Rothbury and Coquetdale History Society

The statue of St Aidan on Holy Island.
The statue of St Aidan on Holy Island.

Ann Swearman’s passion for history and digital photography came together for her talk to Rothbury and Coquetdale History Society, explaining what was left of the surprisingly high culture of the ‘dark ages’, following the departure of the Romans in 410AD.

This was gradually, and sometimes brutally, modified by the many Viking raids, from 793AD through to 1066AD when it came to an end by William the Conqueror. He made a deliberate attempt to suppress the Anglo Saxon culture in the north.

At its height, Northumbria had run from the Humber to Edinburgh – with many invasions by claimants of neighbouring tribal claims. This too broke down settled kingdoms, weakened defences and encouraged more invasion from Scandinavia and Europe.

At this time people could travel between Britain and Europe comparatively easily with the same Germanic language and use of the old Roman roads. Britain, at that time, was respected throughout Europe.

Paganism had returned to Britain following the departure of the Romans.

Christianity was reintroduced to Northumberland when Aidan was invited by King Oswald. He had been converted on his way home with his new Christian Kentish bride.

Aidan, followed by Cuthbert, was given Lindisfarne, Holy island, for his base. At that time, monks actively sought cold and discomfort. Ann said that Holy Island was/is two coats colder than Whitley Bay!

Aidan and the King’s mission was successful, with many mass christenings – one being said to be at The Holy Well at Holystone. During these years the Lindisfarne Gospels were written, and at Jarrow the Abbott Benedict Biscop and the historian monk Bede founded schools, teaching the sons of the wealthy of Europe and training priests.

The dispute between the Celtic Christianity of Cuthbert at Holy Island and the Roman Catholic church, led by the Latinised persuasive Wilfred of Hexham, was held at St Hilda’s Celtic monastery at Whitby in 714AD. The Celts lost.

Aidan died leaning against the old wooden church at Bamburgh. The piece of wood is still in the current church.

Ann showed wonderful digital photographs of the evidence of high culture and Christianity to be found in the many churches built before the Conquest.

The Anglo Saxons made good use of the walls and arches taken from the many Roman camps such as Binchester, near Bishop Auckland, and such as at nearby Escomb church. At Woodhorn St Mary’s can be seen an early Anglo Saxon glass window. H Denis Briggs found its Anglo Saxcon apse by dowsing.

Known Anglo Saxon churches mentioned by Ann Swearman were two at Bywell, Ovingham, Warden, Barton on Humber and Bewcastle. Most have later additions.

The Tragedy of the SS Pegasus, wrecked on the Farne Islands in 1843, is the subject of the talk at the next meeting tomorrow at 7.30pm in the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury.Visitors welcome. Admission £2, including tea/coffee.