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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Researching monastic life on Lindisfarne

I'm now 35% in to my latest novel—THE WHISPERING WIND, Book #1 of the Kingdom of Northumbria—and loving this story.

Of course, I love them all but what's great is how each novel I write takes on its own unique tone—and this one is no exception.

This one is a tale of forbidden love. A monk, a maid and their struggle to put their pasts behind them. The first half of the novel is set in Bebbanburg (the castle we now know as Bamburgh) and the island of Lindisfarena (known now as Lindisfarne).

I've really enjoyed researching into Lindisfarne—which also goes by the name of 'Holy Island'. Accessible to the mainland via a tidal causeway, the island is one of the Farne islands, an archipelago off the north-east coast of Northumbria. There's something mystical and special about Lindisfarne—for years I've wanted to use it as a setting for a novel and now I have the chance!

Lindisfarne is one of the United Kingdom's most iconic spots of religious pilgrimage—and the place the Vikings first came ashore.

Lindisfarne priory was founded in 635 AD by King Oswald (who met a grisly end at the Battle of Maserfield in 641 AD—an event I highlighted my novel, THE BREAKING DAWN). My current story takes place in 670 AD, so around 35 years after the priory was built. The monastery became the religious heart of the Kingdom of Northumbria until the Vikings sacked it in 793 AD. After that, the surviving monks fled and the monastery wasn't rebuilt until 300-400 years later.

My research led me to a fascinating website, Digventures, which had some little known facts about Lindisfarne priory and how it would have looked in Anglo-Saxon times. My hero spends time  as a monk on the island, and I wanted to ensure the setting was authentic.

Digventures are currently doing an archaeological dig on Lindisfarne and unearthing remains from the pre-medieval priory, so it's an excellent time to be researching this time and place!

Monasteries in Anglo-Saxon England bore little resemblance to Medieval ones. 

The Digventures blog post I discovered pointed out that monasteries in the 7th Century wouldn't have had cloisters; were built closer to nature, taking advantage of the natural features of the land (such as cliffs, hillsides and coastlines); were more sprawling than later complexes; and were made largely of wood.

Interestingly, there were no actual religious orders at that time (the Benedictines and friars didn't appear in England until the 13th Century). Also, there would have been less segregation between men and women in those times—there are records of monks and nuns living at the same site during the Anglo-Saxon period.

What Anglo-Saxon monasteries did have in common though with later ones though was the use of stained-glass windows, the wearing of habits, and the 'monastic' lifestyle, which focused on hospitality, prayer and farming.

Read more about this at Digventures.

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