SITEZINE: Holy Island's E-Mail Newsletter: July/August 2021

July/August 2021

Max Whitby

Regular readers of this column will know that I frequently moan about the impossibility of performing astrophotography during the summer months on Holy Island.  The sky is simply not dark enough between mid-May and late-August.  You can however still enjoy the "night" sky provided the weather is clear, even if it looks more like twilight.  A highlight in recent weeks has been Jupiter.

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun.  It is the biggest by far being over 1,000 times larger than Earth by volume.  Its sheer size makes it a good reflector of the Sun's light, so when Jupiter is visible in the night sky it is often one of the brightest objects easily outshining any star.  This was the case in June when the planet was impossible to miss as it rose in the small hours just behind Lindisfarne Castle as viewed from Chare Ends.  See my blurry iPhone photo proving the point.

Jupiter Rising
Jupiter rising over Lindisfarne Castle photographed in the early hours of 5th June 2021. The planet was by far the brightest visible object in the sky. The other spots of light in the gloaming are two lighthouses on the Farnes and a navigation buoy to the right of the Castle.

When people ask about my observatory, one of the first things they expect to be shown are the planets.  I have to disappoint them.  My current telescope does not provide sufficient magnification for even mediocre photographs.

The problem is apparent size.  Jupiter may be comparatively massive, but it is also a long way away.  The closest it gets to us is 365 million miles (588 million kilometers).  The gas giant is about 87,500 miles (140,000 kilometers) across.  If you do the maths, you will discover that its disc subtends an angle of only 50 arc seconds for an observer on Earth at closest approach. The Moon for comparison occupies half a degree in the night sky.

What does this mean in practice?  Well there are sixty arc seconds in one arc minute.  And sixty arc minutes in one degree.  So the apparent size of Jupiter, even when it is closest to the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, is a miniscule 1/36th the diameter of the Moon and less than a thousandth of its area.

My telescope is designed to photograph deep space object such as nebulae and galaxies.  These are typically much larger in terms of apparent size in the sky, although mostly too faint to be seen with the naked eye.  The Andromeda Galaxy for example is a whopping 3 x 1 degrees or six times the apparent size of the Moon.

So attempting to photograph Jupiter using the equipment at Skylark Observatory would be futile.  Much better to use a space probe!  That of course is what NASA does with great success.  Take a look at the amazing recent image from the Juno spacecraft accompanying this column.

Jupiter NASA_Juno_pia23803
NASA's Juno spacecraft captured these complex atmospheric swirls on 10th April 2020 during a close fly-by of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 5,375 miles (8,650 kilometers) from the plenet's cloud tops at a latitude of about 50 degrees North. It was traveling about 127,000 mph (204,000 kilometers per hour) relative to Jupiter at that time.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS processed by Kevin M. Gill ? CC BY.

Even the most powerful telescopes on Earth are incapable of capturing the quality of Juno's images.  You simply have to visit Jupiter to acquire close-ups of this calibre.  Nevertheless it is possible to take reasonable photographs of the planets from Earth... even with modest equipment.

To photograph Jupiter from Earth you need a telescope with around ten times the magnifying power of my system. But this alone is insufficient.  You also need luck!  To be precise, you need to use a technique called "lucky imaging" that involves capturing a video of the planet rather than a series of long exposure still pictures.  Ingenious software is then automatically analyses every frame in the video and retains only the very clearest.  These occur when fluctuations caused by layers in the Earth's atmosphere happen to cancel out, allowing a relatively clear image briefly to be seen.  By combining these "lucky images" a surprisingly decent photograph can be taken.

When The Holy Island Times returns in the autumn I will update you on progress with my Observatory Greenhouse.

Ray Simpson

It has been lovely to welcome back pilgrim groups to our two retreat houses that our working party has re-ordered. We are now working to re-order the library and quiet room.

Many items from The Open Gate were given to the Holy Island Support Group. The rest was taken to the Salvation Army or the re-cycling dump and now it is cleared.

Last month we invited CAH friends and members to send in photos and recorded memories of The Open Gate when we had our Annual Gathering on Zoom. I recorded items from my autobiography Monk in the Marketplace.

I hope it may be possible to create a permanent record. No need to place it in the British Library (!) - we can keep it on Holy Island.

Following a heart attack I was advised not to drive to the island for a period - but it has been a delight to welcome people from the island to my house. You are always welcome.

Revd Canon Kate Tristram


Coquet Island is a tiny outcrop just off the coast of Northumberland. It is currently the home of kittiwakes (no humans). 70,000 nesting birds have recently been counted, and artificial extra nesting ledges have been provided by the kind humans on the cliffs.

But in the 7th century a notable meeting of humans took place there. (Historians apply all your usual caution). Cuthbert, saint and hermit of the Farnes, met Aelflaed, Abbess of Whitby, at her request. No doubt suitable companions for both sides were there. St. Cuthbert we know about, but Aelflaed might be a new name to you. She was the daughter of King Oswiu of Northumbria, but from infancy had been brought up by St. Hild, the great Abbess of the double monastery at Whitby. Clearly Aelflaed was "groomed" to succeed Hild, which she did. She was herself a very powerful person, rather political as we might expect of a king's daughter. But at the time of the meeting she was worried. The currect king was her brother, Edgfrith. She knew him to be rather trigger-happy; he might die in battle, and he had no heir.

