The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Saint Aidan settled on the Holy Island of  Lindisfarne during the Romanesque.  Aidan helped establish the priory and monastery that helped preserve European culture during the Age of the Barbarians.  Sir Walter Scott, the famed Scottish novelist, playwright and poet was very moved by the natural beauty and quiet splendor of Lindisfarne and the perceived reverberations of the Abbey, Monastery and the Priory that he wrote the following poem in Marmion (1808):

“In Saxon strength that abbey (Lindisfarne) frown’d, With massive arches broad and round, On ponderous columns, short and low, Built ere the art was known, By pointed aisle, and shafted stalk, The arcades of an alley’d walk To emulate in stone.”

What do you imagine life to be like for the monks who tried to escape the barbarians by hiding in desolate or isolated areas where they could lose themselves in the writing and copying of manuscripts?  Do you think such a remote, isolated community of religious scholars could be a life for you?

Saint Aidan

Thomas Girtin, View of Lindisfarne Ruins, 1798

Lindisfarne Priory Ruins with Statue of St. Aidan

View of Lindisfarne Priory Ruins

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

16 Comments

16 thoughts on “The Holy Island of Lindisfarne”

  1. I imagine that it must have been terrifying at first when trying to escape from the barbarians and at the same time, trying to save all the manuscripts. It is evident that they found a perfect place to build their fortress. The monastery that they built is beautiful and the land itself looks rich and healthy. I dream of living in a self-sustainable land but I can imagine that if that place is on a desolate island, it might get a little too lonely for me. But at times such as the Age of the Barbarians, the will of the monks to survive and preserve what they felt important must have been very strong. It would be very likely that I would have loved that kind of life in Lindisfarne as well.

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  2. Being that the circumstances were tragic, the monks needed to find illumination. On the Holy island they gathered in strength and had a willingness to supersede barbaric and irrational practices. Their lives were at stake and the only resolution could be to hide under the radar. It can be understandable for them, but I myself would not feel at ease with the idea. I cannot take it for granted that religious scholars would have given me wisdom, but the isolation would ultimately dawn on me throughout time and time again. I have respect for those who had gone through their life living in refuge and it were beneficial for the world to learn from it, so it seems.

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  3. I think it would be very frightening to have to live in an isolated area due to dangerous people trying to find and kill you. However, at the very same time, I can think of no better place to have to copy manuscripts. The isolation offers no distractions which might disrupt the monks in their duties. I cannot imagine that there would be much else to do besides the manuscript writing and other religious obligations. The environment in which they reside was likely untarnished by large amounts of people considering that these communities must have been relatively small. If that were the case, the nature sights must have been spectacular especially at night, when people can see the stars. These views might certainly provide some amount of motivation, as these religious scholars could interpret their envelopment in nature as a gift from God in gratitude for them preserving those important manuscripts. Certainly, there are just as many positive things as there are negative things to living in an isolated community. Regardless, I do not think I would be able to live under these conditions. I would probably get bored way too quickly and start to annoy the other inhabitants.

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  4. I think that the monks lived a fearful life hiding in the desolate, isolated areas, even though they kept themselves occupied with copying of the manuscripts. I think this environment was beneficial and reduced their stress in the way that it was beautiful and vast. That landscape is beneficial to their intrapersonal lifestyle. This life could not be for me because I’m not very religious to begin with and I get stir crazy.

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  5. The choice to live in a desolate place comes with its own risks and rewards. The monks were finally able to get away from the barbarians and live in peace, but they were subjected to a single island. I think it would be hard to live in a place that was disconnected from the outside world. I have trouble trying to get free from boredom and I live in the middle of a city, so I couldn’t imagine what it would be like on an island. Although, I wouldn’t mind being involved in an isolated community that was related toward something I had a passion for, I don’t think I could live a life devoted to a community of religious teachings. I would be open towards being in a remote place for a short amount of time, if it were for the purpose of figuring out my own problems, but i couldn’t live my entire life in such place.

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  6. I think it takes a large amount of courage and strength for these monks to hide away to practice their art. Although, I am not a writer I can relate to them as I am a sculptor. I cannot imagine not having an outlet to express my inner most complicated emotions. If I were in a similar situation where I could not sculpt I would most definitely hide away so I could practice my art form. Even though I would want to hide away, I should also take into consideration of the hardship of such a dangerous mission. The monks lifestyles are probably difficult. They probably lived under a constant cloud of fear and loneliness. I do not think that I would enjoy living on a desolate island. I enjoy observing other individuals to much. This is where I get my main sense of inspiration.

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  7. I feel like it was mostly inevitable that the monks would lose themselves! There is no stopping the plague that is monotony. I can imagine grey faces hidden in dark holes. Spending hours upon hours, days upon days, etc., would be terrible. A life spent in hiding is not— in fact— a life at all. I would for sure lose it if I were condemned to hiding.

