St Mary’s church sits directly opposite the Priory Church on Lindisfarne (Holy Island). It’s the oldest, complete building on the island. Parts of the structure are thought to date back to the 7th century, several hundred years before the appearance of the Priory. However, it’s main structure is from the the 12th century, when it was built by the Benedictine monks from the Priory to serve the local population, with additions in the 13th Century and later.
It’s built from cream, pink and grey sandstone and architecturally it’s largely a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic.
Inside we can see Romanesque arches and piers along the north aisle. with an Early English Gothic arch at the east end of the nave leading to the Chancel. This wall is the oldest part of the church, dating back to Saxon times. The small door at the top of the wall is from this period.
The south aisle has pointed Gothic arches
This striking statue – The Journey – is by Fenwick Lawson, who also created the statue of St Cuthbert in the Priory ruins. It was carved from elm using a chainsaw and depicts the monks of Lindisfarne carrying St.Cuthbert’s body on the first stage of its journey around Northumberland when the monks deserted the island following the Viking raids. There’s a bronze casting of this work in the cathedral at Durham.
This is St Peter’s chapel in the north aisle, dedicated to local fishermen
There was some attractive stained glass, particularly these two lancet windows at the west end of the church, of St Cuthbert
and St Aiden
They were designed by Leonard Evetts
Lindisfarne Priory is the official end of St Cuthbert’s trail so we went to have a look shortly after we arrived on Holy Island. These days the ruins are cared for English Heritage who have a small museum telling the history of the site and putting it into context.
This structure didn’t exist at the time of St Cuthbert. The original Celtic Christian Monastery was abandoned in 875 following the Viking raids. These are the ruins of the Norman Monastery that was founded in the 12th Century., the church being constructed around 1150. Consequently it was a Romanesque building and was modelled on Dirham cathedral.
The Priory was closed in 1537 during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and, as was generally the case, the buildings were used as a “quarry” . Stone from the Priory is known to have been used during the construction of LIndisfarne Castle, for example.
Although you can get a good look at the buildings from St Mary’s churchyard, the adjacent field and from on top of the Heugh, we paid our entry fee that allowed us to get close up to the ruins and allowed entry into the museum.
We entered from St Mary’s churchyard through the West Front
This is the West Front, seen from the inside. Typically Romanesque with it’s rounded arches and thick masonry. It was originally flanked by two towers; there are substantial remnants of one of them
Battlements and cross-shaped arrowloops were added in the mid-14th century when the whole priory was fortified in response to the outbreak of war with the Scots.
This is the north aisle of the Nave. The rounded arches are supported by massive piers, very typical of Romanesque churches. They’re decorated in a style similar to some of the later piers in Durham Cathedral.
A view from the east of the end of the nave
This is the “rainbow arch”, a surviving rib from the Crossing where the main tower of the church would have stood.
These are the remains of the Presbytery at the east end of the church. It was rebuilt in a more Gothic style with large windows pointed arches and exterior buttresses supporting the walls.
There are only limited remains of the monks’ living quarters to the south of the church. It wasn’t a large community.
This bronze sculpture of St Cuthbert, which stands at the south end of the site, was created by Durham born sculptor, Fenwick Lawson
We arrived on Holy Island, also known as Lindisfarne, around midday. We could have picked up the car and our luggage and headed home but had decided to stay the night on the island and had rooms booked in the Ship Inn. Due to the tide times we couldn’t leave until just after midday the next day, so we had about 24 hours to look around. Luckily the weather held with rain overnight and early morning, but it had finished by the time we’d had our breakfast, checked out and loaded up the car so it was dry while we spent our last few hours mooching around.
Holy Island is a major tourist attraction and gets very busy during the periods when travel across the causeway is possible. However once the tide starts coming coming back in the hordes depart leaving the island very quiet indeed. Wandering around in the evening and morning rather reminded me of the time we spent at Portmerion in Wales where hotel guest have the village to themselves after the day visitors have left.
Lindisfarne, as the island was originally known, was an isolated island off the coast of an isolated region – Northumbria until a monastery was founded by the Irish monk Saint Aidan, from Iona off the west coast of Scotland at the request of King Oswald. The monastery became an important base for Christianity in the north of England which might seem strange given its seemingly isolated position. But it must be remembered that in those times travel over land was extremely difficult and communication was largely by sea. Lindisfarne was well positioned for that.
St Cuthbert came to Lindisfarne in around 665 as prior. In 684 he was made bishop of Lindisfarne but by late 686 resigned and became a hermit, initially on St Cuthbert’s Isle, traditionally located just of the main Lindisfarne island and then on Inner Farne Island (two miles from Bamburgh, just down the coast), which was where he eventually died in 687. He was buried at Lindisfarne. Miracles were soon reported at St Cuthbert’s shrine and Lindisfarne was quickly established as the major pilgrimage centre in Northumbria.
