1. A Memoir of the 2006 Pilgrimage by Maggie Benson
Where on earth can you take (what I thought would be) a quiet little pilgrimage to learn about a couple of saints and walk away with a head full of mind-boggling thoughts regarding mysterious miracles and visions, alongside stories of shipwrecks and heroines, wars between neighboring kingdoms, and Viking raids with enough details of pillaging and plundering that would make your hair curl! The answer is Durham and Lindisfarne!
My husband Jerry and I traveled from Texas (where a good bit of interesting history itself happened) to attend an Orthodox pilgrimage in the Northumbrian towns of Durham and Lindisfarne. I have always been interested in church history but a few years ago I became aware of the Celtic side of church history and I was fascinated with the stories; and the more I read the more I wanted to know. In fact, it’s how I discovered Orthodoxy! So a pilgrimage sounded like the perfect way to learn the truth; and to be a part of a group headed by His Grace, Bishop Kallistos Ware was even more than we could have asked for…what a blessing. So we packed our bags and off we went for what I would definitely call an adventure of a lifetime! Never did I dream that a one-week pilgrimage could have such a spiritual and educational impact upon my life. I was amazed at the vast amount of history that occurred in just this one small area of Northern England and seventh century Northumbria introduced some very special saints to the world...especially Saint’s Aidan, Cuthbert, and Bede.
Saint Aidan, a Celtic monk from Iona, was credited with restoring Christianity to the area and was given the title "Apostle of Northumbria". He became the first Bishop of the monastery of Lindisfarne by Saint Oswald, King of Northumbria. He died in nearby Bamburg in 651 AD. Saint Cuthbert was a young shepherd of sixteen when he had a vision of Saint Aidan's soul being carried to Heaven by Angels. He became a monk and later became the fifth successor to Bishop Aidan as Bishop of Lindisfarne. Eleven years after Saint Cuthbert's death, his casket was opened and his body was found to be incorrupt. Miracles were reported and he became the most popular saint of Northern England. Saint Bede admired them both and so he wrote about them in his books. Saint Bede became famous for having written “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" and other great works, particularly on Saint Cuthbert. After his death he was given the title "The Father of English History".
Jerry and I spent the first three nights of the pilgrimage at St. Chad’s College, located in the shadows of Durham Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the eleventh century as a shrine to Saint Cuthbert. While in Durham we also had services at the Church of Saint Mary the Less and Saint Chad’s Chapel, both located within an easy walking distance of our room. Bishop Kallistos also held a special service for the group at Durham Cathedral where we prayed at the graves of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede. Being allowed to touch the tombs of these ancient saints was a very spiritual experience for me. We walked around the cathedral's cemetery and also visited the Cathedral Treasury Museum which houses the remains of Saint Cuthbert’s wooden coffin, his gold pectoral cross, and a silver portable alter; these things were removed before Saint Cuthbert was interred for the last time in the mid-eighteen hundreds.
St Cuthbert's tomb in Durham Cathedral
One evening at Saint Chad’s College we viewed the excellent video “The Return of the Icon” courtesy of Masha Smith who was also on the pilgrimage. The video concerns The Tikhvin Icon’s history, miracles, exile in the U.S., and final return to Russia in 2004. Masha and her family were intimately involved in this miracle and so she shared her story with us. I still feel the effects of this documentary.
Bishop Kallistos took us to visit the nearby Escomb Church and later we visited St. Paul’s Church in Jarrow. Escomb Church is a seventh century church built out of stones that are thought to have come from an old Roman fort located nearby. It is also the oldest Anglo-Saxon church in England. Worshipping at Saint Paul's Church was very special for me…what an awesome feeling to know that our feet walked on the same ancient floor as St. Bede’s.
Escomb Saxon Church St Paul's Church, Jarrow
Celtic Crosses were sporadically placed throughout the cemeteries we visited and several showed an amazing variety of ancient gravestones. We saw effigies of soldiers at some while others had gravestones engraved with skulls and crossbones, leaves, a chalice, and even a carved face was discovered on a stone; that along with the apparent misspelled names only added to their genuine charm.
tombstones in Escomb churchyard
After three busy days of checking out the ancient churches in Durham, Jarrow, and Auckland Castle, we journeyed on to Holy Island where we spent four wonderful nights together. Lindisfarne is its ancient name but the monks later renamed it Holy Island. There we would learn that the tides would separate us from the rest of the world not just once but twice a day and it was this isolation that Saint Aidan found so appealing. Lindisfarne/Holy Island and the Northumbrian region are full of history and have been written about by such noted authors as Saint Bede, William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. The Lindisfarne Gospels were also written at this same monastery as a way to honor Saint Cuthbert.
the causeway to Holy Island being cut off by the incoming tide
One morning we bundled ourselves up to take a brisk boat ride out to the distant Inner Farne Islands, commonly referred to as Saint Cuthbert's Island, to pray at Saint Cuthbert’s Chapel which was rebuilt in 1370. After a beautiful service in the chapel we explored the remote island where Saint Cuthbert chose to live in prayer and solitude with his beloved birds, and where King Ecgfrith himself had to journey to in order to convince him to accept the position as the new Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was also here where the saint returned to die. Saint Cuthbert loved animals but he especially loved the birds so naturally this area provided us with a tremendous view of puffins, seals, otters, and lots and lots of birds! I learned that the “Cuddy Duck” (or Eider Duck) was named after St. Cuthbert and that he bequeathed them the “Saint Cuthbert’s Peace” as a protection that no one should harm them while living on the island.
Inner Farne island
While driving through the nearby town of Bamburg we took a spontaneous visit to Saint Aidan's Church where the saint died in 651 AD. Later, a robust hike up to St. Cuthbert's Cave was in store for us with a breathtaking view of the coastline and the hills. The cave was used to conceal the body of Saint Cuthbert after the Vikings brutally attacked and ransacked the priory. The monks fled Holy Island but they refused to leave Saint Cuthbert behind so they carried his wooden coffin on their shoulders and hiked for miles up the hill from Holy Island in the dark of the night to safety and refuge, and due to the dangerous times, they continued to carry his coffin throughout the area for about three hundred years until it was safely interred in Durham Castle in 1104 AD.
pilgrims resting after the walk to the cairn above St Cuthbert's cave
As we all became better acquainted, we would rally together in the afternoons to enjoy lively conversation over tea and coffee and soon discovered that we had become family by the end of the pilgrimage! And whether it was through conversation, lectures, or written material, I learned more about Frosterly Marble, and “Saint Cuthbert's Beads” than I ever imagined possible. I was also amazed at the size of the tiny wicker boat called a “coracle” housed at St. Mary’s Church that the monks used to sail in…you really had to have faith to ride around in one of those! Towards the end of the week I also found myself becoming reacquainted with the history of “The Council of Whitby”, Saint Hilda and Saint Wilfrid, thanks to Fr. John’s book: St. Wilfrid.
Being part of a small and informal group like this was ideal for us because as newcomers to the Orthodox faith, it allowed us to ask questions individually as well as with the group…and what a noted group of clergy and scholars we met throughout the week: In addition to Bishop Kallistos and the pilgrims on the trip, there was Father Andrew Louth, Father John Nankivell, Father Ian Prior, Father Justin of Mt. Sinai, Mother Nectaria from Moscow, and Bruce Clark who participated in the discussions. Andy Raine, author and co-founder of the Northumbria Community, along with his lovely family, stopped by to visit the group as well.
Stimulating stories and conversations were abound every day and just standing in the edge of their shadows was such a privilege for us.
Jerry and I could never have experienced a pilgrimage at such depth on our own without the help of The Friends of Orthodoxy on Iona. It took knowledge of the area and a great love for the Celtic saints to recapture the essence of their life in seventh century Northumbria and to then be able to share it joyfully with others is a true gift. Their stellar pilgrimage was our very first… and we pray it will not be our last!
2. Impressions from George and Judy Middleton
We live in the mountains of Western North Carolina in the USA and had heard about the Pilgrimage through our son who knows Mother Nectaria. We came anticipating that we would not be disappointed and we weren't. It was, first of all, such a privilege to be led by Bishop Kallistos and we were so grateful for the opportunity to meet and get to know him.
How could we ever forget the story of the return of the Tikhvin icon from Chicago to Tikhvin, or the services around the tombs of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede or awe-inspiring liturgies at various churches, one dating back to the 7th century and where an Orthodox service hadn't been held for centuries? The days spent on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne were magical, particularly at the beginning and end of each day when the tourists left and we shared this sacred isle with its 150 residents, as well as the sheep, the gannets, the puffins and seals!
Lindisfarne from St Cuthbert's isle
The time went by too fast but our last evening will forever stick in Judy's memory as being a highlight when she managed for the first time to get her dear husband (after 38 years of marriage) to dance a Scottish reel with her! And of course we will never forget Bishop Kallistos leading us in the singing of "Bedale's food is one banana"! We just wish we could remember all the words and the tune. Next time.
We so enjoyed meeting all our fellow pilgrims and pray it won't be long before our paths cross again. A special thanks to dear Ruth who so inspired us with all that she had done to plan everything so beautifully.
George and Judy Middleton
"I implore you, good Jesus, that as in your mercy you have given me to drink in with delight the words of your knowledge, so of your loving kindness you will also grant me one day to come to you, the fountain of all wisdom, and to stand for ever before your face. Amen."
A prayer of the Venerable Bede
3. Pilgrimage 2006 – some thoughts by Rosalind Irini Kladdis
It was with a completely open mind that I arrived in Durham for the 2006 pilgrimage. I was alone – unusual for me – and not knowing what to expect. There was just the strong conviction that this would be a spiritual turning point.
I had found out about the group while searching the web for the sequel to Bishop Kallistos’ TheInner Kingdom. (I had just finished reading it and it had proved a successful remedy to the post-Pascha blues. Anyone else get those?)
