Picture this: it’s the mid 7th century AD and the Northumbrian monastery at Lindisfarne founded by Anglo-Saxon King Oswald is on the rise to fame. But just across the Scottish border something else is happening. Oswald has a sister, named Aebbe, and she too has gone and founded a monastery.
Aebbe’s story is a compelling one, but historical records are few and far between. Those that do survive tell us that she was an influential figure who introduced Christianity to Scotland’s east coast.
They also tell us that her monastery was located just a few days north of Lindisfarne, near St Abb’s Head at Coldingham, surrounded by a deep trench and high palisade, and was home to both monks and nuns.
The monastery burnt down soon after Aebbe died. Abandoned for a short while, it was rebuilt and continued to thrive until AD 870 when it was destroyed once and for all by a devastating Viking attack – just like Oswald’s Lindisfarne.
Over the years, a few small glimpses – of burials, and of sculpture – have shown up, but firm evidence of the monastery has never been found at the suggested location.
But then, in 2014, new hope of finding it emerged through a geophysical survey, which revealed the footprints of a number of possible Anglo-Saxon structures at a slightly different location, close to the ruins of Coldingham’s much later medieval priory.
Finding Aebbe’s monastery will be a monumental addition to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history in the Scottish Borders, one that allows us to bring Aebbe’s story to wider attention, and establish Coldingham as the site of Lindisfarne’s sister monastery.