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dMAC Digest Vol 7 No 1A - History Behind the Lindisfarne Gospels


History Behind The

Lindisfarne Gospels

Volume 7 ~ No 1

Welcome to this edition of dMAC Digest
dMAC designed to protect your family’s health – and enrich a knowledge of history

Edited by

Duncan MacDonald


16 January 2017
Revised 3 June 2017

[Dedicated to my darling wife Shinta DS MacDonald
muse, mate and motivator]


Copyright 2017 Duncan MacDonald

Shakespir Edition[
**]License Notes[
**]Thank you for downloading this free e-book. This book remains the copyrighted property of the Editor, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this e-book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer.
Thank you for your support.


Table of Contents

Editor’s Note[++
Chapter 1 – The Holy Island of Lindisfarne]

1.1 Early History

1.2 Iona

1.3 Saint Oswald, King of Northumbria

1.4 Saint Aidan, 1st Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.5 Saint Finan, 2nd Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.6 Saint Colmán, 3rd Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.7 Saint Tuda 4^th^ Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.8 Saint Eata 5th Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.9 Saint Cuthbert 6th Bishop of Lindisfarne

1.10 The Saint Cuthbert Gospel

1.11 The Venerable Bede

Chapter 2 – The Lindisfarne Gospels]

2.1 Saint Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus

2.2 Saint Matthew

2.3 Saint Mark

2.4 Saint Luke

2.5 Saint John

2.6 Details of Decorated Initials

2.7 North, South, East and West

Chapter 3 – The Vikings]

3.1 Later History[++
Chapter 4 – Modern Lindisfarne]


That’s Life

About the Editor

Other books by Duncan MacDonald

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Editor’s Note

The condensed details incorporated within this digest, are written for those of us who wish to learn more about the fascinating actual events that took place in Ireland, Caledonia and Britain between the end of the Roman occupation and the Twentieth century (409 CE to 1973).

Because of the paucity of information available of the past, the period up to the Norman Conquest (409 CE to 1066) has been described as the ‘Dark Ages’. In fact, there were dramatic changes and development of the people who inhabited these islands. Our information is derived from the latest archaeological discoveries and the surviving manuscripts from the most learned men of that period – the Monks of the Celtic Church and the Church of Rome.

Hopefully the research I’ve incorporated into this e-book will shed a little light on those ‘Dark Ages’.

Illustrations of the Lindisfarne Gospels are from the original, now in the British Library, London. All illustrations and photos signed dMAC 2017 or similar, are by Duncan MacDonald.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

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Chapter 1 – The Holy Island of Lindisfarne



Lindisfarne location in Britain;
about 1 ½ miles (2,4 km) off-shore, and 12 miles (19 km) south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The modern causeway links the mainland to The Snook

1.1 Early History

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, just south of the Scottish border. It is also known just as Holy Island. The island was known to the native Britains in ancient Celtic times as Medcaut. When the Angles (from the German/Danish/Frisian coast) invaded Britain in the 6th century, they called the island ‘Lindisfarne’. Although the Anglo-Saxon name has been associated to a stream or brook, historians consider the name is in some way linked to a tribal group in Lincolnshire called the Lindisfarona.

Lindisfarne or Holy Island: The island is rarely referred to by its Anglo-Saxon name ‘Lindisfarne’ by the local community. Following the murderous, bloodthirsty attack on the monastery by Vikings in 793 CE, it obtained its local name from the observations made by the Durham monks: “Lindisfarne – baptised in the blood of so many good men – truly a ‘Holy Island’. A more appropriate title is ‘The Holy Island of Lindisfarne’ .

This area was sparsely settled earlier by Britons and Roman citizens, apart from the Tyne valley and Hadrian’s wall. The territory had been little affected during the Roman occupation between 43 CE (Common Era/AD) to 410.

The countryside had been subjected to raids from both the Scotti (from Northern Ireland) and Caledonians (called Picts by the Romans). Ida was the first known king of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia, which he ruled from around 547 until his death in 559. He started the sea-borne settlement along the coast, establishing his city palace at Bamburgh, just across the bay from Lindisfarne.

Ida was regarded as the founder of a line from which later Anglo-Saxon kings in this part of England (Angle-land, later translated into England) and southern Scotland, claimed descent. The conquest was not straightforward, however. The Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons) recounts how, in the 6th century, Urien, prince of Rheged, with a coalition of North British kingdoms, besieged the Angles led by Theodric of Bernicia, on Lindisfarne island for three days and nights. However internal power struggles led to the Britons’ defeat.

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1.2 Iona

Iona is a tiny island, in the Inner Hebrides, only 3.4 sq. miles (8.8 sq. km) off the Ross of Mull on the west coast of Scotland. Iona lay within the Eire (Irish) kingdom of Dál Riata. In 563 CE, a Celtic monk called Colm Cille, now known as Saint Columba, founded a highly important Celtic monastery on Iona. He had been exiled from his native Ireland because of his involvement in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne. Columba and twelve companions went into exile on Iona where they founded a monastery. Columba chose Iona because, when standing on its highest point, Dùn Ī, 331 ft. high (101 meters), he could not see the coast of Ireland, and thereby be tempted to return.


Saint Columba leaving Ireland with his 12 companions in 563 CE, to set up the Iona monastery


The monastery was hugely successful and played the dominant role in converting to Christianity the Caledonians in present day Scotland in the late 6th century, and the Anglo-Saxons in the kingdom of Northumbria. It became the centre of one of the most important monastic systems in Great Britain and Ireland.

Iona became a renowned centre of learning, and its scriptorium produced highly important documents, including the original texts of the Iona Chronicle, thought to be the source for the early Irish annals. The Book of Kells may have been produced or began on Iona, at the end of the 8th century. A series of Viking raids on Iona began in 795 and after its treasures had been plundered many times, the monastery was abandoned in 849. Many of the monks relocated to the monastery of Kells in Ireland.

Saint Columba, founder of Iona, (521–597) ~ ~ Columba saying farewell to the white horse the day he died – painting by John Duncan


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1.3 Saint Oswald, King of Northumbria (605-642)

King Oswald of Northumbria, shown with his pet raven ~ ~ King Oswy in stained glass (c. 612-670)


Oswald was the second son of the pagan King Aethelfrith of Bernicia, but the eldest by his second marriage to Princess Aacha of Deira. He was probably born in 605 CE at the height of his father’s reign, just after he invaded the Kingdom of Deira and forced its king, Edwin, to flee.

At the age of only eleven, however, it was Oswald who was forced to flee, when King Edwin reconquered Northumbria, with forces gathered from East Anglia. Oswald and his younger brother, Oswy were sent to the Monastery of Iona to be educated and converted to Celtic Christianity.

Little is known of Oswald’s formative years on Iona, but it appears he became known as a brave warrior at an early age. He accompanied King Connad Cerr of Dál Riata to Ireland, to fight against Maelcaich and the Irish Cruithne at the Battle of Fid Eoin in 628 CE.

While Oswald was growing up, his old enemy King Edwin, had been waging a major war against the allied forces of Gwynedd and Mercia. Edwin was killed in battle in 633 and Oswald’s older half-brother, Eanfrith, establish himself on the Bernician throne for almost a year. However, Eanfrith was unpopular with the northern Welsh and the Mercians, who promptly captured and executed him.

Oswald clearly saw himself as his brother’s heir, probably with encouragement from the Northumbrians. As his father was Bernician and his mother, Deiran, he was one of the few people who could unite the Kingdom.

