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Aidan of Lindisfarne, Part 2

For Part 1, see here. 

Something had to be done about the Northumbrian mission, but what? Corman had failed, and furthermore, had pretty much written off the Angles as not worth their time due to their uncouth and barbarous nature.

There was likely some heated discussion on the matter, but Aidan’s advice was what stood out. “Brother,” he said to Corman, “it seems to me you were too hard on your ignorant hearers. You should have followed the practice of the Apostles, and given them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God until they were capable of greater perfection and able to follow the loftier precepts of Christ.” 

I don’t imagine Corman took that very well, but the rest of the clergymen who were there to determine what they were going to do about this mission gone so very wrong seized upon Aidan’s words. As Bede says,

“At this the faces and the eyes of all who were at the conference turned toward [Aidan] and they paid close attention to all he said and they realized that here was a fit person to be made a Bishop and sent to instruct the ignorant and unbelieving, since he was particularly endowed with the grace of discretion, the mother of all virtues. They therefore consecrated him as bishop and sent him to preach. Time would show that Aidan was not only remarkable for his discretion but for other virtues as well.”

So just like the hapless person who speaks up at a committee meeting and finds himself with a job, Aidan is promptly bustled off to Northumbria to fix the problems Corman’s harsh approach had caused. Aidan likely knew Oswald before this, as their paths would have crossed at Iona. But thrown together in the mutual building of kingdoms– one physical, one spiritual– Aidan and Oswald soon became fast friends and good partners.

They determined that Lindisfarne would be a good place for a monastery, just far enough away to keep it separate from the king’s influence but close enough to allow for close cooperation. And cooperate they did. As Aidan did not know the local Anglish language, Oswald accompanied Aidan on his early missionary journeys as a translator, for Oswald’s exile at Dál Riata had given him fluency in the Irish tongue. This also would have the benefit of Oswald being able to reconnect with his people after so long away, and to introduce himself as king. A king who practiced the faith that Aidan preached, which would have gone a long way to persuade the people to convert.

This was the lay of the land in Britain at the time of Aidan.

This was the lay of the land in Britain at the time of Aidan. Lindisfarne and Bamburgh are on the north-east coast, in Bernicia.

It was all very satisfactory, and both Oswald and Aidan made great gains. Oswald’s kingdom flourished, and he eventually became bretwalda, or High King, of most of northern Britain (some say all of Britain, but I think that’s stretching it a bit far). It was all good until ten years later when Oswald was killed by Penda of Mercia, the pagan king who, in one stroke of his sword, changed the Northumbrian landscape forever.

Suddenly Oswald’s kingdom was up for grabs, and the most likely candidate was his half-brother, Oswy, who immediately was crowned king in Bernicia, the northern half of the kingdom Oswald had united. But in the south, in Deira, they were not so enamoured with Oswy as king, as he didn’t have the same credentials as Oswald. The two brothers had different mothers, and as Oswald’s claim to the Derian throne came through his mother, Oswy didn’t quite cut the mustard in the eyes of the Deirian thegns. So Oswy would have to place a cousin, Oswine, who did have the right pedigree, on the Deirian throne as sub-king, for now, until he could prove himself in the eyes of his southern nobles.

And Aidan? Well, it seems like he had a closer relationship with Oswine than Oswy. Bede praises Oswine as being more devout, and perhaps that was the case. Or maybe there was a personality conflict, or a conflict that came from the time Oswy was in exile in Dál Riata. All of these have been speculated upon by more knowledgable people than me. But suffice it to say, it seems that, although for all outward appearances Aidan and Oswy continued to work together, things were not quite as cosy between Bamburgh and Lindisfarne under Oswy’s rule as they were under Oswald.

And then something really bad happened that severed the ties between them completely, it seems….but I won’t go into that, not yet, anyway.

Hmm. A new king on the throne, who has to rebuild the kingdom his brother had won and prove himself in the eyes of his people. An upstart king on his border who has just gained a lot of credibility in his own kingdom by killing the most powerful king in Britain, and who is eager to press home his advantage on the newly weakened and divided Northumbria. And a charismatic and beloved Bishop, who has to walk a delicate diplomatic line between two kings, cousins who are jockeying for power.

Sound like a good setting for a novel? Me too! So that’s where my book, Wilding, the first book in my Traveller’s Path trilogy, opens. But somehow the Fey snuck in, as they are wont to do, so add to that some unrest in the Fey kingdoms, an ignorant Traveller from our own time who suddenly finds himself lost in this dangerous time and place, and another one whose grief and ambition have driven him to some dark places into the mix, and presto! A trilogy is born.

Click the links to learn more about Wildling (Book One) and Bound (Book Two). Book Three is coming sometime in 2021!