The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, also known simply as Holy Island, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. St Aidan went out from Iona and founded Lindisfarne in 635 AD. Anglo-Saxon writers in northern England recalled how ‘immense whirlwinds, flashes of lightning and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air’. They thought these aerial phenomena were portents of imminent disaster. And in the year 793 the Vikings attacked. The assault on Lindisfarne attacked the sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom, desecrating ‘the very place where the Christian religion began in our nation’. It was where Cuthbert (d. 687) had been bishop, and where his body was now revered as that of a saint.
News of the raid quickly reached Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar living far away in the Frankish kingdom, where he was tutor to the children of the renowned King Charlemagne. Alcuin was aghast at this unprecedented atrocity. As he wrote to Higbald, bishop of Lindisfarne, this is ‘a place more sacred than any in Britain’.