He was lent a small force of men by King Domnall Brecc of Dál Riata – including monks from Iona, and Oswald marched south to claim his throne. He clashed with King Cadwallon of Gwynedd at the Battle of Heavenfield.

Oswald raised a large cross before the battle and the prayers of his soldiers around it is said to have contributed to his victory, despite the superior numbers of the Welsh army. Triumphantly he marched into York, while the Dowager Queen Ethelburga of Deira, and her family, fled from Yeavering, the Anglo-Saxon royal palace, and the new King.

Oswald’s reputation as a saint, originates in his introduction of Christianity to Northumbria. The leader, among the monks who accompanied him from Iona, Brother Cormàn, initially tried to convert the Northumbrians, but met with little success. So, Oswald sent to Iona for an evangelical Bishop. Saint Aidan, who arrived the following year, 635.

St Aiden set up a strong missionary movement centred on Lindisfarne, near the Royal Court at Bamburgh. It was at Bamburgh that the famous legend took place, which resulted in St. Aidan blessing the King’s arm and making it incorruptible, even in death. King Oswald himself often acted as an ecclesiastical interpreter for the new Lindisfarne Bishop, who initially spoke only Gaelic.

Oswald further increased the spread of Christianity in Britain by pressurising King Cynegils of Wessex to allow St. Birinus to preach to his people. Oswald eventually agreed to a strategic alliance with the southern king, cemented by his marriage to Cynegils’ daughter, and Cynegils baptism with Oswald standing as Godfather.

By 638 Oswald was in a secure position at home and he turned to expansionism. His army moved north and besieged and captured what is now Edinburgh. Then, in a stroke of diplomatic genius, he arranged for his younger brother, Prince Oswy, to marry Princess Rhiainfelt, the last remaining heiress of North Rheged. The old Celtic kingdom was swallowed up in a peaceful takeover by Northumbria.

Oswy continued to expand the kingdom’s borders by taking his brother’s armies to Gododdin and conquering modern lowland Scotland as far north as Manau. Bede claims that the King Oswald was thus recognised as Bretwalda (overlordship) of all Anglo-Saxon England.

There were, however, forces gathering who wished to bring an end to King Oswald’s glorious reign. In 642 the old Northumbrian enemy, King Penda of Mercia gathered a large united Welsh and Mercian force against King Oswald. The Welsh contingent included the armies of Gwynedd, Powys and Pengwern. They clashed at Maserfield, now Oswestry (Oswald’s Tree) in Shropshire, and Oswald was killed.

King Oswald’s body was hacked to pieces by the victors, and his head and arms stuck on poles. An old legend has one arm taken to his sacred ash tree (Oswald’s Tree) by his constant companion, a pet raven. Much later, when it fell to the ground, a holy well sprang up. Thus, Oswald came to revered as a Christian martyr

Oswald’s dismembered limbs were collected the following year by his brother Oswy. They eventually found their way into various relic collections in monasteries around the country.

Bede relates that Oswald’s body was removed to Bardney Abby in the Kingdom of Lindsay, in 679. After increasing Viking raids, it was transferred in 909 to the new St. Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.

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1.4 Saint Aidan, 1st Bishop of Lindisfarne


Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne (c. 590 – 651) ~ ~ ~ Modern statue of Saint Aidan on Lindisfarne


Virtually nothing is known of Aidan’s early life, except he was a monk at the important monastery of Iona from a relatively young age, and he was of Irish/Gaelic descent. Aidan was known for his severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence.

In the years prior to Aidan’s mission, Christianity had been propagated in Britain by the Romans . It was largely replaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism in the 6th century.

Christianity was brought back initially to northern Britain, by young King Oswald, who had been baptised while in exile at Iona. He took the opportunity after gaining the crown of Northumbria in 634.

King Oswald requested that monks be sent from Iona, because of his historical connection to its Celtic monastic community, rather than the Roman-sponsored monasteries in Southern England. At first Iona sent him a brother named Cormàn, but he alienated many people with his methodology. He returned to Iona in failure, reporting that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted.

Aidan criticised Cormàn’s methods and was soon sent as his replacement in 635.

The island of Lindisfarne was chosen by Aidan to begin his ministry, as it was close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, and King Oswald.

Aidan established an Irish-type monastery in 635, of wooden buildings: a small church, small circular dwelling huts, one larger one for communal purposes, and in time workshops as needed. Here the monks lived a life of austerity. From Lindisfarne, they went out on mission.

First, they needed to learn the Anglo language, and King Oswald who had learnt Gaelic in his boyhood exile, helped them. The monks used Aidan’s method as a missionary, which was to walk the country lanes and tracks, talk to all the people he met, and interest them in the faith if he could. His monks visited and revisited the farms and settlements where they sowed the seeds, and in time local Christian communities were formed.

One legend tells that the king, worried that Bishop Aidan had to walk like a peasant, gave him a horse. But Aidan wanted to walk, to be on the same level as the people he met, and vary his approach when he learnt something of their attitudes and background. So, Aidan gave the horse away to a beggar.

At that time, many religious men and women, motivated by his example, adopted the custom of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays until the ninth hour, through the year, except for the fifty days after Easter. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, only meat, if he happened to entertain them.

Whatever gifts of money he received from the rich; he distributed to the poor, or used it in ransoming those unfortunates who had been sold as slaves. Afterwards he made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and then, having taught and instructed them, advanced them to the order of priesthood.

Although Aidan was a member of the Celtic branch of Christianity (instead of the Roman branch), his energy and character in missionary work won him the respect of Pope Honorius I and Felix of Dunwich (credited as the man who introduced Christianity to the kingdom of East Anglia).

When Oswald was killed in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswine of Deira and the two became close friends. The monk’s ministry therefore continued relatively unchanged until the rise of pagan hostilities in 651. At that time, a pagan army from the midlands attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan saw the black smoke from his cell on Lindisfarne, and immediately recognising its cause, knelt in prayer for the fate of the city. Miraculously the winds abruptly reversed course, blowing the inferno toward the enemy. That convinced them the city was protected by powerful spiritual forces, and they withdrew.

On 19th August 651, King Oswine was betrayed and murdered. Twelve days later Aidan died, on 31st August, in the seventeenth year of his bishopric. He had become ill while on one of his incessant missionary tours, and died leaning against the wall of a church near Bamburgh

Aidan’s body was buried at Lindisfarne, beneath the abbey that he had helped found.

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1.5 Saint Finan, 2nd Bishop of Lindisfarne

[L] Saint Finan, Bishop of Lindisfarne (651-661) ~ ® Abbess Hilda of Whitby (c. 614-680)


Originally from Ireland, Finan was a monk trained at Iona. He was installed as Bishop of Lindisfarne in 651.

Finan built a cathedral on Lindisfarne ‘in the Irish fashion’ employing hewn oak with a thatched roof, dedicated to St. Peter. He also founded St. Mary’s at the mouth of the River Tyne

The Venerable Bede mentions that Finan played an important part in the conversion of the Northern Saxons. He also converted Kings Sigebert of Essex, and Peada of the Middle Angles, to Christianity.

Finan’s chief foundation was the Abbey of Whitby, which was unfortunately the scene of the famous Easter controversy between the Celtic Church and the Church of Rome, which resulted in the withdrawal of the Celtic monks from Lindisfarne in 664.

After ten years of holding the see, Finan died and was buried at Lindisfarne in 661.

