Biography of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne -651

Bede. 635. AD. Of the life of Bishop Aidan.

From this island, then, and the fraternity of these monks, Aidan was sent to instruct the English nation in Christ, having received the dignity of a bishop. At that time Segeni311, abbot and priest, presided over that monastery. Among other lessons in holy living, Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

Note 311. Cf. II, 19. He is probably to be identified with the Segenus mentioned there as one of the priests to whom Pope John's letter was addressed. He was Abbot of Iona, 623-652.

Bede. 635. AD. On the arrival of the bishop, the king appointed him his episcopal see in the island of Lindisfarne297, as he desired. Which place, as the tide ebbs and flows, is twice a day enclosed by the waves of the sea like an island; and again, twice, when the beach is left dry, becomes contiguous with the land. The king also humbly and willingly in all things giving ear to his admonitions, industriously applied himself to build up and extend the Church of Christ in his kingdom; wherein, when the bishop, who was not perfectly skilled in the English tongue, preached the Gospel, it was a fair sight to see the king himself interpreting the Word of God to his ealdormen and thegns, for he had thoroughly learned the language of the Scots during his long banishment. From that time many came daily into Britain from the country of the Scots, and with great devotion preached the Word to those provinces of the English, over which King Oswald (age 31) reigned, and those among them that had received priest's orders298, administered the grace of Baptism to the believers. Churches were built in divers places; the people joyfully flocked together to hear the Word; lands and other property were given of the king's bounty to found monasteries; English children, as well as their elders, were instructed by their Scottish teachers in study and the observance of monastic discipline. For most of those who came to preach were monks. Bishop Aidan was himself a monk, having been sent out from the island called Hii299, whereof the monastery was for a long time the chief of almost all those of the northern Scots300, and all those of the Picts, and had the direction of their people. That island belongs to Britain, being divided from it by a small arm of the sea, but had been long since given by the Picts, who inhabit those parts of Britain, to the Scottish monks, because they had received the faith of Christ through their preaching.

Note 297. Cf. Preface, p. 4, note 3. The Celtic missionaries were generally attracted to remote sites, and this, the first mission station of the Celtic Church in Northumbria, was doubtless chosen for the resemblance of its physical features to Iona. The constitution was also modelled on that of Iona, with this difference, that it was an episcopal see as well as a monastery. It was included in the "province" of the Abbot of Iona. The Bishop and all the clergy were monks, and Aidan himself was Abbot as well as Bishop.

Note 298. "Sacerdotali," perhaps (but not necessarily here) = "episcopal," as often. There may have been a number of the Irish non-diocesan bishops in the mission.

Note 299. Iona, a name supposed to have arisen from a mistaken reading of Ioua, an adjectival form used by Adamnan (v. infra note 4), feminine, agreeing with insula, formed from the Irish name, I, Ii, Hii, etc. (the forms vary greatly). Then "Iona" was fancifully regarded as the Hebrew equivalent for Columba (= a dove), and this helped to preserve the name.

Note 300. i.e., Irish.

Bede. 635. AD. How the same king Oswald, asking a bishop of the Scottish nation, had Aidan sent him, and granted him an episcopal see in the Isle of Lindisfarne.

The same Oswald (age 31), as soon as he ascended the throne, being desirous that all the nation under his rule should be endued with the grace of the Christian faith, whereof he had found happy experience in vanquishing the barbarians, sent to the elders of the Scots293, among whom himself and his followers, when in banishment, had received the sacrament of Baptism, desiring that they would send him a bishop, by whose instruction and ministry the English nation, which he governed, might learn the privileges and receive the Sacraments of the faith of our Lord. Nor were they slow in granting his request; for they sent him Bishop Aidan, a man of singular gentleness, piety, and moderation; having a zeal of God, but not fully according to knowledge; for he was wont to keep Easter Sunday according to the custom of his country, which we have before so often mentioned294, from the fourteenth to the twentieth of the moon; the northern province of the Scots, and all the nation of the Picts, at that time still celebrating Easter after that manner, and believing that in this observance they followed the writings of the holy and praiseworthy Father Anatolius295. Whether this be true, every instructed person can easily judge. But the Scots which dwelt in the South of Ireland had long since, by the admonition of the Bishop of the Apostolic see, learned to observe Easter according to the canonical custom296.

Note 293. i.e., Irish.

Note 294. Cf. II, 2, note on Paschal Controversy.

Note 295. Bishop of Laodicea, circ. 284 a.d. According to Eusebius, he was the first to arrange the cycle of nineteen years. The Canon quoted by the Celts in support of their observance of Easter is proved to be a forgery, probably of the seventh century and of British origin.

Note 296. Probably they adopted Catholic customs about 633, after the return of their delegates sent to consult the Roman Church on this question in 631.

In 635 Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne was appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 651. This year King Oswin was slain, on the twentieth day of August; and within twelve nights afterwards died Bishop Aidan, on the thirty-first of August.

On 12 Aug 651 Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne died.

Bede. Resolving to quit the secular habit, and to serve him alone, Abbess Hilda of Whitby withdrew into the province of the East Angles, for she was allied to the king [Note. His sister-in-law]; being desirous to pass over from thence into France, to forsake her native country and all she had, and so live a stranger for our Lord in the monastery of Cale, that she might with more ease attain to the eternal kingdom in heaven; because her sister Hereswith, mother to King Ælfwald of East Anglia, king of the East Angles, at that time living in the same monastery, under regular discipline, was waiting for her eternal reward. Being led by her example, she continued a whole year in the aforesaid province, with the design of going abroad; afterwards, Bishop Aidan being recalled home, he gave her the land of one family on the north side of the river Wire; where for a year she also led a monastic life, with very few companions.

Bede. After this Abbess Hilda of Whitby was made abbess in the monastery called Heruteu [Map], which monastery had been founded, not long before, by the religious servant of Christ, Heru, who is said to have been the first woman that in the province of the Northumbrians took upon her the habit and life of a nun, being consecrated by Bishop Aidan; but she, soon after she had founded that monastery, went away to the city of Kalcacestir, and there fixed her dwelling. Hilda, the servant of Christ, being set over that monastery, began immediately to reduce all things to a regular system, according as she had been instructed by learned men; for Bishop Aidan, and other religious men that knew her and loved her, frequently visited and diligently instructed her, because of her innate wisdom and inclination to the service of God.