"Come to me, all who are weary and whose load is heavy - I will give you rest." - Matthew 11-28

The Religious History of Lindisfarne

Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
Why Holy Island? Lindisfarne was the name given to the Island by the first Anglo-Saxons to live here and we do not know the meaning of the word. But the monks of Durham, after the Norman conquest, added the words Holy Island when they looked back over the story which began with the coming of Saint Aidan and the building of the first monastery in 635AD, continued with the ministry of the "very popular" Saint Cuthbert and then received a staggering blow from the Viking attack in 793. For the Durham monks who died as Christian marytrs in this pagan attack and our earlier saints, the Island was deservedly named "Holy".
The Golden Age of Lindisfarne: The period of the first monastery is referred to as the "Golden Age" of Lindisfarne. Aidan and his monks came from the Irish monastery of Iona and with the support of King Oswald (based at nearby Bamburgh) worked as missionaries among the pagan English of Northumbria. In their monastery they set up the first known school in this area and introduced the arts of reading and writing, the Latin language and the Bible and other Christian books (all in Latin). They trained boys as practical missionaries who later went out over much of England to spread the Gospel. Aidan also encouraged women to become nuns and girls to receive education but not in this monastery. In time Lindisfarne became known for its skill in Christian art of which the Lindisfarne Gospels are the most beautiful surviving example.
The Benedictine Period: After the Norman Conquest (1066) the Bendictine monks of Durham possessed the undecayed body of St.Cuthbert and saw themselves as the inheritors of the Lindisfarne tradition. Here on the Island they built the second monastery, a small Benedictine house staffed by Durham monks. This monastery was beset by a number of troubles, especially during the border wars between England and Scotland. It was finally dissolved by HenryVIII in 1536.
The ruins of the second monastery can be seen on the Island today. The first monastery, originally built entirely in wood, has disappeared. But there is evidence that the present parish church of St.Mary the Virgin stands on the site of Aidan's original monastery.
The Parish Church: Our beautiful parish church, of which the oldest part of the stonework is pre-1066, has been the villagers' church down the centuries. It is a living church, which holds three services of worship everyday, as well as extra services for the large number of visitors who use it. It is of course still used for the baptisms, marriages and funerals of the island people. Many schools and other organisations come here and ask for talks on the church itself or the story of the island.
The Presbyterian Period: In the 18th century a number of the Islanders became Presbyterians and during the 19th century they built the smaller St.Cuthbert's church. This became a "United Reformed Church" after the union of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. At present there are no Island families which are regular members of this church but the building is being adapted and is seeking a new role, particularly in service to the huge number of Island visitors.
The Roman Catholic Centre: The centre comprises a large youth hostel belonging to the Society of St.Vincent de Paul where groups of children, often deprived, are brought in the Summer to experience a sea-and-country holiday. This centre is also available for use by other groups.
Masses are celebrated weekly here during the Summer months. Currently there is no Roman Catholic priest, though a United Reformed minister and several Anglican clergy do reside on the Island.
Pilgrimage: The Island is a center of pilgrimage, particularly during the Summer season. Pilgrimages range from those of individuals or small groups to diocesan pilgimages of several thouseand people. There is a retreat house for groups and individuals. Several other Christian organisations use the Island as a focal point and recent interest is Celtic Christianity has brought many seekers and enquirers.
Copyright © Kate Tristram