Abbess Hilda of Whitby – Hilda (known in her own century as “Hild”) was the grand-niece of the Angle, King Edwin of Northumbria. She was baptised in 627 when the king and his household became Christians. In 642 she decided to become a nun, and under the direction of Abbott Aidan she established several monasteries. Her last house was at Whitby, established in 657, under Abbott Finan. It was a joint monastery – a community of men and another of women, with the chapel in the middle, and Hilda as Abbess of both. This joint arrangement was unique to the Celtic Church.

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1.6 Saint Colmán, 3rd Bishop of Lindisfarne

Saint Colmán, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 661 to 664

Saint Colmán (605–676) was a monk at Iona before succeeding St. Finan in 661, to become the third bishop of the Northumbrian diocese of Lindisfarne. His bishopric witnessed a vital turning point in the development of the Christian church in Britain.

King Oswy was the reigning monarch of Bernicia from 642 until his death 670, (one of the few kings of that era to die of natural causes). He became king following the death of his brother, Oswald.

Oswy married Princess Eanflaed, the grand-daughter of King Aethelburg of Kent, shortly after ascending the throne. Eanflaed was his second wife. She was also a Christian, but brought up in a strict Roman Church environment. One of the main differences between the Celtic Church and the Roman Church, was from the different methods of tonsure. The Celts kept their hair long and shaved the front from ear-to-ear, (similar to the ancient Druids), while the Romans shaved the top of their head and the back – leaving an appearance like a crown of thorns. It was in fact modelled on the Roman method of identifying slaves. The Roman monks said they were ‘slaves of God’. The Celts on the other hand, said ‘they were slaves to no one’

The major difference however, was the calculation of the most important Christian celebration; Easter. The Romans followed the tradition established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, which decreed that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after 21st March.

The Celtic Church followed the teachings of Apostle John, which over the years led to a difference in timing of Easter of up to four weeks.

Things were brought to a head at the observation of Easter in 664 at King Oswy’s court. While the King was celebrating Easter with feasting, his wife Eanflaed and a son, Alhfrith (from Oswy’s first marriage), with one part of the court, was still fasting for Lent. This did not make for a happy marriage.

Oswy called a church council, or synod, held at Whitby Abbey in September 664, to resolve the Easter controversy. Regional tensions within Northumbria between Bernicia and Deira, appear to have also played a part, as churchmen in Bernicia favoured the Celtic method of dating and those in Deira the Roman method.

King Oswy presided over the synod. Those supporting the Celtic viewpoint included, initially King Oswy, Abbess Hilda and Colmán of Lindisfarne, together with eleven Celtic monks from Lindisfarne and Iona.

The Roman delegation on the other hand were led by Bishop Agilberht of the West Saxons.

Colmán addressed the assembled congregation, by standing and delivering his talk in a calm and dignified manner.

In response, Agilberht requested Wilfred, Abbot of Ripon be allowed to give arguments in his stead, since he was more at ease with the local language. Wilfred was a Northumbrian monk, trained first by Celtic monks at Lindisfarne and later at Rome. Wilfred was much younger than Abbot Colemán, and had just returned from a pilgrimage to Rome, where he possibly learnt some of the stagecraft he then put into effect.

Instead of standing in one place, as was the normal method of speakers, Wilfred moved around in front of his audience. He waved his hands, stood for long moments in silence to reinforce a point and raised and lowered his voice for effect.

Wilfred’s initial argument was to point out that two of the major saints, Peter and Paul had died and were buried in Rome, and the Roman method of calculating Easter was adopted by all countries on the Mediterranean; the Empire of the Franks, Greece and Egypt, and all over the world where the church of Christ is spread. – All except the Britons and Picts, who in their obstinacy, oppose all the rest of the universe.

Colmán replied that the Celtic Church followed the teachings of Saint John and Saint Columba of Iona. Both celebrated Easter in the Celtic manner. How could such holy men have been so wrong in this matter?

Wilfred sprang to his feet and delivered his key argument, stating the Lord had declared: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give up to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’

Stunned silence greeted this declaration by Wilfred.

Finally, King Oswy asked Colmán if these words were in fact spoken to Peter by the Lord. Colmán agreed they were. The King then concluded that he would not contradict Peter, as he had the keys to heaven, and Oswy wanted to be sure that when he came to the gates of heaven, Peter was there to open them.

[Thus, it came to pass that all present, both great and small were asked to give their assent and confirm the teachings of the Roman Church in all matters.
__](The Life of Wilfred, – Bede, and later, Eddius Stephanus, between 710 & 720. Stephanus was a little-known priest who knew Wilfred well & travelled with him to Rome. The Age of Bede, translated by J.F. Webb, Penguin Books, London 1965)

King Oswy decreed at the Synod of Whitby, to find in favour of the Church of Rome, despite being originally converted to Celtic Christianity by the monks on Iona. No doubt he saw the political possibilities of extending his reign of influence to the southern Saxon states (which he did) plus, it would make his marital situation easier at home.

Abbot Colmán was stunned at the outcome, as were most of his followers. He objected to the decision which in effect eliminated the Celtic Church. He resigned his see, and with all the Celtic monks and about 30 monks from the Roman orders, left Lindisfarne for Iona. Between 665 and 667 he founded several Scottish churches, afterwards sailing to Hibernia (Ireland) with his disciples. They settled on Inishbofin, an island off the west coast, where in 668 Colmán built a monastery. He later founded a separate abbey at Mayo for the English monks. He was abbot of both until his death in 676.

Synod of Whitby: Bishop Colmán with his Celtic monks, Abbess Hilda and King Oswy,
listen to Wilfred of Rippon deliver his presentation on behalf of the Church of Rome.

Later, Bishop Colmán was quiet and withdrawn.

His beloved Celtic Church was to be no more. ~
He resigned his see and travelled back to Iona.

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1.7 Saint Tuda, 4th Bishop of Lindisfarne

Abbott Tuda was appointed as the new Abbot of Northumbria in 664, but now based in York. Unfortunately, he died of the plague within a year.

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1.8 Saint Eata, 5th Bishop of Lindisfarne

Eata was one of Saint Aidan’s original twelve Bernician boys in the first school ever, in Northumbria, on Lindisfarne. By the time Aidan had died in 651, Eata had become Abbot of Melrose, a monastery Aidan founded on the Tweed River.

In 657 Eata’s Melrose was given land at Ripon to found a sister-monastery. But when the Northumbrians converted from Celtic to Roman Christianity the Ripon monks refused to change their ways. They were evicted in 671 back to Melrose when Wilfred, Bishop of York, was given the monastery and he became the abbot.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, decided to divide the huge diocese of York, and Eata took the northern part, Bernicia. This was divided again into the two dioceses of Lindisfarne and Hexham.

Cuthbert was asked to become bishop of Hexham, but for some reason not known to us, he declined. Eata kindly agreed to transfer to Hexham, and Cuthbert became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 685. Eata died the following year.

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1.9 Saint Cuthbert, 6th Bishop of Lindisfarne (c. 635-687)

Saint Cuthbert with the St Cuthbert Gospel

King Ecgfrith meeting Saint Cuthbert in 684, to convince him to renounce
his hermitage lifestyle and become Bishop of Lindisfarne

Cuthbert was perhaps of a noble family, born in Dunbar, now in East Lothian, in the mid-630s and died 687. He was fostered as a child near Melrose Abbey, an inland daughter-house of Lindisfarne. Fostering is a possible sign of noble birth, as are references to his riding horses when young. Cuthbert was possibly a second cousin of King Aldfrith, according to Eire (Irish) genealogies.

