The attack on a religious community in Northumbria called Lindisfarne is recognized as the beginning of the Viking Age of conquest and expansion. On June 8th AD 793, the small remote community of this priory was suddenly and unexpectedly surprised by a Viking raid. This was far from a one-off and proved to be the start of a conquest period of expansion by the Scandinavian warriors.
Lindisfarne, known as Holy Island is a tidal island off the coast of Northumberland. A monastery was founded there in AD 634 at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria by Saint Aidan. this monastery became a renowned base for Christianity in northern England and attracted monks from different communities. The illuminated manuscripts known as The Lindisfarne Gospels were created there, and the remains of St Cuthbert were also buried within.
Monasteries were often built on islands to avoid political interference of the mainland as well as give the community a sense of isolation. It is this fact that made them incredibly vulnerable. As well as being defended, the priory at Lindisfarne was full of many valuable treasures used in religious ceremonies and proved to be a great choice for the Viking raiders, showing them that wealth could be found across the sea.
The Vikings – who had not yet traveled far from their homes in Scandinavia – looted every treasure they could find and brutally murdered monks living on the island. It was such an unexpected attack that the people living there had no chance whatsoever of building a defense or even calling for aid.
The attack sent shock waves throughout the Christian world. Lindisfarne was described by Alcuin of York, a scholar of Charlemagne, as the most ‘vulnerable’ site in all of Britain. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded: “Heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.
Alcuin wrote of the attack: “Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race… The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.