Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Aidan, or Ædan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Confessor

Article

When the holy king Oswald desired the bishops of Scotland to send him a person honoured with the episcopal character to preach the faith to his Anglo-Saxon pagan subjects, and plant the church among them, the first person who came was of a rough austere temper, and therefore could do little good, and being soon forced to return home again, he laid the fault on the rude indocile dispositions of the English. Hereupon the Scottish clergy called a synod to deliberate what was best to be done. Aidan, who was present, told the prelate, on his blaming the obstinacy of the English, that the fault lay rather in him, who had been too harsh and severe to an ignorant people, who ought first to be fed with the milk of milder doctrine, till they should be able to digest more solid food. At this discourse the whole assembly turned their eyes upon him, as one endued with prudence, the mother of other virtues; and he was appointed to the great and arduous mission.

Aidan was a native of Ireland, (then called Scotland,) and a monk of Hij, the great monastery which his countryman, Saint Columba, had founded, and to which the six neighbouring islands were given, as Buchanan mentions. He was most graciously received by king Oswald, who bestowed on him for his episcopal seat the isle of Lindisfarne. Of his humility and piety Bede gives an edifying account, and proposes him as an excellent pattern for succeeding bishops and clergymen to follow. He obliged all those who travelled with him, to bestow their time either in reading the scriptures, or in learning the psalms by heart. By his actions he showed that he neither sought nor loved the good things of this world; the presents which were made him by the king, or by other rich men, he distributed among the poor, or expended in redeeming captives. He rarely would go to the king’s table, and never without taking with him one or two of his clergy, and always after a short repast made haste away to read or pray in the church, or in his cell. From his example even the laity took the custom of fasting till none, that is, till three in the afternoon, on all Wednesdays and Fridays, except during the fifty days of the Easter time. Our venerable historian admires his apostolic liberty in reproving the proud and the great, his love of peace, charity, continence, humility, and all other virtues, which he not only practised himself, but, by his spirit and example, communicated to a rough and barbarous nation, which he imbued with the meekness of the cross. Aidan fixed his see at Lindisfarne, and founded a monastery there in the year of our Lord 635, the hundred and eighty-eighth after the coming of the English Saxons into Britain, the thirty-ninth after the arrival of Saint Augustine, and the second of the reign of king Oswald. From this monastery all the churches of Bernicia, or the northern part of the kingdom of the Northumbers from the Tine to the Firth of Edinburgh, had their beginning; as had some also of those of the Deïri, who inhabited the southern part of the same kingdom from the Tine to the Humber. The see of York had been vacant thirty years, ever since Saint Paulinus had left it; so that Saint Aidan governed all the churches of the Northumbers for seventeen years, till his happy death, which happened on the 31st of August in 651, in the royal villa Bebbord. He was first buried in the cemetery in Lindisfarne; but when the new church of Saint Peter was built there, his body was translated into it, and deposited on the right hand of the altar. Colman when he returned into Scotland, carried with him part of his bones to Saint Columb’s or Hij. He is named on this day in the Roman Martyrology. See Bede: Leland Collect. t. 1. p. 512. alias 366.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Aidan, or Ædan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 August 2014. Web. 15 November 2018. <>