The politics of the kingdom were violent with episodes of pagan rule, and he seems to have seen some military service.

He decided to become a monk after one night, while still a boy working as a shepherd, he had a vision of the soul of Aidan being carried to heaven by angels. He later discovered that Saint Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne, died on that night in 651.

He joined the new monastery at Melrose under the prior Boisil, at age sixteen. Upon Boisel’s death in 661, Cuthbert succeeded him as prior. Cuthbert’s fame for piety, diligence and obedience quickly grew. When Alchfrith, king of Deira, founded a new monastery at Ripon, Cuthbert became its guest master under Eata. When Wilfred was given Ripon, Eata and Cuthbert returned to Melrose.

Illness, possibly plague, struck most at Melrose in 664, and while Cuthbert recovered, Eata died. Cuthbert was made prior in his place.

The tension between the Celtic and Roman traditions, often exacerbated by Cuthbert’s contemporary Saint Wilfred, an intransigent and quarrelsome supporter of Roman ways. This was to be a major feature of Cuthbert’s lifetime. Cuthbert himself, though educated in the Celtic tradition, followed his mentor Eata in accepting the Church of Rome customs, without apparent difficulty, following the Synod of Whitby in 664. His old abbot, Eata, called on him to introduce them at Lindisfarne, as prior.

The earliest biographies concentrate on the many miracles that accompanied Cuthbert, even in his early life. He was tireless as a travelling priest, spreading the Christian message to remote farms and villages. Also, he was equally able to impress royalty and nobility. His severe self-discipline was complimented by his charm and generosity to the poor. Cuthbert’s reputation for healing and insight led many people to consult him, gaining him the name of “Wonder Worker of Britain”.

He continued his missionary work, travelling from Berwick to Galloway, carrying out pastoral work. Unlike Wilfred, his lifestyle was austere, and when he was able, he lived the life of a hermit, though still receiving many visitors.

Cuthbert retired in 676, moved by a desire for the contemplative life. With his abbot’s leave, he moved to a place near Lindisfarne, now called St Cuthbert’s Island. Shortly after, Cuthbert moved to Inner Farne island, off the Northumbrian coast, where he lived a life of great austerity.

At first, he received visitors, but later confined himself to his cell and only gave blessings through his open window. However, he could not refuse an interview with the holy abbess and royal virgin Elfleda, daughter of Oswy of Northumbria, who succeeded Saint Hilda as abbess of Whitby in 680. The meeting was held on Coquet Island, further south off the Northumbrian coast.

In 684 Cuthbert was elected Bishop of Hexham, at a synod at Twyford (believed to be present-day Alnmouth). He was reluctant to leave his retirement and take up his charge; it was only after a visit from a large group, including King Ecgfrith, that he agreed to take up duties as bishop, but instead as Bishop of Lindisfarne, in March 685, swapping with Eata, who went to Hexham instead.

After Christmas 686 however, he returned to his cell on Inner Farne Island (two miles from Bamburgh), where he eventually died on 20 March 687, after a painful illness. He was buried at Lindisfarne the same day.

According to Bede’s ‘Life of the Saint’, when Cuthbert’s stone coffin was opened eleven years after his death, his body was found to have been perfectly preserved or incorrupt. This apparent miracle led to the growth of the cult, by which time he became the most popular saint of Northern England.

Saint Cuthbert’s Coffin Lid with symbols of Matthew & Mark (L) ~ ~ ~ symbols of Luke & John ®


In 793 Lindisfarne was the subject of the first Viking raid on the coast of Britain. Viking raids on Lindisfarne’s wealthy, unguarded, coastal monastery continued through the following century. In 875 the monks of Lindisfarne fled their Holy Island, with the body of Cuthbert. For seven years, the monks wandered the north of England, with the coffin of Saint Cuthbert. After settling for just over 113 years at the old Roman fort of Chester-le-Street, they moved on again escaping the Danes, to Durham in 995, where Saint Cuthbert’s body lies to this day, in the cathedral that was built as his shrine.

The St. Cuthbert Gospel is among the objects later recovered from Saint Cuthbert’s coffin, which is also an important artefact.

During 1069, some of the relics were carried back across the sands to Lindisfarne, to escape the wrath of William the Conqueror.

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1.10 The Saint Cuthbert Gospel

The Saint Cuthbert Gospel, with its original binding

The St Cuthbert Gospel retains its original binding and is the oldest known intact European book. Made in the late 7th century between 680 and 687, the manuscript contains a copy of the Gospel of John. The pocket-sized book was produced at Wearmouth-Jarrow by a local scribe.

The Gospel is intimately connected with St Cuthbert (c. 635–687). Cuthbert was re-buried at Lindisfarne in 698. His coffin was removed following the second Viking raid in 875. The monks fled and took the remains of their patron saint with them, first to various places in Northumbria and then to Durham.

Opening St. Cuthbert’s coffin in 698. The monks display their

astonishment at finding his body miraculously not decayed. ~ ~ ~ St. Cuthbert’s relics returning to Lindisfarne in 1069.

Cuthbert’s coffin was opened again in September 1104 on the translation of his remains. Again, his body was found to be uncorrupted, still flexible and smelling like a rose. The Gospel was found next to his head.

In Christianity, the translation of relics, usually to a higher status location – in this case to a new shrine behind the alter of Durham Cathedral, built in his name – marked the moment when local veneration as a saint was permitted. Translations could be accompanied by many acts, including all-night vigils and processions, often involving entire communities.

That’s where the body remained until 1537 when Henry VIII sent emissaries to loot and destroy the saint’s tomb. They too found his body uncorrupted, but that didn’t deter them from making off with the jewels and ornaments buried with him – including the Gospel. The book, by then, over 850 years old, passed into private hands.

In 1769, it was given to the English Jesuit College at Liège. The Jesuits packed the book in a small oak box and placed it in the library. They brought it with them to England when the Liège College was moved, and renamed Stonyhurst College. In 1979, the Society of Jesus loaned the Gospel to the British Library, where it has been on display ever since.

In 2011, the Jesuits decided to sell the Gospel and use the proceeds to repair church buildings. They offered it to the British Library for £9 million ($14.5 million) before putting it up for auction. The British Library raised the purchase price and the Gospel will be shared between the British Library and the Durham World Heritage Site. Durham was thrilled at the prospect of its homecoming.

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1.11 The Venerable Bede (673-735)

The Venerable Bede, dictating to a scribe at Jarrow monastery

Much of our knowledge relating to this period comes from the writings of the monk Bede. At the age of seven, Bede was offered by his family to the monastery of Wearmouth, Northumbria (modern Monkwearmouth in county Durham), to be educated. He spent the rest of his life, first at Wearmouth then later, in 682 at Jarrow, five miles away, as a monk.

In 686, plague broke out at Jarrow. The Life of Ceolfrith, written about 710, records that only two surviving monks were capable singing the full offices; one was Abbot Ceolfrith and the other a young boy, who had been taught by Ceolfrith. The two managed the entire service of the liturgy until others could be trained. The young boy was almost certainly Bede, who would have been about fourteen.

When Bede was 17 years old, Adomnàn, the abbot of Iona, visited Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. Bede would have met the abbot during this visit. Around 692, in Bede’s nineteenth year, he was ordained a deacon. In Bede’s thirtieth year (about 702) he became a priest.

