The Holy Island of Lindisfarne Songs of Praise


The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Bill Turnbull meets people inspired by the tidal island of Lindisfarne, and introduces hymns from the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin.


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Lindisfarne, a little sanctuary off the north-east coast of England,

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cut off from the mainland twice a day at high tide.

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Thousands of visitors come here every year,

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attracted by its sandy beaches and wildlife but also

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because of its reputation as one of the holiest places in Britain.

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Today, this tiny tidal island is a centre of Christian pilgrimage,

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a haven for reflection and prayer.

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But back in the 7th century, when the first monastery was built here,

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far from being a place of retreat or isolation,

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this was the centre of a vibrant missionary network,

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spreading the Christian message so successfully that Lindisfarne

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became known as northern Britain's cradle of Christianity.

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1,300 years on, it continues to inspire those who come here.

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With my feet firmly on dry land,

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I meet Christian artists influenced by the Celtic

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saints of Lindisfarne

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and discover the poignant story behind a new piece of stained glass

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for the ancient parish church,

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while Christian band Iona perform in the priory ruins.

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Lindisfarne's Christian story began with an Irish monk called Aidan,

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who came to the island in the year 635 to build a monastery.

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He travelled nearly 250 miles from the monastery of St Columba

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on the Scottish island of Iona.

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He wasn't the first to bring Christianity to this

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part of the world - the Romans had done that before him.

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But, by then, many people had gone back to their pagan roots.

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Aidan walked tirelessly from village to village talking to

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people he met about the Christian faith.

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It's believed St Mary's Parish Church here

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stands on the site of that first monastery

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established by Aidan 1,300 years ago,

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and it's where we begin our Songs Of Praise, with a hymn based on

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the words of Psalm 23, and set to a tune named after St Columba of Iona.

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# The King of Love my shepherd is

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# Whose goodness faileth never

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# I nothing lack if I am His

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# And He is mine forever... #

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Paul Collins moved here from Sussex 18 months ago to become

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vicar of St Mary's Parish Church.

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This is a very different sort of parish, though, isn't it?

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Was it what you expected when you got here?

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I'm not sure I quite knew what to expect.

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It's certainly very much more complex, I think, than I originally had anticipated

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which is wonderful, because it always keeps you on your toes.

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You've got a parish, you've got ministry to the people who come

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and stay here, you've got ministry to the day visitors

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and then you've got ministry such as organising pilgrimages,

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so there's all sorts of things happening all the time.

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And I suppose you never know really who's going to

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be in your congregation or how many people there are. No.

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It all depends on the tides and we can have sometimes just two of us,

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then 20 or 30, or hundreds, sometimes. From all over the world?

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All over the world, yes.

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But often, of course, it's just a single meeting

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and that's a great challenge.

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How do you speak to people of Christ and welcome people

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and they're just here for an hour or just in the church

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for one act of worship?

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You'll know that it's often referred to here as a thin place,

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where the space between heaven and earth is quite narrow.

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Is there a particular feel, a particular spirituality to it?

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I think that's a conjunction of the history,

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the sense of the spiritual history of the place

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and the sort of spirituality of the Northern saints going back to Aidan.

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So that was when they went to Norham, which is just across the way. There?

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That's a very large bee, isn't it?

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We know that God is everywhere and God is always all around us

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but we need moments and places that remind us of that

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and really bring that home to us.

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I think what people are really trying to get at is, in a sense,

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something akin to the sacraments.

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So, just like the bread

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and wine of communion, where we can say God comes to us

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and touches us, I think Holy Island is a bit like that for many people.

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It's a place where they find the reality of God

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and the reality and sense of God is refreshed for them.

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The island of Lindisfarne and its early saints

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have been a source of inspiration for many,

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including a group of Christian musicians who came

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together in the late 1980s to form the band Iona.

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Tell me about the first time that you came to Lindisfarne

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together, because that had quite an impact on you, didn't it?

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We were doing some gigs up north, and, heading down south again, Dave

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suggested that we would, you know, do a little stopover in Lindisfarne.

