The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

Outside the Old Priory in the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, stands an impressive statue of a saint. This monument is found to be that of Aidan, the founder of an evangelising mission to the northern peoples of this island. In the year AD634, King Oswald of Northumbria sent for a missionary from the Celtic religious community in the Scottish Isle of Iona, to Christianise the Northumbrians and woo them away from their pagan beliefs. The response was to send a monk called Gorman, a man of austere and severe temperament with a pontifical style of persuasion.

Gorman reported back to his superiors in Iona that the English (Angles and Saxons) were an obstinate and barbarous race, ungovernable and unreceptive to his mission. On hearing his report, a young monk named Aidan stood up. In a gentle way he rebuked the approach of Gorman, suggesting instead that a softer and more tolerant method would probably be more effective. All eyes then fell upon this young monk and the feeling was that this was a God-given sign for Aidan to be given the task. Aidan did so with outstanding success.

The Venerable Bede wrote of Aidan that ‘he never kept silent out of respect or fear of the wealthy’  and that ‘he distributed all money received for the needs of the poor, or to ransom any who had unjustly been sold as slaves ….’

Among the disciples and trainees later to become eminent were Hilda and Wilfrid. St Hilda was later to become the formidable Abbess of Whitby whilst St Wilfrid visited Rome and was persuaded that the Roman church doctrines and methods (particularly the reckoning of the celebration of Easter) were superior to those of the Celtic church. He argued his case at the Synod of Whitby in AD664.

Aidan continued his ministry, developing a friendship with the new King Oswin when the old King Oswald was assassinated. It is recorded that Oswin gave Aidan a fine horse so that he might travel farther and faster. Aidan gave the horse away to a poor man. At this, Oswin was furious but received the reply, ‘What are you saying your Majesty - that this child of a mare is more valuable than this child of God?’ Oswin, being remorseful, begged forgiveness.

Only 11 days after the death of King Oswin, Aidan also died. His place of death (in AD651) is marked in a church at nearby Bamburgh.

Rod Dawson

Winter and Lent Edition 2015

Apostle of Northumbria