Once more we found ourselves gravitating towards the tower of an ancient church. As we were meeting in Bamburgh, it seemed only right that we pay our respects here. It may seem a little odd that although we are not precisely Christian, we spend a lot of time in churches, but Britain has long been a nominally Christian country and for centuries the Church was at the heart of political power…and its churches at the heart of village life. There are few other places where so rich a history can be studied without fuss by anyone who cares to walk through the door.
This area of the North was once a place of great sanctity and home to more saints than can be imagined. Many of them were ‘small’ local saints, possibly ‘adopted’ from pre-Christian mythologies, others are well-documented historical figures and were amongst the most beloved of their kind.
This stretch of the northeastern coastline played a pivotal part in Christianity’s establishment in this country and there are still echoes here of the Celtic faith that was ousted at the Synod of Whitby in 664 in favour of the Roman version of Christianity. Prior to the Synod, it was the Ionian version of the faith that had taken precedence in these parts and two of the most important figures in bringing that faith to the area were King Oswald and St Aidan.
Oswald had been raised as a boy at the monastery of Iona, but when he came to the kingship and took up his throne at the royal seat of Bamburgh, local Christianity was being gradually ousted by an Anglo-Saxon form of paganism. Determined to bring what he saw as the true faith to his people, he sent to Iona for missionaries. They sent him Bishop Cormán, who managed to offend everyone and convert no-one and who accused the northerners of being ‘too stubborn’ to convert. He was soon sent packing. Aidan spoke out against Cormán’s methods and as a ‘reward’ was sent to King Oswald at Bamburgh in his place.
Aidan established the monastery on Lindisfarne, Holy Island, in sight of the castle and set out to bring his faith to the people of the land. His methods were gentle, he spoke courteously to all, no matter how high or low their station. Like his Lord, he accepted all souls with kindness, while he himself practised poverty and frugality. He and King Oswald became much loved and brought the people back to their shared faith.
Continue reading at France & Vincent