Laws are like spider-webs which, if anything small falls into them they ensnare it, but large things break through and escape. — Solon of Athens

Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press




The Story of Aidan, or the Gospel in the North

In this chapter you will hear of two men, who were both taught by St Columba, and, like him, were eager to convert the heathen to the true religion.

The first of these was a prince named Oswald. He came from a part of our island, then called Northumbria, over which his father had ruled. He was only a lad when he took refuge at Iona, but he was not too young to learn a great deal from the pious monks. Soon we hear of him returning to his native land as a king.

He found that his people had forgotten nearly all that the missionaries from the south of England had taught them. They had returned to the old worship of the sun, the moon and the god of thunder.

This caused king Oswald much sor¬row, for he had become a true Christian, and wished to give his life for the good of his subjects.

So we find him sending to far-away Iona for a missionary. A very stern preacher was sent, but he soon returned, saying that the people were so stubborn and savage that he could not teach them anything.

A young monk, named Aidan, said, "Perhaps you did not speak kindly to these poor people. Instead of telling them of the love of Christ, perhaps you told them only of God's anger at their wrong doing."

When the other monks heard this, they all thought that Aidan himself would be the best one to send. Aidan gladly went, and made his home on the small island of Lindisfarne, which was afterwards known as Holy island.

The good monks, in those days, loved to dwell in such quiet places as this, where they could teach their pupils, and do all kinds of useful work in safety. The little island soon became famous, for good men went from it to all parts of the north of England, and the south of Scotland, carrying the good news of the Gospel.

You may be sure that king Oswald helped Aidan and his missionaries as much as he could in their work. A beautiful story is told of this great and good king.

One day, he was sitting at meat with Aidan, when he was told that a crowd of beggars were waiting at the gate of his palace. He at once ordered that all the food on the table before them should be given to these poor people; and that the great silver dish, on which the meat had been placed, should be broken into small pieces, and divided among them.

Aidan was delighted with this good act of the king. Seizing the royal hand, he said, "May the hand that hath done this good deed never grow old!"

A sad time was now coming to the land over which king Oswald ruled. A fierce and savage king, named Penda, who still prayed to the old false gods, and hated the Christians, marched with a great army against him.

In the fierce fight which followed, king Oswald was slain. As he lay dying, those around him caught the words, "Lord, have mercy on the souls of my people!" His body and limbs were set up on stakes, by order of the savage king Penda, and an old story tells us that, long after these were decayed, the hand which Aidan had blessed remained white and fair as in life.

For several years, Penda carried fire and sword through the unhappy land. At last he led his army against Bamborough, the strongest fortress of all. So strong was it, that the old king felt quite sure that he could not break through the walls in the usual way.

Bamborough castle
BAMBOROUGH CASTLE, NORTHUMBERLAND


So his men piled wood against it and set fire to it. The wind blew the flames towards the town. Now at this time Aidan was on Fame island and, from the windows of his room, the good bishop could see all that was happening.

The story relates that he cried, "See, Lord, what evil Penda is doing," and at once the wind changed, blowing the flames away from the city, which was thus saved.

Many other stories are told of Aidan, which seem to show us, that the people believed that he had special powers given to him by God. This perhaps explains why his preaching was very suc¬cessful. Certain it is that, before long, the country had again become Christian, and has remained so, even to this day. After his death he was spoken of as St Aidan; and many churches are named after him in the north of England.