Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lindisfarne Priory, UK

Lindisfarne Priory is one of the earliest centers of Christianity in England. St. Aidan was invited by King Oswald, one of the first northern kings to become Christian, to establish a monastery and convert the northern Anglo-Saxons. Aidan left Iona (a monastery off the coast of southwestern Scotland) and built the first monastery on Lindisfarne Island in 635.  The monks were successful at spreading the gospel among the Northumbrians.

In the 670s, St. Cuthbert was head of the monastery. He became quite famous and popular as a preacher and counselor though he tried to live as reclusive a life as he could. Before he died, he asked to be buried in a simple grave on a small island just off Lindisfarne (now called St. Cuthbert's Island). They buried him in the main church on the main island in a stone coffin. Eleven years later, they moved him to a more august tomb next to the main altar. When they opened his coffin, they found that his body had not decayed. This only increased his fame and the number of pilgrims who came to the island. When the monastery was attacked by Vikings several times circa 800, the monks fled with Cuthbert's body, which eventually was laid to rest in Durham Cathedral.

In the 11th century, the raids finally died down and the monks returned to the island. They built a new priory, the remains of which stand today. The monastery thrived for a while. The 14th century border wars reduced the community to a handful of monks. The monastery was also fortified, an unusual step that helped protect it from Scottish raids. In 1537, the community was abandoned under Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The English authorities used the monastery as a defensive position for a few hundred years. In the 17th century, the priory was no longer used even for defense and it slowly fell to ruins.

Lindisfarne Priory ruins

Current day visitors to the priory first come to a museum/gift shop where they learn some of the history and the layout of the monastery.

Monastic layout

L solves the puzzle

Bits of old crosses

Cuthbert and J pray together

The ruins are very interesting. Until 1780, the church was mostly intact, but in the 1820s the central tower collapsed. Amazingly, one arch survived and still stands. It is known as the "rainbow arch."

The side view of the church ruins

West doorway (with L)

Rainbow Arch

The nave is still recognizable,  leading up to where the choir stalls and main altar would have been.


Where the main altar would have been

The tower access is locked, but the "night stairs" that the monks used when they had to leave their dormitory and pray night prayers are open. Auntie R and J tried them out.

No admittance!

Night stairs

Open air dormitory?

Just beyond the church is the prior's lodging which later was fortified to protect the priory from the Scots. We could see Lindisfarne Castle on the other end of the island.

South wall of the church

Fireplaces from the prior's rooms/fortifications

Lindisfarne Castle

Further out were the living areas, including the well and the brewery, where they made the well water potable by turning into ale. The process killed germs and didn't yield a high alcohol content. It was more like drinking liquid bread than having a guys' night out.

Monks' Cells?

Well and brewery

View of the church from the living/work area

A few statues are scattered through the grounds.

St. Aidan?

St. Cuthbert

We also saw some sheep just outside the priory grounds!


Right across from the monastery ruins is another 12th century church that still serves as the island's parish church. Since we visited on Sunday morning, we were unable to go inside because of services. The only picture I have is the sign for the parish.

Parish Church sign

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