The Symbolism of Lindisfarne

One of our day trips while we were in Edinburgh was to the “island” of Lindisfarne, to the site of the medieval monastery where, in 793 CE, Vikings first landed in modern-day England. I write “island” in quotes because it’s only so at high tide; at low tide a narrow causeway allows access to both residents and tourists. There is a priory and abbey (that Henry VIII destroyed, of course) at the site, as well as a castle atop a high hill. The place reminds me of Mont Saint-Michel, having never been there, in that it’s an island for part of the day and a peninsula for the other.

Besides the history of the spot, which is harrowing enough, there is an intriguing symbolism to the partial island phenomenon. The logistics of assaulting a castle surrounded by a natural moat make the place extremely defensible in isolation: even the causeway at low tide would create a bottleneck for any attacking army. And yet, the little path symbolizes the option to leave durring a narrow but daily window. “Are you sure you want to live on an island?” the causeway asks. And then, answered or not, it sinks beneath the waves again for another night and morning, closed like a gate on an automatic timer.

Living in industrial societies is similar: we are on island fortresses, surrounded and isolated. But little causeways are continually opening, if only for short windows. “Are you sure you want to live this way?” each new path asks. If we don’t answer the question, often the tide rushes in, washing away the sand and slowly erasing the path. If we do answer the question, and in the affirmative, then the path often leads us to unknown territory, but at least it’s solid ground.

Lindisfarne castle

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