Lindisfarne: Holy Island of Northumbria
Lindisfarne became an incubator used by Aidan for the sole purpose of reproducing the work done at Iona within the boundaries of the Heptarchy. He worked hard to build the work there and his labors yielded amazing fruit. Who was Aidan? Why did he settle on Lindisfarne and what kind of work did he do there?
We begin our journey at a time when England was a heptarchy, seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms ruled by their own monarchies. These kingdoms, though surrounded by the Christian nations of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, were pagan, having no knowledge of God or His word.
The Heptarchy was made up of the kingdoms of East Anglia, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, Kent, Mercia, and Northumbria. King Oswald of Northumbria spent a period of time seeking refuge at Iona and this had a significant spiritual impact on his life. When he returned home he longed to see his people have the same experience and in 634 AD he sent a message to Iona requesting the help of a missionary to evangelize Northumbria.
Iona had at this time developed into a renowned university and the man they deployed in answer to Oswald’s call was Aidan. Aidan was an even-keeled man who didn’t swing too widely in any particular direction but managed to walk the middle ground of a balanced character. Fervent, devoted, diligent and possessing the same kind of intense energy as his mentor Columba, Aidan was a missionary at heart. He was a man who not only loved the ideology of biblical truth but also understood how to convert that ideology into practical reality. He was a passionate advocate for welfare and social justice, spending a lot of his time helping the poor and the enslaved.
Aidan was also a man who loved to pray and he spent many hours alone talking to God, drawing on Him for strength and wisdom for the tasks at hand. His life and example exerted a telling and transformative influence on the lives of those around him and in many ways was one of the most powerful sermons he ever preached.
When Aidan arrived in Northumbria, King Oswald gave him the small British island of Lindisfarne as a home base for his work and here he began his work in earnest. Using Iona as a model, he set up a center for missionary education, focused on spreading the gospel among the pagan, barbaric tribes of the Saxons. God blessed his efforts and soon the truth began to spread from Lindisfarne,
through Northumbria and into the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy as well.
He also set up training centers at Whitby within the Kingdom of Northumbria and at Melrose in Scotland. As his work drew to a close, he passed the torch to Finan, who did an immense work in the kingdoms of Mercia and Essex. Finan set up a training school in Tillberry in Essex, and from here the beams of truth swept powerfully over the rambling and rugged landscape of central England.
Finan was succeeded by Coleman and in 30 years these three men spread the truth throughout England. There was nothing loud or ostentatious about them; they were simple, humble and honest, yet their impact was nuclear in its reach and ramifications. The secret of their influence lay in their faithfulness to God’s calling for their lives, regardless of what that calling entailed.
There is power in faithfully serving God where he has placed us, in our local churches, local communities and other spheres of influence. Making an impact doesn’t require us to walk on water, wage warfare or wax eloquent in speech. Making an impact can often come quietly, unexpectedly and in the subdued avenues of unfaltering faithfulness to God in the humblest place.
Where has God placed you? What is the measure of your faithfulness there?
- Schaff, Philip (1858) – History of the Christian Church Volume II
- Wilkerson, B.G. (1944) – Truth Triumphant
Vignette on Latimer and Ridley from J.Foxe, Acts and Monuments or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, John Day Publisher, 1570, p. 1976