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Holy Island Of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, UK

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, commonly known as either Holy Island or Lindisfarne, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, which constitutes the civil parish of Holy Island in Northumberland. Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD; it was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of LindisfarneCuthbertEadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550. 

Both the Parker and Peterborough versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 793 record the Old English name for Lindisfarne, Lindisfarena. In the 9th century Historia Brittonum the island appears under its Old Welsh name Medcaut. The philologist Andrew Breeze, following up on a suggestion by Richard Coates, proposes that the name ultimately derives from (English: Healing Island), owing perhaps to the island's reputation for medicinal herbs.


The name Holy Island was in use by the 11th century when it appears in Latin as 'Insula Sacra'. The reference was to Saints Aidan and Cuthbert. In the present day, Holy Island is the name of the civil parish and native inhabitants are known as Islanders. The Ordnance Survey uses Holy Island for both the island and the village, with Lindisfarne listed either as an alternative name for the island or as a name of 'non-Roman antiquity'. "Locally the island is rarely referred to by its Anglo-Saxon name of Lindisfarne" (according to the local community website). More widely, the two names are used somewhat interchangeably. Lindisfarne is invariably used when referring to the pre-conquest monastic settlement, the priory ruins and the castle. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has begun to be used more frequently in recent times, particularly when promoting  the island as a tourist or pilgrim destination. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne has begun to be used more frequently in recent times, particularly when promoting the island as a tourist or pilgrim destination.



Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, to 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 also where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about three hours after high tide until two hours before the next high tide, but the period of closure may be extended during stormy weather. Tide tables giving the safe crossing periods are published by Northumberland County CouncilDespite these warnings, about one vehicle each month is stranded on the causeway, requiring rescue by HM Coastguard and/or Seahouses RNLI lifeboat. A sea rescue costs approximately £1,900 (quoted in 2009, equivalent to £2,570 in 2019, while an air rescue costs more than £4,000 (also quoted in 2009, equivalent to £5,400 in 2019. Local people have opposed a causeway barrier primarily on convenience grounds. 



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. There had been some other Viking raids, but according to English Heritage this one was particularly significant, because "it attacked the sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom, desecrating 'the very place where the Christian religion began in our nation'".

The D and E versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record...


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 men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne. The generally accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is in fact 8 June; Michael Swanton writes: "presumably an error for 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. During the attack many of the monks were killed, or captured and enslaved. As the English population became more settled, they seemed to have turned their back on the sea. Many monasteries were established on islands, peninsulas, river mouths and cliffs, as isolated communities were less susceptible to interference and the politics of the heartland. These preliminary raids, despite their brutal nature, were not followed up. The main body of the raiders passed north around Scotland. The 9th century invasions came not from Norway, but from the Danes from around the entrance to the Baltic. The first Danish raids into England were in the Isle of SheppeyKent during 835 and from there their influence spread north. During this period religious art continued to flourish on Lindisfarne, and the Liber Vitae of Durham began 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), who during his life had been prior and bishop of Lindisfarne; his body was buried on the island in the year 698. Prior to the 9th 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 increasingly 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.

Present Day

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 is still in use. TurnerThomas Girtin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh all painted on Holy Island. 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. Even today it is possible to see old wooden boats turned upside down on the land, looking like sheds. It is possible that this type of settlement was used by seafaring Vikings that exploited their ships as protection while away from home. 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.


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