Yesterday (August 31st) was the memoria of St Aidan and the Saints of Lindisfarne, who have a special significance for the Church here in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.
The kingdom of Northumbria first embraced Christianity under St Edwin (d. 632/3) and his Kentish wife Æthelburga, but the conversion never went far beyond the royal household and the nobility, and, after Edwin’s death at the hands of Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, Northumbria reverted to paganism.
In 634, Oswald became King of Northumbria. From 616 he had lived in exile among the Irish of Dál Riata in Scotland, where he had converted to Christianity.
On becoming king, Oswald invited the monastery at Iona (founded by St Columba) to send missionaries for the purpose of converting the Northumbrian people.
(Oswald’s decision to Iona was not in any way a snub to the Rome-backed mission whose center of operations was based in Kent, but reflected his own personal connections with Irish Christians in Scotland.)
Iona initially sent a bishop named Cormán, whose methods proved harsh and ineffective. Irish/Celtic monasticism tended to be severe in its rigour and asceticism – more so even than continental monasticism – and Cormán’s approach appears to have been ill-suited to the task of evangelizing the Northumbrians.
He returned to Iona and was replaced by Aidan (together with twelve other monks) who settled on the island of Lindisfarne, which was close to Oswald’s fortress at Bamburgh on the North-East coast.
Here Aidan constructed an Irish-style monastery consisting of circular huts gathered around a small chapel and other communal buildings where he and his monks prayed, studied and gave themselves over to lives of austerity and asceticism, and from which they journeyed on foot in order to preach the gospel.
In the early stages of the mission, Aidan was actively assisted by Oswald, who functioned as an interpreter for Aidan who was unfamiliar with the local language.
Aidan also took care to provide for the education of future generations of monks and missionary bishops, and, initially bringing twelve boys to live in the monastery, turned Lindisfarne into the forerunner of a mediaeval monastic school.
Aidan, the “Apostle of Northumbria”, died at Bamburgh in 651, having assisted first Oswald (who, like Edwin before him, was martyred at the hands of the pagan King Penda) and later Oswin in evangelizing the Northumbrian people and in planting the structural, intellectual and spiritual seed which would flower most spectacularly in the age of Cuthbert and Bede.
The Orthodox Church had produced some very fine prayers for The Commemoration of Our Father among the Saints Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Enlightener of Northumbria.