Bede wrote his first two works in 701, both intended for the classroom. He continued to write for the rest of his life, eventually completing over 60 books, most of which have survived. Using the monastery library – estimated to have about 200 books from the Continent – he became ‘the most learned man in Western Europe’ (as quoted by Dom David Knowles, [1896-1974] – Regius Professor of Modern History, at the University of Cambridge, from 1954 to 1963). Scholar, teacher and prolific writer of biblical and other works, including The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He has been described as the ‘Father of English History’ (The Age of Bede, translated by J.F. Webb, Penguin Books, London 1965).

Bede was a skilled linguist. His translations of the Greek and Latin writings of the early Church Fathers, made them much more accessible to his fellow Britains, contributing significantly to English Christianity.

Bede travelled to Lindisfarne and criticised the fact that the church was not built of stone, but only of oak with a roof thatched with reeds. A later bishop, Eadbert (687-698), removed the thatch and covered both walls and roof in lead.

Was Bede married?

One interesting item in Bede’s writings is in the: Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he writes in a manner that gives the impression he was married. The section in question is the only one in that work that is written in the first-person. Bede says: “Prayers are hindered by the conjugal duty because as often as I perform what is due my wife, I am not able to pray”. Another passage in the Commentary of Luke, he also mentions a wife in the first person: “Formally I possessed a wife in the lustful passions of desire and now I possess her in honourable sanctification and true love of Christ”.

Bede’s Commentary on Proverbs

Bede died on 26 May 735 on the floor of his cell. That night he dictated a final sentence to a scribe, a boy named Wilberht, and died soon afterwards. He was buried at Jarrow. Bede’s remains may have been transferred to Durham Cathedral in the 11th century. His tomb there was looted in 1541 during the Dissolutions of Catholic Monasteries by Henry VIII, but the contents were re-interred in the Galilee chapel at Durham cathedral.

Venerable Bede’s tomb in Durham Cathedral

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Chapter 2 – The Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels


The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the world’s greatest masterpieces of calligraphy and illumination. It was written and illuminated at Lindisfarne around 695 to 700, by the monk Eadfrith (later Bishop of Lindisfarne). It contains the text of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Latin. The book was bound by Ethelwald (Bishop of Lindisfarne, after Eadfrith), and the be-jewelled cover was constructed by a religious recluse, Billfrith. It is extremely well preserved, although the original cover has been stolen.

Physically a substantial volume, it comprises 259 folios (518 pages), each page measuring 340 × 250 mm – a total size when open of 340 × 500 mm (approximately the same size as an open A4 ring binder). Originally it was even larger – the leaves having been trimmed over the centuries. Complete with its 19th century metalwork cover, it weighs a hefty 8.7 kilos (19lb 2oz). Its weight when adorned with Billfrith’s treasure cover or case, and before the pages had been trimmed, is unlikely to have been less.

As each bifolium (i.e. two folios, four pages) was taken from an individual calfskin. Some 130 animals were used to make the book. The skins are of high quality and carefully prepared. Whereas holes – the result of imperfections in the skin, compounded during the process of turning it into parchment – are common in early manuscripts, there are very few holes in the sheets that were used for the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Most unusually, the sheets were arranged in their quires (the gathering of leaves from which the book was constructed) with the spine of the animal running horizontally across what would be an opening of a book, aligned with the writing. The normal practice was for the spine to run vertically, at right angles to the lines of script.

The main texts of the Lindisfarne Gospels were written by a single scribe (Eadfrith). His basic script (Insular Half-Uncial), was the type of writing that had been developed as a formal book-hand in Ireland. He wrote it with a regularity and grandeur that is rare, if not unknown in Irish manuscripts of comparable, if not earlier date.

Moreover, Eadfrith sustained this highly calligraphic interpretation of the script with extraordinary consistency, for a total line-length of almost two kilometres. To maximise regularity, each line of writing was guided by two horizontal rulings, one for the head and the other for the foot of each letter. The ruling was done very gently with a hard point on both sides of each leaf – i.e. lines were scored into every page, but so lightly that they are only visible on very close inspection – a discrete but time-consuming procedure. The fact that his strokes are rich and black throughout, shows that (unlike the scribes of other high-grade local books), he always kept his pen well-trimmed and invariably dipped it in the ink before it started to run dry.

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The gospel was dedicated to a former Bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert. In 875 the monks finally abandoned Lindisfarne, after 82 years of assault by the Vikings, taking with them the body of Cuthbert and other treasures including the Lindisfarne Gospels. After seven years of wandering they settled at Chester-le-Street, a former Roman fort located about 6 miles (10 km) north of Durham. In 995 the community moved to Durham where it remined.

About the middle of the tenth century a priest at Chester-le-Street, named Aldred, added an Anglo-Saxon translation between the lines of the Latin text. He also wrote on the last leaf, a colophon (an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript detailing the author and date of printing). In modern English, the colophon reads:

Eadfrith, Bishop of the Lindisfarne Church, originally wrote this book, for God and for Saint Cuthbert and – jointly, for all the Saints whose relics are in the Island. And Ethelwald, Bishop of the Lindisfarne islanders, impressed it on the outside and covered it – as he well knew how to do. And Billfrith, the anchorite , forged the ornaments which are on it on the outside and adorned it with gold and with gems and with gilded-over silver – pure metal. And Aldred, unworthy and most miserable priest, glossed it in English between the lines with the help of God and Saint Cuthbert.

Aldred’s gloss – Old English translation written between the original Latin lines


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2.1 Saint Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus

[L] Cross-carpet page introducing Saint Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus ® Decorated initial page of Saint Jerom’s letter to Pope Damasus

At the beginning of the book, is an introduction by Saint Jerome – a copy of the justification of his ‘new’ translation of the gospels, which was undertaken at the request of Pope Damasus 1 (Pope of the Catholic Church from 366 to his death in 384).

Jerome was born c. 347 in Stridon, a town in the Roman provence of Dalmatia. In 379 the town was destroyed by the Goths and its present location is unknown, but possibly it was in modern Bosnia. He died in 419/420 in Bethlehem, Palestine.

Jerome was a biblical translator and monastic leader. He lived for a time as a hermit, became a priest, served as secretary to Pope Damasus 1, and about 389 established a monastery at Bethlehem. His numerous biblical, monastic and theological works profoundly influenced the early Middle Ages. He is known particularly for his Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, which was written between 382 and 384. He is regarded as the most learned of the Latin Fathers.

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2.2 Saint Matthew


[L] Carpet page introducing Saint Matthew’s Gospel ~ ~ ® Decorated initial page of Saint Matthew’s Gospel

The decorated pages at the beginning of each Gospel are known as Carpet Pages, a device of Coptic (Egyptian) Christian origin, that look like prayer mats, with the sign of the cross embedded in an intricate warp and weft of decoration, comprised of birds and beasts. Each carpet page contains a different form of a cross.

Saint Bede writes, that prayer mats were known in Northumbria at that time, as well as Eastern Christian and Islamic lands. They are also found in early Coptic (Egypt) manuscripts.

[L] Full page miniature of Saint Matthew, with his symbol, a winged man blowing a trumpet and carrying a book. ~ Note the mysterious figure behind the curtain, which may be intended to represent Jesus.

® The 3rd in Eadfrith’s sequence of arcaded tables. Interlaced birds
fill the columns, while simple ribbon knotwork is used on bases and capitals.

Saint Matthew’s portrait emphasises the relationship between the Gospels and Hebrew scripture. The latter may be symbolised by the green book held by the figure behind the curtain, perhaps Jesus, who inspires Matthew to write his gospel.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are recognised as saints, and the authors of the four Gospels, in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches.

