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Lindisfarne shown within Northumberland
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||Holy Island|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||BERWICK UPON TWEED|
|EU Parliament||North East England|
Lindisfarne shown within Northumberland
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||Holy Island|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||BERWICK UPON TWEED|
|EU Parliament||North East England|
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. It is also known just as Holy Island. It constitutes the civil parish of Holy Island in Northumberland. Holy Island has a recorded history from the sixth century. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadberht. After Viking invasions and the Norman invasion of England a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built upon it in 1550.
The island of Lindisfarne appears under the Old Welsh name Medcaut in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum. Following up on a suggestion by Richard Coates, Andrew Breeze proposes that the name ultimately derives from Latin Medicata [Insula] (English: Healing [Island]), owing perhaps to the island's reputation for medicinal herbs.
The soubriquet Holy Island was in use by the eleventh century when it appears in Latin as Insula Sacra. The reference was to saints Aidan and Cuthbert.
The name Lindisfarne has an uncertain origin. The first part, Lindis, may refer to people from the Kingdom of Lindsey in modern Lincolnshire. Either regular visitors or settlers may be referred to. Alternatively the name may be from Celtic in origin, with the element Lindis- meaning "stream or pool". It is not known if this is a reference to the nearby river Low or a small lake on the island.
The second element probably comes from Farran meaning "land", but may come from Faran, a traveller. There is also a supposition that the nearby Farne Islands are fern like in shape and the name may have come from there.
The island measures 2¼ miles from east to west and 1½ miles from north to south, and comprises approximately 1,000 acres (4.04 km2.) at high tide. The island is located about 2 miles from the mainland of England. The isle of Lindisfarne is located along the northeast coast of England, close to the border with Scotland. It is accessible, most times, at low-tide by crossing sand and mud flats which are covered with water at high tides. These sand and mud flats carry an ancient pilgrim’s path, and in more recent times, a modern causeway. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the 8,750-acre Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island’s sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats. In 2001, the island had a population of 162.
Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, check tide times and weather carefully, and to seek local advice if in doubt. For drivers, tide tables are prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about 3 hours after high tide until 2 hours before the next high tide, but the period of closure may be extended during stormy weather.
Despite these warnings, about one vehicle each month is stranded on the causeway, requiring rescue by either Seahouses Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat or RAF helicopter. A sea rescue costs approximately £1,900, while an air rescue costs more than £4,000. Locals have opposed a causeway barrier primarily on convenience grounds.
|Location||Lindisfarne, Northumberland, England|
|Year first constructed||1859 and unknown|
|Height||21 m (69 ft) and 8 m (26 ft)|
|Focal height||9 m (30 ft) and 24 m (79 ft)|
|Range||4 nmi (7.4 km) and 5 nmi (9.3 km)|
|Characteristic||Occurring White, Red and Green Every 6 Seconds synchonised with each other|
|ARLHS number||ENG 222 and ENG 314|
Trinity House operates two lighthouses to guide vessels entering Holy Island Harbour, named Guile Point East and Heugh Hill. The former is one of a pair of stone obelisks standing constructed on a sandy spit on the south side of the entrance to the Harbour to act as a day mark. Since the early 1990s, a light has been fixed to it about one-third of the way up. The latter is a metal framework tower with a red triangular day mark.
Not a lighthouse but simply a day mark for maritime navigation, a white brick pyramid, 35 feet high and built in 1810, stands at Emmanuel Head, the north eastern point of Lindisfarne.
The northeast coast of England had been little settled by Roman civilians and apart from the Tyne valley and the wall, little affected during the centuries of nominal Roman occupation. The countryside had been subject to raids from both Scots and Picts and was "not one to attract early Germanic settlement". King Ida (reigned from 547) started the sea-borne settlement of the coast establishing a urbs regia[a] at Bamborough across the bay from Lindisfarne. The conquest was not straight forward however, the Historia Brittonum recounts how in the sixth century, Urien, prince of Rheged, besieged the Angles led by Theodoric at the island for three days and three nights.
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. The priory was founded before the end of 634 and Aidan remained there until his death in 651. The priory remained the only seat of a bishopric in Northumbria for nearly thirty years. Finian (bishop 651–661) built a timber church "suitable for a bishop's seat". St. Bede however was critical of the fact that the church was not built of stone but only of hewn oak thatched with reeds. A later bishop, Eadbert removed the thatch and covered both walls and roof in lead. An abbot, who could be the bishop, was by elected by the brethren and led the community. St. Bede comments on this:
And let no one be surprised that, though we have said above that in this island of Lindisfarne, small as it is, there is found the seat of a bishop, now we say also that it is the home of an abbot and monks; for it actually is so. For one and the same dwelling-place of the servants of God holds both; and indeed all are monks. Aidan, who was the first bishop of this place, was a monk and always lived according to monastic rule together with all his followers. Hence all the bishops of that place up to the present time exercise their episcopal functions in such a way that the abbot, who they themselves have chosen by the advice of the brethren, rules the monastery; and all the priests, deacons, singers and readers and other ecclesiastical grades, together with the bishop himself, keep the monastic rule in all things.
Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelising in the north of England and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the Irish 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. An anonymous life of Cuthbert written at Lindisfarne is the oldest extant piece of English historical writing. From its reference to "Aldfrith, who now reigns peacefully" it must date to between 685 and 704. He was buried here, his remains later translated[b] to Durham Cathedral (along with the relics of Saint Eadfrith of Lindisfarne). 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.
Cuthbert's body was carried with the monks, eventually settling in Chester-le-Street before a final move to Durham. The saint's shrine was the major pilgrimage center for much of the region until its despoliation by Henry VIII's commissioners in 1539 or 1540. The grave was preserved however and when opened in 1827 yielded a number of remarkable artefacts dating back to Lindisfarne. The inner (of three) coffins was of incised wood, the only decorated wood to survive from the period. It shows Jesus surrounded by the Four Evangelists. Within the coffin was a pectoral cross 6.4 centimetres (2.5 in) across made of gold and mounted with garnets and intricate tracery. There was a comb made of elephant ivory, a rare and expensive item in northern England. Also was an embossed silver covered traveling altar. All were contemporary with the original burial on the island. When the body was placed in the shrine in 1104 other items were removed: a paten, scissors and a chalice of gold and onyx. Most remarkable of all was a gospel (known as the St Cuthbert Gospel or Stonyhurst Gospel from its association with the college). The manuscript is in an early, probably original, binding beautifully decorated with deeply embossed leather.
Following Finian's death, Colman became Bishop of Lindisfarne. Up to this point the Northumbrian (and latterly Mercian) churches had looked to Lindisfarne as the mother church. There were significant liturgical and theological differences with the fledgling Roman party based at Canterbury. According to Stenton: "There is no trace of any intercourse between these bishops [the Mercians] and the see of Canterbury". The Synod of Whitby in 663 changed this. Allegiance switched southwards to Canturbury and thence to Rome. Colman departed his see for Iona and Lindisfarne ceased to be of such major importance.
In 735 the northern ecclesiastical province of England was established with the archbishopric at York. There were only three bishops under York: Hexham, Lindisfarne and Whithorn whereas Canterbury had the twelve envisaged by St. Augustine. The diocese of York encompassed roughly the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Hexham covered Durham and the southern part of Northumberland up to the Coquet and eastwards into the Pennines. Whithorn covered most of Dumfries and Galloway region west of Dumfries itself. The remainder, Cumbria, northern Northumbria, Lothian and much of the Kingdom of Strathclyde formed the diocese of Lindisfarne.
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. 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. Aldred attributed the original to Eadfrith (bishop 698–721). The Gospels were written with a good hand, but it is the illustrations done in an insular style containing a fusion of Celtic, Germanic and Roman elements that are truly outstanding. According to Aldred, Eadfrith's successor Æthelwald was responsible for pressing and binding it and then it was covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit called Billfrith. The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumbrians. In 1971 professor Suzanne Kaufman of Rockford, Illinois presented a facsimile copy of the Gospels to the clergy of the Island.
In 793, a Viking raid on Lindisfarne [c] caused much consternation throughout the Christian west and is now often taken as the beginning of the Viking Age. The D and E versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record:
Her wæron reðe forebecna cumene ofer Norðhymbra land, ⁊ þæt folc earmlic bregdon, þæt wæron ormete þodenas ⁊ ligrescas, ⁊ fyrenne dracan wæron gesewene on þam lifte fleogende. Þam tacnum sona fyligde mycel hunger, ⁊ litel æfter þam, þæs ilcan geares on .vi. Idus Ianuarii, earmlice hæþenra manna hergunc adilegode Godes cyrican in Lindisfarnaee þurh hreaflac ⁊ mansliht.
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 in fact 8 June; Michael Swanton writes: "vi id Ianr, presumably [is] an error for vi id Iun (June 8) which is the date given by the Annals of Lindisfarne (p. 505), when better sailing weather would favour coastal raids."
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.
The English seemed to turn their back on the sea as they became more settled. Many monasteries were established on islands, peninsulas, river mouths and cliffs. Isolated communities were less susceptible to interference and the politics of the heartland. The amazement of the English at the raids from the sea must have been matched by the amazement of the raiders at such (to them) vulnerable, wealthy and unarmed settlements.
These preliminary raids, unsettling as they were, were not followed up. The main body of the raiders passed north around Scotland. The ninth century invasions came not from Norway, but by the Danes from around the entrance to the Baltic. The first Danish raids into England were in the Isle of Sheppey, Kent during 835 and from there influence spread north. During this period religious art continued to flourish on Lindisfarne, at this period the Liber Vitae of Durham was started in the Priory.
By 866 the Danes were in York and in 873 the army was moving into Northumberland. With the collapse of the Northumbrian kingdom the monks of Lindisfarne fled the island in 875 taking with them St. Cuthbert's bones (which are now buried at the Cathedral in Durham).
