Lindisfarne Priory pre-Conquest monastery and post-Conquest Benedictine cell


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
Holy Island
National Grid Reference:
NU 12618 41732

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities including monasteries were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay- brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. The main components of the earliest monasteries might include two or three small timber or stone churches, a cemetery and a number of associated domestic buildings, contained within an enclosure or vallum. Those sites which have been excavated indicate no standard layout of buildings was in use. Rather a great diversity of building form, construction, arrangement and function is evident. The earliest sites were not markedly dissimilar from contemporary secular settlements, although their ecclesiastical role may be indicated by the presence of objects indicating wealth and technological achievement, such as stone sculpture, coloured glass, inscriptions, high quality metalwork and pottery. Only the church and leading secular figures are thought to have had access to the skills and trade networks which produced such goods. Later foundations in the 10th and 11th centuries generally had one major stone church and a cemetery. By this time other domestic buildings were more regularly aligned, often ranged around a cloister. Documentary sources indicate the existence of nearly 65 early monasteries. The original number of sites is likely to have been slightly higher and would have included sites for which no documentary reference survives. Of these, less than 15 can at present be linked to a specific site. As a rare monument type and one which made a major contribution to the development of Anglo-Saxon England, all pre-Conquest monasteries exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection. In addition to being a rare pre-Conquest monastic site, Lindisfarne Priory is an important example of a small Benedictine house refounded to be a cell of Durham Cathedral. Its standing remains are well-preserved and provide a good illustration of a wide variety of monastic buildings.


