Posted by: kljolly | July 15, 2016

Lindisfarne and Leeds

My back-to-back visits to Holy Island and the University of Leeds Medieval Congress in some ways illustrate well the dual life of Anglo-Saxon clergy like Aldred:  the quiet retreat of monastic routine and the busy schedule of secular affairs.  Saint Cuthbert longed to retreat from the busyness but was drawn in by demands for his service as a leader.  Ironically, what made him an attractive abbot and bishop was his preference for the quiet life over the power and prestige of clerical position, but he knew he needed the self-effacement of retreat in order to not get sucked into the politics of it all.  Perhaps all of our leaders should do the same…but that is a different post.

Lindisfarne Museum Cross

Lindisfarne Museum Cross

Half way through my week on Holy Island, I realized what made my retreat so pleasurable:  I could simply receive what was offered to me.  All food was provided at Marygate House, so I did not need to find a restaurant and choose from a menu, but simply eat the delicious meals lovingly served to us retreatants.  Similarly with the religious services, I went to St. Mary’s Parish Church morning prayers at 7:30, communion at 8, and evening prayers at 5:30, as well as Marygate prayers mid-morning, making no effort to create my own spiritual disciplines but accept what I was fed.  That passivity on my part contributed to receptivity and gratefulness.  It also left my mind free to wander as I wandered around the island between times, and wrote down ideas to incorporate into Aldred’s story.

Lindisfarne Museum cross, backside showing warrior attack

Lindisfarne Museum Cross, backside showing warrior attack

ISASlogoOn the other hand, the Leeds Congress was highly enjoyable, filled as it was with thoughtful paper sessions, stimulating conversations with fellow medievalists, and chance meetings that turned out to be very helpful.  But it was non-stop interactions from breakfast to bedtime.  I gathered a very different set of notes to use in Aldred’s story as well as other research.  I was also able to promote ISAS 2017 in Honolulu:  the call for papers is now up and the website under development.

So what can I say about this contrasting experiences?  I enjoy both and need a bit of both.  I like being alone for periods of time, thinking, reading, and writing.

Clover from St. Cuthbert's Isle

Clover from St. Cuthbert’s Isle

But I also enjoy the intellectual stimulation of conversation with other researchers.  I suspect Aldred was similar, or at least I intend to build that duality into my fictional recreation of his life.  On the one hand, he loved books, both reading and writing in them.  But I don’t think he did so in complete isolation.  The colophons he wrote in both the Lindisfarne Gospels and Durham A.IV.19, and his glosses to both, suggest that he was involved in scholarly dialogue with members of his community in ways that enriched and informed what he wrote.   What is hard to recreate is the dialogue taking place with others while he glossed in his native Old English the Latin texts he and they used for meditation and prayer.




  1. What a wonderful advertisement for our wild, wet, windswept land! You obviously enjoyed it despite the occasional misadventure. I think the routine of religious devotion would give you a feeling for Aldred’s way of life: for a Catholic priest the daily celebration of mass is essential. The importance of the Eucharist to communal life surely contributed to his unusual vocabulary: love for ‘fides’, eternal for ‘hodiernus’, and soð (true) for the Latin prefix ‘pro-‘, etc. Linguists like to refer to this idiosyncratic language as Aldred’s idiolect; but isn’t it a sociolect, the language of a whole community, with their particular interpretation of the Latin texts they had available?

  2. I like “sociolect” as an expansion on Aldred’s idiolect, which I sometimes call Aldredisms to indicate that we should not assume his unique word formations represent standard Northumbrian Old English. Your suggestion of sociolect pulls me back the other direction, to remind me that his bilingual gloss is the product not of a lone individual but of a community interacting with its liturgy.

  3. […] Lindisfarne and Leeds […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: