Bill Turnbull takes the ancient pilgrims' path to the island of Lindisfarne, where one of the world's most beautiful books was created over 1,200 years ago.
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Eadfrith is not a particularly famous name in the history books
but more than 1,200 years ago the skill and devotion of this godly man
led to the creation of one of the most beautiful books in the world.
The Lindisfarne Gospels combine a work of art with the word of God,
intricate design interwoven with
the Latin text of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The book is named after the tiny island on which it was created,
Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumbria,
a place so imbued with spirituality
that it's become known as Holy Island.
These days you can still take the old pilgrims' route to the island,
so long as you time it right because twice a day
Lindisfarne is cut off from the mainland
by the rising tide of the North Sea.
This week, how one of the most magnificent copies
of the New Testament Gospels continues to inspire.
And the Durham University Chamber Choir
evoke the music of our medieval past in the Lindisfarne Priory ruins.
Well, the tide is going out
and I can see from my trusty timetable
that I've got a few hours before the sea rushes back in
and cuts the island off from the rest of the world again,
enough time to take in the atmosphere
and explore the place where Eadfrith worked on his masterpiece.
Eadfrith's book is held for the nation in the British Library.
But this summer you can get a glimpse of its magnificence
at a special exhibition in Durham University's Palace Green Library.
This is St Mary's Church,
built on the site of Lindisfarne's first monastery,
where Eadfrith painstakingly created
his offering to God in words and pictures.
And it is where tonight we offer our songs of praise.
I have an emotional reaction to all medieval manuscripts
that I have the good fortune to touch.
These were made by our predecessors,
they were made by humans like ourselves.
And as one looks at their writing,
at their illumination,
one can see something of the personality of the scribe,
of the people who used it.
What is remarkable about the Lindisfarne Gospels
is that it is a masterpiece of calligraphy
and of spirituality and art,
and it is the alliance of remarkable preservation of a remarkable book
with an amazing record of its history across the centuries
which we have every reason to believe that makes it unique.
It's all a masterpiece,
but at the opening to Luke's Gospel, Quoniam quidem,
in the margins, Eadfrith the scribe artist
drew a very smug-looking cat
and in his stomach, as it were, we see a progression of birds
that are based on the cormorants that teem on Holy Island,
and we know that monks from the Irish tradition loved their cats
and it shows us that they are attuned to their natural environment
as well as to the spirituality within it.
We shouldn't forget that although one man is writing,
the whole community is involved in the project as a whole.
Other people are making the parchment.
Other people are preparing it, procuring the inks.
And it is a community effort, and equally
everybody who prays while one scribe writes
is involved in the whole project.
We can be confident that two years
will be the absolute minimum it would take.
But given the regular interruptions owing to inclement weather,
waiting for supplies, the pressure of other duties,
probably the best part of a decade is a better estimate.
But we have to put this in the context of an eternal time frame,
we tend to think in commercial terms -
something has to be done by next year.
If you are doing this
for all of the saints on Lindisfarne past, present and future,
it doesn't matter if you finish it today or tomorrow,
you are doing it for eternity
and what matters is the quality, not the time.
'Holy Island is often referred to as a thin place
'where the veil separating Heaven and earth is lifted
'to reveal a glimpse of the Divine,
'a place where people say they sense
'the endless cycle of prayer and praise echoing down the centuries.
'It's a feeling enhanced perhaps by the words of our next hymn,
'which in Eadfrith's day would have been sung in Latin.'
-# O Trinity of blessed light
ALL: # O Unity of primal might
# The fiery sun now goes his way
# Shed thou within our hearts thy ray
-# To thee our morning song of praise
# To thee our evening prayer we raise
-# Thy glory, suppliant, we adore
# For ever and for evermore
ALL: # O Trinity, O Unity
# Thou help of man's infirmity
# Protect us through the hours of night
# Who art our everlasting light
# To God the Father, God the Son
# And God the Spirit, Three in One
# Let glory, praise and worship be
# From age to age eternally
# Amen. #
At the heart of the Lindisfarne Gospel decoration
is the intricacy of Celtic knots.
They are a particular inspiration for local artist Mary Fleeson.
There's a part in Ecclesiastes where it says,
"A strand of three cords is not easily broken."
