It was a long journey from Iona to Northumbria, but Aidan had brought it on himself. When King Oswald (see August 5th) had invited Iona to send someone to declare the love and truth of Christ to his people, Corman had been sent, but after a few months he returned home complaining about the stubborn, uncivilised people he was supposed to serve. Aidan quietly enquired if he perhaps should have spoken more gently to them, giving them the milk of the Gospel as to small babies. As he spoke in this fashion, he should not have been surprised when those around him said, “Well, you go and see what you can do”. Aidan was welcomed by the King and given the Holy island of Lindisfarne – Aidan’s own choice – as a base for his activities. He valued its peace and solitude when the tide was in, cutting it off from the mainland; and also the ease with which he could travel across when the tide was out, to consult Oswald in his royal castle of Bamburgh, just across the water, and to teach and preach among the people.
Oswald was keen to help, often interpreting for Aidan who did not speak the tongue of the people. Full of the inspiration of the Wild Goose, the Spirit he had encountered on Iona, Aidan was keen to encourage Oswald to set an example as a Christian monarch. On one occasion he joined the King for the Easter feast and many splendid foods were set before them on solid silver dishes, while outside a crowd of hungry, destitute people pressed at the gate, asking for food. Oswald ordered that the feast should be taken to the people and the silver dishes be broken up and distributed among them. Aidan, in his delight, grabbed hold of the King’s hand and raised it up, declaring, “May this hand never perish.” After his death, Oswald’s hand was preserved in a silver casket at Bamburgh.
Aidan started a school for English boys, training them to be priests, so that Northumbria would not be dependent on Ireland or Iona for its ministers. Among his pupils were Eata (see October 26th) and Boisil of Melrose (see July 7th), Wilfrid (see October 12th) and the brothers Cedd (see October 26th) and Chad (see March 2nd). Aidan also redeemed many children from being sold into slavery and educated them. Aidan lived simply and was not keen to follow the example of the people of rank, with their riches and their horses. He walked everywhere so that he could speak directly to the people he met, without appearing to be high above them. When Oswald’s successor, Oswin (see August 20th), gave him a horse, thinking to ease Aidan’s travelling, he gave it away to a beggar who asked for help, along with its saddle and bridle. Oswin was not happy and chided Aidan, saying that he could have given a less important beast to the beggar. Aidan challenged him, asking if the foal of a mare were more important than a child of God. Realising that he was referring to the beggar, Oswin agreed and sought Aidan’s forgiveness.
Wild Goose, Holy Spirit of God, fill us as You filled Your servant Aidan and make us bold to speak Your truth, with the gentleness of love, whether we speak to those of high or low rank. Teach us to value all people as children of God. When the way is open, help us to serve them faithfully, out of spirits refreshed by our time spent alone with You when the way is closed. Amen.