In 2000 a non-English speaking Greek priest had given me The Orthodox Way to read before my Chrismation and since then, I’ve always looked on Bishop Kallistos as my distance spiritual father. So you can understand how the appearance of the FOI website and the news of the Pilgrimage at the top of my search seemed like one of those – you know – ‘messages’! Even more so when, having e-mailed Ruth, I received such a positive and welcoming response. Ruth, I will be forever grateful.
It was as I had hoped and in fact way beyond my expectations. How could I not have felt totally at home with all the other pilgrims? Even here in Greece, I’ve never felt an outsider within the Church so how could it be different with these people who, in many ways were even more like me?
What a delight to meet so many people of diverse backgrounds, each with their own story of how they came to Orthodoxy. I was over-awed and humbled by their knowledge of Orthodox theology and practice and realized how spoilt I am living here in Greece with a Church on every corner and a plethora of available priests. What difficulties others have and such long distances they go to just to attend church every Sunday!
Above all though, I discovered that far from being an ‘adopted child’ I had Orthodox roots in my own birthplace. I can now ask Saints, of whose teachings and stories I previously knew nothing and who have walked in my original homeland, to pray with me.
For the first time I heard the liturgy in English instead of Greek and Russian chanting instead of the familiar Byzantine. But the Mystery of the Liturgy shines through whatever the language.
St Paul's Church at Jarrow
Unforgettable was the liturgy in Venerable Bede’s Church – St Paul’s at Jarrow. A true brush with Eternity.
I don’t want to tire you by trying to describe everything. My words could not do justice to my feelings anyway. But, having contemplated the pilgrimage over the last few months, the overwhelming impression is, that the glory of Orthodoxy is that it is truly catholic. It is through the ancient Liturgy and practices that the pathway to the Light is revealed. Hence the strong sense of community, fellowship, love and shared hope which was so apparent among the pilgrims and meant that no-one is ever a stranger.
Above all there is true dignity in the Orthodox way.
As I’ve learned painfully at times, the spiritual journey consists of steps backwards as well as forwards. Bishop Kallistos explained on the first night that the original meaning of a ‘pilgrimage’ was the leaving of all things familiar and comfortable in order to journey physically and spiritually and return home changed.
For me this was a true pilgrimage.
Thanks especially to Bishop Kallistos, Ruth and all of you for making this possible.
4 The Return of the Icon: a remarkable account of restoration recounted by Gerry Fagan
A special and unexpected encounter awaited pilgrims as they returned to the Lindisfarne retreat house one afternoon. Elfreda Elford, a sprightly nonagenarian, sat in the kitchen clutching a small Russian icon.
In 1919, crewman George Foot docked at the northern Russian port of Archangel (Arkhangelsk) to evacuate British soldiers who had taken part in the failed military intervention against the Bolsheviks. While in the city, he was presented with a small, simple wooden icon by well-wishers. On his return to Britain, George gave the icon to his wife’s cousin, the Reverend Ernest Crapp Elford, for safekeeping. In 1932 Rev. Ernest was appointed Anglican vicar of Holy Island (Lindisfarne), and the icon remained in the vicarage there until his death in 1942. It then moved with his widow to the nearby mainland, and later passed to his daughter, Elfreda. A regular visitor to Lindisfarne and its retreat centre, Elfreda asked her friends there to tell her if an Orthodox pilgrimage group should ever come to the island.
And so there we were. George Foot had always hoped that the icon could be returned to its homeland someday, Elfreda told us. Could we take it? She had never been able to find out which saints the icon depicted; one British antique dealer had even suggested it was Greek.
Staring from the icon, we told her, were two of Russia’s most celebrated northern saints, Zosima and Savvati. Their fifteenth-century Transfiguration Monastery lies on the largest of the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, some 300 kilometres north-west of Archangel. How extraordinary that the saints of Russia’s northern Holy Island should end up here, on England’s northern Holy Island, also famed for its two great saints, Aidan and Cuthbert.
Returning to Moscow with a pilgrim, it was a while before the icon found a suitable opportunity to continue its homeward journey; Archangel is a further 24 hours by train from the Russian capital. Then, in late 2007, Yuri Zudov, who heads the international relations department at Moscow’s St Tikhon’s Orthodox University, mentioned that he was about to visit its Archangel branch. A fluent young English speaker, Yuri was fascinated by the icon’s story and gladly agreed to find it a suitable home while up north.
This turned out to be the representation in Archangel of St Anthony of Siya Monastery, a sixteenth-century foundation 160 kilometres south-east of the city. Led by the dynamic Archimandrite Trifon, the monastery’s 20 monks and novices are particularly active in the areas of publishing, agriculture, icon-painting and social work. While in Archangel, Yuri presented the icon and information in Russian about its story to Lyudmila Kolomiyets, who works for St Anthony of Siya Monastery and is also the local representative of St Tikhon’s Orthodox University.
In another remarkable twist, the final stage of the icon’s long return home was made possible by two Orthodox institutions whose existence was unthinkable during most of its nearly ninety-year absence from Russia.