12th century wall-painting of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral (Source: Wikipedia)
Lindisfarne remained an important Christian centre until the Viking raids started in the 9th century. In 875 the monks abandoned the island taking with them the body of St.Cuthbert, together with other relics and treasures which had survived the Viking raids. After the Norman Conquest a Benedictine community was established on Lindisfarne, which now also became known as ‘Holy Island’. The current Priory dates from this period.
This statue to St Aidan is located inside the churchyard, outside the Priory walls
Here are the priory ruins (more about this in a later post)
This is reputed to be St Cuthbert’s Island where his hermitage was located before he moved to the more isolated Inner Farne
There’s a small community that lives on the island but I guess that a good proportion of the attractive buildings are holiday cottages.
Lindisfarne Castle, which is owned by the National Trust, is currently undergoing major restoration work so we couldn’t visit.It was built on the highest point of the island, a whinstone hill called Beblow, between 1550 and 1570 as a fort and was home to temporary garrisons of soldiers on detachment from the larger force based at nearby Berwick. In 1901, long abandoned as a military outpost, it was bought by Edward Hudson, the owner of Country Life magazine, for use as a holiday home. He had it refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
He also had a walled garden created by Gertrude Jekyll, who was a friend of Lutyens, between 1906 and 1912. It’s a short distance from the castle building and had originally been the garrison’s vegetable plot. It was open and free to visit (although we are members of the National Trust) so we went and had a look.
Being early in the season for such a bleak and windswept location, the flowers were only just starting to come into bloom. It will look better in a few weeks time.
I liked this little monument to Gertrude Jeckyll
After we’d looked around the garden we continued along the path towards the sea. We were quite amazed to see lots and lots of small cairns and other structures made from rocks and pebbles from the beach which had been built along a grass ridge running next tot he beach.
There was even a mermaid
and a dolphin
We made our own modest contribution to the vast collection, and then carried on down to the beach.
It was a fine day and we could see Banburgh Castle and the Farne Islands over on the horizon.
Turning back inland towards the castle, we could see the old lime kilns.
There had been small scale lime production on the island since the end of the 18th Century and these much larger industrial scale kilns were constructed in 1860 and were operated until the beginning of the 20th Century.
Being interested in industry and industrial history it was good to get inside and have a close look.
It would have been like Dante’s inferno working on the kilns with the high temperatures, dust and fumes.
We headed back past the castle returning to the village.
Time for a welcome cold drink at the Ship Inn
The next morning we had a couple of hours to look round the island before the causeway opened.
We had a look around the harbour. I rather liked the way upturned boats were used as huts! Rather like Great Expectations.
Lobster pots piled up.
We walked over to the Heugh, a rocky outcrop.
There were good views over the Abbey and over the sea to the mainland
We walked past St Mary’s church
and had a look inside (another post, I think!)
and then past St Cuthbert’s United Reform Church
I rather liked this sculpture on the outside of the building
We walked into the village and had a look round some shops and then went for a coffee in an excellent little coffee shop.
Watch out for the sparrows and other small birds in garden. They’re not shy at hoovering up crumbs and trying to pinch food from the tables.
After we’d finished we could see delivery vehicles arriving in the village. It was time to return to the car and drive over the causeway and head back to Morebattle where we’d started our journey to pick up D’s car.
I’m glad we took the opportunity to stay on the island rather than rush back after we’d finished our walk. It allowed us to explore properly and enjoy the peace and quiet while the day visitors had gone back over the causeway.
The final leg of our journey – a few miles that would take us from the Lindisfarne Inn over to Lindisfarne, or ‘Holy Island’ itself. Purists would have walked back the couple of miles to Fenwick and rejoined the official route over to the causeway. However we decided we’d take the direct route, down the road through Beal.
We were a little early as the tide had only started to recede, so we had a little wait before we could join the causeway.
There are two options for walking over to the island. Down the causeway or along the ‘Pilgrim’s Route’ following a line of poles across the sand. I quite fancied the latter but knew it was the more difficult choice in many ways, even though it is the shorter route. It would be difficult underfoot (it’s best to go barefooted and with shorts or trousers rolled up) and we would have had to wait a couple more hours before we could set off before the water had receded enough to risk it. So it was down the causeway for us
We passed the refuge built for foolish drivers who don’t pay attention to the tide tables, or think they can beat the tide.
The island was in view.
We had to dodge the cars, vans and lorries, some of them driving too fast and recklessly and it would have been quite miserable, I think, if it was raining and windy as there’s no shelter. Luckily for us the cloud was clearing and the sun started to come out.
Eventually we made it across.
I diverted across to the Ship Inn to check that my car was still in one piece – it was (phew!)
and then cut across to the Priory, the official end of the route