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Aidan – of Iona & Lindisfarne

The church celebrates the life and ministry of Aidan on 31 August.  In the biographical extract there is a reminder of the theme for the week, drawing upon the scripture for Sunday: Aidan lived as he taught. 

Aidan was a monk of Irish origin and Celtic faith. He lived at the monastery in Iona, and was sent to Northumbria in answer to a request from the King of Northumbria, Oswald, for missionaries. Iona was the powerhouse of Celtic Christianity and the principal monastery of the Irish and Picts. Aidan was chosen to lead the second group of missionaries to Northumbria. The first mission was under the leadership of a severe bishop who returned home complaining of the uncouthness of the people.

Aidan was given the island of Lindisfarne by King Oswald, and was consecrated bishop in 635. He travelled widely on the mainland, often in the company of Oswald, who initially acted as his interpreter. He is recorded as being a man of charity, miracles and kindness.

We learn much of Aidan’s life from Bede, who writes of him with praise and affection and states simply that Aidan was held in high regard because he lived as he taught. He introduced monastic values of penance and prayer to his converts, celebrated Easter according to the ancient Celtic date and tradition, and established monasteries as centres of faith and education. As such, Aidan is the supreme example of the passion and power of Celtic Christianity.

After the death of Oswald at the hands of Penda, the pagan ruler of Mercia, Aidan continued to evangelize the region, aided by more monks from the monastery at Iona. He supported King Oswin of Deira, and continued to enjoy freedom to preach and travel. During his time Christianity was firmly rooted in Northumbria, and Lindisfarne established as a leading monastic base. A representative of the Celtic tradition, Irish by birth, Scottish by education and monastic by formation, Aidan Christianized Northern England, and established Celtic Christianity as a credible force, which Bede acknowledges

[Aidan] loved to give away to the poor who chanced to meet him whatever he received from kings or wealthy folk. Whether in town or country, he always travelled on foot unless compelled by necessity to ride; and whatever people he met on his walks, whether high or low, he stopped and spoke to them. If they were heathen, he urged them to be baptized; and if they were Christians, he strengthened their faith, and inspired them by word and deed to live a good life and to be generous to others.

Bede: Ecclesiastical History, III.5

Extract from Saints on Earth: A biographical companion to Common Worship by John H Darch and Stuart K Burns

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