Lecture: The Influence Of The 7th C Irish Mission On Britain And Beyond

On Saint Hilda's Day, 17 Novemember, I received the vows of Bryan Knox of Cramlington on Holy Island, in the presence of 'The Gang', ten committed friends of forty years.

That evening I gave Berwick Historical Society's first lecture since Covid, on the subject 'The Influence of the 7th c Irish Mission on Northern Britain and Beyond'.  This is available as a download.  Click    Here are a few extracts:

At the 664 Synod of Whitby Northumbria adopted Roman regulations and Irish and 30 English Lindisfarne monks emigrated to Ireland. The Irish monks established a monastery on the island of Innisboffin and the English brothers established a monastery at Mayo which thrived for hundreds of years. I was in Ireland in the year 2000 when archeologists and historians celebrated this monastery and held a summer school.

But although the Irish monks at Lindisfarne left, Aidan’s Saxon monk students spread his spiritualityfrom the Tay to near the Thames (Cedd) and to Mercia. In 669 Chad founds Lichfield Diocese whose hearth was not a cathedral but monks prayer cells. St. Chad’s Gospels are housed at Lichfield Cathedral. Some think they originated at St. Teilo’s in Wales and others in Lindisfarne – but Lichfield has long been their guardian.

Cedd established Lastingham monastery – the crypt of the present church is part of the original building. King Sigebert of the East Saxons invited himto become their bishop. Cedd gave prophetic rebukes to immoral behaviour in high places, and it is thought likely he planted churches in places such as Bradwell, Tilbury, West Mersea, Great Burstead, Chadwell, Prittlewell, Southminster and Upminster. Bede says he drew multitudes to follow a Rule.

Scottish writers believe that Iona’s links with Northumbria continued in informal ways after as well as before the Synod of Whitby. Historians of the area around Fortingall and Breadalbane point out that the junction of the rivers Lyon and Tay is a very fertile delta which was called Inch-Aidan (now Kenmore). They think Aidan may have established cells there before he came to Lindisfarne, and perhaps en route, and that his Saxon monks continued links to the end of their lives....

793 Vikings invade Lindisfarne, yet a decade later a new Bishop of Lindisfarne is consecrated, not on the island but at Byewell-on-Tyne, in the presence of the Bishops of York, Hexham and Candida Casa. ....

'The 19th c Dispersion from Celtic countries to the New World brought in its wake many churches and colleges dedicated to saints of the Irish Mission. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and Post-Colonial Theology chime with the values of Aidan and Hilda. In a  six part TV series on the History of Christianity black theologian Robert Beckford was filmed on Lindisfarne. He had become a Christian through his Caribbean grandparents, who were converted through preachers hired by their slave-owning employers. The Gospel had been preached but slavery had been modelled. So Beckford had always been an ambivalent Christian.  But, he said, what he learned about the Irish Mission, and Aidan buying slaves their freedom, for the first time gave him a model of Christianity he could embrace wholeheartedly. In Australia the author David Tacey believes that Australian is beginning to discover colonization in reverse which could offer a lead to the world.  The settlers rubbished the aboriginals and abused the land.  Now, as they rediscover their forgotten Celtic roots, and Australia’s Aboriginal roots. He writes  The land we thoughan empty field upon which we would stamp our own authority, is proving to have a spiritual authority far greater than our own. We are witnessing the rebirth of an ancient experience of the spirit. Australia could provide important spiritual leadership to the Western world, because what we are undergoing here is a transformation that all Western nations will eventually have to undergo if civilisation is to recover a creative relationship with the earth … The popular Celtic revival is a positive sign that an earth-based, celebrative spirituality is already growing in parts of the West. 

So, the influence of the Irish Mission is not only a part of historyit is part of our history-in-the making. 

Posted at 11:39am on 18th November 2021
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