Coordinates: 55°40′37″N 1°47′42″W / 55.677°N 1.795°W / 55.677; -1.795

Holy Island
Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne is located in Northumberland

 Lindisfarne shown within Northumberland
Population 162 (2001)
OS grid reference NU129420
Parish Holy Island
Unitary authority Northumberland
Region North East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district TD15
Dialling code 01289
Police Northumbria
Fire Northumberland
Ambulance North East
EU Parliament North East England
UK Parliament Berwick-upon-Tweed
List of places: UK • England • Northumberland

Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and constitutes a civil parish in Northumberland. Both the Parker Chronicle and Peterborough Chronicle annals of AD793 record the Old English name, Lindisfarena,[1] which means "[island of the] travellers from Lindsey",[2] indicating that the island was settled from the Kingdom of Lindsey, or possibly that its inhabitants travelled there.[3] In 2001 the island had a population of 162.[4]




The island of Lindisfarne appears under the Old Welsh name Medcaut in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum. Following up on a suggestion by Richard Coates, Andrew Breeze proposes that the name ultimately derives from Latin Medicata (Insula) "Healing (Island)", owing perhaps to the island's reputation for medicinal herbs.[5] The Historia Brittonum recounts how in the sixth century, Urien, prince of Rheged, besieged the Angles led by Theodoric at the island for three days and three nights.[5]

Lindisfarne Priory

Aidan of Lindisfarne

The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Irish monk Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald ca. AD 635. It became the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later Abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. Cuthbert later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. He was buried here, his remains later translated to Durham Cathedral (along with the relics of Saint Eadfrith of Lindisfarne). Eadberht of Lindisfarne, the next bishop (and Saint) was buried in the place from which Cuthbert's body was exhumed earlier the same year when the priory was abandoned in the late ninth century.

At some point in the early 700s the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was made probably at Lindisfarne and the artist was possibly Eadfrith, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. Sometime in the second half of the tenth century a monk named Aldred added an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) gloss to the Latin text, producing the earliest surviving Old English copies of the Gospels. The Gospels were illustrated in an insular style containing a fusion of Celtic, Germanic and Roman elements; they were probably originally covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit called Billfrith.


The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory, by Thomas Girtin, 1798

In 793, a Viking raid on Lindisfarne[6] caused much consternation throughout the Christian west, and is now often taken as the beginning of the Viking Age. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records:

In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on January 8th the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.

The more popularly accepted date for the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is June 8; Michael Swanton, editor of Routledge's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, writes "vi id Ianr, presumably [is] an error for vi id Iun (June 8) which is the date given by the Annals of Lindisfarne (p. 505), when better sailing weather would favour coastal raids."[7]

Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar in Charlemagne's court at the time, wrote:

Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. . . .The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.

Viking raids in 875 led to the monks fleeing the island with St Cuthbert's bones (The bones of St Cuthbert are now buried at the Cathedral in Durham). The bishopric was transferred to Durham in AD 1000. The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumbrians[who?]. The priory was re-established in Norman times in 1093 as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII.

Sir Walter Scott

A causeway connects the island to the mainland of Northumberland and is flooded twice a day by tides – something well described by Sir Walter Scott:

For with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry shod o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.

Present day

Lindisfarne Celtic Cross
Lindisfarne Abbey and St Marys
Lindisfarne lobster pots
Lindisfarne Castle from the harbour

The island is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Northumberland Coast . The ruined monastery is in the care of English Heritage, who also run a museum/visitor centre nearby. The neighbouring parish church (see below) is still in use.

Lindisfarne also has the small Lindisfarne Castle, based on a Tudor fort, which was refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the editor of Country Life, Edward Hudson. Lutyens also designed the island's Celtic-cross war-memorial on the Heugh. Lutyens' upturned herring busses near the foreshore provided the inspiration for Spanish architect Enric Miralles' Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.[8]

One of the most celebrated gardeners of modern times, Gertrude Jekyll (1843–1932), laid out a tiny garden just north of the castle in 1911.[9] The castle, garden and nearby limekilns are in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors.

Turner, Thomas Girtin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh all painted on Holy Island.

Lindisfarne had a large lime burning industry, and the kilns are among the most complex in Northumberland. There are still some traces of the jetties by which the coal was imported and the lime exported close by at the foot of the crags. Lime was quarried on the Island and the remains of the wagon way between the quarries and the kilns makes for a pleasant and easy walk. This quarrying flourished in the mid-19th century during the Industrial Revolution when over 100 men were thus employed. Crinoid columnals extracted from the quarried stone and threaded into necklaces or rosaries became known as St Cuthbert's beads.

Holy Island was considered part of the Islandshire unit along with several mainland parishes. This came under the jurisdiction of the County Palatine of Durham until the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844.

Lindisfarne was mainly a fishing community for many years, with farming and the production of lime also of some importance.

