This was just a side trip in northeast England on the way back from Scotland, but what an amazing side trip it was! We had been introduced to St. Cuthbert previously at the Durham Cathedral several days earlier. His story had peaked my curiosity as I had 12 years of Catholic schooling and did not remember anything about St. Cuthbert. Going to Holy Island would allow me to learn much more.
What I learned first was that you had better check the tide tables when going to or leaving Holy Island!! Luckily for us, Robert had done his homework. You see Holy Island is an island….sometimes. There is a causeway connecting it to the mainland, but when the tide is in the causeway disappears…and apparently many a tourist has had to be rescued or spend much longer on Holy Island than they had planned! We had about a 6 hour window to see Holy Island and then head toward home before the tides swallowed up the road. And there were plenty of WARNING signs along the causeway to remind us!
St. Cuthbert arrived on the island in the 6th century. Apparently he, along with Saint Aidan and a few other monks, found there way onto the island and chose to stay to pray and do penance. They built the Lindisfarne Priory and it is there that they wrote the famous illuminated manuscripts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, which now reside in the British Library in London (along with every other relic from the ancient ruins we visited in every country). Later the Vikings inhabited the island and in the 16th century built the Lindisfarne Castle at the top of a hill on the island. The ruins of the Priory and Castle are very picturesque!
Cuthbert’s life was recorded by the venerable Bede. Cuthbert died and was buried on the island but his body was later exhumed and carried around the Northumberland area by the monks until they dropped him. This was taken as a sign that they were to bury him and build a church over him….voila! The Durham Cathedral!
Ok, I may have shortcutted a few details and I obviously wouldn’t have had the patience to write his entire life in beautifully scrolled manuscripts with detailed illustrations. The photos in the gift shop and the artistic renderingsof the illustrations that were on display, make me want to go back to the British Library to see the originals.
Now back to that penance thing. As we were crossing to the island the clouds moved in, the temperature dropped 20°, and the gloomy backdrop behind the castle plus the stories in the visitor area of the high seas in winter, gave me some idea of why they settled on the island. And this was only mid-September.
I have to admit that there was a certain solitude and beauty that hung in the clouds and shrouded the ruins, which were protected by the sea. And then there were the overturned boats that were used for protection from the elements and inhabited by the area residents or fishermen.
Yes, Holy Island was a highlight of our trip. We even had a delightful scone and some hot chocolate to warm us before crossing back into civilization. Thank you Robert and Elaine for this memorable discovery!!
Great post Aggie. So pleased you enjoyed this part of our ‘Grand Tour’ such an important part of our history and often overlooked.