Far north off England’s east coast, near Scotland, is Holy Island, known as “Lindisfarne” at first millennium’s close. Its vibrant monastery could only be reached from the mainland at low tide, by a path of mud and sand flats, famously described by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion:
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
Pilgrims of all sorts have visited the island over the centuries, braving its signature strong winds to enter this place of joy. Present-day islanders say the twice daily separation of Holy Island from the mainland gives their home a “magical quality,” which attracted seventh-century Scots-Celtic monk Aidan to found a monastery here, with tides creating the rich isolation for a contemplative community without solely cutting it off. These monks became known for their evangelical spirit, best seen in the breathtaking early-eighth-century illuminated manuscript, The Lindisfarne Gospels, a decade-long act of prayer by the well-named monk, Eadfrith. I can imagine Eadfrith having come in from milking a cow or weeding in the garden — hunched over vellum, stylus in hand, absorbed in crafting this extraordinary manuscript that a thousand-plus years later blesses (Ead-) the world with Christ’s peace (frith). . . . [see more]