St Aidan: A man of singular gentleness, piety, and moderation

OSWALD, King of the Northumbrians and later venerated as a saint himself, sent to the holy island of Iona for a bishop; and in the year 635 the man they sent to him was St Aidan.

August 31 is the Feast day of St Aidan (+651), Apostle to the Northumbrians, whom St Bede described as “a man of singular gentleness, piety, and moderation”. His character is well-illustrated by the events surrounding his choice, recounted by St Bede, and given in my post from last year.

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Camas Cuil an t-Siamh on the west of Iona. © Simon Leatherdale, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

Camas Cuil an t-Siamh, a bay on Iona, an island off the western coast of Scotland. St Aidan was a monk on this holy island before leaving for Northumbria on the other side of Britain. © Simon Leatherdale, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

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Bede also detailed St Aidan’s coming to his new See. St Aidan can only have been pleased to find himself consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne, another island close to the mainland but this time on the east coast.

ON the arrival of the bishop, the king appointed him his episcopal see in the island of Lindisfarne, as he desired. Which place, as the tide ebbs and flows, is twice a day enclosed by the waves of the sea like an island; and again, twice, when the beach is left dry, becomes contiguous with the land.

The king also humbly and willingly in all things giving ear to his admonitions, industriously applied himself to build up and extend the Church of Christ in his kingdom; wherein, when the bishop, who was not perfectly skilled in the English tongue, preached the Gospel, it was a fair sight to see the king himself interpreting the Word of God to his ealdormen and thegns, for he had thoroughly learned the language of the Scots during his long banishment.

From that time many came daily into Britain from the country of the Scots, and with great devotion preached the Word to those provinces of the English, over which King Oswald reigned, and those among them that had received priest’s orders administered the grace of Baptism to the believers.

Sandon (or Sandham) Bay on the island of Lindisfarne, in northeast England. © Les Hull, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

Sandon (or Sandham) Bay on the island of Lindisfarne, in northeast England. © Les Hull, Geograph. Used under licence. Click for original.

Churches were built in divers places; the people joyfully flocked together to hear the Word; lands and other property were given of the king’s bounty to found monasteries; English children, as well as their elders, were instructed by their Scottish teachers in study and the observance of monastic discipline.

For most of those who came to preach were monks. Bishop Aidan was himself a monk, having been sent out from the island called Hii (Iona) whereof the monastery was for a long time the chief of almost all those of the northern Scots, and all those of the Picts, and had the direction of their people.

That island belongs to Britain, being divided from it by a small arm of the sea, but had been long since given by the Picts, who inhabit those parts of Britain, to the Scottish monks, because they had received the faith of Christ through their preaching.

St Bede (+735), “Ecclesiastical History” Book III Chapter 3. Source.

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There is a typically clever new-composed liturgy for St Aidan on the Orthodox England website, by Reader Isaac Lambertson.

O ROYAL Bamburgh, be thou exalted among all the cities of England, for within thy precincts did the holy Aidan commit his soul into the hands of his Master.

And thou, O Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, whose soil was hallowed by the sacred remains of the athlete of Christ, do thou shine forth upon us the grace of the Almighty, as the sun sheddeth its rays upon the whole world, that, enlightened thereby, our eyes may clearly behold the straight and narrow path which Aidan trod, which leadeth us surely to the mansions of heaven.

Set for Matins. Today, Bamburgh (Wikipedia; official website), pronounced ‘bam-brah’, is a large village with a population of about 450; in 635, it had only just lost its status as capital of Bernicia, to York as the new capital of Northumbria.

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