The monument includes the site of the pre-Conquest monastery of Lindisfarne and the Benedictine cell of Durham Cathedral that succeeded it in the 11th century. Monastic remains from both periods will survive outside the precinct of the later monastery. These have not been included in the scheduling, however, as their extent and state of preservation are not yet sufficiently understood. Except for a number of eighth century carved stones no remains of the pre-Conquest church and monastery have yet been found at Lindisfarne. Knowledge of the site comes chiefly from contemporary records and the existence of the seventh century Lindisfarne Gospels and Liber Vitae which were both inscribed there. The remains of the early monastery are preserved beneath the later buildings and, in addition to the pre-Conquest church, will include a wide range of religious and domestic structures. These remains will also retain evidence of whether the monastery was a single-sex community established for men, or whether it was a double-house for both men and women such as are known to have existed elsewhere in Anglian Northumbria. The possibility that Lindisfarne was a mixed community is suggested by the inclusion of women in the congregation of St Cuthbert who fled to Lindisfarne from Durham in 1069-70. The upstanding remains and current layout of Lindisfarne Priory are entirely post-Conquest in origin. The earliest building is the priory church which was begun at the end of the 11th century and extended eastward in c.1140. But for a number of Gothic windows, it is entirely of Romanesque construction and owes much of its design and detail to Durham Cathedral. It includes an aisled nave of six bays ending, at the west end, in a wall with square stair turrets at the corners and a central projecting door. The door is roundheaded and decorated with typical Norman detail such as chevron mouldings. Above, a wall-passage overlooks the nave through an arcade of five round arches. This feature, known as a triforium, originally extended round the nave above the aisles. Above it stood a clerestory which allowed daylight into the nave. Below, opposing doors opened onto the nave through both aisles but were blocked in the 15th century when the nave went out of use. To the east of the nave is the crossing. This has square transepts opening off to the north and south and formerly supported a square tower on a vault of diagonal ribs, one of which is complete and in situ. East of the crossing is the presbytery which, in its present square-ended form, dates to the 12th century. It is aisleless and includes the remains of a clerestory with a wall-passage and a 14th century east window. It also retains the foundations of the original presbytery which had an apsidal or semi-circular east end. The transepts also include apses in their east walls. In common with most post-Conquest monasteries, the church formed the north range of a four-sided building complex known as the cloister. The remaining cloister ranges are all later than the church, dating mainly to the late 12th and 13th centuries. Remnants of an earlier south range show that the buildings originally formed a square but that the cloister was extended southwards in the 13th century. The earliest remains are of the ground floor of the west range which dates to the period between 1190 and 1210. This area was used for storage and was originally divided by wooden partitions. In the 14th century it was split into three by the construction of cross walls, and the south part, which lay adjacent to the larder at the junction of the west and original south range, was then used as a buttery or pantry. The barrel-vaulted larder is of the same date as the west range and includes a cistern in the floor which is recorded as being repaired in 1451-52. Nothing remains of the upper storey of the west range except for part of the access stair and two garderobes or latrine pits. This floor would have included the lay-brothers' quarters. The 13th century east cloister range adjoins the south transept of the church and was also two-storeyed. The vaulted ground floor was partitioned at the north end to create a vestry. The chapter house occupied the area to the south and next to this was the parlour, where necessary conversation was permitted. Adjacent to the parlour was the day stair which led to the second floor dorter or monks' dormitory. The night stair led down from the north end of the dorter into the south transept. A door from the parlour leads into the east end of the south cloister range. Together with the west end, this area was altered and extended in the 14th century. Previously it included a chamber for the prior with an infirmary to the east. In the 14th century, a new prior's lodging was created at the junction of the south and east ranges and comprised a two-storey building with a warming house below and a private apartment above, which was partitioned to create a bedroom, study and oratory or private chapel. To the east, the former infirmary was enclosed by a fortified wall with a semi-octagonal tower at the north-east corner. The function of the buildings within this wall has not yet been determined. West of the prior's lodging are the remains of the 13th century monks' frater or refectory which include a trough decorated with carved faces. This feature, the lavatorium, was where the monks washed their hands at mealtimes. Next to the frater is the kitchen, situated at the junction of the south and west ranges. In the 14th century, a brewhouse and bakehouse were added to the west and include the remains of a mash tub and large oven. South of the cloister is the curia or outer court of the priory. This was first built in c.1300 and included the gatehouse into the priory at the north-west corner and a two-storey guest house at the south-east corner. Later in the 14th century, a further range of buildings was built along the south side and contained workshops with cisterns and a well. The construction of this range involved the demolition of an earlier building along the west side of the courtyard. Outside the west wall are the remains of another structure believed to be post-Suppression in origin. The pre-Conquest monastery of Lindisfarne was founded in c.AD 634 by Aidan, a missionary bishop of Iona, under the patronage of King Oswald of Northumbria. It was founded in the Celtic Christian tradition, but, after the Synod of Whitby in AD 664, was forced to conform to Western Christianity as espoused by the Church of Canterbury. Although governed by an abbot, the monastery was the centre of a bishopric. Its most famous bishop was St Cuthbert who ruled the diocese between AD 685 and AD 687. In AD 793, due to its exposed position on the North Sea coast, it became the scene of the first Viking raid on England. According to records, the monastery was sacked and most of its inmates killed. However, the succession of bishops and abbots continued until AD 875 when the community fled before a second Viking onslaught, carrying the relics of St Cuthbert and St Oswald. The community wandered for seven years before settling at Chester-le-Street in AD 882. There it remained until AD 995 when, fleeing the Vikings again, it moved to Durham which thus became the permanent seat of the bishops of Northumbria. In 1069-70, during the so-called 'Harrying of the North' by William the Conqueror, the community fled back to Lindisfarne but had returned to Durham by the 25th March, 1070. In 1081, the site became the property of the Benedictine priory and convent of Durham and was refounded as a cell of the cathedral monastery. From that time, the name Holy Island superseded that of Lindisfarne. The history of the post-Conquest monastery is uneventful. Raids during the Scottish wars of the 14th century caused some devastation of the district dependent on the priory, but the monastery itself was partially fortified and protected by the basalt ridge to the south known as the Heugh. Shortly before the dissolution of the priory in 1537, its last prior, Thomas Sparke, obtained a lease for life of the site and buildings and, in 1543, sub- let them to the king's surveyor of victuals at Berwick. In 1613, the connection between the priory and Durham was severed by a law suit and the island was subsequently held by successive lessees of the Crown. The monument has been in State care since 1913 and is also a Grade I Listed Building. All English Heritage fixtures and fittings are excluded from the scheduling though the ground underneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Hamilton Thompson, A, Lindisfarne Priory, (1949)
'Hist Ber NC' in Hist Ber NC, , Vol. 13, (1890), 225-40


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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