Ceolwulf became King of Northumbria in 729, after a number of unsatisfactory
and short-lived kings. He was the king to whom Bede dedicated what is now his
most famous book: the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. The king
seems to have read this in first draft and then asked for a copy of the final
text. No doubt the king would have other copies made to pass on to other
kings and scholars: this was one of the ways in that age in which books
became known. Bede hoped that his writings would encourage his readers to
make right choices. He set before them examples of both good and evil. So no
doubt he would have been glad that his book had gained access to the royal
Ceolwulf himself seems to have been a good man, but perhaps not a strong
king. In 731 he was captured and forcibly tonsured by his enemies; he
regained his power but then decided to abdicate. He then decided to become a
monk here at Lindisfarne.
It was not uncommon for noblemen to wish to end their lives in holy places.
But was the king's presence entirely to the advantage of Lindisfarne?
Apparently he was so generous in endowing the monastery that at this point
the monks began to drink beer or wine instead of the previous water or milk.
However Ceolwulf himself was looked upon as a holy man; miracles were claimed
at his tomb, and eventually his head, with St.Cuthbert's relics, was said to
have found its way to Durham.
Ceolwulf died in about 764. His life is another example of the importance in
that period of the personal connections between kings and Christian leaders,
which enabled monasteries like Lindisfarne and Jarrow to flourish and the
Christian faith to take root among the people.
Paulinus, who became the first Bishop (not Archbishop) of York after the
Anglo-Saxon infiltration, was one of the monks sent from the continent by
Pope Gregory the Great in 601, to support the mission of St. Augustine in
Kent. When King Edwin of Northumbria married the princess of Kent,
Ethelburga, Paulinus travelled north with her, partly to be her chaplain and
partly to attempt to convert the pagan English, including King Edwin himself,
to the Christian faith.
In time he succeeded with the King and the nobles. He held mass meetings
followed by baptisms in rivers and open-air pools in many places in
Northumbria: the nearest to Lindisfarne was at King Edwin's palace at
Yeavering, where baptisms were in the River Glen. But the king's main centre
was at York, so most of Paulinus' work was in the southern half of the
When King Edwin was killed in battle in 633 the queen, Ethelburga, decided to
return to Kent, and Paulinus went with her. Perhaps he despaired of being
able to carry out any further work in the north, in the absence of a friendly
king. He became Bishop of Rochester until his death in 644, at about the age
The gap between Paulinus' departure and the coming of Aidan was not more than
two years. Whether Paulinus' work helped or hindered Aidan's is difficult to
say. Many people had been disillusioned by Christianity when the first
Christian king, Edwin, fell in battle: it seemed to them to prove that the
pagan gods were stronger. But others, who had experienced the beginnings of
a genuine conversion under Paulinus, may have been ready to welcome the new
Irish missionary, with his very different methods.