Abbot, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Missionary 651
Exciting Holiness Along with Cuthbert, Columba and Ninian, Aidan was one of the greats of the Northern Celtic Church. The story is that Oswald, King of Northumbria, asked St Columba of Iona to send him a missionary. Bede writes that a man of ‘a more austere disposition’ was sent first. This monk had no success and returned complaining of ‘uncivilised, obstinate, barbarous people’. Aidan said ‘Brother it seems to me that you were too severe on your ignorant hearers. You should have followed the practice of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually instructed them in the word of God until they were capable of greater perfection and able to follow the sublime precepts of Christ’. So Aidan was given the job and sent to be made Bishop ‘since he was particularly endowed with the grace of discretion, the mother of virtues’.
Paraphrased from 'Bede A History of the English Church and People' (Translated by Leo Shirley Price): Aidan had a lifestyle of strict austerity himself, but did not force this on others. He led by example. He got on very well with the King, who became his friend and interpreter. He walked everywhere and when the King gave him a fine horse he gave it away to a poor person. The King was not best pleased, asking ‘couldn’t you have given him a less valuable horse?’ Aiden replied ‘Is this foal of a mare more valuable to you than the Son of God?’ The King pondered this and then knelt at Aidan’s feet ‘I will not refer to this matter again, nor will I enquire how much of our money you give away to God’s children.’
Here is an account of Aidan’s life by Revd Canon Kate Tristram. She is a respected academic with a specialist knowledge of the early Celtic church who lived and worked on Lindisfarne for many years. She may still be there, I think it may be her home. I attended a study day led by her a few years ago. She told a remarkable story. She is not at all ‘flaky’. She is a well groomed elderly lady of the utmost respectability and professional gravitas. She offered this account as something that happened, that she has no explanation for, nevertheless it was real. She was walking on Lindisfarne, thinking about Aidan and Cuthbert and she heard a voice:
‘We’re still here you know, we're alive, you can talk to us.’
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