Admission adults £6.80 child £4.10
In 635 King Oswald summoned an Irish monk named Aidan from Iona (the island-monastery off the south-west coast of what is now Scotland) to be bishop of his kingdom. Oswald granted Aidan and his companions the small island of Lindisfarne to found a monastery on.
In the 670s a monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery at Lindisfarne. He became Lindisfarne’s greatest monk-bishop, and the most important saint in northern England in the Middle Ages.
Cuthbert reformed the monks way of life to conform to the religious practices of Rome rather than Ireland. This didn’t go down well, so Cuthbert decided to retire and live as a hermit. He lived at first on an island just offshore now known as St Cuthbert’s Isle, later moving across the sea to the more remote island of Inner Farne.
In 685 Cuthbert was made a bishop at insistence of the king and Cuthbert new duties brought him back into the world of kings and nobles, where he acquired a considerable reputation as a pastor, seer and healer.
On 20 March 687 Cuthbert died and was buried in a stone coffin inside the church on Lindisfarne. Legend as it that eleven years later the monks opened his tomb and to their delight they discovered that Cuthbert’s body had not decayed, a sure sign they argued of his purity and saintliness. His remains were elevated to a coffin-shrine at ground level, and this marked the beginnings of the cult of St Cuthbert. Miracles were soon reported at St Cuthbert’s shrine and Lindisfarne became a place of major pilgrimages. As a result, the monastery grew in power and wealth due to gifts of money, precious objects and land from kings and nobles.
After a devastating raid by Viking pirates in 793 the Lindisfarne monks retreated inland to Norham during the 830s. Then in 875 the decision was made to leave Lindisfarne for good. The monks wandered for seven years carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin and the treasures of Lindisfarne and eventually settled at Chester-le-Street, building a church in the middle of the old Roman fort. St Cuthbert’s relics were moved again in 995 and enshrined at Durham, where they remain.
The ruins of the priory are very impressive, however it has lost it’s feel of calm due to the fact that people are encouraged to use it like a park, picnics, ball games etc, so it’s very hard to soak up the atmosphere. There’s a nice little museum giving the history of the priory and St Cuthbert, the more I learnt about him the more I wish I could have met him.
Also in the same grounds stands The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, or should I say the priory sits in the grounds of the church given that parts of the church have been there since the 7th century. This is a beautiful little church with lovely stain glass windows and a wood carving of the monks carrying St. Cuthbert’s coffin called ‘The journey’ which is strangely moving.
The grave yard is also worth a look around, very old graves and some very impressive tombs.