The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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This week’s prompt for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers reminded me of one of my favourite spots to visit in the UK: Lindisfarne (or Holy Island). So I have TJ Paris to thank for bringing it to my mind.  This is his photo . . .

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. . . and my story can be read here.

I would normally add a little bit of ‘extra’ information at the end of my story each week, but I thought this was a little too long for that today. So here it is, as a separate post:

I’ve always been fascinated by offshore islands, whether inhabited by humans or simply by colonies of seabirds. It has been suggested that there as many as 5000 islands in total around the coast of the UK – a number difficult to verify as it depends on a person’s definition of an island. Some ‘islands’ may be just small lumps of rock. But there are certainly more than 1000.

As for Lindisfarne, it is well worth a visit. We usually head up there when we’ve been staying around Hadrian’s Wall, just for a change for a day out. It has a lot to offer for tourists, including the requisite souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes etc. Of course, most people go there to see the historical sites.

Lindisfarne lies just off the coast of NE England, in the county of Northumberland. It is connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway, and there is a castle and priory on the island.

(Note.  A causeway is a raised road or track across low or wet ground. e.g. “an island reached at low tide by a causeway”)

Map of Northumberland showing offshore islands. Author: Nilfanion. Commons

Map of Northumberland showing offshore islands. Lindisfarne is the larger, more northerly isle. Author: Nilfanion. Commons

Simplistic map of Holy Island. Author: Fhah 4. Commons

Simplistic map of Holy Island. Author: Fhah 4. Commons

Lindisfarne has recorded history from the 6th century, although we know the Romans were in the area much earlier, and there could have been a village of Britons on the isle. In the 6th century, Lindisfarne was an important centre for Celtic Christianity under Saint Aiden, who came from Ireland and established an Irish-type wooden monastery with a small church and various huts and workshops. He eventually became Bishop of Lindisfarne and was buried there in 651. But at the end of the 9th century, when the priory was abandoned, his remains were taken to Durham Cathedral, where they still remain today. Ther is a statue of St. Aidan by the Priort ruins, which are on the site of the monastery built by him:

Lindisfarne Priory ruins and statue of St. Aidan. Author: Kim Traynor. Commons

Lindisfarne Priory ruins and statue of St. Aidan. Author: Kim Traynor. Commons

Much is written about the history of Lindisfarne and the ‘saints’ who came after St. Aidan. But the event that captures most people’s interest – most certainly mine – is that of the Viking raid on the island in 793. This event is now taken to be the beginning of the Viking Age.

Here’s the modern English version (as opposed to the Anglo Saxon one) of the raid, from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:

“In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January,* the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

 (*The generally accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is 8th June, when sailing across the North Sea would have been more likely for the Vikings. The’ 6th ides of January’ is now considered to be a translation error.)

Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar at 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.

These raids by Norwegian Vikings were not followed up. Most of the later raiders sailed north around Scotland. The 9th century invasions came from the Danes … which, of course is the topic of my books.

The Priory on Lindisfarne was built in the 11th century on the site of the Irish-styled monastery founded by St. Aidan in 636. Here are some pictures of the ruins today.

Remains of Lindisfarne Priory: 1798 by Thomas Girton. The priory's rainbow arch (which still survive) is shown truncated for artistic effect.

Remains of Lindisfarne Priory: 1798 by Thomas Girton. The priory’s rainbow arch (which still survives) is shown truncated for artistic effect.

The castle was built in 1550 by Henry VIII in defence of the realm against attack by Scotland and in pursuit of their Spanish allies.  It is said to have been constructed of stone taken from the priory.

Londisfarne Castle from the harbour on a rainy day. Author: Russ Hamer. Commons

Londisfarne Castle from the harbour on a rainy day. Author: Russ Hamer. Commons

Lindisfarne Castle. It is sited on top of a volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig. Author: Matthew Hunt. Commons

Lindisfarne Castle. It is sited on top of a volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig. Author: Matthew Hunt. Commons

The Lindisfarne Gospels are among the most celebrated illuminated books in the world. A 10th century inscription at the end of the text was made in honour of God and Saint Cuthbert by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who died in 721. The Lindisfarne Gospels are part of a collection of Sir Robert Cotton (died 1631) in the British Library in London.

Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Uploaded by Airump. Public Domain

Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Uploaded by Airump. Public Domain

Lindisfarne Gospelsshowing John the Evangelist. Permission PD-Art. Public Domain

Lindisfarne Gospelsshowing John the Evangelist. Permission PD-Art. Public Domain

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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50 Responses to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

  1. Pingback: Echoes of Misery – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers | Millie Thom

  2. Great post Millie! I’ve heard about the island before whilst researching Vikings. Hope I can visit it come day, i’ve been near (Bamburgh Castle) and i’d like to make the trip over sometime!

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, Bamburgh Castle is great. In fact, there are so many brilliant places in Northumbria. I’ve been up there so many times, especially to Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve been to Lindisfarne four times, but not for several yeras now. All our photos were lost when our old computer crashed, and we hadn’t saved them anywhere else. We do have things on video, but I’ve no idea how to make ‘stills’ out of it! 😦 It’s a lovely area of the UK to visit, anyway. Thanks Dave. 🙂
      Did you get the pingback about the Real Neat Blog award I nominated you for? I’m not sure whether your blog is award free, but if you don’t ‘do’ awards, no prob. 🙂

  3. HumaAq says:

    What a beautiful historical castle! Wish to visit someday

    • milliethom says:

      Lindisfarne is quite a special place. It looks quite awesome when the tide comes in and covers the causeway. If you’re at the castle you’re stuck for a good few hours!
      The castle is very small compared to most in Britain, but it’s in good condition and interesting to look round. It’s actually still lived in, too!
      Hope you get over here one day. I’d love to come over there and see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Niagara … and doxens of other places. Pity we aren’t all rich! Thanks, Huma. 🙂

  4. As is the case with many Americans, I am fascinated by the antiquities of the UK. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  5. Beth says:

    Very interesting! Sometimes when I look at these amazing crumbling stone structures that were built so long ago, I feel exhausted thinking of all the effort it took those people to construct them.

    Lovely to visit this one without having to traipse across the pond:0)) Thanks!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Beth. Yes, it is rather a long way across the pond. So many places in the world to put on our ‘to visit’ lists – mine gets longer by the day. I agreee about the building of these fantastic, medieval structures. Without all the modern tools and equipment, plus computerised images, they were an amazing achievement. Both architect and builders were extremely skilled. 🙂

  6. Thanks for this information. You gave me again more insight in the days of your novels. Very, very interesting.(This history is “new” to me!)

  7. Norma says:

    This is so interesting Millie. The moment I read…Danes, Vikings, raids…I remembered your book. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, Lindisfarne was where it all started in the Anglo Saxon lands (there was no England yet – that came later when all the kingdoms became united). That raid on Lindisfarne is famous for the onset of the Viking Age. They were Norwegian Vikings, though. The Danish raids started later, just before the beginning of my Book 1.

  8. Bekki Hill says:

    Hi Millie. Thanks, so informative as ever. I’ve never been to Lindesfarn either 😦

    • milliethom says:

      Lindisfarne’s quite a way from your end of the country, but the whole of Northumbria is worth visiting if you ever venture to the ‘wild and woolly’ north again. There are lots of great historical sites. Perhaps one day… Thanks, Bekki. 🙂

      • Bekki Hill says:

        LOL! Despite my previous comments about Nottingham, I’ve been as far as Morpeth, then skipped over the rest of England in favour of Scotland. Better get the map out and see how Mr Hicks and Mr Hill are feeling about Northern holidays 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        The weather is often the problem up here – although the NE is much drier than the NW (Lancashire and the Lake District). Morpeth isn’t that far away from Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle. If you ever watched the 80s Robin Hood TV series, Bamburgh was supposedly the home of the Baron de Belem. Very close to Sherwood Forest, I must say! I’m sure Mr. Hicks would love a run along the beach there. Don’t know about Mr. Hill, though. 🙂

      • Bekki Hill says:

        LOL! Are you trying to entice me by telling me it’s like Nottingham? 🙂 I’m sure Mr Hill would enjoy the run too 😉

      • milliethom says:

        No, Nottinghamshire as a whole is quite a rural county, and has no coastline. It was a big joke that they had the baron living by the sea – especially when we identified it as Bamburgh. But film crews will zoom in on any site available, I suppose. Inland Northumberland is lovely scenery, though. I absolutely love it along Hadrian’s Wall. 🙂

  9. This is very interesting Millie! I enjoyed viewing the photos and reading your article!

  10. exiledprospero says:

    Okay. I’ll take it. Do you think we can add a clause about moving Lindisfarne though. There’s some great volcanic rock here and the scenery is nice. Besides, how could it possibly cost to move a castle?

