Lindisfarne on fire

793CE, This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians Terrifying the people most woefully. These were immense sheets of light running through the air and whirl winds and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. Thesis tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine; and not long after on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of Heathen men made lamentable Havoc in the church of God in Holy Island lindisfarne by slaughtering every soul.

June 8, 793 EC Lindisfarne: It’s a clear day, a cool wind blows off the sea, the waves lap against the sand banks that line the island’s shore In the center of the Island stands the church proud and tall against the North Sea sky. The priory sprawls out around it: monks passing in and out of cells, bread baking in the vast communal kitchen, servants and laypeople tending to animals, drawing water, washing dresses. In one building an old monk teaches novices how to write and how to read latin. In another the business of the church is being overseen.

The Monastery of Lindisfarne is also the seat of the bishop for much of Northeastern Britain. In the scriptorium monks work diligently to reproduce Great works of Faith. Their art, talent, and dedication are recognized even onto the continent They had stood for years Purveyors of the Faith. Both as missionaries to pagan tribes that still occupied much of Britain and as the creators of the holy books so that the word would not be lost and could be passed on from generation to generation and delivered to the far parts of the globe. Around the priory, fields were cultivated sheep were herded.

 It was a small island but the population here had grown Lindisfarne had been the final resting place of the revered Saint Cuthbert Pilgrims from all of Britain came to venerate his remains. And those pilgrims needed lodging and food; guides and transport along the way. And so the Pilgrims had made the priory rich and enriched the lands around it. The bishop Higbald allowed himself just a slight indulgence in the sin of pride. A trio of sails were seen on the Horizon they moved with unusual swiftness, he thought: “They were probably traders from the East or of the North headed to the mainland”, But the sails did not tack. They didn’t change course. The sailors were headed to the priory Their ships were odd, long and narrow Closer still they came in them sat strange men of dress unknown to the monks and the people of this land Their ships did not stop not even for the shore They simply sailed right onto the sand banks that made up the coast and out of them jumped men Terrifying and wild and giant in the eyes of these monks. Men with shields and blades men speaking a tongue unknown to them They spread out over the island Higbald could see them as they came. They dashed over the field and through the pastures Some workers they slew, others they simply passed by and then they were upon the priory with fire and sword Monks held up the cross and the holy book, but it didn’t no good They were hewed down without a moment’s pause Blood painted the walls, the very altar, and these men pulled down crosses of gold and pried loose the gems of the reliquary; chalice for eucharist and silver plate all went into the sacks. Or where they could not find such into the dresses they tore off monks where they stood and monks and laity like were hauled off in chains, thrown aboard ships, taken forever from British shores.

And as the fires died and the screams faded these men, who to the monks seemed like demons, simply boarded their ships and disappeared, vanishing over the waves as they had come Higbald, though, survived he sent letters to his friend Alcuin of York who was staying at the Royal Court of Charlemagne. Who wrote back: “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 the Saints like dung in the street? what assurance can the churches of Britain have if Saint Cuthbert and so great a company of Saints do not defend their own”, and So the alarms began to sound around Europe: a storm was coming from the North not a plague of locusts But a plague of men sent to descend on the unworthy and scourge the unrighteous of Christian nations barbarians who knew nothing of the faith and whose might and whose fury were unparalleled. And it would not be long now week by week and month by month the frequency of raids would only increase. The monarchs of Europe and even that greatest Monarch Charlemagne would be unprepared for the wrath of those pagans from the north Kingdoms would fall and Empires would shatter beneath the prows of those heathen ships.

 A light that had for a moment shone in Europe would nearly be extinguished. And for the first time since the fall of Rome Christenedom would contract. A new Dark age was coming.

 But that’s just one side of the story for another group this was a day of glory, a strike against a culture that had been using them, unfairly that denigrated their religion and their beliefs, that tried to swindle them at trade It was the beginning of something monumental: an expansion, a diaspora They had seen the weakness the indefensibleness of these southern lands of plenty. They had discovered that the wealth of Christendom lay unbarred and unguarded within the walls of monasteries and churches Religious institutions that had always been sacrosanct by their very nature as part of the church. They had come to realize that the decades their people had spent trading and learning the seas could now take them beyond their homeland. That the very routes they once used to carry freight would now serve as highways to conquest. From the heart of Russia to the shores of Britain and beyond and with each new place they sailed they saw an opportunity for more rich. They saw an opportunity to create a new home in more fertile lands that would see their people thrive and so the ashes of Lindisfarne were a signal fire for all of Europe the Viking age had begun!

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