The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona, off the west coast of Scotland to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald around 635 A.D. It became the base for Christian evangelisation in the North of England. Monks from the community of Iona settled on the island. Northumberland's saint, Cuthbert, was a monk, and later Abbot of the monastery, and his miracles and life are recorded by the Venerable Bede. He 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. 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, decimated 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 having been suppressed under Henry VIII is now a ruin in the care of English Heritage who also run a museum/visitor centre nearby. The neighbouring parish church (see below) is still in use.
Lindisfarne was mainly a fishing community for many years, although 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 Celtic Christianity in the North of England, and the minister of the church there, is a well-known author of Celtic Christian books and prayers. Following on this Lindisfarne has become a popular retreat centre, 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 expert 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.
Lindisfarne stars (anonymously) in the Roman Polanski film Cul-de-Sac (1966) with Donald Pleasence and Lionel Stander. The tide rises round a car which is stuck on the causeway; also featured are the characteristic sheds made from cobles (local fishing boats), inverted and cut in half. These may still be seen on the island.