Recently Lindisfarne has become the centre for the revival of Celtic Christianity in the North of England; a former minister of the church there, David Adam, is a well-known author of Celtic Christian books and prayers. Following from this, Lindisfarne has become a popular retreat centre, as well as holiday destination.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is well known for mead. In the mediæval days when monks inhabited the island, it was thought that if the soul was in God's keeping, the body must be fortified with Lindisfarne Mead. The monks have long vanished, and the mead's recipe remains a secret of the family which still produces it. Lindisfarne mead is produced at St Aidan's Winery, and sold throughout the UK and elsewhere.

Holy Island was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the North. The Lindisfarne Gospels have also featured on television among the top few Treasures of Britain. It also features in an ITV Tyne Tees programme Diary of an Island which started on 19 April 2007 and on a DVD of the same name.

Lindisfarne seen from the mainland

Nature reserve

Large parts of the island, and all of the adjacent intertidal area, are protected as Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve to help safeguard the internationally important wintering bird populations. Species for which the reserve is important include Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail[disambiguation needed ], Merlin, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and many others. The situation on the east coast also makes it a good place for observing migrating birds arriving from the east, including large numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare, and also scarcer Siberian birds including regular annual Yellow-browed Warblers. Rare species such as Radde's Warbler, Dusky Warbler and Red-flanked Bluetail have all occurred on Holy Island. Altogether, a total of almost 300 species have been recorded on the Island and adjacent reserve. With the large number and variety of birds present, the area is very popular with bird watchers, particularly in the Autumn and Winter. Grey seals are frequent visitors to the rocky bays at high tide.


Tourists crossing Pilgrim's Way

Tourism grew steadily throughout the twentieth century, and Lindisfarne is now a popular place with visitors. By staying on the island while it is cut off by the tide tourists can experience the island in a much quieter state, as most day trippers leave before the tide rises. At low tide it is possible to walk across the sands following an ancient route known as Pilgrims' Way. This route is marked with posts and has refuge boxes for stranded walkers, just as the road has a refuge box for those who have left their crossing too late.

A popular delicacy on the island is crab sandwiches, which are sold at many shops and cafés.


Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, check tide times and weather carefully, and to seek local advice if in doubt. For drivers, tide tables are prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about 3 hours after high tide until 2 hours before the next high tide, but the period of closure may be extended during stormy weather.

Despite these warnings, about one vehicle each month is stranded on the causeway, requiring rescue by either Seahouses Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat or RAF helicopter. A sea rescue costs approximately £1,900, while an air rescue costs more than £4,000. Locals have opposed a causeway barrier primarily on convenience grounds.[10][11]

In modern culture

In 1972, poet William Irwin Thompson named his Lindisfarne Association after the monastery on the island.

Lindisfarne (particularly the castle) is the setting of the Roman Polanski film Cul-de-Sac (1966) with Donald Pleasence and Lionel Stander, shot entirely on location there. The island is semi-fictionalised into "Lindisfarne Island" and the castle is "Rob Roy". There is no village. The tide rises round a car which is stuck on the causeway; also featured are the characteristic sheds made from local fishing boats, inverted and cut in half. These may still be seen on the island.

The final episode of second series of the TV series Cold Feet was filmed in Lindisfarne Castle.[12]

Lindisfarne appears in the second episode of Robson Green's Wild Swimming Adventure, a 2009 UK TV programme. Robson Green manages to swim from the mainland to Lindisfarne Castle.

  • Lindisfarne is referred to as The Holy Isle in Nancy Farmer's book "The Sea of Trolls," which also references the Norse invasion of Lindisfarne.
  • Lindisfarne is where the main character of Harry goes to on pilgrimage in the book "Kingdom by the Sea" by Robert Westall. St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne, and the Viking raid, are also focal points of Westall's "The Wind Eye".
  • Lindisfarena plays an important role in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories.
  • Lindisfarne plays a key role in "Conqueror", the second book of the Time's Tapestry series by Stephen Baxter.
  • A thinly-disguised version of Lindisfarne is the setting for the Lyndesfarne Bridge quartet of modern fantasy novels by Trevor Hopkins.
  • Lindisfarne is known as Holy Island and The New Beginning in "Brother in the Land" by Robert Swindells, 1984.
  • The monastery and monks of Lindisfarne are an important part of British author/broadcastor Melvyn Bragg's epic, historically-based novel "Credo" published in 1996.
  • Wells Tower's short story, "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned," is centered around a Viking raid on Lindisfarne.
  • A two-part story in the Vertigo series Northlanders, for instance, concerns the destruction on the monastery.

