It is the 8th of June, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
What do you know? We are back in the Early medieval church (all of this is convenient as the weekend edition this coming week also takes way back into the “olden days” with the story of the ultimate Christian relic, or so some have thought).
It was on this, the 8th of June in the year 793, that we have the famed attack on the monastery in Lindisfarne by the Vikings- it ushered in the “Age of Vikings” and would ultimately lead to the conversion of these “Northmen” in the coming centuries and Christendom extending up through modern Russia, Finland, Sweden and that area. Some of them would actually make their way down to modern France- and they would be called not “Northmen” but “Normans,” and they would invade England in 1066.
So- first, who were these raiders? Well, they were men from the north who would just rather assume trade than raid. We have stories of them earlier in the middle ages as the pagans to the north but not as particularly dangerous. It wasn’t until the 8th century that we saw them coming south out of necessity- for supplies and other diminishing resources (they would see this as a failure of their gods to provide for them and would be part of the impetus for converting to Christianity).
And if you needed a place to raid for resources, the growing Monasteries in Europe would be the place to go. They would be centers of trade. After all, holy sites would bring people together from different places, and they would be given the funds to properly serve and worship God- from gold crosses and other items for worship.
And it was in Lindisfarne that the Northumbrian church had invested much of its wealth. Remember, we don’t have a unified England yet- but rather various kingdoms. The Northumbrians were in the Northeast of England, south of Scotland, and abutting the North Sea. Ruled by Anglo-Saxons, they had invested heavily in the “Holy Island” of Lindisfarne to be the center of church activity (remember, centering the church in Monasteries was one of the legacies of Augustine of Canterbury). It was here on Lindisfarne that we had the “Lindisfarne Gospels”- perhaps the greatest artistic achievement that we still have from the Anglo-Saxons. It is an illuminated copy of the four Gospels- a breathtaking union of beauty and text that marked Medieval (and later) English Christianity and its monastic centers.
It was produced for St. Cuthbert, one of the more important English monks and saints who oversaw the famous monastery at Lindisfarne. He had famously attended the Synod of Whitby when the Anglo church decided to orient herself towards Rome instead of the Celts.
The Abbey was not reinforced or protected by guards. Its location on the north sea and its isolation from the coast at high tide made it vulnerable. And this, at the beginning of the age of the Vikings, would see them vulnerable to the new Viking ships, their reliance on sails and oars- that which would make them feared across the British Isles and through the European continent. This Viking age would see the consolidation of power in England with King Alfred and on the Continent with Charlemagne. It would also lead to the sending of missionaries to the north, where the following centuries would see a mass movement of baptisms and convert to Christianity.
The Vikings would eventually travel from the British Isles to the Kievan Rus and Byzantines in Constantinople to the east. Viking shipbuilding and navigation, along with legal customs, would blend with the Europeans to create a distinct culture wherever they moved and assimilated in- usually by means of the church. So, it began as something akin to a terrorist attack— one scribe wrote:
“Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a Pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the Church of St. Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its Ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as prey to pagan people.”
It would usher in the age of the Vikings but ultimately to the Christianization of the North and the “North” or “Norse” men. (And fun fact, Hitler tried to find pre-Christian Aryan roots here- and that funnels into this weekend’s show… so stay tuned for that). This new age began with the famous sacking of Lindisfarne on this day, the 8th of June, in 793.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary but from the Psalms and my favorite- the Scottish Metrical Psalter:
1 Ye righteous, in the Lord rejoice;
it comely is and right,
That upright men, with thankful voice,
should praise the Lord of might.
2 Praise God with harp, and unto him
sing with the psaltery;
Upon a ten-stringed instrument
make ye sweet melody.
3 A new song to him sing, and play
with loud noise skilfully;
4 For right is God's word, all his works
are done in verity.
5 To judgment and to righteousness
a love he beareth still;
The loving-kindness of the Lord
the earth throughout doth fill.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of June 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Vikings include Erik the Red, Leif Erickson, Haggar the Horrible, and Justin Jefferson (seriously, you should see him dance the Gritty). He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who reminds you that Vikings didn’t wear horns on their helmet- that’s a later Romantic era, operatic and Wagnerian invention… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.