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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Holy Island

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Or Lindisfarne, an irregularly shaped island in the North Sea, 2 m. from the coast of Northumberland, in which county it is included. Pop. (1901) 405. It is joined to the mainland at low water by flat sands, over which a track, marked by wooden posts and practicable for vehicles, leads to the island. There is a station on the North-Eastern railway at Beal, 9 m. S.E. of Berwick, opposite the island, but 14 m. inland. The island measures 3 m. from E. to W. and I Z N. to S., extreme distances. Its total area is 1051 acres. On the N. it is sandy and barren, but on the S. very fertile and under cultivation. Large numbers of rabbits have their warrens among the sands, and, with fish, oysters and agricultural produce, are exported. There are several fresh springs on the island, and in the northeast is a lake of 6 acres. At the south-west angle is the little fishing village (formerly much larger) which is now a favourite summer watering-place. Here is the harbour, offering good shelter to small vessels. Holy Island derives its name from a monastery founded on it by St Aidan, and restored in 1082 as a cell of the Benedictine monastery at Durham. Its ruins, still extensive and carefully preserved, justify Scott's description of it as a "solemn, huge and dark-red pile." An islet, lying off the S.W. angle, has traces of a chapel upon it, and is believed to have offered a retreat to St Cuthbert and his successors. The castle, situated east of the village, on a basaltic rock about 90 ft. high, dates from c. 1500.

When St Aidan came at the request of King Oswald to preach to the Northumbrians he chose the island of Lindisfarne as the site of his church and monastery, and made it the head of the diocese which he founded in 635. For some years the see continued in peace, numbering among its bishops St Cuthbert, but in 793 the Danes landed on the island and burnt the settlement, killing many of the monks. The survivors, however, rebuilt the church and continued to live there until 883, when, through fear of a second invasion of the Danes, they fled inland, taking with them the body of St Cuthbert and other holy relics. The church and monastery were again destroyed and the bishop and monks, on account of the exposed situation of the island, determined not to return to it, and settled first at Chester-leStreet and finally at Durham. With the fall of the monastery the island appears to have become again untenanted, and probably continued so until the prior and convent of Durham established there a cell of monks from their own house. The inhabitants of Holy Island were governed by two bailiffs at least as early as the 14th century, and, according to J. Raine in his History of North Durham (1852), are called "burgesses or freemen" in a private paper dated 1728. In 1323 the bailiffs and community of Holy Island were commanded to cause all ships of the burthen of thirty tons or over to go to Ereswell with their ships provisioned for a month at least and under double manning to be ready to set out on the king's service. Towards the end of the 16th century the fort on Holy Island was garrisoned for fear of foreign invasion by Sir William Read, who found it very much in need of repair, the guns being so decayed that the gunners "dare not give fire but by trayne," and the master gunner had been "miserably slain" in discharging one of them. During the Civil Wars the castle was held for the king until 1646, when it was taken and garrisoned by the parliamentarians. The only other historical event connected with the island is the attempt two Jacobites in 1715 to hold it for the Pretender.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Holy Island'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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