St Aidan had been a monk at Iona under St Columba before moving, in 635, to Lindisfarne (better known today as Holy Island) off the coast of Northumbria. There he founded a monastery and became bishop of Lindisfarne. He was a close friend of Oswald, King of Northumbria, who accompanied Aidan on some of his missionary journeys. Aidan’s church was the Celtic Church, which was greatly strengthened in Northumbria and beyond as a result of his ministry. He was loved by all, but especially the poor, for his gentleness, holiness and generosity. Aidan died in 651 and so did not have to suffer the pain of seeing his Church make its submission to the Roman Church at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Christianity of the Celtic Church was described by Ronald Blythe as “severe and exquisite”. Its severity was represented by figures such as St David of Wales and St Columba himself, but St Aidan showed its exquisiteness. The noted 19th century Bishop of Durham, J. B. Lightfoot, a Patristics expert, said of Aidan, “Not Augustine but Aidan is the true apostle of England.” And Helen Waddell must have had Aidan in mind when she wrote that “Iona did for England what the Roman Augustine failed to do.” These testimonies are valuable reminders of the debt owed by modern British Christianity to its Celtic heritage. Aidan’s ‘day’ is 31st August.
A Word in Season