Located off the northeast coast of England in the county of Northumberland, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a cold, wet and lonely island. Yet, while it might not seem like much at first glance, Holy Island is a tranquil and peaceful place, one that has a unique history and legends that stretch back into the very earliest days of Britain itself.
The history of the island truly begins in 634 when Saint Aidan founded the famous monastery on the island. Aidan had been sent at the request of King Oswald, monarch of the then independent kingdom of Northumbria, to replace his first choice, Corman, who was unable to quell the Anglo Saxon natives. Aiden had the experience of island life, being sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland. He chose the location for its tranquillity and closeness to the Northumbrian capital at Bamburgh.
The monastery flourished in Aiden’s lifetime as he preached the gospel throughout Northumbria. There were donations of land and money, churches were established, and the children of the newly faithful flocked to take holy orders. The Venerable Bede tells of how Aiden became noted for his charity and faith, his monastery becoming a centre of learning and evangelism during the age. He would remain at the monastery until he died in 651
It is upon his death that we find one of the earliest legends surrounding the island, with a shepherd recanting how near Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Lammermuir Hills he witnessed a vision of Aiden’s soul ascending to Heaven. Upon learning that Aiden had died at the exact same moment he’d seen the visitation, the shepherd immediately joined the monastery. This shepherd, Cuthbert, eventually rose to be Prior of Lindisfarne and would often spend his days in quiet contemplation on a rocky outcrop that now bears his name, Cuthbert’s Island.