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And we went for a walk around the rocks

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and we just sat down, it was a beautiful evening

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and we were looking at where the monks used to sit and pray.

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And I was just listening to the birds and looking at the seaweed

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and I just thought, oh, you know, there are song lyrics here

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and I didn't have a pen or paper, so between us we had a pen

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and we had a paper napkin that thankfully hadn't been

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used from the pub where we had lunch.

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So I started to write the lyrics on this paper napkin

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and that became the song, Lindisfarne.

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You are here to perform again.

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What's it like for you when you come back here together as a band?

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What does the island mean to you now?

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In some ways, it's like coming home.

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It's really just the connection with St Aidan and St Cuthbert and the

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incredible lives of faith they lived that still resonate in this area.

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So whenever we come up here,

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it's not just experiencing the beautiful landscapes but it's

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really that connection to hundreds of years of the faith and prayer

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that have been said on this island, so it's quite a magical place to be.

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# Slow rising mist enfolding the land

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# Seawater shifts on a bed of sand

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# A forest of kelp dances beneath its motion

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# The water moves with the tides of the ocean

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# And here we are

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# We have come this far

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# To say a prayer

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# On Lindisfarne

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# Here in the rock bathed in a gentle glow

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# The golden half-light of the setting sun

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# A shadow of wings flying fast and low

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# Out of my sight into the distance gone

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# And here we are

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# We have come this far

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# To say a prayer

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# On Lindisfarne

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# And here we are

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# We have come this far

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# To say a prayer

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# On Lindisfarne. #

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Marygate House is one of several Christian retreat houses here

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on Holy Island for those seeking time and space for quiet reflection.

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But for the past 40 years,

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Marygate has also played host to a retreat of a rather different kind.

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Every July, a group of people come here from across the UK to

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spend a week together singing.

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As I said earlier, I don't have a bonny lad. Has anyone got one?

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We come together once a year to sing and enjoy ourselves,

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enjoy the peace and quiet that is available here in Lindisfarne.

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And to relax and have some fun. This is my second year.

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I've come back because I so enjoyed the camaraderie of singing.

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Singing every day with somebody encouraging you

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and conducting, means you grow a great deal.

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DEVOTIONAL SINGING

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As anything, if you practice making Victoria sponge every day,

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you get better at making Victoria sponge and this is the same,

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and there's a great sense of community within the choir,

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so you learn to rely on each other and to listen to

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the voice behind you, the voice next to you, so you grow as a group.

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Coming here is also a spiritual experience for me.

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It's a place where my soul feels safe.

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It's peaceful, it's calm and gentle.

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Another saint closely associated with Lindisfarne was Cuthbert.

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It's said he decided to become a monk after seeing

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a vision on the night that St Aidan died.

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He became Bishop of Lindisfarne and such was his fame that he

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drew pilgrims to the island while he was still alive.

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There are many strange myths associated with St Cuthbert,

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such as his fight with devils on the island of Farne,

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and the story of the sea otters who warmed his feet with their fur.

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It might all seem strange and improbable to us today

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but writer William Bedford believes that such stories can hold

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a deeper truth than the plain facts.

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As a child, we never went to church, which seems extraordinary to me now,

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but we never went.

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So arriving at university

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and reading these stories was a little bit like, well,

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I don't know, somebody who's never encountered Christianity

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and thinking, oh, they're great stories.

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But then I encountered Tolkien, who was a Catholic,

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and CS Lewis, an Anglican,

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both of them major scholars in old English and medieval literature.

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And with Lewis, what was exciting there was the way he wrote

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about the medieval mind, the way that people would see their world in those

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days, so that he talks about the way we would go in a garden at night and

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look up, and we would see infinity, so the stars are beyond reach.

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And beyond them, there are more stars that have died.

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But the medieval mind would look up

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and see a roof with glittering shapes in.

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Even further back than that is, if you think about cave people

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and in Greek myth and so on, they looked at the stars and they saw gods.

