Tuesday, 1 September 2020


Address given at Killodiernan Church on Monday 31st August 2020, 
the feast of St Aidan of Lindisfarne.

Statue of St Aidan in front of Lindisfarne Priory

Today we remember St Aidan of Lindisfarne, whose feast day falls on the 31st August, the anniversary of his death in 651AD. Most of what we know about him we owe to the Venerable Bede, from his great history of the English church and people, completed in about 731AD. 

Bede tells us that Aidan was born in Ireland and became a monk of the island monastery of Iona, founded by St Columba. The future King Oswald of Northumbria was fostered in exile and baptised there. The Anglo-Saxon people of Northumbria still followed their ancient pagan religion, but when Oswald gained the crown of Northumbria in 634AD he vowed to convert his kingdom to Christianity. He asked the Abbot of Iona to send him a missionary bishop. The Abbot sent a bishop called Cormán, but he alienated the Northumbrians by his harshness and returned to Iona in failure. The Abbot then chose Aidan and sent him to Oswald with twelve other monks.

Aidan was quite different to his predecessor, an inspired missionary. He allied himself with King Oswald, and chose the tidal island of Lindisfarne to be the seat of his monastery and diocese, in sight of Oswald’s royal castle at Bamburgh. Bede tells us that Aidan chose to walk around the kingdom from one village to the next on foot, rather than horseback, talking politely with all he met and bit by bit interesting them in Christianity. Until Aidan and his monks learned English, King Oswald, who was fluent in Irish from his time on Iona, often had to translate for them.

Aidan earned a terrific reputation among the people for his pious charity and care for orphans. The monastery he founded on Lindisfarne grew and became a centre of learning and scholarly knowledge, where many young men were trained for the priesthood. Aidan founded daughter monasteries, churches and schools throughout the kingdom, so that by the time of his death the church was firmly established throughout Northumbria.

The English church that Aidan founded in the North of England, like Iona, followed the traditions of the Irish church in such matters as how to calculate the date of Easter. But the church that Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine to found in the South of England at Canterbury followed different Roman traditions. This caused problems in Northumbria. The Queen, the daughter of a southern king, sometimes celebrated Easter at the same time that the King was still fasting during Lent. The differences were finally resolved after Aidan’s death at the Synod of Whitby in 664AD, when the then King of Northumberland decreed that his kingdom should follow the Roman traditions.

My wife Marty and I enjoyed a day on Lindisfarne a few years ago, crossing the causeway early in the morning just before it was shut by the incoming tide, so we avoided the usual throng of visiting tourists. We found it an inspiring, peaceful, prayerful place. We toured the remains of the later medieval Priory. We wandered the lanes of the village. We joined the daily prayer of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, and we shared lunch with Ray Simpson, its founding Guardian. The Community of Aidan and Hilda is a dispersed ecumenical community drawing inspiration from the lives of the Celtic Saints, a bit like an elder sister of our own Community of Brendan the Navigator.

St Aidan of Lindisfarne is remembered to this day as ‘the apostle to the English’, alongside St Augustine of Canterbury. It is right that we should celebrate him as a hero of the Christian faith, and give thanks for the success of his mission to Northumberland.

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