blood of the priests of God ... a place more sacred than any in Britain. Suffering and disaster have started in the very place where the Christian religion began in our nation ... What assurance can the churches of Britain have, if St. Cuthbert and so great a company of saints do not defend their own?"
 
As history was to prove, Alcuin had done the right thing in going to the continent.
 
Learning, with monasticism, was to enter a very dark age in England. But through Alcuin, and his English friends abroad, the Golden Age of Northumbria was to bear fruit that would survive and grow, in a foreign land.
 
20. AETHELWEALD:
 
This one you will never have heard of:: AETHELWEALD
 
Aethelweald was the ninth bishop of Lindisfarne. We can reconstruct his life story roughly as follows: He was born about the year 670, and was already a novice or a young monk, about 15 years old and in the Lindisfarne community, when Cuthbert became bishop. He was St. Cuthbert's attendant on some of his missionary journeys, and witnessed at least one of his miracles: the cure of a young woman, who was related to Aethelweald, and suffered from undiagnosed pain in the head and body. At the earliest canonical age, 30 years, Aethelweald was ordained priest, and soon moved to the monastery at Melrose to be first prior and later abbot. In 721, at about the age of 50, he finally returned to Lindisfarne, to be bishop in direct succession to Eadfrith, the artist and calligrapher of the Lindisfarne Gospels. He presumably remained bishop here until his death in 740.
 
Aethelwald is mainly known to us as the craftsman who gave the Lindisfarne Gospels its first binding. He probably did this as soon as the Gospels were finished, as such a de luxe copy was not likely to be left long without the protection of a binding. He probably made a cover of boards, covered this with leather, and then tooled a design on the surface of the leather. A further ornament of jewels was added later by Billfrith. It is likely that the book in this cover survived in the shrine of St. Cuthbert at Durham until the Reformation. Then it seems that the jewels caught someone's covetous eye, and the binding disappeared.
 
Aethelweald was possibly connected with the other arts too. A large standing cross with his name on it survived to be taken from Lindisfarne to Durham. Also he is credited with writing some of the hymns and prayers preserved in another lovely book, the 'Book of Cerne'. He was clearly a man with a many-sided personality and though he is a shadowy figure to us, some of his works lived on to preserve his memory.
 
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