Archaeologists have discovered an early medieval church on the remote Holy Island of Lindisfarne that could be linked to key figures in the history of British Christianity.
“We’re just really excited because, potentially, it’s evidence of the earliest church on the island and it’s linked to historical figures like St. Aidan and St. Oswald,” Sara Rushton, conservation manager of Northumberland County Council, told Fox News.
Rushton explained that the church may have been built as early as the mid-seventh century A.D., possibly around the year 650. The island off the coast of North East England is an important site in British Christianity – St. Aidan established a monastery on the island in 635 A.D, which became an international center for learning and craftsmanship before it was ransacked by Viking raiders in the late 8th Century. The monastery was re-established in the 11th century.
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Rushton explained that, while the church could date from the seventh to the ninth centuries, there are plenty of hints that it was built in the early part of the island’s history. A stone, possibly an altar stone, was found at the east end of the church, a feature of northern British churches before 671 A.D, according to Rushton. “The other reason we think it might be earlier is because of the style of the stonework – it’s very crude” she said, noting that it lacks the refinement seen in later churches.
The church’s location on a steep, rocky narrow ridge that runs across the northern end of the island also provides a clue. “It’s the type of location that appealed to the Celtic church,” said Rushton.
Additionally, the church’s position may have been chosen to face Bamburgh Castle on the nearby coast. Bamburgh was the royal court of St. Oswald of Northumbria, a Saxon king credited with helping spread Christianity in the region.
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“Because it’s high they looked across to Bamburgh castle,” said Rushton, who believes that the potential church discovery cements Holy Island as one of the most important early medieval sites in Britain.
Until this summer archaeologists thought that the early churches on the island were located elsewhere. Like Holy Island’s monastery, it was thought that the churches were in the shelter of the rocky narrow ridge, known as ‘The Heugh.’
Last year excavations on the western part of the ridge revealed a massive foundation wall that archaeologists speculate is part of a watch tower.