Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday 31 August 2010


Today is the feast of St Aidan and the saints of Lindisfarne. In 1989 I was fortunate to be able to stay there for a long weekend with a religious community and to be able to explore something of its atmosphere.

Getting there is a bit eccentric - the bus from Berwick upon Tweed is the only one in the country, as far as I know, that has a timetable dependent upon the tide-table. Once on the island there are times of great quiet, simply because the tide is up, and the tourists cannot get onto the island. There is a refuge mid-way along the causeway for cars that get caught out by the North Sea.

There are the handsome remains of the Norman priory church - a cell of Durham - but now yet another example of the wanton destruction of the reformation era, the medieval parish church and Tudor castle, together with a modern statue of St Aidan and a very good English Heritage museum that presents a substantial array of finds from the great age of Lindisfarne in the seventh and eighth centuries.

Besides that there is a numinous quality to the place. Yes, you know it is historic - I took a copy of Bede to read whilst I was there, and yes, the light is such that the landscape and seascape are always changing in an elusive, ineffable way (Bishop Trautmann please note) that one wants to capture - I took up sketching again to try to do so. There is more though, indefinable as it is, but the knowledge of what was achieved there is not just of material achievements in the museum or pictures of the Lindisfarne Gospels, or the relics of St Cuthbert in Durham - rather it is an awareness of men seeking God at the frontier of land and sea, of earth and heaven, and in so doing making their way forward into the unseen.

To sit and look at St Cuthbert's Isle, where he used to go just off-shore to meditate, and to know something of his story, and then to go, as I did, on to Durham and see the majestic building of the cathedral rising up above the city and dominating the view, and to understand the extent to which it as building celebrates the life of the saintly hermit and bishop is to have a disclosure of God's grandeur as mediated through one human life and soul.

St Aidan and the saints of Lindisfarne pray for us.

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