Remains Of A Church Discovered At Lindisfarne Could Have Been Standing During The Famous Viking Raid Of 793

Lindisfarne, on the northeast coast of England, also known as the Holy Island, has long been known, not only for the birthplace of St. Aidan, but as the first known written account of a Viking attack. Now, a recent archaeological discovery has found the remains of a church that could have been standing during this event.

According to Chronicle Live, historic buildings expert Peter Ryder described the find at Lindisfarne as “probably the most significant archaeology find ever on Holy Island.”

Indicative of how faithful the builders of this church on Lindisfarne were, sandstone blocks measuring a meter in length and a probable altar base have been found on this site, along with “the division between the nave and the chancel.” A previous dig last year also places a possible watch tower approximately 50 meters away from this new site.

It took approximately two weeks to uncover the ancient church as archaeologists painstakingly worked on site to excavate the area.

Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice and Newcastle University led the dig and described the find as a “very exciting and hugely significant find.”

This archaeological dig on Lindisfarne is part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership project and is backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Lindisfarne church, Viking age
[Image by Chronicle Live]

Why is the Lindisfarne church a significant archaeological find?

The newly discovered Lindisfarne church is dated prior to the Norman Conquest, with experts saying it could date from 630AD to 1050. Most likely, they think it falls into the earlier date. If so, this could place the church on the island of Lindisfarne as standing when the Vikings raided in 793.

According to the history of the island, St. Aidan originally built a wooden church on Lindisfarne in 635. St. Aidan’s church was later updated. but, potentially, the foundations of this newly discovered church in Lindisfarne have been placed over remains of Aidan’s original church. According to Peter Ryder, the church “may have been built to commemorate where St Aidan’s wooden church stood.”

Lindisfarne, Viking raid in 793
[Image by By Matthew Hunt (originally posted to Flickr as Holly Island 11) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

In 793, according to the scholar, Alcuin of York, the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne. He described the event in a letter (Letter to Higbald, trans. by S. Allott, Alcuin of York) he wrote to the king of Northumbria. This raid is the earliest known Viking attack. Although, it may not have been the first Viking attack, only the earliest one recorded.

“Pagans have desecrated God’s sanctuary, shed the blood of saints around the altar, laid waste the house of our hope and trampled the bodies of saints like dung in the streets.”

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also recorded the Viking attack on Lindisfarne.

“In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen men destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

As a result of this attack, the Viking age came to the Medieval world.

While it is known the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne, it is unclear if the church recently found was the sacked by Vikings or not as the island originally held several churches according to Chronicle Live.

And now, after more than a thousand years, a church service, run by the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, was held once again at this holy place on Tuesday.

[Featured Image by Sylphe_7/Thinkstock]

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