Diocese of

Hexham and Newcastle

Bishop Robert Byrne CO

History – Holy Island Pilgrimage 1887,
Twelth Centenary of St. Cuthbert

The Northern Catholic Calendar of 1888 describes Holy Island and the pilgrimage:

"Far away in the Northern Sea lies the island of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island. A few fishermen dwell there and an occasional visitor in the summer visits the island. There are few beside to break the loneliness of the spot, which has been truly called the birthplace of Christianity in ancient Northumbria.

"…On August 12th, the twelth centenary of St. Cuthbert, the pilgrims came from all parts; some by road, some by boat and the greater part by rail. It was a sight never to be forgotten. From the island could be descried a dark stream coming from the mainland across the three miles of sands…"

A photo from the Diocesan Archives of a group of Pilgrims 12th August 1887

"I heard the number variously estimated at 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000.

"I doubt if the like of it were to be seen even in the heyday of Christian pilgrimages in Great Britain. And it was certainly a rare sight, whether, looked at from the hillock over which the road passes at Beal farm, or from the sedge banks on the Holy Island. There they were of every age and sex and condition of life, rich and poor, young and old, mothers with children and old men depending almost as much upon their staves as upon their legs. Most of these were on foot, carrying their own wallets, their baggage and provender, like the pilgrims we read of in ancient books. Peasant costumes mingled with the daintier habiliments from the city."

"On the very spot whence Cuthbert had often spoken to his brethren, Bishop Patterson addressed the densely packed congregation before him; strangers mostly to each other, but one in faith. "Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground".

"The old pile re–echoed back the voice of priest, and monk, and nun, and the sunshine danced upon the waters, which had now cut Lindisfarne off from the mainland, and the tears streamed down the faces of the pilgrims as the High Mass proceeded. The Gloria, and Credo, and Te Deum had not been heard within these walls since the Reformation and now the past had returned, and, as if the tombs of the Abbey had glven up their dead, priest and monk and nun appeared on the scene.

"The multitude were so tightly packed together that kneeling was impossible, but wet was the eye and moved the heart of the believer. Not a few on that day, who came to scoff, remained to pray"