Archaeologists to excavate Lindisfarne in search of the elusive original monastery

By Richard Moss | 04 March 2016

The mysterious original medieval monastery at Lindisfarne - founded by King Oswald in 635 and destroyed by the Vikings in 793 - could be about to give up its secrets

a photo of two figures next to a cross
The Cross of St Cuthbert's Island, Holy Island© Dig Ventures
Archaeologists are returning to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne for a major excavation that will try and discover the location of the elusive first monastery founded by King Oswald in 635. 

The Anglo-Saxon monastery is of great importance in the history of Christianity in the UK, and at it’s height it was the heart of the powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, and the wellspring of England's Christianity.

It was also the site where the world-famous Lindisfarne Gospels were created and home the shrine of Saint Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northern England, who died in 687.

In AD 793 it fell victim to the Viking’s first major raid on the British Isles, marking the start of one the most turbulent periods in British history and the beginning of the Viking Age.

Despite its importance, the location has remained a mystery. It is thought the monastery could have been a dispersed complex of buildings with a main church and cemetery at the centre surrounded by outer enclosures, which would have contained the monks’ homes, a guest house and other churches and cemeteries.

The standing remains of a Priory at Lindisfarne date to Norman times around 1093 and were not built on the original monastery site.

A photo of a the ruins of a medieval abbey with arches against a blue sky
The Medieval Priory © Dig Ventures
Archaeologists excavating the site on previous occasions have found fragments of Anglo Saxon stone carving and other small artefacts, but physical remains of the monastery and its location have eluded them.

The new excavation, which is being backed by DigVentures, the crowdfunding archaeological social enterprise, will take place in June 2016 and follows new research by Dr David Petts, Lecturer in the Archaeology of Northern England at Durham University.

A world-leading expert on the archaeology of Lindisfarne, Dr Petts has carried out extensive geophysical surveys with funding from National Geographic.

“The centrality of the first Lindisfarne monastery in the history of history of early medieval Britain and its – until now – elusive nature gives this dig the potential to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the UK in recent years,” he said.

“Working with DigVentures allows us to open up the process of research and scientific excavation – it’s the future of discovering the past.”

The project has been launched for crowdfunding on the DigVentures website, allowing anyone interested in discovering the past to pledge support.

In return, supporters become part of the dig team – through exclusive digital access to project data, and receiving the training and tools needed to participate in the expedition this summer, which takes place 13-26 June.

Find out more about the project and how to get involved on the Dig Ventures website

a photo of a view across fields past farmhouse towards a priory seated on top of a hill across a stretch of water
Trench One looking towards Lindisfarne Priory© Dig Ventures
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Latest comment: >Make a comment
You quote the Christian, textual tradition as if you know it is true; you don't and until the dig/interpretation is finished, you cannot.
The archaeology of the island indicates that Norse and Brits lived there together, before a burn layer caused by a British attack.
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