    • milliethom says:

      Moving an entire castle, albeit a very small one, could be a tricky one, Prosrero. I suppose it depends on how deep your pockets are. 🙂 Besides, the owners might not want to move out right now. My brother-in-law jokingly said he’d buy it, if it were for sale, the last time we all went round it. The views are perfect in all directions – one looking across to Bamburgh Castle on the coast. (Now that is a big castle!) 🙂

  11. This is the first time I have read and seen Lindisfarne on the net. It is totally fascinating, and what a magnificiently grand structure on that volcanic pinnacle poised out in the water! Especially interesting because of its immense historic significance. (And the fact that the Vikings I series featured it). This would be a very special place to visit and I wouldn’t mind if I was stuck there for a good few hours! Thanks for showing me this piece of history, Millie. Bit jealous that you got to be there and touch Viking History!!!

    • milliethom says:

      It’s quite esay for us to visit it, Amanda, as it’s only a three-and-a-half hour drive from here. It could be done as a day trip, but we usually stay up there when we go. The history is very interesting and they do make it educational as well. The castle’s a relatively young one, having been built by Henry VIII, which is why it’s in good condition, and still lived in.
      I didn’t realise Lindisfarne had featured in the Viking series. I knew the series was set over 50 years before my story started, but the raid is well described in the AS Chronicles. My Vikings are Danes, too, not Norwegians.
      I’m jealous that you’ve been to so many places in Scandinavia! I’m itching to bet to Birka, but other things keep popping up to put that back a while.
      Thank you for the nice comment. I’m glad you found the info. interesting, too. 🙂

      • You might have to visit Scandinavia ethereally through my posts in the same way as I visit English destinations through yours! Are you going to watch the Viking series. Ragnar Lothbruk is played by an Aussie actor. And I am glad your Vikings are Danes, who are clearly the supreme Vikings of old….. tee hee!

      • milliethom says:

        Are you home again now? I know you haven’t been for a while.
        You’re right, I will have to read some of your Scandinavian posts asap. I’ll probably watch the Viking series once I’ve finished Book 3 – and read Bernard Corwell’s books. I don’t want influencing by them, you see. Some of the myths and sagas about Ragnar Lothbrok have him as as Norwegian, some have him as Dane. His dates are all over the place, too. So for my stories, I’ve gone for those in which he’s a Dane, in my period too. The Danes were the ones who invaded the AS kingdoms and worried poor Alfred to death (not literally!). The Norwegians concentrated more on Scotland and Ireland. It’s all very fascinating, Isn’t it? (If you’re into Norse history like you amd me, that is. 🙂

      • Yes I am back now. My blog been a bit quiet the last week or two. The Ragnar character is fascinating and a bit enhanced by myth like Robin Hood I feel. The series doesn’t always follow history but they do try to make the set ad costumes as authentic as possible. I am glad you write about the Danes 🙂 I also find Canute’s story enthralling. Must read your book one day.

      • milliethom says:

        I hope you had a great holiday (if that’s where you’ve been). I like stories about Canute, too, but I’m engrossed with Alfred’s battle to keep his kingdom right now, so I’ll leave Canute alone for the time being. 😀 I’ have a lot of people’s posts to catch up on myself. I seem to be behind with everything lately. It’s so hard to balance writing with so many other things. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you today. It’s nice to catch up every so often. 🙂

      • It gets harder the more blogs you follow and the more followers you get. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. I had to stop all wordpress emails fir a short time at one stage to have some breathing space.

      • milliethom says:

        Thank you for those comfoting words. I haven’t got that many followers, but I have been trying to get round as many as I can every week. It is hard, and my writing is suffering (time-wise) so I’m feeling quite stressed right now. I really appreciate your kind thoughts.

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