Prior to the ninth century Lindisfarne Priory had, in common with other such establishments, held large tracts of land which were managed directly or leased to farmers with a life interest only. Following the Danish occupation land was increasing owned by individuals and could be bought, sold and inherited. Following the Battle of Corbridge in 914 Ragnald seized the land giving some to his followers Scula and Onlafbal.
The priory was re-established in Norman times in 1093 as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII. The standing remains date from this later priory which is not on the original site, the parish church occupies that. The whole forms a grade I listed building number 1042304. The earliest parts of the site are a scheduled ancient monument number 1011650.
In 1462, during the Wars of the Roses, Margaret of Anjou made an abortive attempt to seize the Northumbrian castles. Following a storm at sea 400 troops had to seek shelter on the Holy Island, where they surrendered to the Yorkists.
A Dundee firm built lime kilns on Lindisfarne in the 1860s, and lime was burnt on the island until at least the end of the 19th century. The kilns are among the most complex in Northumberland. Horses carried limestone, along the Holy Island Waggonway, from a quarry on the north side of the island to the lime kilns, where it was burned with coal transported from Dundee, Scotland. There are still some traces of the jetties by which the coal was imported and the lime exported close by at the foot of the crags. The remains of the wagon way between the quarries and the kilns makes for a pleasant and easy walk. At its peak over 100 men were employed. Crinoid columnals extracted from the quarried stone and threaded into necklaces or rosaries became known as St Cuthbert's beads.
The island is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Northumberland Coast . The ruined monastery is in the care of English Heritage, which also runs a museum/visitor centre nearby. The neighbouring parish church (see below) is still in use.
Lindisfarne also has the small Lindisfarne Castle, based on a Tudor fort, which was refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the editor of Country Life, Edward Hudson. Lutyens also designed the island's Celtic-cross war-memorial on the Heugh. Lutyens' upturned herring buses near the foreshore provided the inspiration for Spanish architect Enric Miralles' Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.
One of the most celebrated gardeners of modern times, Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), laid out a tiny garden just north of the castle in 1911. The castle, garden and nearby lime kilns are in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors.
Holy Island was considered part of the Islandshire unit along with several mainland parishes. This came under the jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Durham until the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844.
Lindisfarne was mainly a fishing community for many years, with farming and the production of lime also of some importance.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is well known for mead. In the medieval days when monks inhabited the island, it was thought that if the soul was in God's keeping, 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. Lindisfarne mead is produced at St Aidan's Winery, and sold throughout the UK and elsewhere.
The isle of Lindisfarne was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the North. The Lindisfarne Gospels have also featured on television among the top few Treasures of Britain. It also features in an ITV Tyne Tees programme Diary of an Island which started on 19 April 2007 and on a DVD of the same name.
When the abbey was rebuilt by the Normans, the site was moved. The site of the original priory church was redeveloped in stone as the parish church. As such it is now the oldest building on the island still with a roof on. Remains of the Saxon church exist as the chancel wall and arch. A Norman apse (subsequently replaced in the 13th century) led eastwards from the chancel. The nave was extended in the 12th century to the with a northern arcade, and in the following century with a southern arcade.
After the reformation the church slipped into disrepair until the restoration of 1860. The church is built of coloured sandstone which has had the Victorian plaster removed from it. The north aisle is known as the "fishermen's aisle" and houses the altar of St. Peter. The south aisle used to hold the altar of St. Margeret of Scotland, but now houses the organ.
The church is a grade I listed building number 1042304, listed as part of the whole priory. The church forms most of the earliest part of the site and is a scheduled ancient monument numer 1011650.
In response to the perceived lack of affordable housing on the isle of Lindisfarne, a group of islanders established a charitable foundation known as the 'Holy Island of Lindisfarne Community Development Trust' in 1996. They built a visitor centre on the island using the profits from sales. In addition, eleven community houses which are rented out to community members who want to continue to stay on the island were built. The trust is also responsible for management of the inner harbour. The Holy Island Partnership was formed in 2009 by members of the community as well as organisations and groups operating on the island.
Tourism has grown steadily throughout the twentieth century, and the isle of Lindisfarne is now a popular destination for visitors to the area. Those tourists staying on the island while it is cut off by the tide can experience the island in a much quieter state, as most day trippers leave before the tide rises. At low tide it is possible to walk across the sands following an ancient route known as Pilgrims' Way. This route is marked with posts and has refuge boxes for stranded walkers, just as the road has a refuge box for those who have left their crossing too late. The isle of Lindisfarne is surrounded by the 8,750-acre Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve which attracts bird-watchers to the tidal island.
Sir Walter Scott wrote of the path from the island to the mainland, which is flooded twice a day by tides:
- 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.
Aspects of the history and legends concerning Lindisfarne and the monastery have occasionally found their way into the lyrics and concepts of bands, musicians and composers.
Composed in 1990 before I took up the pipes, Lindisfarne is my most recorded and requested tune. It is an air, not a waltz, and I find it wants to be played more slowly now than on the recordings. It appears elsewhere on the www, mostly in unauthorised and incorrect versions.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lindisfarne.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Lindisfarne.|