St. Aidan of Lindisfarne (Irish: Naomh Aodhán; died 31 August 651) was an Irish monk and missionary credited with converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, known as Lindisfarne Priory, served as its first bishop, and travelled ceaselessly throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and the socially disenfranchised (including children and slaves).
St. Aidan lived in a time of conflict in the British Isles. There was conflict between Christianity and the pagan religions of the Anglo-Saxons and also conflict between the Christianity of the Celts and that of the Romans.
In 633, King Oswald of Northumbria determined to bring Christianity to the pagans of his kingdom. From his fortress of Bamburgh, he sent messages to Iona asking for missionary monks to come and minister to his people.
He arrived in Northumbria around AD 635 accompanied by 12 other monks and was established as Bishop of the area. King Oswald gave him the island of Lindisfarne, (now known as the Holy Island) for his Bishopric. It was eminently suitable for him since the island was cut off from the mainland except, twice a day during the periods of low tide, when a land bridge was uncovered. It provided both solitude and a base for missionary work. Here St. Aidan established an Irish-type monastery of wooden buildings…a small church, small, circular dwelling huts, perhaps one larger building for communal purposes and workshops as needed. There the monks spent time in prayer and studious preparation before venturing out into the community to spread the gospel.
Aidan lived a frugal life and encouraged the laity to fast and study the scriptures. He himself fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, and seldom ate at the royal table. St. Aidan tirelessly engaged in preaching and pastoral work. He traveled mainly by foot and visited all he came across.
Despite mass conversions, attacks and rebellions continued. One day, Aidan was praying in his monastery when a pagan army invaded the nearby royal town of Bamburgh and set the city walls ablaze. From his cell, Aidan saw the fire and smelled the smoke. At once, he began to pray for the town and all who dwelt inside. Suddenly, the wind abruptly changed and sent the flames and smoke away from the city. His prayers had saved lives. For this reason, Aidan is known as the patron saint of firefighters. And, for his faithful obedience to his call, care for the poor, and shining example of service, he also bears the title “Beacon of the North.”
One story has St. Aidan saving the life of a stag by making it invisible to the hunters. Even though, this miracle has also been attributed to St. Aidan of Ferns, the stag is one of heraldic symbols associated with St. Aidan since the stag symbolizes solitude, piety, and prayer. St. Aidan's crest is a torch, a light shining in the darkness, since 'Aidan' is Gaelic for 'fire'. We may also see St. Aidan portrayed with a tent reminding us of his death.
St. Aidan’s feast day is on August 31st.