Today, Lindisfarne is seen as a remote island that can only be reached at low tide, but 1400 years ago it was one of the busiest, best connected, and most densely populated places in England.

In AD 635, King Oswald founded a small monastery here, and from humble beginnings, it quickly grew to become the religious powerhouse at the heart of his Northumbrian kingdom.

Within 150 years, the island’s religious community controlled huge swathes of land, produced glittering treasures to adorn the churches of Europe, and played host to the thousands of miracle-seeking pilgrims who came to see the relics of the famous Lindisfarne saints; Aidan, Cuthbert and Finan. Its position just across the water from Bamburgh Castle put it close to many popular sea-lanes, which meant Lindisfarne had direct connections with the great power-centres of Anglo-Saxon England, and with Continental Europe.

But its spectacular coastal position and uncontested wealth were also its greatest weaknesses; in AD 793 it became one of the first communities in Britain to be raided by the Vikings. The attack was brutal, bloody and followed by many more over the next hundred or so years.

Similarities in lettering style suggest that many of the namestones in this collection may have been made during the island’s peaceful heyday around the same time as the Lindisfarne Gospels (AD 715-720), but others may have belonged to people who witnessed a Viking raid, could remember someone who had, or lived in fear that they would.

In the early days, Lindisfarne’s religious community was led by monks from Iona in the Irish-Scottish kingdom of Dal Riada. As well as Irish-influenced knotwork, motifs taken from Anglo-Saxon metalworking traditions are visible in the art produced on the island, particularly in the style of crosses and interlacing used in many of its most famous illuminated manuscripts, and also on many of the namestones in this collection.

  • Ethelhard's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Decorated with intricate knotwork

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  • Aedberecht's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Written in Anglo-Saxon capitals

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  • The 'Apprentice's' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Not very good

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  • Aud- and Lac-'s 'double' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-750

    Double-sided with runes

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  • P-uini's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Intricate knotwork, but only a partial name

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  • Unknown's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

    Big central roundel

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  • Unknown's 'triquetra' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

    Intricate knotwork

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  • Osgyth's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Belonged to a woman

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  • Beannah's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

    Painted, with two names

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  • Amwini's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

    Delicately interlaced borders

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  • Unknown's 'quarter' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

    Nice border, but too worn to read

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  • Ha's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-750

    Runes and Anglo-Saxon capitals

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  • Unknown's 'hollow' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 650-750

    Too faint to read

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  • Unknown's 'blank' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

    Nearly complete

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  • Ythfrith's namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 650-750

    Runic inscription

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  • 'Friend's' namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 650-850

    Similar to P-uini's nametone

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  • Gis-'s namestone

    Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

    Very neat

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Ethelhard's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Decorated with intricate knotwork

This namestone probably belonged to someone who may have been called Ethelhard, an Old English masculine name. The well spaced inscription in the lower quadrants reads ‘EDE’ and ‘HARD’, although there are some missing letters. Ethel is derived from the Old English for ‘noble’, and Hard may be derived from the Old English for ‘brave’.

It features a triquetra at the base of the cross – a roundel filled with interlacing knotwork.

The name is written using Latin characters, but the elaborate style is known as ‘Lindisfarne display script’, which suggests it might be a later creation compared to some of the other triquetra namestones.

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Aedberecht's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Written in Anglo-Saxon capitals

This namestone once belonged to a man named Aedberecht – an Old English masculine name. It is written in Anglo-Saxon Latin capitals, spelled out over two lines in the lower quadrants. This stone was discovered in 1888 during excavations by Sir William Crossman and Reverand W. W. Kecky. Only one face of this stone is carved and is decorated with a cross which has a base, but it is otherwise too worn to make out any other decoration.

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The 'Apprentice's' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Not very good

This is a very unusual namestone. Instead of a single central cross, it has two small crosses.  Although it has a central hollow, which may have held a decorative stone, it is otherwise pretty rudimentary compared to some of the others!

It’s not clear whether this was a finished piece, practice work done by an apprentice in a hurry, or perhaps just made much later than all the rest.

