Tuesday 24 July 2012

Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and constitutes a civil parish in Northumberland. The Old English name, Lindisfarena, which means "travellers from Lindsey", indicating that the island was settled from the Kingdom of Lindsey, or possibly that its inhabitants travelled there.

The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Irish monk Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald (c. AD 635). The hero of my latest release, Sweet Taste of Love, is named Aidan.
St. Aidan

The monastery became the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later Abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. Cuthbert later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. He was buried here, his remains later translated to Durham Cathedral. Eadberht of Lindisfarne, the next bishop (and Saint) was buried in the place from which Cuthbert's body was exhumed earlier the same year when the priory was abandoned in the late ninth century.

At some point in the early 700s the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was made probably at Lindisfarne and the artist was possibly Eadfrith, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne.
Cover of Lindisfarne Gospels

Sometime in the second half of the tenth century a monk named Aldred added an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) gloss to the Latin text, producing the earliest surviving Old English copies of the Gospels. The Gospels were illustrated in an insular style containing a fusion of Celtic, Germanic and Roman elements; they were probably originally covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit called Billfrith.

In 793, a Viking raid on Lindisfarne caused much consternation throughout the Christian west, and is now often taken as the beginning of the Viking Age. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:
In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on 8 January the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.

The more popularly accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is 8 June; it is believed vi id Ianr, is presumably an error for vi id Iun (June 8) which is the date given by the Annals of Lindisfarne, when better sailing weather would favour coastal raids.

Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar in Charlemagne's court at the time, wrote:
Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.

Viking raids in 875 led to the monks fleeing the island with St Cuthbert's bones (now buried at the Cathedral in Durham). The bishopric was transferred to Durham in AD 1000. The heroine of Sweet Taste of Love, Nolana Kyncade, is being escorted to a nunnery under the protection of the Bishop of Durham when...oops! almost gave away too much!

The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, to the annoyance of some Northumbrians. The priory was re-established in Norman times in 1093 as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII. Our hero, Aidan becomes a monk there in 1121 AD. What’s that? A monk the hero of a romance novel?

Painting of the ruins of Lindisfarne (1798)
A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides, something well described by Sir Walter Scott:
For with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry shod o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is well known for its mead, and the title, Sweet Taste of Love, came about because of the Abbey’s fame for honey and mead. In medieval times when monks inhabited the island, it was thought that the soul was in God's keeping, but the body must be fortified with Lindisfarne Mead. The monks have long vanished, and the mead's recipe remains a secret of the family which still produces it at St Aidan's Winery, though our hero, Aidan caught a glimpse of the closely guarded recipe written in brown ink on vellum!
Lindisfarne seen from the mainland
Sweet Taste of Love is Book 2 of the FitzRam Family series.


  1. Very interesting. Have you ever been to the island and can people still visit it?

    1. My parents took me there eons ago, but yes tourism is encouraged. Just have to wait for the tide to go out unless you go by boat.