Page 10, 4th May 1984

4th May 1984
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Page 10, 4th May 1984 — With Magnus on Holy Island
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With Magnus on Holy Island

THERE COMES a point in the writing of every book when one wilts and wanes and feels certain that the end will never be reached. It is at this point that the author needs to grit his teeth and mutter: "I've started, so finish."

A familiar phrase? Of course. You've heard it often from the lips of Magnus "Mastermind" Magnusson who spent six months of arduous research on a book about the unique "Holy Island" of Lindisfarne.

His labours were interrupted by his many other commitments but the book, once started, was duly finished with no passes.

The result is magnificent and the finished product Lindisfarne: The Cradle Island was launched this week in unusual and highly romantic circumstances.

The magic of Lindisfarne, once experienced, can never be forgotten. It lies, as all know, off England's Northumbrian "north-eastern" shoulder and is invariably shown on the map as Holy Island.

It is really a "part-time" island only since it can be reached at low tide across the sands from the mainland.

It was across these sands last Wednesday morning, retracing the route of the old Pilgrim's Way, that Magnus Magnusson journeyed by pony and trap.

He was accompanied by the book's illustrator Sheila Mackie, their mission being to deliver first copies of the book to the islanders.

Many of the latter had been enthusiastic helpers in the preparation of the book, for Lindisfarnians are fiercely and understandably proud of their island paradise. There they were, waiting for the author, along with Colonel Humphrey Crossman, local Lord of the Manor, who owns the island but actually lives at Cheswick House near Berwick.

Also present were members of the National Trust and the Nature Conservancy, for Lindisfarne is of course a major nature reserve.

It was established as such exactly 20 years ago, since when, in incredibly huge numbers, wildfowl and waders have come to seek winter shelter. (For those interested in such things, I was told that the Pale-bellied Brent Goose is the most notable of the rare and endangered species of birds now assured of permanent refuge at Lindisfarne).

A "Cradle Island" this verily is, having nursed Celtic Christianity through its earliest years in the seventh century. The church founded here by the great St. Aidan became the Mother Church of Northumbria.

From the same cradle was born a robust school of religious discipline and a vibrantly fecund seed-bed we would not call it a seminary of hardy spirituality which exported its riches all over Britain and the Continent.

But the man who stayed behind is perhaps the one who is remembered best St. Cuthbert.

He lived out his days in what has been described as "passionate hermitage", nevertheless attracting a stream of pilgrims to the island until the Danish destroyers smashed all before them in the ninth century. (Do you remember some of the scenes from the remarkable 1980 television series, The Vikings? It's creator was the selfsame Magnus Magnusson).

Phoenix

Lindisfarne rose from the rubble and flourished again in Norman times. From then on the Benedictines took over the Abbey and stayed until the sixteenth century dissolution.

It was just at that time that Lindisfarne was used as a stopping-off place by Henry Seymour, Earl of Hertford. He was marching 2000 troops to Berwick even as his brother-inlaw, Henry VIII, was, as they say, "rough-wooing" the young Mary Queen of Scots whom he planned to marry to his son Edward. How different history might have been had he succeeded_ Of today's 170 or so inhabitants of Lindisfarne, only two are Catholics, a widow and her baby daughter. But Fr Timney comes over from Lowick every Sunday in the summer months to say mass at the chapel in Lindisfarne House. At that time of the year there are plenty of Mass-goers, partly because of the SVP hostel which houses at least 100 summer visitors at a time.

Another local priest is also an enthusiastic amateur historian. He is Fr William Nicholson from Whittingham who was presented with a copy of the book, as was the Rev Bill, Vicar of Lindisfarne.

What is it that preserves Lindisfarne in a life and magic of its own that seem, at times, to be completely unreal? Perhaps it is because many of the islanders live just as did their huntergatherer ancestors of prehistoric times, gaining their livelihood from the sea.

Thoroughly modern, alert and alive as they are, something strange seems to happen when the last of the thousands of summer tourists have gone. Lindisfarne slips back into its own life and its own past, retreating somehow into a tideprotected isolation. Thus will it hibernate until brought back to life by another seasonal flood of curious "foreigners."

Perhaps it is the nearest thing we have in Britain to some sort of offshore Brigadoon?

None could have masterminded its literary evocation in quite the manner of

Magnus M and none, surely, so strikingly have captured its beauty in her brush and pen as Sheila Mackie who, living nearby, has long loved and been loved by Lindisfarne.

Words of comfort

SOME WEEKS ago a friend of mine was trying to get some rather urgent information from one of the Catholic cathedrals. So he rang its telephone number (several times) but could get no more than a recorded announcement of the times of Masses.

He then (several times) rang the Catholic Information Office for the area in question, but could get no answer at all.

It occurred to him that had his request related to a serious emergency, such as the need for a priest for someone who was dying, he might have been in trouble.

Just at this time I heard about the telephone service that had recently been set up in Austria whereby a single number could be rung from any part of the country to seek information, guidance or help of any kind with regard to a religious problem.

I was just about to report on this in Charterhouse and suggest that it represented a challenge For British Telecom to initiate some such service for Britain. Now, lo and behold, British Telecom has agreed to provide the facilities for a Christian information service. It is called "Christian Line", and came about through the persistent lobbying of an enterprising Catholic lady, Katharina Steel.

The service is basically an addition to such services as the speaking clock, weather forecast, etc., in that it consists of a three-minute recorded talk of an uplifting nature which is changed every 24 hours. It is usually very good, and may be obtained (round the clock) by ringing, in London, 01-246 8040; in Liverpool, 051-246 8040; and in Cambridge (0223) 8040.

This, at least, is the basic information that has been so far published. Those who want more than a recorded announcement may ring 01-937 9806 in order, after stating their particular needs, to receive further information in written form.

There is also a counselling service available on 01-460 8411. This is supervised by a Mr Coe who can also be rung (but only in cases of dire emergency) on 01-851 9566. It is estimated that there are 48 million people in Britain who do not normally go to church and the service was devised, in part so that any of such persons could, if so desiring, find out by a flick of the dial more about Christianity.

Those who give the talks come from all communions and all works of life. They give their services free and are usually unidentifiable, though, listening one day. I realised the speaker was the well known Orthodox Bishop, Kallistos, formerly Timothy Ware, a brilliant communicator.

Mrs Steel stresses the fact that "Christian Line" is very much of a joint effort and modestly disclaims credit for anything but the original inspiration which, she says, is, God's rather than hers.

But she and many volunteers are working prodigiously hard with the help of various relevant organisations and counselling agencies.

Offers of further help will, I am sure, be welcome, for Christian Line is only in its infancy but could well provide a major breakthrough for Christian communication, witness and dialogue in the future.

Indeed I hope soon to be able to say much more about it as there are new and exciting developments coming up every day.

Why not ring one of the numbers now and try it for yourself? And if you think you can help, ring the "follow up" number (01-937 9806) and let them know your suggestions.




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