Channel 4 Tv's Message From Lindisfarne

The British TV Channel Four are broadcasting a series on The History of Christianity. Episode Four is entitled The Dark Ages and focusses on Britain, especially Lindisfarne. The presenter, the black British theologian Dr Robert Beckford described how warring kingdoms were united, and the English became a nation, through Christianity. At Jarrow, the site of the monk historian Bede, Beckford asked 'What does Bede's Englishness consist of?' His answer was to open the pages of The Lindisfarne Gospels on Holy Island with the scholar Dr. Michelle Brown. These Gospels, she suggested, were a manifesto of an Englishness that embraces the world and glories in cultural diversity. They contain Irish ogham and Germanic runes, Latin and Greek, swirls that would have reminded a girl of her mother's pearls, designs from prayer mats inspired by the Muslim east and used in England, all woven into the larger tapestry of the Eternal. They were a symbol of a new dynamic so powerful that kings who previously only maintained themselves by killing and pride, gave up power to become humble servants in a monastery. The early English church, said Beckford, was not small-minded but was the epitome of diversity.

The influence of this church, like that of the Irish, spread across Europe in the 8th century. Although the flame flickered over the centuries, Beckford claims that the Lindisfarne Message lay behind the abolition of the slave trade and the workers' rights movements. As someone who came from the slave culture of the Caribbean, and who saw the church through the narrow prism of that context, he says he is liberated to discover that there is a wider, deeper, more inclusive basis for the Christianity of the land he loves.

Posted at 20:30pm on 25th January 2009