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Aud- and Lac-'s 'double' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-750

Double-sided with runes

This stone is another roundheaded namestone which is typical of the stones found on Lindisfarne. It is carved on both faces, with the design on each face being very similar. It has a border and a cross, and the round shapes at the end of the cross arms are deeply sunken into the stone. There is an inscription on each face, and the inscriptions on both sides of this stone are written in runes and read ‘AUD’ in the upper left quadrant of the first face, and ‘LAC’ in the upper right quadrant of the second face. ‘Lac’ is associated with Old English masculine names. Being carved on both sides suggests that the stone was set upright, perhaps being used for a double burial. Alternatively, it may have been reused.

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P-uini's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Intricate knotwork, but only a partial name

The name in the upper quadrants are completely illegible, but may have been written in runes. In the lower quadrant, you can make out the characters ‘P – UINI’ and ‘NA – ‘. ‘Uini’ was a spelling for a name element ‘wine’, which is derived from the Old English for ‘friend’.

This stone is in two pieces, but joined together they form one of the most complete namestones in the Lindisfarne collection. There is a decorative ‘triquetra’ at the end of each of the cross arms – a roundel filled with interlacing knotwork, very similar to those on ‘Unknown’s Triquetra namestone’.  Despite it’s very worn condition, it was clearly once a very elegant carving.

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Unknown's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

Big central roundel

The cross on this stone has a large round centre, and despite significant weathering the upper portion of the cross can still be seen quite well, although it is not the most elegantly designed stone. No clear traces of a name have survived.

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Unknown's 'triquetra' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

Intricate knotwork

This namestone is beautifully decorated, with four ‘triquetras’ – the circular roundels filled with interlacing knotwork at the ends of each of the surviving cross arms, and in the centre of the cross. These triquetras show the close ties that Lindisfarne had with Dal Riada, the kingdom that included parts of Ireland and western Scotland. Many of Lindisfarne’s leading figures, including Aidan, came from the kingdom’s most famous monastery on Iona which was founded by Saint Columba. This kind of ‘Irish-influenced’ artwork is a reflection of that early history.

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Osgyth's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Belonged to a woman

This namestone belonged to a woman called Osgyth – an Old English feminine name. Her name is inscribed both in runes (top quadrants), and in Anglo-Saxon Latin capitals (lower quadrants). Os is derived from the Old English for ‘god’, while ‘gyth’ is derived from the Old English for battle’. You can also make out a small cross before her name in the bottom left quadrant.

It is neatly carved with cross, which contains a hollow central cavity. These hollows may have been used to hold a relic, stone, or jewel of some kind. This stone is among the best laid out from the collection of stones found on Lindisfarne; the cross is proportioned well in relation to the frame of the stones, and the runic and Latin inscription are carved confidently with good spacing.  The layout of this stone is similar to others found on Lindisfarne and at Hartlepool.

Beannah's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 750-800

Painted, with two names

The top two quadrants are inscribed with runes, but we can only make out the middle few letters which spell OIN. An educated guess suggests the name might originally have read Coina or Coena, which are forms of an Old English masculine name.

In the lower two quadrants, the stone is inscribed with the Latin alphabet, in Anglo-Saxon capitals with BEANNAH. Interestingly, the ‘E’ is carved inside the ‘B’. Beanna is an Old English masculine name.

Several namestones have the same name carved in runes and Latin characters, but on others, like this one, the runes and Latin characters spell out two different names. It’s unclear whether the names commemorate two different people, or just one person who took a new name when entering into religious life on Lindisfarne.

This stone is beautifully decorated with a will proportioned cross and semi-circular decoration in the outer corners of the two lower quadrants. The centre of the stone is decorated with a petal-like design. Traces of pigment on the namestone suggests that it (and perhaps others too) was originally painted in bright colours.