And it's the weaving of those cords that makes it strong.
It can be symbolic of the trinity, so father, son and spirit again -
together they are stronger.
Here we are then on the same island
where Eadfrith created the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Do you feel a connection with him somehow when you're working?
I think Eadfrith was probably inspired by similar things to me -
the beauty of Holy Island, it's a gorgeous place to be.
The extremes on Holy Island -
the extreme weather that we get sometimes,
the sense of extreme isolation that we get when the tide's in.
I think that Eadfrith was a marvellous artist.
The attention to detail in the Lindisfarne Gospels
is second to none.
When you combine art and faith...
you produce something very special which blesses other people
and helps them to...
see God differently and to know God differently.
What is it about this place that makes it so special to you?
You can feel the prayers of those that have been before -
all the pilgrims that have visited,
the monks that have lived here.
It's almost tangible - you can almost touch it at times.
The first time I came onto the island,
we came over the causeway in a car...
..and I just cried.
And I'm not given to emotional outbursts particularly,
but something about the place touched me somehow.
I felt like I was coming home.
I've never felt that anywhere else.
The most dramatic chapter
in the history of the Lindisfarne Gospels
came a century and a half after Eadfrith's death.
Viking raids forced the monks to flee their island home.
They took with them their most precious possessions -
the Lindisfarne Gospels of course,
but also the body of their most revered bishop - Saint Cuthbert.
The modern centrepiece of St Mary's Church
is this sculpture called The Journey.
And it's a dramatic representation of the moment that the monks
and the Gospels left Lindisfarne.
It's really quite powerful and sombre in this setting,
and you can't help but feel sympathy for these men
as they left the island for the last time.
I could see this epic story,
so how could I express this journey?
Durham-born Fenwick Lawson has been an artist
and sculptor for over 60 years.
His acclaimed sculpture, The Journey,
was carved from seven elm trees.
There was something very interesting happening
while I was actually doing this.
Layers of meaning
that I wasn't actually,
in a sense, expecting,
or I didn't preconceive, you know?
It was like happening after the event.
And in one sense it was becoming larger than just...
than just six months carrying Cuthbert's body.
I'm from a mining community.
My father always said he depended for his life down the pit
on his marras, on his other workmen.
They all had a responsibility for safety,
their lives depended on it,
and it formed a bond
which is very strong and very meaningful.
These could equally be six miners carrying their brother.
And the monks were carrying their brother.
Fenwick's life work, which includes Saint Cuthbert at Lindisfarne Priory
and the Pieta in Durham Cathedral,
has developed into an exploration of our humanity.
I wanted to get past,
you need to be religious to engage with a religious image.
If you're not, you tend to put up a barrier.
But I find that that barrier is totally unnecessary.
For instance, Christ condemned
is every man condemned.
He's a prisoner of conscience, he's a political prisoner.
I hear stories that the Pieta moves people, you know?
And when that was challenged by some of my colleagues
as being just religious...
it's...it's... it's a mother with a dead son.
We must become more than we are,
we need to grow into humanity,
and that's the message,
and I think it's an important one.
I think it's a primary message to be stated.
And I'm using my voice as a sculptor
to try and give voice to this.
The monks of Lindisfarne
travelled all over the north of England
before settling in the newly-built Durham Cathedral.
Saint Cuthbert's resting place
has been a sight of pilgrimage ever since.
But it was not the end of the journey for the Gospels,
and this year marks a rare return to the Northeast
for this jewel of our medieval heritage.
To mark the occasion, a Lindisfarne Gospels community choir
has been formed and Martin Ward and his family volunteered to take part.
-# Glory... #
MARTIN WARD: 'The music that we have to sing,
'there are some really beautiful pieces.
'It just becomes an act of worship when you're singing.'
Not bad, lovely.
You feel that you're part of a body
because you're singing with all these other people
and all your voices are joining together
to produce something that's far better than any one person's voice
on its own can produce.
-# Hosanna hosanna... #
'Singing shouldn't be left to just that
'tiny percentage of the population who can sing fantastically well,
'it's actually something everybody can do.'
-# Glory be to God. #
'One thing I like about this choir is that there's no competition'
involved, there's no auditions,
that anybody is welcome to join it and be part of it.
