Lindisfarne Castle on Holy island

Remains of Saxon Church Discovered on Viking Raided Lindisfarne Island


A team of archaeologists have recently excavated the remains of a church on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumberland. Experts describe the newly discovered church as one of the most significant archaeological finds in the history of the Holy Island.

Extremely Important Archaeological Find

For the first time in over a thousand years, a service was held on Tuesday, June 27, within the boundaries of a recently discovered church on Holy Island in Northumberland as Chronicle Live reports. Peter Ryder, an expert when it comes to historic buildings, has described the newly found church as “probably the most significant archaeology find ever on Holy Island.”

The excavations, directed by Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice and Newcastle University, were launched two weeks ago and are expected to finish at the end of this week. “It is a very exciting and hugely significant find,” Mr. Carlton tells Chronicle Live, which also notes that the community archaeology project is part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership project, which is sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The newly-excavated church remains on Holy Island

The newly-excavated church remains on Holy Island (Photo Source: ChronicleLive)

New Church Adds Another Chapter to the Holy Island’s Rich Legacy

The dig has unearthed immense sandstone blocks used in the building of the church on The Heugh, a ridge on Holy Island which provides its guests amazing views of the Farne Islands and Bamburgh, which used to be a royal capital of the kingdom of Northumbria. The newly discovered Lindisfarne church is dated prior to the Norman Conquest, with archaeologists estimating that it could possibly date from 630 to 1050 AD, although some of them think that it could be even earlier.

Mr. Carlton tells Chronicle Live, “There are not many churches of potentially the Seventh or Eighth Centuries known in medieval Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber to the Forth. [However], what is in favor of the argument for an early church is that on the ridge it would have been entirely visible from Bamburgh, the seat of political power at the time, and in turn would have had great views of Bamburgh…It adds another chapter to the history of Holy Island.”

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island (CC BY NC 2.0)

According to the history of the island, St. Aidan initially constructed a wooden church on Lindisfarne in 635 AD.  Historians believe that the church was renovated later, even though some suggest that the foundations of the newly unearthed church in Lindisfarne have been placed over the remains of St. Aidan’s original church. Peter Ryder’s theory suggests that the new church could have been built in order to honor and commemorate where St Aidan’s wooden church once stood.

Statue of St.Aidan of Lindisfarne at Lindisfarne Priory

Statue of St.Aidan of Lindisfarne at Lindisfarne Priory (CC BY SA 2.0)

The Viking Element at the Site

According to the scholar, Alcuin of York, the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne in 793 AD. As Inquisitr reports, the vicious attack of the Vikings is described in a letter Alcuin of York wrote to the king of Northumbria, which at the same time happens to be the earliest recorded Viking raid in Britain. The letter mentions, “Pagans have desecrated God’s sanctuary, shed the blood of saints around the altar, laid waste the house of our hope and trampled the bodies of saints like dung in the streets.”

Additionally, The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also recorded the Viking attack on Lindisfarne, in this way marking the Viking invasion to Medieval Europe,

“In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen men destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

And while it is a historical fact that the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne, historians are not sure if the newly found church was the one that got sacked by the Vikings, as the island had several churches at that time.

Top image: Lindisfarne Castle on Holy island (CC BY 2.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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