Lindisfarne or Holy Island is a tidal island on the North Sea coast of Northumberland. It is famed as a place of history and for its bleak, isolated position, in which it stands cut off by the tide for half the day and presided over by the stately Lindisfarne Castle.
Holy Island stands apart from the Farne Islands, which lie out in the sea further to the southeast.
In the days before even the castle was built, Lindisfarne was the greatest ecclesiastical centre of the north; a monastery in the old Irish style was founded here by St Aidan in the early days of British Christianity and the island served as a missionary centre, a place of learning, a training school for saints and as the seat of the bishop of Northumbria.
In 2001 the island had a population of 162.
A popular delicacy for today's visitors to the isle are crab sandwiches, which are sold at many shops and cafés on the island.
- 1 Names
- 2 Geography and Population
- 3 Community Trust Fund / Holy Island Partnership
- 4 Tourism
- 5 History
- 6 The island today
- 7 Lighthouses
- 8 Holy Island in modern culture
- 9 Outside links
- 10 References
The name "Holy Island" refers to the monastery which once stood on the island, and from which emerged several famous names in early Church history.
"Lindisfarne" is an older name. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793 the island is named with reference to a bishop and a church in Lindisfarnaee, and later reference to Higbald, Lindisfarna biscop, the former "Lindisfarnes' island", and it is speculated that the name may mean "island of the travellers from Lindsey" (Lindissfarena ieg), suggesting that the island was settled from the Kingdom of Lindsey, or possibly that its inhabitants travelled there. An alternative view is that the name is from the British language, and that the element Lindis- means "stream or pool", and the element -farne meaning "land"
Lindisfarne appears in Nennius's ninth-century Historia Brittonum under the Old Welsh name Medcaut. Richard Coates and Andrew Breeze proposed that the name ultimately derives from Latin Medicata (Insula) "Healing (Island)", owing perhaps to the island's reputation for medicinal herbs. The Historia Brittonum recounts how in the sixth century, Urien, King of Rheged, besieged the Angles led by Theodric at the island for three days and three nights.
Geography and Population
The island measures 2¼ miles from east to west, and 1½ miles from north to south; and comprises aproximately 1,000 acres at high tide. The island is located about 2 miles from the mainland of Northumberland.
The island is accessible at most times during low tide by crossing sand and mud flats which are covered with water at high tide. These 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.
Community Trust Fund / Holy Island Partnership
In response to the perceived lack of affordable housing on 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 innner 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 island.
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 RNLI 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 the grounds of convenience.
The island of Lindisfarne appears under the Old Welsh name Medcaut in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum, which recounts how in the sixth century, Urien, prince of Rheged, besieged the Angles led by Theodric of Bernicia 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 coast of Mull to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria around the year 635. It became the base for Christian evangelising in the north of England; the missionaries went all through Northumbria and sent a successful mission to Mercia.
Monks from the Irish community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's patron 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. He was buried here, his remains later translated 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.
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 English) gloss to the Latin text, producing the earliest surviving Old English copies of the Gospels. The Gospels were illustrated in an insular style containing a fusion of Irish, Germanic and Roman elements; they were probably originally covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit called Billfrith.
Lindisfarne is a naturally defended location, far from covertous eyes, begirt by the billows of the sea, approachable for the land only when the tide and tempest permit, but its position made it all the more vulnerable to those whose home was the sea. Here, at Holy Island, the Viking Age began.
In 793, pagan Norsemen crossed the North Sea in their famed longships and fell upon Lindisfarne mercilessly. The shelving beaches if the isle provided a perfect landing for the shallow-draft ships of the Viking raiders who attacked its unsuspecting and unprotected monks. This bloody assault was one of the first positively recorded Viking raids on the west. Soon afterwards, broaches were being worn in Scandinavia made from the bejewelled bindings ripped from monastic books. The men from the sea did not stop after bloodying their swords on the monks of Lindisfarne but thrust deep inland, into a Northumbrian kingdom which had been tearing itself apart in internal striife for generations.
The raid caused much consternation throughout the Christian west, and is now often taken as the beginning of the Viking Age. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:
In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on 8 January the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.
The more popularly accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is 8 June; Michael Swanton, editor of Routledge's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 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."
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.
More Viking raids followed and in 875 the monks fled the island with St Cuthbert's bones (which are now buried at the Cathedral in Durham). The bishopric was transferred to Chester-le-Street. The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumberland folk.
The priory was re-established in Norman times in 1093 as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII.
Sir Walter Scott
A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides – something well described by Sir Walter Scott:
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
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. 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. Workings on the lime kilns stopped by the start of the 20th century.
The lime kilns on Lindisfarne are among the few being actively preserved in Northumberland.
The island today
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 limekilns are in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors.
Turner, Thomas Girtin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh all painted on Holy Island.
Lindisfarne had a large lime burning industry, and the kilns are among the most complex in Northumberland. 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. Lime was quarried on the Island and the remains of the wagon way between the quarries and the kilns makes for a pleasant and easy walk. This quarrying flourished in the mid-19th century during the Industrial Revolution when over 100 men were thus employed. Crinoid columnals extracted from the quarried stone and threaded into necklaces or rosaries became known as St Cuthbert's beads.
Holy Island was considered part of the Islandshire unit along with several mainland parishes, which was a liberty belonging to the Bishop of Durham's palatine jurisdiction, ended only in 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 mediæval 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.
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.
Holy Island in modern culture
The romance of the island's setting, its ancient history, its saints and its witnessing with brutality the opening of the Viking Age, have ensured that many tales have been woven around this little island.
In 1972, poet William Irwin Thompson named his Lindisfarne Association after the monastery on the island.
