Aidan was probably about 40 when he arrived on Lindisfarne, also known as 'Holy Island' (see map left). He was a monk, of the Celtic tradition, who had been living in community on Iona. The abbot of Iona had sent a monk, Corman, to evangelise Northumbria but he returned to Iona disappointed, saying that the Northumbrians were pigheaded barbarians. Aidan suggested a gentler approach might be more successful, so he was made bishop and set off with a group of monks.
When they arrived in Northumbria they went to the castle of King Oswald, at Bamburgh. He offered them a choice of land to establish a monastery as a centre of prayer, education and mission. Aidan chose Lindisfarne: an island at low tide, but cut off by the sea at high tide. There they lived a life of extreme poverty, but also a life of full joy and missionary zeal.
Aidan and his fellow-monks walked around Northumbria, never using horses which would have put them in the “upper class”. Whenever they met someone, they would ask, “Are you a Christian?” If the answer was “yes”, Aidan would challenge the person to be an even better Christian. If the answer was “no”, Aidan would say, “May I tell you about it?” Aidan’s humble ministry succeeded. He persuaded the king and his nobles to share their wealth with the poor, and started a school with 12 boys on Lindisfarne.
Aidan died on 31 August 651, but his work continued and thrived. Slowly the monastery grew as more robust buildings were constructed and more local boys came to live on the island as novices and students. Some of them created the wonderful Lindisfarne illuminated gospels. The picture to the left shows the first page of Matthew’s gospel.
The ruins of the monastery, pictured right, are still there, preserved by English Heritage.
The picture top right shows the statue of St Aidan on Lindisfarne.