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  793 A.D.:  Cuthbert's Gospels Are Returned By the Irish Sea

  There was a monastery in the late 600's and early 700's A.D. in an area of today's north-east England, a kingdom then called Northumbria, and it was known locally as Lindisfarne.  King Oswald of Northumbria, an East English kingdom near Scotland, sent a priest named Aidan to preach to the Anglo-Saxons who lived in that area, and in about 635 A.D. Aidan chose an island just off the east shore of England's north end as a good location  for a monastery - the one that was to be named Lindisfarne - and so it was built there.  Aidan died in about 651 A.D. after having a fair amount of success in bringing the Anglo-Saxons of that area to Jesus.  The island came to be called 'Holy Island' by many.

Lindisfarne Island

     

  A man named Cuthbert came to be bishop there, but for only a few short years.  Yet he was found to be an extremely holy man, and when he had died his remains were recorded to have worked remarkable miracles for those who travelled to them hoping for a cure from Jesus.  Before Cuthbert died, one of his contemporaries at Lindisfarne - a monk named Eadfrith, eventually to become bishop at Lindisfarne from 698 A.D. until about 721 A.D. - produced a Latin translation of the Holy Gospels upon animal skin (vellum.)  It was the work of a couple of men, since it was more than just text.  Eadfrith wrote, another painted certain of the pages using many different pigments in a quite distinctive Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic sort of style.  It was produced in what is thought of as 'the Golden Age of Northumbria', a flowering of that culture.  This 'Lindisfarne Gospel' is considered among the greatest and most artistically beautiful of the surviving examples of this type of artistically embellished works of literature.  Here follows a picture of one of the pages, as an example of the appearance of the artwork:                                                                                                                                   

A Lindisfarne Gospel Page

  To jump ahaed in history for a moment, in the 10th century, a priest named Aldred translated the words from the Lindisfarne Gospel into Old English, writing the English by hand between the original Latin lines of scripture in each of the 4 gospels.  And so, because of these hand transcribed lines in Old English, it is considered the earliest surviving translation of the Gospels into English (not the earliest translation of the entire Bible into English, but the earliest translation of just the Gospels.)

  But now to return back to the previous time frame of the 700's A.D.:  what is perhaps most amazing is that in 793 A.D., Danish Vikings began raiding England with a vengeance, and monasteries were sometimes their targets.  The first target of them all was Lindisfarne monastery.  So, after the attack by the raiders, the surviving priests and monks thought it wisest to flee to a new location.  They took such things as the bones of St. Cuthbert and this Lindisfarne Gospel and they took to sea, travelling to the safety of Ireland.

***** The Lindisfarne monastery was raided savagely, in 793 A.D.  It was quite unexpected, and some think of it as the beginning of the Viking age.  Here is a writing - which I found on another internet site but have not personally located on paper - which gives the writing of 'Alcuin' concerning that event:

  "Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race.  Nor was it thought possible that such an inroad from the sea could be made.  Behold, the church of Saint Cuthbert splattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of its ornaments.  A place more holy than all in Britain has fallen prey to pagans."    *************

  But tragically, while being spirited off to the safety of Ireland, the Lindisfarne gospel was lost at sea, washed overboard into the roiling waters of the Irish Channel.  It was a wonderful treasure of Christiandom seized upon by the unpredictable forces of nature.....yet another irreplaceable item lost to the great salt waters that encircle our inhabited lands and which hold a great bounty of such treasures.  Man plans.....God laughs!

  Yet never do the elements which God himself created thwart God's plans.  He does however use them at times to illustrate to ever doubting man that the plan - His plan - is always unfolding firmly in the course that He has fore-ordained!

  And so, a dream came to one of the monks, and in the dream St. Cuthbert appeared and spoke, telling him that the gospel made in his honor was to be found on the shore at a certain place which he showed the dreaming man, returned through God's will by the obedient sea....and we know that the sea readily obeys God's commands!  His Israelites passed through the Red Sea safely and on dry land because the sea drew back at God's command to make them a way to escape the persuing Egyptians.  And at another time almost 1500 years later Jesus quieted the storm that was frightening His Apostles by merely speaking to it.

  And so, these faithful and believing monks went there to the envisioned spot on the shore, and were very pleased to find that it was just as the figure in the dream had told them.  After more than 3 days at sea, the Lindisfarne gospel was found, wet but undamaged, and it dried with no more damage or wear than a few lines of salt deposit left on some of the pages. 

  This remarkable miracle of preservation caused the Gospel of Lindisfarne to sometimes be referred to, thereafter, as "the book of St. Cuthbert that fell into the sea."  So why would they have called it that if this had not happened?  And why was the salt on the pages?

  The Irish sea had returned this Celtic treasure, and that makes sense in a way.  In the scriptures, water can always just be water, but it is sometimes the symbol of the many peoples of the world (who need the Gospel!) and it can also sometimes be the symbol of the Holy Spirit (the Living Water), who helps people find and understand the Gospel. 

  So, maybe that even plays a role.  But, at all times and in all places, God is sovereign over His creation and does with it as He sees fit.  And His Word does not return to Him empty.

   

   

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website