Amwini's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800

Delicately interlaced borders

This stone features an interlacing design again probably influenced by Christianity from Dal Riada, the interlacing weaves its way around the entire border and into the foot of the cross. The cross is quite small compared to the space available on the stone. All four quadrants of the stone are carved, with the upper two being inscribed with runes, and the lower two being inscribed with the latin alphabet in Anglo-Saxon lettering. The upper quadrants read AMWINI and the lower quadrants read AUINI. It is speculated that this is likely the name of one person written in both languages, although it’s possible that it could be two different people with a similar ending to their name.

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Unknown's 'quarter' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

Nice border, but too worn to read

This fragment looks to be approximately a quarter of the original stone. There is a border, which may have featured and interlaced design. There are traces of an inscription, but they are too worn to read.

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Ha's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-750

Runes and Anglo-Saxon capitals

This namestone has a runic inscription in the top quadrant, although the only clear letter that can be made out is an ‘H’. The lower quadrant is more deeply inscribed with Anglo-Saxon capitals, and may be either HA or BA. We can’t make out the rest of the lettering, so it’s impossible to tell if it’s a masculine or feminine name. The layout is slightly unusual, both in the proportions of the cross, and the plus-sized letters on the lower inscription. This stone was found during excavations in 1920 below the doorway in the south wall of the priory.

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Unknown's 'hollow' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 650-750

Too faint to read

This stone was found in 1957 in a field east of the priory. It is badly worn, but does have a deep hollow in the centre, similar to many namestones found on Lindisfarne. There are faint traces of an inscription on the stone below the hollow, however it is too worn to tell what the inscription says, or what language it is written in.

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Unknown's 'blank' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

Nearly complete

What is there to say about this namestone? Unfortunately not very much, as no traces of border, cross or inscription have survived – they’ve probably worn off. But otherwise it is nearly complete, and gives us a good idea of the shape of other, more fragmented roundheaded namestones that are part of the Lindisfarne collection would have looked like.

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Ythfrith's namestone Lindisfarne, AD 650-750

Runic inscription

This namestone belongs to the ambiguously named ‘Ythfrith’. yþ (pronounced ‘uth’), is very rare and the only known instances are associated with female names, while FRIÐ (prounounced ‘frith’, and meaning peace, fealty or stately beautiful), is usually associated with masculine names. However, it can also be used to form female names, of which one recorded example is Eadfrið.

Regardless of gender, the limited timeframe in which these namestones are used means we can be fairly confident that Ythfrith lived during the earliest phase of the monastery, and was someone important who may even have known its founders Oswald and Aidan, or some of its later historical figures like Eadfrith or Cuthbert.

The central cross is engraved with a sun-like disc at the end of each arm, and a central cavity that may once have held a relic or jewel. Above the name, you can also just about make out the letters ‘A’ and ‘W’, representing alpha and omega – a clear reference to the Bible, Revelations XXII, 13 which says ‘I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end’

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'Friend's' namestone Lindisfarne, AD 650-850

Similar to P-uini's nametone

This namestone was found during our crowdfunded excavation at Lindisfarne in 2018. We’re still waiting for specialist analysis, but overall it looks quite similar to ‘P-uini’s’ namestone. There is some lovely triquetra knotwork at the base of the cross, and it looks like there might be part of a runic inscription at the top. The large letters in the Old English Latin alphabet spell out the second half of a name, but they haven’t been deciphered by a specialist yet. It could by something like ‘huini’ (-wine), which is a fairly common ending for masculine names derived from the Old English for ‘friend’, and is seen on at least two other of the Lindisfarne namestones.

If you want to try reading the partial name while we wait for specialist analysis, tweet your suggestion to #EtchedInStone or @thedigventurers

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Gis-'s namestone Lindisfarne, AD 700-800 (?)

Very neat

This namestone is one of the three that were recently discovered on our crowdfunded dig at Lindisfarne in 2018. It is still awaiting specialist analysis at Durham, and has not yet been officially deciphered. There is a name clearly emblazoned in the Old English Latin alphabet, the first half of which survives and might read ‘G I S’.

The inscriptions are neatly done,and there is a central hollow that may once have held a relic or other decorative jewel, but it otherwise looks quite plain, although not enough of the stone survives to tell whether there were ever any more elaborate decorations at the ends of the cross arms.

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