The Holy Island and the Lindisfarne Gospels

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

The Holy Island and the Lindisfarne Gospels

Ruins of Lindisfarne MonasteryLindisfarne, a tiny island known for its natural beauty, is located on the north-east coast of England.  Twice a day, at low tide, it is joined to the mainland.  The monastery of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, was founded around 635 A.D. by the monk St. Aidan.  The saint missionary travelled through the northern England preaching the Gospel to the natives.      Northumbrian King Oswald wanted to help St. Aidan in his missionary work and granted him the land to build a monastery.  The island was a perfect place for monks:  it gave them the necessary seclusion from the world but was close to the mainland.  Many missions were sent from Lindisfarne to Northumbria and Mercia.

St. Aidan served as bishop of the Lindisfarne Monastery for 17 years.  His death was revealed to a young shepherd who tended sheep on the hills of Northumbria.  On the night St. Aidan died, the boy had a vision that convinced him to become a monk.  The boy’s name was Cuthbert; he was to become one of the most venerated English saints.

Cuthbert came to Lindisfarne in 654 and, years later, was elected bishop.  St. Cuthbert had the gift of healing and working miracles.  Each day, he received a great number of visitors who asked for his blessing.  Such was the saint’s humility that he washed the feet of the people who came to see him.  St. Cuthbert died in 687 and was buried on the island.  Eleven years after the saint’s death, his body was found in an incorrupt state.

The Holy Island was home to one of the great masterpieces of ancient Christian art – the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels.  A magnificent representation of the glory of God’s word, it shows the devotion, talent and enormous labour of the scribe.  The beautiful script and calligraphic ornaments combine the styles of Italian, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon art.  It is believed that Bishop St. Eadfrith of Lindisfarne transcribed and illustrated the Gospels between 710 and 720 A.D.  Some parts of the manuscript remained unfinished due to his death in 721.  On the outside, it was adorned with silver, gold and jewels.  The cover was lost during a Viking attack on the monastery, but the monks saved the sacred book.  The Lindisfarne Gospels is now kept in the British Library.

For centuries, the Monastery of the Holy Island suffered a tragic fate:  persecution by the hordes of Norsemen, then by the Normans, conquerors of England, and finally, from the anti-monastic reforms of King Henry VIII, who in 1534 proclaimed himself  the head of the Church.  During his reign, the monasteries of England, including the holy Lindisfarne Monastery, were destroyed.

Lindisfarne GospelLindisfarne Gospel

Pages from Lindisfarne Gospels

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