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World Book Day comes to Northumberland!

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St Cuthbert keeping the birds off his seeds at the Hermitage, Farne Islands

It's World Book Day today which got us thinking ...

We’ve been thinking about World Book Day in the AONB office today.  We fell short of coming into work dressed up though – we’ve left that for our little ‘chidlers’!

It did make me wonder what fiction books had been written about Northumberland. A quick Google search found seven novels based in Northumberland.  Most were about imaginary mining towns or the hills and valleys in the ‘back of beyond’.  Perhaps the most well-known are the novels written by Ann Cleeves about DCI Vera Stanhope, which have been made into a very successful TV series.  Scores of locations across the county are featured in the series, including Dunstanburgh Castle and Alnmouth on the coast.  

But long before Vera was imagined, there was an even more renowned book written by the Venerable Bede about a famous inhabitant of Northumberland. ‘The Life of St Cuthbert’ recounts the life of the Saint, who was probably born in the county circa 634. He was educated by Irish Monks at Melrose Abbey.  At various times in his life, Cuthbert was a monk, a prior, a hermit and – albeit briefly - a Bishop.  He died on the Farne Islands in 687.  An early anonymous ‘Life of Cuthbert’ was written about 700, but the discovery of Cuthbert's uncorrupt body gave a new impetus to the cult, and Bede used the earlier book to write his own verse around 716. 

The ancient work references Lindisfarne:

“ … Whilst this venerable servant of the Lord was thus during many years, distinguishing himself by such signs of spiritual excellence in the monastery of Melrose, its reverend abbot, Eata, transferred him to the monastery in the island of Lindisfarne, that there also he might teach the rules of monastic perfection with the authority of its governor, and illustrate it by the example of his virtue; for the same reverend abbot had both monasteries under his jurisdiction. And no one should wonder that, though the island of Lindisfarne is small, we have above made mention of a bishop, and now of an abbot and monks; for the case is really so …”

As well as his time on the Farne Islands:

“…  At his first entrance upon the solitary life, he sought out the most retired spot in the outskirts of the monastery. But when he had for some time contended with the invisible adversary with prayer and fasting in this solitude, he then, aiming at higher things, sought out a more distant field for conflict, and more remote from the eyes of men. There is a certain island called Farne, in the middle of the sea, not made an island, like Lindisfarne, by the flow of the tide, which the Greeks call rheuma, and then restored to the mainland at its ebb, but lying off several miles to the East, and, consequently, surrounded on all sides by the deep and boundless ocean. No one, before God's servant Cuthbert, had ever dared to inhabit this island alone, on account of the evil spirits which reside there: but when this servant of Christ came, armed with the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, all the fiery darts of the wicked were extinguished, and that wicked enemy, with all his followers, were put to flight …”

The Anglo Saxon Chronicles illustrates the early Anglo-Saxon mind-set in advance of the first Viking Raid on Britain several years later –

793: In this year, terrible portents appeared over Northumbria, and miserably frightened the inhabitants: these were exceptional flashes of lightening, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air.

What the people of Lindisfarne probably saw was the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

***

There are bound to be other stories based in Northumberland!  If you know of any, we’d love to hear all about them. 

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The news of St Cuthbert's death from the Farne Islands to Lindisfarne
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St Cuthbert preaching on Lindisfarne
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