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Lindisfarne Cemetery (the priory and castle on the island can be seen in the background)

Lindisfarne, also called Holy Island (variant spelling, Lindesfarne), is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, which is connected to the mainland of Northumberland by a causeway, and is cut off twice a day by tides. In the 2001 census it had a usual population of 162.


The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, who had been sent from Iona, off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria at the request of King St. Oswald of Northumbria around 635 A.D. It became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England, and also sent a successful mission to Mercia. Monks from the community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's patron saint, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, was a monk and later abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. Cuthbert later became Bishop of Durham.

Starting in the early 700s, monks of the community produced the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John in the manuscript tradition of the Book of Kells. Sometime in the 900s a monk named Eadfrith added an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) gloss to the Latin text, producing one of the earliest Old English copies of the Gospels. The Gospels are illustrated in a Celtic style, and were originally covered with a fine metal case made by a hermit. This, however, was lost when Viking raids in 793 sacked the monastery, killed many of the community, and forced the monks to flee (taking with them the body of St. Cuthbert, which is now buried at the cathedral in Durham). The Lindisfarne Gospels now reside in the British Library in London, somewhat to the annoyance of some Northumbrians. The priory was re-established in Norman times as a Benedictine house and continued until its suppression in 1536 under Henry VIII. It is now a ruin in the care of English Heritage who also run a museum and visitor center nearby. The neighbouring parish church (see below) is still in use.

The ruins of the Benedictine priory on Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne also has the small Lindisfarne Castle, based on a Tudor fort, which was refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens and has a garden created by Gertrude Jekyll. The castle, garden and nearby lime kilns are in the care of the National Trust and open to visitors.

Present Day

Lindisfarne was mainly a fishing community for many years, with farming and the production of lime also of some importance. Tourism grew steadily throughout the twentieth century and it is now a popular place with visitors—sometimes a little too popular, as space and facilities are limited. By staying on the island while the tide cuts it off (time permitting) the non-resident visitor can experience the island in a much quieter mood, as most day visitors leave when the tide is rising again. It is possible, weather and tide permitting, to walk at low tide across the sands following the older crossing line known as the Pilgrims' Way and marked with posts: it also has refuge boxes for the careless walker, in the same way as the road has a refuge box for those who have left their crossing too late. Please see the safety note below.

Recently Lindisfarne has become the centre for the revival of so-called "Celtic Christianity" in the North of England; the minister of the church there is a well-known author of Celtic Christian books and prayers. Following from this Lindisfarne has become a popular retreat center, as well as holiday destination.


Visitors wishing to walk across are urged to keep to the marked path, check tides and weather carefully, and seek local advice if in doubt. Visitors driving should pay close attention to the timetables which are prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about 3 hours after high tide, until 2 hours before the next high tide, but there is no substitute for checking the timetables for a specific date.

External links