England Owes Much to the Benedictines

Saint Aidan and the Saints of Lindisfarne

Feast Day: 31st August

During King Saint Oswald's years of exile among the Irish in the early seventh century, he had grown familiar with the Christian faith under the influence of St. Columba's missionary community of Iona. When eventually he became ruler of Northumbria his desire was to introduce this exemplary monastic tradition into his kingdom.

A small band of monks were sent from Iona but their mission failed to make any impact on the Anglo-Saxons who were too barbarous and pagan. During an important meeting about the future of the mission, a young monk named Aidan was thought to have the tolerance and the skills necessary for such a task.

He sought out an island like Iona on which to form an ascetic monastic base. It was perfectly placed in sight of the royal castle of Bamburgh and it was from Lindisfarne that Aidan began the great evangelisation of the North. He had the constant support of King Oswald who acted for some time as his interpreter.

Aidan founded churches and monasteries in the region, encouraging everyone to follow simple lives of fasting and meditation. His own holiness and poverty enabled him to confront fearlessly the wealthy and powerful when necessary. During Lent he would go to the Farne Islands to live in solitude, greater poverty and penance. He was known for his many miracles and prophecies, some of which Bede records with great care.

After Oswald's death in 642, Aidan enjoyed the support and friendship of his successor Oswin. On one occasion, King Oswin gave him a fine royal horse only to find out later that Aidan had given it away to a poor man. The King was furious but Aidan replied, "What are you saying, Your Majesty? ls this foal of a mare more valuable to you than a son of God?” After turning this over in his mind Oswin knelt at Aidan's feet and begged forgiveness.

St Bede tells us that Aidan was a model bishop looking after his flock and moulding them to be good followers of Christ. After an episcopate of 16 years he died on 31 August 651. That very day a shepherd boy on the surrounding hills saw a shaft of light rising over the church of Lindisfarne as a sign of the holy bishop's soul speeding upwards towards God. This boy was Cuthbert who would one day continue the work of Aidan whose body was laid to rest on Lindisfarne and soon became a hallowed place. He was the inspiration of many saints from the monastery there who were to follow him.

After the Vikings sacked Lindisfarne, the shrine was destroyed and his cult diminished. Today Saint Aidan is remembered once again on the island and a large bronze statue stands near the site of his monastery.

We owe so much to these holy Benedictine monks, including Saint Colman and Saint Finton, who worked tirelessly to convert our ancestors. Let us pray for the Benedictines in our land that they receive an increase in vocations and continue the great apostolic work of their forbears.