-One, two, three...
'In our society there's a huge emphasis on competition,
'and the thing with competition is that if you and I are competing
'then if I win,'
if you win, I lose.
But if you and I are cooperating on something, then if you win, I win,
and the choir is very much about cooperation, about working together.
# Hosanna, glory to... #
'The Lindisfarne Gospels were produced
'not as a result of any competition,'
they didn't have a...
The way we do it nowadays, we'd say,
"Oh, it would be good to have some Gospels that are really beautiful,
"so let's hold a Lindisfarne Gospels competition.
"And let's get a load of Gospel writers to compete
"and then we'll judge them.
"And one of them we'll pick out and that will be the winner
"and all the others will be the losers."
But that's not what happened
because the person who wrote the Gospels just wanted to produce
the best that he could because the Gospel message was so important
and so wonderful and fantastic.
Well, that was a brand-new tune
written especially for this programme.
Every generation leaves its own mark
and that's also true for the Lindisfarne Gospels.
As we can see from this reproduction,
although Latin was the language in which they were created,
a couple of centuries after Eadfrith,
a translation was added by another monk called Aldred,
making this the first version of the Gospels in English.
Sandy Duff and his crew are artists working in a medium
usually reserved for secular rather than sacred works.
Having established the largest legal graffiti wall in England
at the Sage in Gateshead, Sandy's come up with the idea
of an up-to-date version of the Lindisfarne Gospels with spray cans.
When we started researching
the Gospels project,
I was really struck by the parallels between the graffiti writers
that I was used to working with
and actually the programmes of work that these monks undertook.
What they could see in their mind there wasn't the materials to create,
so they actually had to go out
and create the tools to project what was in their heads.
Another interesting parallel between the Gospels
and the contemporary graffiti work is the fact that
when a graffiti writer finishes his piece,
the last thing he will do is to sign it off
and he will tag somewhere in the piece with his own name.
But not only that, they do what's called a shout out,
so you'll get a number of different names that go around the piece
which are references and thanks to various different crews,
possibly artists that have inspired them.
And the Gospels themselves actually mirror this in the last pages -
not only is the work signed off
but there's acknowledgements to the various people
that have supported and helped it.
I really wanted to do something that was not only a one-off
sort of exhibition or art show, but really it brought young people
and other members from the community and engaged them, got them involved,
got them thinking about what the history was behind the Gospels,
what the faith aspects were behind the Gospels,
and what the creative angles were in the Gospels.
I think the interesting thing about having skills
is to remember that these are gifts.
And, actually, my feeling is that, you know, praise
and worship can come in the use of the gift that you have
and actually by sharing those gifts,
not just in producing your own work,
but actually working alongside others -
and in my case working alongside young people -
and sharing those skills
and sharing those gifts is as valid a form of worship as any.
CHOIR SINGS IN LATIN
# Est Stella Matutina
ALL: # Christus
ALL: # Est Stella Matutina
WOMEN: # Qui nocte saecum
# Transacta lucem vitae
ALL: # Sanctis promitit
# Et pandit
# Aeternum. #
Holy God, you inspired Eadfrith
to glorify your name
and proclaim the holiness of Cuthbert
in the creation of these marvellous Gospels.
Fill our hearts with your spirit
and change us from glory to glory.
May the holy three, the father, son and spirit,
who call us into life and summon us to holiness,
encircle us in love
and hold us in blessing.
Well, Lindisfarne really does deserve the name Holy,
but although it's a place almost as timeless as the story told
by the Gospel itself,
I better be off because as they say,
"Time and tide wait for no man."
Next week, a musical celebration led by the Ulster Orchestra
from the Waterfront Hall in Belfast
as Eamonn introduces hymns old and new
written by people from across Ireland.
Plus special guest Anuna,
Robin Mark and The Celtic Tenors.
Subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing by Red Bee Media Ltd
Bill Turnbull takes the ancient pilgrims' path to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where one of the world's most beautiful books was created over 1,200 years ago.
St Mary's Parish Church is the setting for congregational hymns including Lord Of Beauty, Thine The Splendour, There Is A Gospel To Proclaim and O Splendour Of God's Glory Bright.