However, much debate has been generated since 200 CE, as to whether they were the original Gospel authors, or the Church of Rome simply attributed them to the four apostles.



Matthew (also known as Levi) was most likely born in Galilee, which was not part of Judea at that time. He worked as a tax collector, a despised profession during the Roman occupation. As a tax collector, he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek.

According to the Gospel, Matthew was working at a collection booth in Capernaum, (a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee) when Jesus approached him and asked; “Follow me.” With this simple call, Matthew became a disciple of Jesus.

The Gospel account of Matthew tells the same story as that found in the other three Gospels, so scholars are certain of the story’s authenticity.

Matthew wrote his gospel account years after the crucifixion of Jesus, around 41 to 50 CE. He supposedly wrote in Aramaic, but it is now generally accepted that Matthew was written in Greek, not in Aramaic or Hebrew. The hope was that his account would convince people that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his kingdom had been fulfilled in a spiritual way. It was an important message at the time, as almost everyone expected the return of a militant Messiah, brandishing a sword.

It is thought Matthew departed to other lands to escape persecution sometime after 42 CE. According to various legends, he fled to Parthia (north-eastern Iran) and Persia or Ethiopia. Nothing is recorded of Matthew’s passing. We do not know how he died, if his death was natural or he was martyred.

Matthew is the patron saint of bankers.

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2.3 Saint Mark


[L] Saint Mark, accompanied by his symbol, a winged

Lion blowing a trumpet and carrying a decorated book ~ ~ ® Decorated initial page of Saint Mark’s Gospel


The background of Saint Mark’s decorated initial page is occupied by interlaced beasts formed of red dots. Some decorated pages carry several thousand dots.



In the New Testament Mark is sometimes called John Mark. Both Mark and his mother Mary, were highly regarded in the early Church. His mother’s house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for early Christians

Mark supposedly accompanied St. Paul and St Barnabas (Mark’s second cousin) on their missionary journey through the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St. Barnabus alone. He was in Rome with St. Peter and St. Paul. Tradition accredits him with founding the Church in Alexandria, Egypt.

While Matthew appears first in the Bible, most scholars believe Mark was the earliest canonical Gospel, begun about 30 years after the Crucifixion. Mark probably wrote the second Gospel in Rome, sometime before 60 CE. He wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity.

Tradition tells us that Mark was requested by the Romans to set down the teachings of St. Peter. This seems to have been confirmed by the position St. Peter has in this gospel. The second gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of St. Peter .

Mark is the patron saint of notaries.

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2.4 Saint Luke

[L] Saint Luke accompanied by his symbol, a winged calf

carrying a book ~ ~ ® Decorated initial page of Saint Luke’s Gospel ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Brother Eadfrith at this stage of writing and illustrating, would have been only a monk, as he would not have had the time to complete the gospels if combined with the heavy administrative tasks of bishop. The artist-scribe was a gifted calligrapher and illuminator. A fine textual scholar and a technical innovator, he is credited with inventing the lead pencil and backlighting – forerunner of the lightbox, to enable him to devise such an elaborate new layout.

Eadfrith was also a skilled chemist, capable of replicating the entire colour palette available in the Mediterranean world, from a handful of local substances; green (copper), red/orange (toasted lead), an incredible range of blues and purples from plant extracts (woad and indigo), yellow (arsenic), white (chalk or shell), and black (carbon). He is unlikely to have used magnification to focus on the intricate details of his work.



Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, has been identified with St. Paul’s comment “Luke, the beloved physician” (Colossians 10-14). We know few other facts about Luke’s life from Scripture and early Church historians. He was probably born in Antioch in Syria.

It would be easy nowadays to assume that someone who was a doctor would be rich, but scholars have argued that Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine, so that they would have a resident family physician.

Not only do we have St. Paul’s word, but Eusebius, St. Jerome, St. Irenaeus, and Caius, a second-century writer, all refer to Luke as a physician.

It is believed Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile. Colossians 10:14 speaks of those friends who are with him. He first mentions all those ‘of the circumcision’ (Jews), and Luke is not mentioned in this group.

Luke’s Gospel shows special sensitivity to evangelising Gentiles (non-Jews). It is only in his Gospel we hear about the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Luke first joined Paul’s company at Troas (known today as Eski Stambul, a Greek city located on the Aegean Sea) around the year 51CE, and accompanied him to Macedonia, from where they travelled finally to Philippi, in Greece.

Luke is the loyal comrade who stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome about 61 CE. After everyone else deserts Paul in his final imprisonment, it is Luke who remains to the end. “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Luke’s unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the 6 miracles and 18 parables not found in the other gospels. He is the only one who tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man who ignored him. Luke is the only one who uses “Blessed are the poor”, instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Parodical Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy.

The reports of Luke’s life after the death of Paul are conflicting. Some early writers claim he was martyred, others say he lived a long life. The earliest tradition says he died aged 84 at Boeotia, after settling in Greece to write his Gospel.

Luke is the patron saint of physicians and surgeons.

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2.5 Saint John

[L] Saint John accompanied by his symbol, an eagle carrying a book

® Decorated initial page of Saint John’s Gospel ~ ~ ~ ~

Saint John’s Gospel enjoyed prominence in Early Christian thought. John was considered a visionary and his Gospel was used to minister to the sick and dying. It was sometimes used as a talisman (believed to contain certain magical properties which would provide good luck for the possessor, or offer protection from possible evil or harm). A pocket-size copy of John’s Gospel was interred with Saint Cuthbert inside his coffin, like the Egyptian Book of the Dead.



St. John was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. John was called to be an Apostle by Jesus in the first year of his public ministry. John’s older brother was St. James, another one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. John is believed to be the longest living apostle and the only one not to die a martyr’s death.

Peter, James and John were present when Jesus was crucified at the Garden of Gethsemane. John stood faithfully at the foot of the cross when Jesus made him the guardian of his Mother, Mary.

The Gospel according to John, relates the story of the scribes and Pharisees who brought unto Jesus, a woman taken in adultery. ‘The law according to Moses said she should be stoned to death, but what say you?’ Jesus replied, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone’. (chapter 8, verses 3-7).

John was later banished by the Roman authorities to the Greek island of Patmos. This is where he allegedly wrote the Book of Revelations, and later died. The author of the fourth Gospel is supposed to be John. However, the identity of the actual author has been debated since 200 CE.

The authorship of the 4th Gospel is credited to the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, and John 21:24 claims the Gospel of John is based on the “Beloved Disciple’s” testimony. In the Gospel of John, the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or “the Beloved Disciple” is used five times, but is not used in any other New Testament accounts of Jesus.

In his Ecclesiastical History, (written before 326 CE) Eusebius states the First Epistle of John, and the Gospel of John are agreed upon as John’s. Eusebius then states the 2nd and 3rd epistles of John, are not John the Apostle.

The accuracy of Eusebius has often been called into question. Edward Gibbons, in the 18th century, criticised Eusebius’ methods.

John is the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendships and authors.

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2.6 Details of Decorated Initials

[L] Initial P at the beginning of Saint Jerom’s Preface to the Four Gospels. ~ ® Enlarged detail from the second major initial page (Chi-Rho) in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, showing the curvilinear ornament in the bow of the main letter

The Chi-Rho page ® – the sacred name of Christ was sometimes written as ‘XP’, a monogram of Chi (X) and Rho (P) (pronounced “KEE-roe”) as the first two letters of the Greek word XPISTOS, the word Christos in Greek letters.

