Norse raiders attacked the holy island of Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast in an event that is generally accepted as the start of the ‘Viking’ period of British history.
The monastery on Lindisfarne had been established by Saint Aiden in the early 7th century, and grew to be an important centre of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Although the attack on the Holy Island was not the first time that Vikings had targeted Britain, it is notable due to being an assault on the holiest site in the kingdom of Northumbria and, arguably, Anglo-Saxon Britain. The raiders laid waste to the island, slaughtering the monks that lived there, and stealing vast quantities of treasure.
The island was probably targeted due to being both remote and wealthy, although Christian commentators at the time proposed other explanations. Alcuin, a Northumbrian scholar who was working as a tutor in the Frankish kingdom, wrote to both the bishop of Lindisfarne and the Northumbrian king. His letters expressed upset at the attack but also questioned whether it was ‘the outcome of the sins of those who live there’.
Although the religious community on Lindisfarne survived the attack of 793, Viking raids on monasteries and other religious sites in Britain continued for many years. Consequently some of the best examples of early medieval religious metalwork have been found in Scandinavian graves from the time.
From the middle of the 9th century the Norsemen began to see Britain as a place for colonisation rather than plunder. Within a few decades they had established an area of independent rule known as the Danelaw, the legacy of which can be seen in many place names in the North of England and the East Midlands.