Sources for Lindisfarne Priory

The following lists provide a summary of the main sources of information for our knowledge and understanding of Lindisfarne Priory.

A Painting of about 1673 of the harbour defences at Lindisfarne Priory viewed from the sea
A painting of about 1673 of the harbour defences at Lindisfarne. The ruins of the priory are to the left, with Lindisfarne Castle on the right

Primary Written Sources

Anglo-Saxon Sources

Most of what we know about Anglo-Saxon Lindisfarne derives from close reading of texts written at the time. Of these the most important are the contemporary accounts of the life of St Cuthbert, and descriptions of the beginnings of his cult in the 8th century. Letters to Northumbrian kings and bishops discuss Lindisfarne as well as the politics and society of early medieval Northumbria. Chronicles are also important, especially the accounts of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793 as recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (written in Old English) and the 8th- and 9th-century chronicle entries included in the 12th-century Historia Regum (in Latin).

From the later Anglo-Saxon period, sources from Durham also refer to Lindisfarne, both to the history of the connection between the two places and to the contemporary estates. The Historia de Sancto Cuthberto is especially important here.

Later Sources

In the early 12th century, when the priory was refounded, the historian Symeon of Durham wrote extensively on the history of his community, and its intimate connections with Lindisfarne.

Late medieval documents translated and printed by James Raine in 1852 (see below) were preserved in the archives of the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral. These are now held by the Archives and Special Collections of Durham University Library, where many documents relating to the history of Holy Island/Lindisfarne can be found.

Documents relating to Lindisfarne Priory are included in the Regalia collection of the Durham Cathedral Muniments (documents issued by the monarch). The references relevant to Lindsfarne are:

  • 3.1.REG.1a: c 1154–66 [confirmation in free-alms, by Henry II to the prior and monks of St Cuthbert, of all lands, tithes, churches and tenures belonging to the priory of Durham including the church of Holy Island with all its chapels, appendent lands and waters]
  • 2.3.REG.3a: 4 February 6 Richard I (1196) [confirmation (perhaps spurious) in free-alms, by Richard, king of England, to the prior and monks there, of all lands, tithes and churches belonging to the priory of Durham]
  • 1.4.REG.4: 2 August 41 Edward III (1367) [letters patent of protection, of Edward III for the prior of Holy Island, his men, lands and possessions, for one year]
  • 2.4.REG.1: 27 August 9 Richard II (1385) [mandate by letters patent, by Richard II to Henry de Percy, Earl and Sheriff of Northumberland, John de Neville of Raby, and Richard le Scrope, to hold inquests whether the prior and convent of Holy Island have the means to defend their church and priory, and whether a grant to them to take down their fortifications, and to them and to the prior and convent of Durham relieving them of provision for the defence of that church and priory, would be to his loss].

Printed Primary Sources

Most of the original sources are available in printed versions.

Alcuin, ‘Letters on the sack of Lindisfarne’, in Alcuin of York: His Life and Letters, ed S Allott (York, 1974), 36–41 [a transcription of one of Alcuin’s letters is available online; accessed 15 March 2013]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed and trans M Swanton (London, 1996)

Anon, ‘Life of St Cuthbert’, in Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert, ed B Colgrave (Cambridge, 1940)

Bede, ‘Life of Cuthbert’, in The Age of Bede, ed JF Webb and DH Farmer (London, 1983; reprinted 1998), 41–104

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans L Sherley-Price (London, 1990) [several earlier editions of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History are available online; accessed 29 May 2013]

Historia Regum, in English Historical Documents, vol 1: c 550–1042, ed and trans D Whitelock (London, 1979), 263–81 [this text was edited by Symeon of Durham in the 1120s, and includes chronicle entries compiled in the 8th and 9th centuries]

Johnson South, T (ed), Historia de Sancto Cuthberto: A History of Saint Cuthbert and a Record of His Patrimony, Anglo-Saxon Texts 3 (Cambridge, 2002)

Offler, HS (ed), Durham Episcopal Charters 1071–1152, Surtees Society 179 (Durham, 1968)

Raine, J, Reginaldi monachi Dunelmensis Libellus de admirandis beati Cuthberti virtutibus quae novellis patratae sunt temporibus, Surtees Society 1 (Durham, 1835) [an edition of Reginald of Durham’s ‘Little Book about the Wonderful Miracles of Blessed Cuthbert which were performed in Recent Times’; accessed 15 March 2013]

Raine, J, The History and Antiquities of North Durham as subdivided into the shires of Norham, Island, and Bedlington, which from the Saxon period until the year 1844, constituted parcels of the County Palatine of Durham, but are now united to the county of Northumberland (London, 1852) [includes translations of the account roll of receipts and expenses for Lindisfarne from 1326 onwards, and inventories of the priory and its possessions]

Symeon of Durham, Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie (Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham), ed and trans D Rollason (Oxford, 2000)

Fragment of an 8th century cross-shaft carved with interlace animal decoration at Lindisfarne Priory
An 8th-century cross-shaft carved with interlace animal decoration, one of many fragments of Anglo-Saxon sculpture found during excavations of the priory

Material Sources (Sculpture and Manuscripts)

Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

Detailed descriptions and illustrations of all the Anglo-Saxon sculpture from Lindisfarne, as well as information about their current locations, are included in:

  • Cramp, R (ed), Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, vol 1: County Durham and Northumberland (Oxford, 1977), pp 194–208.