It was first used by the Roman Emperor Constantine I, in 312 CE when he ordered his soldiers to mark their shields with the symbol, before winning the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

Initial E at the beginning of the ‘capitula lectionum’ (chapters readings) of Saint Mark’s Gospel

Note the two dog-like lions (under the red 1), and Saint John’s eagles.

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Initial M at the beginning of the ‘augumentum’ (argument) of Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is ornamented with dog-like beasts, recalling his symbol, the lion.

Aldred, who wrote the Old English translation, is seen here with his small, distinctive, minuscule script. In contrast, Eadfrith’s larger Latin letters, is known as half-uncial.

[L] Enlarged detail from the major initial page at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel.

® Enlarged detail from the major initial page at the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel, showing the outline of the main letters divided into clearly defined panels, filled alternately with animal ornament and with knotwork.

The panel of interlaced birds from the Luke incipit (from the Latin ‘it begins’) page, recalling a woven Byzantine silk of the sort, then imported into Britain.

Eadfrith’s decorated pages predominantly feature birds. An exception is the Cat, the finest of which is shown on the bottom right-hand margin of Saint Luke’s initial page.

The Lindisfarne Gospels is the first surviving local manuscript in which birds are a major element of the decoration. Although the Mediterranean models probably available to the artist, may have included some bird ornament, Eadfrith’s birds are quite distinctive, with strong curved beaks, long talons and sharply patterned wings. It is easy to see the characteristics of the cormorants and shags, so prominent in the sea bird population of the Farne Islands, just south of Holy Island.

By contrast, animals usually in the form of dog-like creatures had been a feature of Anglo-Saxon ornament long before the advent of Christianity. Exceptions are Eadfrith’s cats, the finest of which occupies the right-hand margin of the Luke initial page. It is apparently intent on the mass of birds on the other side of the page, from which it hopes to increase the eight already inside its elongated body.

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2.7 North South East and West

The word gospel derives from the Old English ‘god-spell’, meaning ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings’. The four canonical gospels included in the New Testament are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A gospel contains details of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Why are there only four gospels in the New Testament?

Several other gospels have been discovered, including:

Gospel of Thomas which may date from 150 CE. It had been lost, but discovered in a Coptic version dating from c.350, at Nag Hammadi (Northern Egypt) in 1945, by a local farmer named Muhammed al-Samman, in a sealed jar. Also, three papyri, dated to c.200, containing fragments of a Greek text similar, but not identical, to that in the Coptic language, have also been found.

Gospel of Peter was likely written between 150-200 CE, and explicitly claims to be written by the Apostle Peter. It has been classified as largely legendary, hostile toward Jews, and including heresy and unorthodox elements. The gospel was rejected by the Catholic Church’s synods of Carthage and Rome. It was notable for attributing responsibility of the crucifixion of Jesus to Herod Antipas rather than Pontius Pilate. The text was lost, but rediscovered in 1886 by Urbain Bouriant, a French archaeologist in the modern Egyptian city of Akhmim (60 miles north of Nag Hammadi). It had been respectfully buried with an Egyptian monk in the 8th century.

Gospel of Judas is another ancient, controversial text, that purports to tell the story of the gospel from the perspective of Judas, the disciple who is said to have betrayed Jesus. It portrays an unusual picture of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. It interprets Judas’s act not as betrayal, but rather of obedience to the instruction of Jesus. The text was recovered from a cave in Egypt by a thief and sold on the black market. It was eventually discovered by a collector who, with the help of academics from Yale and Princeton universities, verified its authenticity. It doesn’t claim to be composed by Judas – but rather a gospel about Judas. It was written around 189 CE.

Irenaeus of Lyon c.185, in his central work Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel. He declared the four gospels he supported, and no others, were the four “Pillars of the Church”. There can be no more, nor fewer than four, presenting as logic the four corners of the earth, and the four winds – North, South, East and West.

By the turn of the 5th century the Catholic Church, under Pope Innocent 1, recognized a biblical canon including the four gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. They had been previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome (382), the Synod of Hippo (393), and two Synods of Carthage (397 & 419).

This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon, was used in the Vulgate, the 4th century Latin translation of the bible made by Jerome, under the commission of Pope Damasus between 382-384.

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Chapter 3 – The Vikings

Vikings withdrawing with looted treasure after attacking Lindisfarne in 793.

For the present-day inhabitants of England, it is the Anglo-Saxons who have generally been regarded as ancestral English. The Vikings are regarded as them, not us. The English language, English laws, customs, and system of government, are somehow Anglo-Saxon, and not North European or Scandinavian, despite the irony that the Angles and Saxons arrived from much the same area as the Danes, some 400 years earlier.

It is still Ælfred (King of Wessex from 871 to 899), who is regarded as the first king of England. It was he who united the warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms against the Viking invader. In 793 there were four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex; by 900 there was just one: Wessex.

It was Ælfred’s own scribes who recorded events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and since the Vikings did not write history, it is little wonder we have been sold a one-sided story. Archaeologists have emphasised the Scandinavian contribution to urbanisation, the development of industry, and changes taking place in rural settlement patterns.

Place-name scholars have found there is some correlation between their maps of Scandinavian-influenced names, and the boundaries of the Danelaw. For example, in Yorkshire there are 210 place names that end in -by (the Old Norse name for village); in Lincolnshire, there are 220; the majority combined with Old Norse personal names. Initially there must have been two distinct language-using communities in the Danelaw: Old English and Old Norse.

Viking settlements in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland


More notable is the history of Ireland 800-1169, covering the period from the first Viking raids to the Norman invasion. The Normans were people who in the 10th and 11th centuries gave their name to a region in France. They were descendants from Norsemen, raiders and pirates from Denmark and Norway who, under their leader Rollo, agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia.

The first two centuries of this period of Irish history are characterised by Viking raids and subsequent Norse settlements along the coast. Viking ports were established at Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, which became the first large towns in Ireland. Before the Viking raids there were no towns in Ireland – it was a rural society, interspersed with Celtic monasteries.

Vikings attacking Iona


Iona Abbey was first attacked by Viking raiders in 795, with further attacks taking place in 802, 806 and 825. During the 806 attack, 68 monks were massacred in Martyrs’ Bay. This led to many Iona monks relocating to the Monastery of Kells in central Ireland.

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3.1 Later History

In 793 the first Viking raid on the English coast struck at Lindisfarne. Raiding continued along the English coast. In 875 Bishop Eardulf reluctantly decided to remove the relics of Saint Cuthbert and other treasures to a safer home. An account of the journey was given by Symeon of Durham. (Symeon [1060-1129] was an English chronicler and a monk at Durham Priory.)

The community took with them the head of King Oswald, the bones of Aidan, Eadbert, Eadfrith and Ethelwald, accompanied by of Cuthbert’s casket, as well as the Lindisfarne Gospels which is mentioned as the central feature of one of the adventures on the way.

It had been decided to seek refuge in Ireland, but apparently, Saint Cuthbert signified his displeasure by raising a storm in the Irish Sea. During the storm, a magnificent copy of the gospels was lost overboard from the monks’ vessel, ‘and was carried down to the depths of the sea’.

Once the brothers and relics were safely back on English soil at Whithorn, a member of the group was told in a vision, where the book might be recovered, (on a beach at low tide). Symeon specifically states that this was the book which Eadfrith wrote with his own hand.

