The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Lindisfarne is a small (five miles by two) island two miles off the coast of Northumbria in the North of England. Known simply as 'Holy Island' to many people, the ancient name of Lindisfarne conjures up a more romantic image (although the precise meaning is lost in the mists of time).
The island was originally settled by Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century, and became a religious retreat when the first monastery was built there in the year 635 by St. Aidan. This became a local centre of education, and many were the young men who departed as missionaries to spread the Gospel around Britain and Europe. As a centre of learning, it also became a source of written material - many were the illuminated manuscript and Bibles produced here (great works of Celtic art in their own right), most famous of which is the sumptuously illustrated Lindisfarne Gospels. The original monastery is no more, but there is some evidence that the church of St. Mary occupies the location of the original wooden structure.
In 793 the island was the location of the first Viking raid on the coast of Britain, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
In this year terrible portents appeared over Northumbria, which sorely affrighted the inhabitants: there were exceptional flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying through the air. A great famine followed hard upon these signs; and a little later in that same year, on the 8th June, the harrying of the heathen miserably destroyed God's church by rapine and slaughter.
Following the Norman Conquest
, the Bishop of Durham
organised the building of a second monastery, whose ruins may still be seen, and this was run directly from Durham and staffed by their monks. This was active as a place of teaching and pilgrimage (St. Cuthbert's
remains being housed there) from its inception until the dissolution
by Henry VIII
The island is still a place of pilgrimage and retreat - there are many denominations active in various capacities - Roman Catholic, Church of England and Presbyterian ministries and facilities are available for all visitors.
Accessible by means of a causeway from the coast, it is still a place of wonder, and not only spiritually - the many different environments are important ecologically too. Tidal mudflats, saltmarshes and dunes are home to many interesting plants, insects and birds, including the rare purple northern marsh orchid and early marsh orchid, and overwintering birds such as pale-bellied brent geese (this is their only regular wintering place in Britain), grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits and redshanks.
According to Ferenczy, there is one policeman assigned to the island, who is not always in attendance due to the periodic inaccessibility of the isle. A side effect of this is that publicans do not always strictly adhere to the licensing laws, to great rejoicing.