All the information on the sculpture from Lindisfarne is also available via the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture website.

British Library, London

The Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton Nero D.iv) are on permanent display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery in the British Library. The British Library website contains much information about the Gospels including an interactive Turning the Pages site.

A full facsimile of and commentary on the Gospels are provided in:

  • Kendrick, TD (ed), Evangeliorum quattuor Codex Lindisfarnensis, 2 vols (Olten and Lausanne, 1956).

The St Cuthbert Gospel (Add MS 89000): this pocket-sized copy of the Gospel of St John, in Latin, was found in St Cuthbert’s tomb when his coffin was moved into the new Romanesque cathedral in Durham in 1104. It had been made in the early 8th century at Bede’s monastery, Wearmouth–Jarrow. 

University of Oxford

Bede’s ‘Life of St Cuthbert’ (Oxford, University College MS 165): this copy, made in the early 12th century at around the time the priory was refounded on Lindisfarne, contains many lively images of the miracles associated with St Cuthbert and also of more recent miracles, perhaps to reinforce contemporary connections between Durham and Lindisfarne.

Visual Sources

These are listed in date order.

Plans, Drawings and Photographs in the Historic England Archives

Items in the Historic England Archives at Swindon relating to Lindisfarne Priory include:

  • photographs taken between 1856 and 1859 by Roger Fenton (FEN01)
  • six photographs taken 1896–1920 by Alfred Newton and Sons (CC98/10007–10012)
  • property file containing 464 drawings, maps and plans dating from the 1880s to 2011 (PF/LIN).

More details of these and many other items can be found in the online catalogue. Some material is not yet listed online, including a large collection of aerial photography; for a full search, please contact the search team.

Copies of images and documents can be ordered through the website or by contacting the archive. For details of current charges for these services see the archives price list.


Aird, WM, St Cuthbert and the Normans: The Church of Durham, 1070–1173 (Woodbridge, 1998)

Battiscombe, CF (ed), The Relics of Saint Cuthbert (Oxford, 1956)

Beavitt, P, O’Sullivan, D and Young, R, ‘Fieldwork on Lindisfarne, Northumberland, 1980–88’, Northern Archaeology, 8 (1990), 1–23

Bonner, G, Stancliffe, C and Rollason, D (eds), St Cuthbert: His Cult and His Community to AD 1200 (Woodbridge, 1989)

Blair, J, ‘The early churches at Lindisfarne’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 5th series, 19 (1991), 47–53

Brown, MP, ‘In the Beginning was the Word’: Books and Faith in the Age of Bede, Jarrow Lecture (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2000)

Brown, MP, The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (London, 2003)

Craster, HHE, ‘The patrimony of St Cuthbert’, English Historical Review, 69 (1954), 177–99 [subscription required; accessed 22 March 2013]

McAleer, JP, ‘The upper nave elevation and high vaults of Lindisfarne Priory’, Durham Archaeological Journal, 2 (1986), 43–53

McAleer, JP, ‘A note about the reconstruction of the west portal-porch of Lindisfarne Priory’, Durham Archaeological Journal, 3 (1987), 9–13

O’Sullivan, D, ‘Space, silence and shortage on Lindisfarne: the archaeology of asceticism’, in Image and Power in the Archaeology of Early Medieval Britain: Essays in Honour of Rosemary Cramp, ed H Hamerow and A McGregor (Oxford, 2001), 33–52

O’Sullivan, D and Young, R, ‘The early medieval settlement at Green Shiel, Lindisfarne: an interim report on the excavations, 1984–91’, Archaeology North, 2 (1992), 17–21

O’Sullivan, D and Young, R, English Heritage Book of Lindisfarne Holy Island (London, 1995)

Piper, AJ, ‘The first generations of Durham monks and the cult of St Cuthbert’, in Bonner et al, 437–46

Rollason, D, Northumbria, 500–1100: Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom (Cambridge, 2003)

Rollason, D, Harvey, M and Prestwich, M, Anglo-Norman Durham 1093–1193 (Woodbridge, 1994)

Story, J, Lindisfarne Priory (English Heritage guidebook, London, 2005) [buy the guidebook]

Unpublished Secondary Sources

Cambridge, E, ‘The masons and building works of Durham Priory, 1339–1539’, PhD thesis (Durham University, 1992), esp. 142–53 and plates 110–28 [accessed 22 March 2013]

Petts, D, ‘The archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Lindisfarne’, (Durham University, 2013) [recording of lecture and powerpoint slides; accessed 27 March 2013]

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