July 13th Church School Reading
St Aidan story #8: Meeting the Northumbrian People
As they approached the kingdom of Oswald, Aidan began to speak to the people in the hill country. They spoke a language much like his own. They were often at least nominally Christian. If they were Christian, they could at least share the gospel and pray a little together. Aidan assumed that Christians liked to pray and wanted to share their faith. There were some language difficulties; but Aidan found apathy or indifference, when he encountered them, far harder to deal with. He also began to realize that within this kingdom of Oswald there was more than one kingdom to win for Christ. The people of the land were of a similar Celtic stock to himself. Rivers, hills, and landmarks all had strong Celtic names. It would only take a little practice and he would be able to communicate with the native people. The real difficulty was their fear and resentment of the English. Oswald was a foreigner and an invader. The English were the enemy of occupation, who had driven many of the British of their land and from their homes. Aidan realized that much of his work would be one of reconciliation, the building up of trust and good relationships. His heart went out to these people who were oppressed. He wanted them to know the gospel of liberty and love, also of forgiveness and acceptance. He would have dearly liked to stay among the hill peoples, but his call was to the coast and the fortress of Bamburgh.
At last they came in sight of the eastern sea. It had not appeared until their journey was nearly over. It would be good to get sea air into their lungs again. They were aware that the people they met now were different; these were warrior peoples, even though they were settling in farmsteads. But they were people of culture. Aidan thought some had heard of Christ, but now the language was a major difficulty. The brothers were not able to communicate with many people at all. For this reason, when possible, they avoided the little scattered communities, and still bore eastwards. The coast was not far away but they travelled on the other side of the hills, making straight for the capital.
When they came to the coast it was to a wide sweeping bay. The tide was out and they could hardly see the sea. There were sea birds aplenty. Evening prayers were said with a heron fishing nearby. The heron had been one of Columba’s favorite birds and it made the little group feel at home. During these last few miles they had seen more people, and the road seemed to be busy with soldiers. They noticed that some of the soldiers were carrying what must have been booty.
One more steep hill, and then a great vista opened up before them. There was a lot of woodland, but much land had been cleared. Directly ahead was a great rock, standing proud in the landscape. Below it was a sprinkling of cottages, and fields with cottages and sheep. On the rock there was a mighty palisade, a fortress truly fit for a king. Beyond it was the sea. Smoke was rising form one or two areas on the high rock. It seemed to be well-fortified, with many inhabitants. As the brothers approached the gates they were stopped by a sentry. They explained who they were, but the language barrier caused difficulty. They repeated the name ’Oswald’ more than once, and ‘Iona’ again and again. But the guards did not understand enough to make any headway. Then one guard left and returned with a tall, slim regal-looking man with a short pointed beard. Aidan’s heart leaped. Surely this was Oswald himself. The king had come out to meet them. Recognising their attire, Oswald welcomed them in their own tongue. He issued an order to his guards which Aidan and his followers did not understand, but they were ushered in quickly.
From Flame in my Heart by David Adam, pgs 38 -40.
photo from http://www.northumbria-cottages.co.uk