In 793, northern England was unprepared for what was to come to their shores on June 8th. England was not a united country at this point, but rather an island made up of smaller, conflicting kingdoms. They did not have a navy, and were unprotected to anyone that might wash up on their beaches. A lonely little island called Lindisfarne contained a monastery teeming with treasures, riches, and potential captives. The Vikings found this very enticing, and decided to act.
This island was a holy island to the English people. It is the island that brought christianity to them, which as christians, they obviously found extremely important. The bishop, Cuthbert, regarded as a saint, was buried there. When the attack happened, the news spread quickly to important people. A scholar called the island “a place more sacred than any in Britain.” This scholar believed the attack to be a punishment to the people of England for sinning. A man who had committed suicide, believed to be a sin in the christian religion, had been buried there not long before the raid, and people began to wonder if this was payback from their god.
The Vikings arrived on their famous longships, their dragons looking threatening as they approached shore. In reality, these dragons were used for safe passage on the sea, warning off potentially dangerous wights. These dragons must have seemed very fearful to the people of Lindisfarne, as not long before they arrived, there had been a storm. They described it as “immense flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons seen flying in the air.”
“…The pagans from the northern regions came with a naval force to Britain like stinging hornets and spread on all sides like fearful wolves, robbed, tore and slaughtered not only beasts of burden, sheep and oxen, but even priests and deacons, and companies of monks and nuns.” Simeon of Durham explains. “And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted steps, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church.”
This was just the first raid of a monastery. The people of England would never have even guessed that their sacred places would be destroyed, and stolen from, and they definitely never would have guessed that the holy men of their god would be slaughtered and taken to foreign lands as thralls. This happened again in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and at other monasteries in England.
The vikings that raided Lindisfarne were from Denmark. Most of the vikings who raided England were from Norway or Denmark. There have been artifacts found in pagan graves in Scandinavia of british coins, metalwork, and jewelry used from the loot they had brought back from England. There was a box found in Norway with runes carved onto it saying “Ranvaik owns this casket.” It had been a box meant to hold a saint’s relic, but she had repurposed it for her jewelry. The viking raids were not just for treasure, though. They wanted land, and to colonize. The land in Scandinavia is only fertile in some places. They wanted to spread out and have better farming land. They did this with Iceland, but Iceland only had a few irish monks living there when they arrived. England was fully settled, and the vikings had to fight hard to obtain their land. They started with Lindisfarne.
The monks of this monastery were very frightened of the events that took place there. In fact, they evacuated, and didn’t return there for another 400 years. In 1537, King Henry VIII broke away from the roman catholic church to create his own church of England. It then stopped being used. It is still there today, though as a tourist attraction and sight of pilgrimage.
England was highly unprepared for the raids from the northman, on the island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria. Lindisfarne was just too good of an opportunity for the vikings to pass up on. The raid was devastating to the English people, and frightened them for a very long time. The viking people did accomplish what they wanted though, and took home a great amount of treasure from their adventures.
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“Lindisfarne.” Lindisfarne. UChigago, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/britannia/anglo-saxon/lindisfarne/lindisfarne.html>
Johnson, Ben. “Lindisfarne.” The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Historic UK, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
Durham, Keith. “Viking Longships.” The Viking Museum. Osprey Publishing, 2002. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
“BBC – History – Loot: Why the Vikings Came to Britain.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.