Thursday, July 28, 2005

holy island

Yesterday morning, the choir skipped morning rehearsal to make our way to the Holy Island, Lindisfarne. This is the island where St. Cuthbert and his fellow monks had their priory in the 600s, where he died and was buried in a shrine, and where the Vikings attacked, chasing them away from the island, carrying Cuthbert's casket with them. They later established a small church in Durham which William the Conqueror tore down to build the current cathedral in 1093. Cuthbert was re-buried in the new cathedral, and his tomb became a major shrine during the Middle Ages as pilgrims flocked to pray before it.

Lindisfarne is separated from the mainland by tidal flats, and when we got there around 11:00 am, the tides had finally gone out, leaving the small road to the island, the causeway, still damp. It cuts through the silt and mud narrowly, a two lane road with many walkers and bike riders. The village now sits next to ruins of the priory -- not Cuthbert's, but one established by Benedictine monks from Durham Cathedral. They built a church that was a smaller model of the massive cathedral, including the massive round Norman or romanesque pillars.

When Henry VIII closed the Durham monastery in 1539, the Lindisfarne priory was allowed to deteriorate, and the only thing left are ruins. The small houses of the village are quite austere, but each window and door is decorated with boxes of bright annuals, with climbing roses, making the place cheerful.

Even in ruin, the Norman church is still exceptionally powerful. As time and weather have worked to erode the stones, the stones left standing have taken on a honeycomb effect on the surface in random and interesting patterns. At the crossing, there is one ribbed arch that once held up the stone ceiling, now long gone. Sky and grass have entered into the ruin without much effort. The rest of the ruins lay out the walled areas of the monastery, and give one a sense of how the monastery was layed out.


Hugh said...

When the Wife and I went to Lindisfarne, we went up to the Priory on the Island, and were very disappointed to find that it had been decorated in late-Edwardian. It might have been attractive in an actual country house, but there, after walking through the long history of the island, it was completely underwhelming.

Don said...

hmm...the little parish church would match that description. The priory itself are the ruins, aren't they, of the 13th century monastery built by the Benedictines.

Within the church, there was a wonderful sculpture made out of wood depicting the monks carrying Cuthbert's body, as symbolic of their moving around as of the actual act.

Interestingly, there were a lot of tourists there on the day we went, but almost all of them were British.