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  8. I imagine that life for the monks was at times tough, and yet fulfilling at the same time. It seems as though they were guided by a higher force or power to dedicate their lives to the preservation of important manuscripts and “ideas.” I am so thankful they did this. I have had the pleasure of visiting Lindisfarne, although it was 25 years ago (when I was 18 and just starting out on life on my own), I do remember that it had a unique energy and feel. All these centuries later it still had the feeling of a quiet refuge, very different and “separate” from the mainland of Great Britain. Could I live this type of secluded life? The romanticized idea of fulfilling this important role for civilization appeals to me, however, I think I would struggle with the endless repeating days of scribing in seclusion. Although, from my visit to many old monasteries in the UK, I understand that the monks made and drank a lot of mead, which probably would help get through those dark, long, cold winters!

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  9. I find it funny that you ask if it would be something i could do, the reason being that before I got out of the army the idea of living a life of solitude and being a monk is what I wanted to do. I’m sure that it is a peaceful life and it goes without interruption. i feel like they would enjoy life more so than us in society because their life is dictated by whatever the day brings rather than chasing money just to give it away.

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  10. For the monks I imagine it would have been very scary, having to run away and hide from the barbarians, and start new lives on desolate islands. Not only having to run and hide but always with the fear that the barbarians might find them. All of these not including the fact that they would spend most of their days making sure they preserve these manuscripts. It would be an interesting life to say the least, I can not really say if I could live that life or not, it would be a big shock at first to live like that. It would take a lot of will and determination to adapt, however if there was no other way, as for many of these monks it was, I would adapt. It would be interesting to see how someone can cope and live being completely alone or with a close knit group.

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  11. Life was probably scary and worrisome at first, but once the monks developed a routine, which monks do, I think the seclusion enabled these scholars to focus on their work. They were probably happy knowing that their work was important and that would have brought them great satisfaction. How hauntingly beautiful the idea of seclusion sounds but I have too many varied interests, like traveling, to live like that.

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  12. Escaping to a place where you know that there is salvation and comfort is one thing, but escaping in order to start from scratch is a whole other game. The monks who escaped barbarians by hiding and needing to grow and build their own life again from the very beginning in order to survive is an immensely harsh lifestyle. Though, these monks probably did not have any time to think about their own comfort, instead worrying about their duty to writing and copying manuscripts. I don’t think this type of lifestyle would work out for me, as I would not be able to surviving growing and farming my own food.

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  13. I imagine that life was significantly quite and routine. The monasteries that the monks occupied at that time were probably set in very rural areas of the countries, far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities which were being pillaged and plundered. Living in these monasteries could be like living in another world. A world unburdened by the fears that came with being under constant thereat of invasion and conquest. It was probably in those quite still moments, when they could hear the birds chirp and see the sunlight breaking through the trees, that they were able to truly reflect on, and appreciate their connection to their god. I can’t imagine an environment more conducive to scribing out important manuscripts and upholding religious beliefs and practices. It is the idea of this peaceful contentment that leads me to believe that I would have been inclined to follow the path of the monks if I were living in that day in age. I have always had a fondness for peace and quiet and a peace of mind, which are two things that I am sure that the monks had plenty of.

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  14. Growing up with Buddhist parents, I’ve become quite familiar with Buddhism. knowing that monks are trained to surpass difficulties through their inner strength and peace. The thought of trying to escape barbarians in a life or death situation daunts me which gives me an utmost respect for the monks who persuade what they deemed worthy of their life. They would risk their lives to copy the manuscripts in order to save them and built a safe haven for them to keep such literature safe. For me, however, I would most definitely not have taken this lifestyle choice, not only is it too high of a risk but the thought of having to go incognito and not be found is extremely difficult to live in. Constant hiding and anticipation will eventually drive me insane. Much respects to the monks that took this path in order to educate and spread their beliefs.

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  15. It is scary to be hiding in an isolated place for the monks just to escape from the barbarians. But even when they were hiding in such a desolated area, they had something to create ad learn by writing and copying the manuscripts. Because they were in such a tragic condition, they have focused on something else that was more helpful for their selves. For me, it will be scary and difficult to just keeping hiding in an isolated place to stay away from the barbarians.

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  16. Living like monks on Skellig Island in their isolated communities of religious scholars could be bearable, or even an enjoyable life for me. I imagine that the scholars and monks living there hiding from the barbarians were living in fear, but not completely. Since the monks could lose themselves in writing and copying of manuscripts they could enjoy the time they had reading, writing, drawing, and learning. Additionally, when the monks are not copying the illuminated manuscripts, I assume they are able to meet and socialize in their free time. Living in such a community like that would make the community tight-knit and close. Even if the island is desolate it is filled with the surrounding nature and fresh air, and it is a safe distance away from barbarians. Although this lifestyle of being close to nature and self-sustenance is wholly different from the tech-based lives we live today, I can see myself enjoying this closer and nature bound community.

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