- The final episode of second series of the television series Cold Feet was filmed in Lindisfarne Castle.
Television and film
Lindisfarne was featured on television often.
- In Seven Natural Wonders it was feautured as one of the wonders of the North.
- The Lindisfarne Gospels have also featured on television among the top few Treasures of Britain.
- Diary of an Island (ITV Tyne Tees)
- Robson Green's Wild Swimming Adventure (2009): Green manages to swim from the mainland to Lindisfarne Castle.
- Vikings, the television series in the episode titled "Wrath of the Northmen", a small band of Vikings led by Ragnar head west where they arrive on the shores of Lindisfarne. The raid depicts the 793 attack on the priory.
- Roman Polanski's 1966 film Cul-de-sac is set on Lidisfarne (starring Donald Pleasence and Lionel Stander, and shot entirely on location there. The island is semi-fictionalised and the castle is "Rob Roy". There is no village. The tide rises round a car which is stuck on the causeway; also featured are the characteristic sheds made from local fishing boats, inverted and cut in half. These may still be seen on the island.
In fiction the island features often in its many aspects, largely historical:
- The Viking raid:
- Nancy Farmer's book The Sea of Trolls references the Norse invasion of ("The Holy Isle").
- Robert Westall's Kingdom by the Sea and The Wind Eye
- The Deepest Sea by Charles Barnitz (1996) portrays the sack of Lindisfarne by a fleet of opportunistic Vikings
- Wells Tower's short story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned," is centred around a Viking raid on Lindisfarne.
- A two-part story in the Vertigo series Northlanders (DC Comics), for instance, concerns the destruction on the monastery.
- Dark Ages otherwise:
- Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories (as Lindisfarena)
- Stephen Baxter: Conqueror, the second book of the Time's Tapestry, in which Lindisfarne plays a key role
- Other historical:
- Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells, 1984
- Melvyn Bragg's epic historical novel Credo (1996) includes the monastery and monks of Lindisfarne
- The Last Viking by Sandra Hill has Lindisfarne as part of a quest given to Geirolf Ericsson
- Blackadder the Second ("Beer") includes Freddie Frobisher, the flatulent hermit of Lindisfarne.
- The Lyndesfarne Bridge quartet by Trevor Hopkins (modern fantasy) have a thinly disguised version of Lindisfarne as their setting.
- "Dragon under the Hill" by Gordon Honeycombe is set on Holy Island
- The Quiet Isle, a location in the fictional series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin, has many traits resembling Lindisfarne, including tidal based access and a monastic community.
Aspects of the history and legends concerning Lindisfarne have occasionally found their way into the lyrics and concepts of bands, musicians and composers. An example is the 40-part choral motet Love You Big as the Sky by British composer Peter McGarr (commissioned for the Tallis Festival 2007). Subtitled "a Lindisfarne Love Song", it includes poems about Lindisfarne and the detailed geography of the area, including ship wrecks and lighthouses.
One British folk/rock band (1969–2003), Lindisfarne, was even named after the island, while a Celtic Christian progressive rock band named after another island, Iona, has a song devoted to Lindisfarne on its album Journey into the Morn (1995).
Historical events in the history of the monastery have been referenced. For instance, the carriage of the remains of St Cuthbert from Lindisfarne to Durham is the subject of "The Road from Lindisfarne", the third movement of the Durham Concerto (2007) by Jon Lord.
A theme which has been especially popular with metal bands of different genres and styles is the Viking invasion of AD 793. These range from heavy metal or power metal bands like Stormwarrior and Rebellion to more extreme bands such as Enslaved, Ancient Rites and Behemoth.
Singer-songwriter James Blake included a two-part suite (music)|suite about Lindisfarne on his self-titled debut album (2011).
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Lindisfarne Guide on VisitNorthumberland.com – Includes Video of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne
- Holy Island Safe Crossing Times
- Lindisfarne Priory Opening Times
- Images of Lindisfarne Castle
- Lindisfarne Castle
- 'Hover & Hear' pronunciations in the traditional dialect of Lindisfarne, and compare side by side with other accents from the UK and around the World.
- An illustrated walk on Lindisfarne
- Detailed historical record for Lindisfarne Priory
- Teachers' resource pack: English Heritage
- A Report on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne
- Lindisfarne Mead
- A. D. Mills, Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (2nd edition), OUP, 1997, p.221
- Ekwall, E, Concise Oxford Dictionary Of English Place-Names (4th edition), OUP, 1960, pp.298–9
- Breeze, "Medcaut." p. 187-8.
- "Holy Island tourists 'driving into North Sea'". BBC News. 19 June 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-13830017. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Costello, Paul (23 July 2009). "Tidal tourists mystify islanders". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/tyne/8161185.stm. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Graham-Campbell, James; David M. Wilson (2001). "Salt-water bandits". The Viking World (3 ed.). London: Frances Lincoln Ltd.. pp. 10 and 22. ISBN 0-7112-1800-5, 9780711218000.
- Swanton, Michael. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 57, n. 15.
- Killeen, Richard. A Brief History of Ireland, Running Press, 2012, p. 30.
- "Scots Parliament architect dies". BBC News. 3 July 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/817635.stm.
- "Lindisfarne Castle – National Trust". http://www.holy-island.info/lindisfarnecastle/index.htm. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
- "Guile Point East Lighthouse". Trinity House. http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses/lighthouse_list/guile_point_east.html.
- "Heugh Hill Lighthouse". Trinity House. http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses/lighthouse_list/heugh_hill.html.
- "Cold Feet on IMDB". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0543979/. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
- Breeze, Andrew (2008). "Medcaut, the Brittonic name of Lindisfarne". Northern History 42: 187–8.