Holy Island - History and Facts | History Hit

Holy Island

Antara Bate

14 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Holy Island

Holy Island, also called Lindisfarne, is a small, historic island in the North Sea, 2 miles from the English Northumberland coast, linked to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. It is administratively part of Berwick-upon-Tweed district.

Holy Island history

Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, is one of the most important centres of early English Christianity. Irish monks settled here in 635 AD and the monastery became the centre of a major saint’s cult celebrating its bishop, Cuthbert. The famous manuscript now known as the Lindisfarne Gospels was created here in the early 8th century. The ruins now visible are those of a 12th-century Lindisfarne Priory, which claimed direct descent from the early monastery.

The Island is known for the famous Viking Raid that occurred there. The devastating Viking attack on the church of St Cuthbert in 793 sent a shockwave through Europe. A Christian community at Lindisfarne survived, and recorded the event on the famous ‘Domesday stone.’

This Viking raid on the island of Lindisfarne, just off the Northumbrian coast, was not the first in England. It was particularly significant due to the sacred nature of the area and where Cuthbert’s body was reverred as that of a saint. From the end of the 8th century, the isolated island with its rich monastery was easy prey for Viking raiders.

In 875 the monks left, carrying Cuthbert’s remains, which after long wanderings were enshrined in Durham Cathedral in 1104, where they still rest. Only after that time did Durham monks re-establish a priory on Lindisfarne. The small community lived quietly on Holy Island until the suppression of the monastery by Henry VIII in 1537.

By the later 18th century the by now ruinous remains had become a popular tourist attraction for antiquarians and artists. Drawings and descriptions of the priory show that until about 1780 the church survived virtually intact. By the 1820s, however, the central tower and south aisle had collapsed.

A local landowner, Mr Selby, acquired the site in the early 19th century, and consolidated the remains. Despite his efforts, the west front collapsed in the 1850s. Sir William Crossman excavated the monastic buildings in the late 19th century, and in the early 20th century the church was excavated and the walls were consolidated.

Holy Island today

Lindisfarne is internationally famous both for its medieval religious heritage and also its more recent picturesque 16th century castle. These, together with most of the community, are located on the Southern part of the island – the main focus for tourists and holidaymakers.

The island’s museum tells the story of St Cuthbert and the development of Lindisfarne Priory. English Heritage hosts a programme of living history events at the priory during the summer.

Getting to Holy Island

Visitors must check crossing times before visiting the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is linked to the mainland by a causeway which is cut off twice daily by fast incoming tides.

The nearest mainline train station is Berwick-upon-Tweed and there is a regional bus, a local bus, a ‘HOPPA’ minibus.