St Aidan

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When St Oswald won the battle of Heavenfield in 633 he chose Bamburgh on the North East coast as his main stronghold. He invited monks from Iona to bring the message of God to the people of Northumbria.

The first monk that came from Iona was grim and stern. When he preached to the people he did not convince them, they were not sure. In his desperation he shouted and scolded them, but they would not listen to him. Finally he returned to Iona complaining that the Northumbrian people were rough, uncivilised barbarians and impossible to teach.

After much discussion Aidan was consecrated bishop and sent with 12 monks to the hall of King Oswald. He settled on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) off the North East coast of Northumberland. Here he established a monastery, where they lived in a very simple and humble way and from here Aidan and his monks went out to talk to the people. Aidan and his monks had only one way of reaching out to the local community. They walked the roads and byways of the kingdom, talked to all they met and if possible, interested them in the faith. Aidan’s monks visited and revisited the villages in Northumbria building on the seeds sown by Aidan. Here at Haltwhistle we  have no written record of whether Aidan visited the town. But we do know that during the reign of Oswald a period of church building was instigated. It is likely that a wooden church would have been built, probably in the area between the present church and the river. The site to the west of the present church, Edens Lawn, is probably a link to the celtic ‘Llan Aidan’.

Aidan’s mission in Northumbria was a rapid success. The missionaries were greatly respected as men who lived what they taught. Aidan went about the country on foot whenever he could. When he was given expensive gifts or money he used it to ransom slaves or to help the poor. Once when he was growing older, the king gave him a very fine horse so that he could travel further and more quickly. But it was not long before Aidan met a poor man on the road. He stopped to talk as was his habit and the man told him such a sad tale that he was immediately filled with pity and gave the horse away.

The king was not best pleased when he heard what had happened. When the bishop next came to dine with him he asked him why he had given the horse away, it had been specially meant for him. Surely there were plenty of ordinary horses that were good enough for beggars. Aidan was neither angry or dismayed, he simply asked the king who was more important, the foal of a mare or the Son of God? The king could not answer, he stood in thought for a while, then taking off his sword he knelt before Aidan and asked his forgiveness.

St Aidan introduced the idea of a native priesthood, he had realised that to be affective the priests needed to be local people. To this end he had started a school on Holy Island. Here local boys were taught Latin, how to read and write, and were trained as priests . He also started the monastic life for women here in Northumbria.

St Aidan died some 16 years after becoming bishop of Lindisfarne in 651. He was loved and respected by all.

The great Anglo-Saxon historian Bede wrote the following:

"He cultivated peace and love, purity and humility; he was above anger and greed, and despised pride and conceit; he set himself to keep and to teach the laws of God, and he was diligent in study and prayer. He used his priestly authority to check the proud and powerful; he tenderly comforted the sick; he relieved and protected the poor. He took pains never to neglect anything that he had learned from the writings of the apostles prophets, and he set himself to carry them out with all his powers."

© Holy Cross Church Haltwhistle 2013