Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 5th: Lindisfarne Priory

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The elegant and almost ethereal Lindisfarne Priory sits on Holy Island, which is only accessible by a causeway that is completely flooded with every high tide. The priory is one of the oldest religious sites in England. The land was gifted to Saint Aiden by Oswald, an Anglo Saxon King, in 635. Saint Aiden and later Saint Cuthbert used it as a base to convert Northumberland to Christianity. Lindisfarne is known as the cradle of Christianity in England.

Saint Cuthbert became bishop in 685 and when he died in 687 he was buried in a stone coffin on Lindisfarne. When his tomb was opened 11 years later the body was “incorrupt,” which was taken as a sign of his saintliness and a cult sprang up around him. The cult attracted pilgrims and ensured Lindisfarne’s place as a centre of Christian learning. This resulted in what, for me, is the most interesting part of the priory’s history; the famous Lindisfarne Gospels. They were begun at the priory in 698.

Very unusually for a medieval manuscript we know not only that the gospels were the work of one man, but who that man was. A note was added later identifying the artist as Eadfrith, who was bishop of Lindisfarne between 698 and 721. The work is one of extraordinary detail and skill, using a wide variety of pigments, although it remains partly unfinished due to Eadfrith’s death in 721. The Lindisfarne Gospels embodied a sense of Englishness that was growing at the time; the gospels are a mixture of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Coptic and Eastern traditions. They symbolise a realm that was beginning to develop an individual identity. It is also truly beautiful.

This image is from the British Library and can be found here

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/lindisfarne_lg.html

To return to the priory itself. The origins of what you see today largely dates to the early 12th century when the priory was re-founded in 1122. The priory was abandoned in 875 after a series of devastating Viking raids from the 790s onwards led to the decision being taken that remaining on the island wasn’t safe. The church, the remains of which you can see in the first photo, was built around 1150.

The priory continued despite ongoing border warfare until it was dissolved under the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. It was one of the 200 small religious houses that were the first to be suppressed.

References:

Site visit 2012.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne information booklet.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lindisfarne-priory/history/

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/lindisfarne.html

The photos (apart from the gospel) are all mine

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 9th: Lindisfarne Castle

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This is the first and only in this series that is not strictly speaking a medieval castle, but it is such an interesting castle that I have decided to include it anyway. It stands on the tidal island of Lindisfarne close to the stunning Lindisfarne Priory, which I have included a photo of for anyone who is pining for a medieval site. I will write about that at a later date.

Lindisfarne Castle was an Elizabethan fort originally. It was built to protect the Lindisfarne Island harbour which at the time was the last deep water port before the Scottish border. Building began in c. 1570 and a significant quantity of the stone came from Lindisfarne Priory, so part of the castle is technically medieval. Prior to this under Henry VIII the rock on which the castle stands had been fortified to an extent, but it wasn’t a castle.

It didn’t really see any significant battle apart from briefly in the Jacobite wars, but it was consistently garrisoned for 300 years which shows just how important it was seen to be to national security.

The guns and soldiers were removed in 1893 and after it had been used for nothing in particular for a while it was bought by Edward Hudson, who was the founder of the Country Life Magazine. He commissioned his friend Edward Luytens to turn it into a comfortable holiday home, but to retain its character, and this is the building that remains today. The castle was sold a number of times and came into National Trust hands in 1970.

 

References:

Site visit 2012

National trust brochures on the castle

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle/features/the-castle-peeling-back-the-layers

The photos are all mine.