Holy Island (Lindisfarne)

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Holy Island or Lindisfarne as it was originally known, is one of the most important sites in the history Christianity in Britain. It was here in AD635 that St Aidan founded a monastery that was to become  the spiritual and educational heart of Northumbria in its 'golden age '. Here, amongst his beloved animals and birds, St Cuthbert sought respite from his missionary work. Today that same peace can still be found, for twice each day the tide sweeps across the sands, severing the link with the mainland for several hours.              

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Lindisfarne Priory
now in ruins


Photo by Stuart Brown

The 6th and 7th centuries were a period of outstanding brilliance both for Holy Island and the whole of Northumbria. Aidan and Cuthbert travelled and preached throughout the kingdom, which became the envy of Europe. Eidfrith, Bishop-Abbot 698-721, produced with his monks the magnificent illuminated  manuscripts known as the Lindisfarne Gospels.This 'golden age' was also noted for it's standing stone crosses, poetry and gold metalwork - but above all for the saintliest of men.

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Lindisfarne Castle
Built using the stone frome the Priory


Photo by Stuart Brown

In 793, the first Vikings came in thier longboats to burn, steal and kill. Time after time they returned to ravage the holy places, and in 875 the monks were forced to flee in terror, bearing thier Gospels, the body of St Cuthbert and other precious relics. For 200 years monastery remained uninhabited.

In 1082 the Benedictines revived the community, renaming   Lindisfarne 'Holy Island' to commemorate the holy blood shed during the Viking invasions. The rebuilt sandstone priory remained inhabited for 450 years until Henry VIII ordered it's Dissolution  in 1537. The priory was once more abandoned, to become a quarry for the new castle being built on the island against possible Scots incursions.

After the union of England and Scotland in 1603 the strategic importance of the castle diminished, although it remained in use as a garrison. At the beginning of the Civil War, the castle was a Royalist stronghold but soon fell to the Parliamentarians. After a long, slow decline. the castle became a private residence in 1880, being restored by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. In 1944 the castle was given to the National Trust.

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Holy Island causeway


Photos by Stuart Brown

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The route across the Holy Island sands used in the time of Aidan and Cuthbert remains the only access to the mainland. In 1954 the causeway was opened, forming a permanent man-made link with the mainland, and extended in 1965. Nevertheless, the tide still renders the road impassable for 2 hours before high tide and 3 hours after, and once more Lindisfarne is restored to its island status. 

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