• Imagining History

The Vikings Attack Lindisfarne – Info for Keystage2

Updated: Jun 11


Lindisfarne island from the harbour - photo by Russ Hamer
Lindisfarne Island - courtesy of Russ Hamer

Wait, the Vikings attacked where?


Lindisfarne, an island off the North-East coast of England. The island is also sometimes called “Holy Island” because of the monastery that was built there by St Aiden in 635AC. By this time the Anglo-Saxons had converted to Christianity. The monastery was a holy building where Anglo-Saxon monks lived, worshipped, and devoted their lives to their religion.


Map showing the location of Lindisfarne "Holy Island" off the coast of Northumberland
Map showing the location of Lindisfarne "Holy Island" off the coast of Northumberland

And the Vikings attacked it?


They certainly did – in a very brutal way. The raid happened in 793AD (historians reckon it probably happened around 8th June). The event is described by a number of Anglo-Saxon sources in gory detail. The Vikings used excessive force; plundering the monastery, stealing the holy treasures, trampling the sacred places and even digging up the altars. Some of the Monks were drowned in the sea and others were dragged away in chains to become slaves.


What?! That sounds terrifying!


Doesn’t it? It sent a shockwave through Anglo-Saxon England. Even people in Europe heard about it and shook in fear.





A Viking battle - courtesy George Hodan
A Viking battle - courtesy George Hodan

So, was this the first time the Vikings had attacked England?


The raid on Lindisfarne is considered to be the start of the Viking Age in Europe. But it wasn’t the first time the Vikings made a visit to England. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle made a report in 787AD about three ships of “Northmen” who landed on the coast of Wessex and killed a local official, the Reeve. Although vicious, this killing was nowhere near as devastating for the Anglo-Saxons as the attack on Lindisfarne.


Statue of St Aiden outside Lindisfarne ruins - courtesy Kim Traynor
Statue of St Aiden outside Lindisfarne ruins - courtesy Kim Traynor

Why did the Lindisfarne raid bother the Anglo-Saxons so much?


The Lindisfarne Monastery was one of the holiest places in Anglo-Saxon England. St Aiden, who built the monastery, played an important part in the early stages of the Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity and he used the monastery on Lindisfarne as the base where he launched his successful conversion missions.


Later, the monastery on Lindisfarne became a popular pilgrimage site for Anglo-Saxon Christians because the relics of St Cuthbert were held there. St Cuthbert became very famous after his death when many miracles were said to have happened at his grave and shrine.


Stained glass window showing St Cuthbert's shrine where miracles were said to have taken place - courtesy Charc2018
Stained glass window showing St Cuthbert's shrine where miracles were said to have taken place - courtesy Charc2018

So is that why the Vikings chose to raid Lindisfarne?


It’s unlikely that the Vikings purposefully struck at the heart of Anglo-Saxon religion. Instead, they probably chose to attack the monastery because it was built on an island in the middle of nowhere, packed full of treasure and completely undefended. After all, the monastery had become so important that it had been gifted a great number of precious objects and had massively grown in wealth. It was a prime target for the Vikings.


Wow. So they were actually quite lucky that the monastery hadn’t been raided earlier?


Absolutely. Not only that, many Anglo-Saxon sources reported bad omens in the run-up to the event. There were sightings of whirlwinds, thunderous lightning storms and even fiery dragons flying through the skies. They considered this a forewarning of something terrible on its way. But nobody thought to defend the monastery. Doh!


Ruins of the Lindisfarne Priory - courtesy Nilfanion

Did the Anglo-Saxons at least learn to defend the monastery after the raid?


It doesn’t seem so. In the years following the Lindisfarne incident, the Vikings raided a number of other monasteries around England. But despite the brutal attack, a Christian community continued to survive and thrive on Lindisfarne, so the Anglo-Saxons must have been doing something right.


What else did the Vikings do after Lindisfarne?


For a while, the Vikings continued to launch raids on England, stealing valuables and returning to Scandinavia with their wealth. But soon their strategy changed and the Vikings were looking for settlements. They sailed out with warbands and began conquering entire kingdoms in England.



 

If you are a Primary School teacher then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'How to Launch a Viking Raid' Interactive workshop to your school.


Have your students got what it takes to launch a successful Viking raid?

In this award-winning workshop, our practitioners will use interactive activities with a drama and performance twist to teach your students everything they need to know to raid the Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne. Your students will:

  • Create a timeline stretching from the first Viking raid to the end of the Viking era.

  • Construct a Viking Longship using just their bodies.

  • Interact with replica Viking Weapons, Armour and tools, including a sword, shield, spear, and sunstone.

  • Use their teamworking skills to test out Viking navigation techniques

  • Launch a raid on Lindisfarne & outsmart the Monks to steal their treasure.

Find out more by clicking here!