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Well, that's how they would understand them

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and that led me on to the whole issue of what stories are,

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that they were actually telling you a deeper truth than facts can.

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And I realised that a lot of the stories to do with Cuthbert

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were actually like that, telling you a truth

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which may not have happened.

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And I became a Roman Catholic.

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I had spent most of my academic life, in a sense, looking for answers.

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But you don't need to do philosophy, you don't need to

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do deep biblical criticism or theology.

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Just read the stories.

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And whether that's about Cuthbert or Jesus, the stories

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actually say more than shelves full of theories.

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# Let us climb this hill in the footsteps of Patrick

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# Let us fall to our knees and worship with Your angels

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# Let us call out to You and declare Your holy word

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# Let us prophesy in every direction

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# That the ancient wells will be opened again

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# That Your river will flow and this land will be cleansed

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# Your kingdom will come, we'll have heaven on Earth

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# And revival will fall, and we'll witness Your glory in this land

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# Let us drive out the snakes that have crossed our borders

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# They have hidden in the shadows but the darkness is retreating

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# Let us climb the high places declaring Your kingdom

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# Close the gates to the devil in every direction

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# That the ancient wells will be opened again

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# That Your river will flow and this land will be cleansed

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# Your kingdom will come, we'll have heaven on Earth

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# And revival will fall

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# That the ancient wells will be opened again

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# That Your river will flow and this land will be cleansed

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# Your kingdom will come, we'll have heaven on Earth

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# And revival will fall, and we'll witness Your glory in this land. #

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St Mary's Parish Church is the oldest building on the

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island still in use, with some parts said to date back to Saxon times.

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Over the years, like so many of our churches, it's been added to

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and changed, and this year, St Mary's architectural heritage has

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been further enriched with a new stained-glass window.

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It was commissioned in memory of three generations of a local

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family who have an unusual connection with the island.

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In about 1870, I think it was,

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my husband's ancestor bought the island and I think with it,

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he bought the thing called Lord of the Manor, which really doesn't...

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It doesn't really mean anything.

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And the window commemorates three generations of the family. Indeed.

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It commemorates my late father-in-law and late husband

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and late son.

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I was approached last year by Lady Crossman about the possibility

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of designing a memorial window to some members of the family who

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recently passed away.

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So they wanted references to St Cuthbert and St Aidan.

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St Aidan is represented by the traditional heraldic

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symbol of St Aidan, which is the stag.

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There's other references to the island like these.

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We've got St Mary's Church represented.

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In some ways, the window represents commemoration

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but also some sadness in your life, because it remembers

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your father-in-law, and your husband,

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who you nursed for many years

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after he had a stroke, and your son, of course, who died in an accident.

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Yes, he sadly died in an air crash, leaving two little girls.

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When tragedy strikes a family, or individuals,

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as happened in your case, it can really test your faith sometimes.

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Did that happen to you?

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Yes. I think one's first reaction, if there is a God,

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You get over it and then you do find that faith can help.

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You can't really define it, but one had a peace.

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But as these things happen in life, it's just rather sad.

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Holy Island has been inspiring Christians for over 1,300 years

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now and there's no sign of that changing, really.

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Much of its enduring spiritual appeal lies in the constant

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ebb and flow of the tide and the island's rhythm

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of separation from the rest of the world, and reconnection.

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"Leave me alone with God as much as may be as the tide draws

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"the waters close in upon the shore

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"make me an island set apart, alone with you, God, holy to You.

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"Then with the turning of the tide, prepare me

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"to carry Your presence to the busy world beyond, to the world that

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"rushes in on me, till the waters come again and fold me back to You."

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And the blessing of God Almighty, the father,

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the son and the holy spirit be among you and remain with you always.

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Amen.

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Next week, Diane will be joining the night shift

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and staying up all through the hours of darkness.

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We'll have a selection of hymns with a night-time theme, and Diane

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will be meeting people who are out and about

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after the sun has gone down.

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Bill Turnbull meets people inspired by the tiny tidal island, including Iona - who perform in the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory - and he introduces hymns from the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin.


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