The Editor considers this an exaggeration, in line with the many so-called miracles, attributed to Columban Abbots. Symeon was writing some 220 years after the gospel was supposedly lost overboard. It is implausible that any calf-skin manuscript, written in soluble ink, submerged in sea water, even shallow water, could survive in near perfect condition for another 1,100 plus years. If a book was washed overboard, it wasn’t the original Lindisfarne Gospels.

The church believes, that had not Cuthbert so miraculously intervened, the Lindisfarne Gospels might now be in Ireland and Aldred’s valuable and revealing colophon (in publishing; a brief statement containing a short description of the manuscript or book, information; where it was written, the author/s, and date of publication), would never have been written.

After wandering for seven years, the community settled at Chester-le-Street, a former Roman fort, abandoned 500 years before. They built a wooden church and shrine for St Cuthbert’s relics, dedicating it to St Mary and St Cuthbert. Although there was no shortage of stone available in the ruins, they did not build a stone church. It has been suggested they did not intend to stay as long as they did.

Most notable among their treasures was the Lindisfarne Gospels. While there, it was translated from Latin into Old English sometime between 947 and 968, by the priest Aldred, writing a gloss (an interpretation), above the original text. This makes them the oldest surviving English translation of the Gospels. Aldred’s hand also appears as a gloss in an 8th century copy of Bede’s Commentary on Proverbs, probably made at Wearmouth-Jarrow, but had migrated into the community of St Cuthbert by the 10th century. (see above 1.11 The Venerable Bede)

Viking raids renewed in 995. Finding himself vulnerable to Danish attacks, Bishop Aldhun fled with St Cuthbert’s body to Ripon. Danegeld – a tax levied in Anglo-Saxon England to bribe Danish invaders – was paid again, and peace restored.

Aldhun was on his way through Durham to re-establish the see at Chester-le-Street when he received a divine vision that the body of St Cuthbert should remain in Durham. A stone chapel was built to receive St Cuthbert’s body. Aldhun began a great church on the site of Durham Cathedral, which was finished and consecrated in 999. The see and diocese of Lindisfarne and Chester-le-Street, was moved to Durham. Aldhun became the first Bishop of Durham.

The Lindisfarne Gospels remained with the Saint Cuthbert’s relics until the Reformation in the 16th century, when the Church of England split from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. The book was seized by Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1537, and sent south to London. It would be during this time it’s original jewel-encrusted cover was stolen.

It was presented (minus the cover) to Robert Bowyer, Keeper of the Records at the Tower of London. Eventually it was acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, a member of parliament. Cotton died in 1631. In 1703, his heirs presented his magnificent library, to the nation. It became one of the foundation collections when the British Museum was established in 1753.

The Lindisfarne Gospels was transferred to the British Library in 1973.

The British Library, St Pancras, London. 14 August 2016
It is the 2nd largest library in the world, with over 150 million catalogued items.

(the Library of Congress USA has 162 million)

St Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of fourteen around 304 CE, in Rome. His name is Greek and means ‘the one that holds everything’.

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Chapter 4 – Modern Lindisfarne

Today about 200 people live on The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, most making a living from fishing or the tourist trade. More than 650,000 people, from all over the world, visit the island every year.

Incoming tide at Lindisfarne causeway – 7 August 2016

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is actually only an island twice a day, when the high tides arrive.

Lindisfarne Priory with Beblowe Craig in the distance. – 7 August 2016

A castle was built on Beblowe Craig in 1550, about the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use. Stones from the priory were used as building material for the castle.

Frank (Errol) Tait, of North Berwick and Jakarta, and Shinta MacDonald of Jakarta, at Lindisfarne Priory ~ 7 August 2016

Lindisfarne village – 7 August 2016

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is small, but its close-knit community has adapted well to the thousands of visitors that descend on the island every year.

Lindisfarne with the English mainland on the horizon ~ 7 August 2016


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1 ~ Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons), Geoffrey of Monmouth, Cambridge Library, Cambridge c. 829

2 ~ Bede The Venerable, translated by Dom David Hurst, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo USA 1985

3 ~ The Lindisfarne Gospels, Janet Backhouse, The British Library, London 1995

4 ~ The Vikings, Julian D. Richards, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995

5 ~ The British Library, Treasures in Focus, The Lindisfarne Gospels, Michelle P. Brown, The British Library, London 2006

6 ~ The Lindisfarne Gospels, Richard Gameson, Third Millennium Publishing, London 2013

7 ~ www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/date/ 2011/07/16

8 ~ The Lindisfarne Gospels, Janet Backhouse, Phaidon Press Ltd, London 2014

9 ~ www. bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=add_ms_89000

10 ~www.lindisfarne.org.uk/Little-known Saints of the North, Reverend Canon Kate Tristram

11 ~www.catholic.org/saints

12 ~National Geographic, Jesus & The Apostles, National Geographic Partners, 2017


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Duncan MacDonald[
__]founder of dMAC Group in Asia



That’s Life

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Thank you for reading my dMAC Digest. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to leave me a review at your favourite e-retailer.

Best regards
Duncan MacDonald

About the Editor

Photo by Melbourne The Photographer

Duncan MacDonald is an Australian currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is married to Shinta Dewi Sanawiya, muse, mate, motivator and Executive Director of the business he founded in 1993, dMAC Group in Asia.

Duncan believes the best way to improve the wellbeing of any community, is to concentrate on Education and Health.

This Digest endeavours to present an easily read summary of historical items which you may find educational, coupled with other editions containing the latest information to protect and improve your family’s health.

[ * * * ]

Other books by Duncan MacDonald

Culann, Celtic Warrior Monk – Saga of the 7th Century

The Culann Chronicles – Book 2, Picts’ Plight

Anzac & Lone Pine Revisited – 1975

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 1
Tennis Elbow ▫ Cure Anxiety without drugs ▫ Lose weight naturally

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 2
▫ 1918 Spanish Flu ▫ Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease ▫ Anaemia & Iron Deficiency

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 3
▫ First Fleet 1788 ▫ A B C’s of Hepatitis ▫ Late life exercise

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 4
▫ Diponegoro War ▫ Dengue Fever ▫ Asthma

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 5
MERS ▫ Kidney Stones ▫ Medical Milestones of 20th century

dMAC Digest Vol 4, No 6
▫ Waterloo

dMAC Digest Vol 5, No 1
▫ Breast is Best ▫ Tourette’s Syndrome ▫ Stress Management

dMAC Digest Vol 5, No 2
▫ Meningitis ▫ Alzheimer’s Disease ▫ Dementia

dMAC Digest Vol 5, No 3
▫ Djakarta Journal # 1

dMAC Digest Vol 6, No 1
▫ Djakarta Journal # 2

dMAC Digest Vol 6, No 2
▫ Diabetes

More information on Duncan MacDonald
is available on: www.dmacdigest.com


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dMAC Digest Vol 7 No 1A - History Behind the Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the world’s greatest masterpieces of calligraphy and illumination. It was written and illuminated at Lindisfarne around 695 to 700. It contains the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in Latin. We trace the early history of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the travels and tribulations associated with the gospels, as the monks try to evade Viking attacks and other predators.

  • ISBN: 9781370121403
  • Author: Duncan MacDonald
  • Published: 2017-06-03 18:35:50
  • Words: 11930
dMAC Digest Vol 7 No 1A - History Behind the Lindisfarne Gospels dMAC Digest Vol 7 No 1A - History Behind the Lindisfarne Gospels