Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
31. ADOMNAN OF IONA:
 
Adomnan was Abbot of the monastery on Iona from which Aidan and his monks had come to Lindisfarne. But he was half a century later than Aidan, dying in the year 704 at about the age of 77. He was the ninth Abbot, and came from the same aristocratic Irish family as the founder of Iona, St. Columba.
 
He is mainly known to us now through two of his writings which have survived. One was a description of the holy places of Palestine. Adomnan of course had never been there. But it happened that a bishop of Gaul, Arculf by name, was returning from a visit to the Holy Land and on his return was blown off course and shipwrecked on the west coast of Britain. He found his way to Iona and was given hospitality there, and entertained his host, the Abbot, with the story of his travels. Adomnan wrote it all down on his wax tablets and combined it with his extensive Biblical knowledge to write a book to help Christians understand the significance of the places mentioned in the Bible story. This book became extremely popular. Adomnan gave a copy of it to his friend, King Aldfrith of Northumbria; this copy, or another, was known and prized by Bede. But Adomnan's second book, a Life of Columba, has been more widely appreciated and is still often read today. It gives a very vivid picture of the great founder, using the stories still told about him some 90 years after his death. As well as being a highly intelligent and literate man Adomnan had some influence as a peace-maker. In 688 he visited King Aldfrith of Northumbria and persuaded him to release 60 Irish prisoners taken captive by the previous king. He visited Jarrow and there learned theb Roman method of calculating the date of Easter, and spent some time travelling in the north of Ireland trying to persuade the church there to fit in with the rest of Christendom, though it was not until 12 years after his death that his own monastery accepted the Roman dating. He also promoted, among kings and church authorities, a set of laws which aimed to protect non-combatants, such as women and children, during violent times. He was a man of great influence, and by the time of his death some 30 or 40 monasteries were under the Rule of Iona.
 
32. KING OSWIN:
 
Oswin was the king of Deira, the southern part of Northumbria, roughly present-day Yorkshire, from 644 to 651. He was the cousin of King Oswald, who had invited the monks of Iona to Northumbria. Oswald had held together the two parts of Northumbria, Bernicia (roughly present Northumberland with the Borders and County Durham) and Deira. But when he was killed in battle Oswin reclaimed the southern kingdom, which had been his father's.
 
This did not suit Oswald's brother Oswy, who was now King of Bernicia but wanted to be King of the whole of Northumbria. Oswy therefore raised an army against Oswin, who refused to fight and took refuge in a friend's house. But he was betrayed to Oswy, who organised his murder. This happened 12 days before Aidan himself died, and some have thought that receiving the news of this tragedy cause Aidan's final illness, since he was a friend of both Oswy and Oswin, and had tried to teach them the Christian faith.
 
It could be that Aidan had succeeded only too well in teaching Christian values to Oswin. He was the king who once gave Aidan a fine horse, and was at first put out to discover that Aidan had given it away to a beggar. But when he was able to accept Aidan's point that the son of a mare was less important than a son of God, and to admit that he had been wrong to criticise the bishop's action, Aidan grew very fearful for Oswin's future safety. Oswin was a humble king! But humility was not a popular virtue in a king, and few warriors wished to follow a leader who for any reason would refuse a battle. An unpopular king could easily be replaced! It was Oswin's practice of the Christian virtues which led to his death, and for this reason he was regarded as a martyr.
 
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