In music

Aspects of the history and legends concerning Lindisfarne have occasionally found their way into the lyrics and concepts of bands, musicians and composers. An example is the 40-part choral motet Love You Big as the Sky by British composer Peter McGarr (commissioned for the Tallis Festival 2007). Subtitled "a Lindisfarne Love Song", it includes poems about Lindisfarne and the detailed geography of the area, including ship wrecks and lighthouses.

One British folk/rock band (1969–2003), Lindisfarne, was even named after the island, while a Celtic Christian progressive rock band named after another island, Iona, has a song devoted to Lindisfarne on its album Journey into the Morn (1995).

Historical events in the history of the monastery have been referenced. For instance, the carriage of the remains of St Cuthbert from Lindisfarne to Durham is the subject of "The Road from Lindisfarne", the third movement of the Durham Concerto (2007) by Jon Lord. A theme which has been especially popular with metal bands of different genres and styles is the Viking invasion of AD 793. These range from heavy metal or power metal bands like Stormwarrior and Rebellion to more extreme bands such as Enslaved, Ancient Rites and Behemoth.[13]

Dubstep artist James Blake included a two-part suite about Lindisfarne on his self-titled debut album (2011).


  1. ^ Dennis Freeborn, From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in Language Variation across Time (second edition), p.39
  2. ^ A. D. Mills, Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names (2nd edition), OUP, 1997, p.221
  3. ^ Ekwall, E., Concise Oxford Dictionary Of English Place-Names (4th edition), OUP, 1960, pp.298-9. An alternative view is that the name is Celtic in origin, with the element Lindis- meaning "stream or pool", and the element -farne meaning "land" (see, Place-Name Meanings K to O. Retrieved 21 February 2010), but cf. "Medcaut" below.
  4. ^ Census 2001
  5. ^ a b Breeze, "Medcaut." p. 187-8.
  6. ^ Graham-Campbell, James; David M. Wilson (2001). "Salt-water bandits" (Google Books). The Viking World (3 ed.). London: Frances Lincoln Ltd.. pp. 10 and 22. ISBN 0711218005, 9780711218000. Retrieved 2008-12-01. "Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is a small tidal island off the coast of Northumbria where a monastery had been established in 634. Its shelving beaches provided a perfect landing for the shallow-draft ships of the Viking raiders who fell upon its unsuspecting and unprotected monks in the summer of 793. This bloody assault on a "place more venerable than all in Britain" was one of the first positively recorded Viking raids on the West. Page 21. Viking longships, with their shallow drafts and good manoeuvrability under both sail and oar, allowed their crews to strike deep inland up Europe's major rivers. Page 22. The world of the Vikings consisted of a loose grouping of the Scandinavian homelands and new overseas colonies, linked by sea routes that reached across the Baltic and the North Sea, spanning even the Atlantic. Page 10." 
  7. ^ Swanton, Michael. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 57, n. 15.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Lindisfarne Castle - National Trust". Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  10. ^ "Holy Island tourists 'driving into North Sea'". BBC News. June 19, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2011. 
  11. ^ Costello, Paul (July 23, 2009). "Tidal tourists mystify islanders". BBC News. Retrieved June 19, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Cold Feet on IMDB". Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  13. ^ The German heavy metal band Stormwarrior wrote a song called "Lindisfarnel" about the Viking raid in AD 793. The Norwegian metal band Enslaved also released a song titled after the invasion, called "793 (Slaget Om Lindisfarne)". The Belgian folk/power/black metal band Ancient Rites has a song "Lindisfarne (Anno 793)" on their 2001 album Dim Carcosa. The Polish black/death metal band Behemoth has a song "From Horned Lands To Lindisfarne" on its 1994 "... From The Pagan Vastlands" demo. The German power metal band Rebellion has a song on their 2005 album Sagas of Iceland — The History of the Vikings Volume 1 called "In Memorandum Lindisfarnae".

Secondary sources

  • Breeze, Andrew (2008). "Medcaut, the Brittonic name of Lindisfarne". Northern History 42: 187–8. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Lindisfarne — es una isla con un castillo monasterio, localizada al norte de Gran Bretaña. Fue el primer monasterio atacado por los vikingos el 8 de junio del año 793,[1] [2] fecha considerada como el inicio de la Era vikinga. Contenido 1 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Lindisfarne — Lindisfarne, so v.w. Holy Island …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Lindisfarne — Lindisfarne, Kloster, s. Holy Island …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Lindisfarne — /lin deuhs fahrn /, n. See Holy Island (def. 1). * * * or Holy Island Historic small island 2 mi (3 km) from the English Northumbrian coast. It became a religious centre in 635, when St. Aidan established a monastery and church there. It was… …   Universalium

  • Lindisfarne — Pequeña isla histórica que dista 3 km (2 mi) de la costa northumbriana inglesa. Se convirtió en un centro religioso en 635, cuando san Aidan estableció allí un monasterio y una iglesia. Fue abandonada en 875 debido a la amenaza de las incursiones …   Enciclopedia Universal

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