Would that be the end of Aelflaed's family on the throne.? Could Cuthbert give her any answers?

He could and he did. He reminded her that she had a half-brother in Ireland. Perhaps she didn't even know of his existence. He was currently on Iona, but he would come to be the next king, when Edgfrith was killed in battle, as Cuthbert knew he would be. Aelflaed would find him a good brother. She also wanted to know whether Cuthbert would become a bishop. It seems that he said yes, provided that he was called to it.

So, after a successful meeting, they both went home.

To us this little story shows something of what people of the time expected of a saint. Saints essentially lived close to God, and so could know His mind and mediate His power. They were expected practise spiritual healing, and both to foretell the future and to know of contemporary happenings elsewhere. Of course they could preach and teach and give personal counsel. Many saints were recognised only after their death, but Cuthbert was "discovered" during his life.

More about Aelflaed next time...

Editor: Revd Canon Kate Tristram MA (Oxford) MSC (Edinburgh) and honorary Canon of Newcastle (emerita)

Rev Canon Dr Sarah Hills


Dear friends

Summer is here and I hope amidst the business of the island we are finding some time to breathe and make the most of this lovely sunshine. In the churches calendar, this next few weeks is known as -ordination season'. Our very own Sam Quilty, our curate, is being ordained priest on Saturday 3rd July. We wish Sam every blessing and pray for her and for Don her husband, as she makes this very special step in her ministry.

Of course, summer is a time of transition for many people. And so we pray for our school children as they end another academic year, and for their teachers and staff preparing for a well-deserved summer break.

Over the summer months, St Mary's will be open every day from 11am - 4pm for people to come in and pray and visit. We warmly welcome those who are visiting for the first time, and welcome back those who come year in year out. As covid restrictions ease, we hope to be able to start our daily services again, as well as continuing our Sunday services.

Starting this summer, jointly with Lowick and Holy Island C of E First Schools we are celebrating the life of the scribe of the Lindisfarne Gospels who died 1300 years ago.

It is believed that the Gospels were written on here on Holy Island by Eadfrith, between 715-720 AD, and we will be shining a light on this world-famous book.

Acknowledged as a masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon England, the book is a decorated copy of the Gospels of the bible, recounting the life of Jesus. It features ornate painted lettering, drawings and patterned pages with multi-cultural influences.

Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698, devoted years of his life to producing the book as a dedication to God and to his famous predecessor, St Cuthbert.

The celebrations will include lighting up the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed in the Northumberland colours of red and gold, and concerts, writing workshops and a podcast this summer.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are a beautiful depiction of the story of Christ and they also tell us about how the island community and its culture survived terrible persecution and how the people of the North East united to save this book.

Sharing ideas, treasuring diversity and reconciling our differences, as expressed in the pages and journey of this book, can help us all to achieve peace and reconciliation in our lives and communities today.

After nearly a hundred years of Viking raids, the monastic community abandoned Lindisfarne in 875, taking with them the body of St Cuthbert and other relics, including the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The community spent over 100 years at Chester-le-Street, County Durham, before settling at Durham. The Gospels had to be protected again during the violent dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and were eventually rehomed (minus the original jewels that decorated the binding) in the British Museum in 1753 and passed on to the British Library where they remain today.

Head of Lowick and Holy Island Church of England First Schools, Rebecca Simpson, said: "We will be making a pilgrimage across the sands to the island and investigating the science, history and cultural influences of Eadfrith's amazing work and the history of writing."

Eadfrith pioneered the use of a candle-powered lightbox to enable him to trace the complex patterns and intricate lettering on the book's vellum pages.

Our Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Christine Hardman, said: "The North of England is recognised as the cradle of northern Christianity and Eadfrith's masterpiece provides timeless inspiration to us all.

"People across the world are inspired by the spiritual influence of the northern saints and the unique heritage of Holy Island, the birthplace of Christianity in the north of England and the Lindisfarne Gospels."

The Eadfrith Gospels celebrations are supported by the Handley Trust and Allchurches Trust. The Lindisfarne Gospels will go on display at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, on loan from the British Library in 2022.

More information on dates and events will be published - do come and join us!

With every blessing

Sarah Hills

Current Worship Times

Due to the lockdown restrictions of Covid 19, St Mary's Church building is currently closed. We are sorry it is not open daily but know that our prayers are with you.

The church building will open again as we come out of lockdown when it is safe to do so. Please check the website or church porch for details.

When open please wear face Mask in church.

Worship Times
(from after Easter)
8am BCP Sunday Eucharist first Sunday of the month in church
1045am Sunday Eucharist in church

Daily prayer in church will restart once we are further through the government's road map of lifting restrictions.

Lord, help us to be with one another... even if at a physical distance. Help us to build a kinder world. To reach out. To love and to care. To be sensible and not to panic. Help us, Lord, to hope. Because together we can. Amen.

Revd Dr Sarah Hills

A Blessing - for this time and every time

Lift your hearts to heaven
and receive the eternal gift of peace

Keep your feet on the ground
and walk with those who need God's love

This day

you are loved by God
You are held by God
You are blessed by God

Now and for evermore

? Rachel Poolman