Sunday, 19 April 2020

X is Xristian

Please remember! We ask that people do not visit the Reserve particularly if you have to travel. All car parks on Holy Island are closed to visitors until government restrictions are lifted. Many residents on Holy island fall into the vulnerable category. Please adhere to these guidelines for the health and safety of yourself and others during this time.

X is always a tricky letter when undertaking an A-Z and despite my best efforts I couldn’t manage to build a blog post about Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve around a Xylophone or an X-ray! Therefore I have spent some time delving into Latin and Greek names to find something that relates to the Reserve. Xristian is the Greek name for Christians and as Lindisfarne is the cradle of Christianity in England it seems to tenuously fit the bill!

While much of the remaining early Christian architecture lies outside the Reserve, a rare stone built 9th century Anglo-Saxon village lies within the dunes on Holy Island is thought to be the centre of vellum production. Vellum was the highest quality version of paper made out of calf skin and was used extensively in religious texts. It is Vellum that was used to write the Lindisfarne Gospels upon; a manuscript gospel book that has remained remarkably undamaged since its creation at the abbey on Lindisfarne around the turn of the 700’s. The book now resides in the British Library.

We might think of St Francis of Assisi as the original saintly animal conservationist, but while he merely preached to the birds, St Cuthbert is popularly believed to have taken steps to ensure that some of Northumberland’s eider duck population enjoyed his personal protection. St Cuthbert was one of the first bishops of Lindisfarne in 684 after a spell of hermitude on Inner Farne (one of the Farne Islands), where his affinity with animals began.

There are a number of animal stories attached to St Cuthbert. A famous episode in Bede’s Life of the saint involved Cuthbert standing neck-deep in the sea and praying, after which two otters came and dried his feet with their fur. The animals were rewarded with a blessing, and went on their way. In another story Cuthbert’s horse, who he calls ‘comrade’, finds the saint some food in a peasant’s house and the two share it.
St Cuthberts window at Durham Cathedral, surrounded by the birds he was said to protect
Perhaps the animal most associated with St Cuthbert today is the eider duck, or Cuddy duck (Cuddy being a shortened form of Cuthbert). The first we hear of their association with Cuthbert is in the twelfth century, 500 years after his death. The monks of Durham had a small cell and chapel on the island of Inner Farne, which they shared with a large nesting population of eider ducks. Cuthbert is said to have tamed these ducks so well that they would nest everywhere, even next to the chapel altar, without fear. Cuthbert had also placed the ducks under his protective grace, so that no-one should eat or even disturb them therefore implementing what is thought to be the first documented nature laws anywhere in the world.

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