In 2019, a group of volunteer archaeologists made their way to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, one of the British isles. The land is known to have ties with medieval Christianity, and the explorers were eager to learn more about its history.
What they weren’t expecting was to find something no larger than a piece of candy — an artifact that would lead them to learn more about the Holy Island and its people than they ever thought possible.
A Relic Was Found On The British Holy Island of Lindisfarne
A group of volunteer archaeologists journeyed to the British Holy Island of Lindisfarne. There, they hoped to learn more about the early Christian roots tied to the isle. They never expected to dig up a relic related to something else altogether.
Made of white and blue glass, what the group of researchers dug up was no larger than a piece of candy. Now, they just had to figure out what the artifact was.
It Was From The Time Of The Vikings
The relic they dug up with made entirely of glass. The piece was a swirl of white and blue, with white glass jutting out at the top. It almost resembled a crown. The glass object was old, dating back to the eighth or ninth century.
If that was the case, then the archeologists had to believe it was from the time of the Vikings, when they first landed on the English island. Their landing is considered to be a significant historical event.
Lindisfarne Was The First Viking Attack
For reference, the British isle of Lindisfarne was once home to a monastery. But, in 793 A.D., the site was invaded by Vikings. This would be the first in many attacks that would ultimately change the region forever.
Because of this, any relics or artifacts found from this period are a huge cause for excitement. Now, it was just a matter of the archeologists figuring out just what the item was.
King Oswald Was Getting Ready To Establish Northumbria
Lindisfarne is said to be the heart of British Christianity. It all started when the region was split into different kingdoms. One of them was called Northumbria, ruled by King Oswald between 634 A.D. and 642 A.D.
But there was one thing the King was missing in his territory. He sought a bishop to take over the religious matters of Northumbria. Eventually, King Oswald ordered a monk from Ireland who would change everything.
Aiden Was Ordered There To Establish A Monastery
Needing a bishop for his territory, in 635 A.D, King Oswald ordered a monk from Ireland to travel to Northumbria to become his bishop. The monk’s name was Aiden, and he traveled from an island southwest of modern-day Scotland called Iona.
Once in Northumbria, Aiden found himself being transported to another island on which he was to establish a monastery. This island was Lindisfarne. At the time, Aiden didn’t know that the monastery was about to make a huge impact on the world.
The Island Was Very Useful In Trade
Aiden and few of his fellow monks successfully established a monastery of the British isle of Lindisfarne. And, ultimately, it proved to be very useful for a very specific reason. Because of the island’s close proximity to the mainland of Northumbria, specifically the region of Bernicia, the monastery prospered with trade.
Ironically, historians don’t consider Aiden to be the most significant monk to frequent the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. That title goes to someone else.
Cuthbert Is Said To Be The Most Significant Monk
A monk called Cuthbert made his way to the island of Lindisfarne during the latter half of the seventh century, entering into the monastery established by Aiden. During his time on the island, Cuthbert started to change the ways of the monks.
Because of his reform, many believe Cuthbert to be the most significant and important monk ever to grace Lindisfarne. In later history, he was even made an esteemed saint.
Cuthbert Wanted To Live A Quiet Life
Because Cuthbert was changing the ways of the other monks, many opposed him. Not wanting his beliefs and teachings to transform into something violent, monk Cuthbert decided to leave Lindisfarne.
He opted to live as a hermit, finding a peaceful life on a nearby island. But the quiet was short-lived. In 685 A.D., the king decided he wanted Cuthbert to become the bishop. From there, the monk became a widely-known public figure.
Cuthbert Was Thought To Be a Holy Man
Cuthbert passed away in 687 A.D. and was laid to rest in one of the churches on Lindisfarne. But something miraculous happened when his body was exhumed a decade later. The bishop’s body wasn’t decomposed!
The monks took this as a sign of Cuthbert’s holiness. Wanting to celebrate the holy man, a shrine was built in Cuthbert’s honor. And a cult emerged, all of whom worshiped the late bishop and his teachings. Then, unexplained miracles began happening near the shrine.
Miracles Began To Happen Around The Shrine
Rumors began to spread that unexplained miracles were happening around the shrine of St. Cuthbert. People were very interested, and as a result, the island of Lindisfarne became a site for many religious beings, with the monastery becoming an important location for education.
Even The Lindisfarne Gospels, a manuscript, was made in the monastery, medieval art that is considered to be a masterpiece in this day and age. But the prosperity of the island didn’t last.
Most Of The Landmarks Are Lost
During the summer of 783, Vikings landed on Lindisfarne. This was the first attack on a Western European territory. And, according to historians, it was a good first assault location because it was so well-known by the general public of Western Europe.
But the attack would change the course of Lindisfarne’s history. And, unfortunately, most of the structures were lost in time. Insert the team at DigVentures, who discovered the piece of glass in 2019.
DigVentures Is A Crowdfunded Organization
DigVentures is a non-profit organization funded totally on donations from the public. Their goal is to organize “archaeological excavation experiences.” And the team has found numerous artifacts of the island, including pins, graves, jewelry, sculptures, and even ruins of buildings.
But it was in 2019 that they discovered something else entirely. One of the women on site found a piece of decorative glass in the ground. Now, it was a matter of figuring out what it was.
The Artifact Was A Game Piece
While the artifact looks like a jewel of some kind, at first glance, it’s actually something else entirely. The relic was, in fact, a game piece used by the Vikings in a board game called hnefatafl, or “King’s Table.”
The game is still popular in modern Nordic regions of the world. To some, it might look like a fancy game of chess. But, in reality, the game is a simulation of a Viking invasion.
The Pieces Were Used For More Than A Game
Unfortunately, no one is entirely sure where the game originated. It could have come from the Nordic regions, or the Vikings could have adopted the game after one of their many invasions.
But, there is one thing historians have concluded. The pieces used for the game are quite spectacular, as seen by the glass piece found at Lindisfarne. So, it’s safe to assume they were used for something other than a board game.
The Game Pieces Were Significant
Since the pieces were so elaborate, some believe they were involved in Viking boat burials. It’s possible the Vikings believed the game played an important role in the afterlife, or that the pieces would just be useful to them.
But the pieces also showed a person’s social standing. The more elaborate the game pieces, the more appealing, and perhaps wealthy, the owner of the game board looked to other people.
The Game Piece Was More Than It Appeared
So, for the people of DigVentures, the glass game piece was a huge find! Although they realized it might not have actually belonged to a Viking, it might have instead been the property of an affluent monk who lived on the island at the time.
This would be extraordinary because it would show part of the Nordic culture in Britain before the Vikings ever invaded Lindisfarne. If that was the case, it would give the researchers a glance into pre-Viking Lindisfarne.
The Dating Of The Game Piece Is Everything
Regardless of the glass game piece’s previous owner, the hnefatafl piece is an extremely rare find. The leader of the DigVenture group, Dr. David Petts, believes the piece dates back to the eighth or ninth century, around the time of the Viking invasion.
The timing is everything, as it would show how far the Nordic culture had traveled before any of the Western European territories were invaded. The piece was a huge find!
It Unraveled Previous Thoughts Of Medieval Christianity
But if the piece belongs to a monk and not a Viking, Petts believes it would also unravel some of the previous misconceptions people have about Christianity during the medieval times, a religion some thought brought a difficult life to those living away from civilization.
During an interview, Petts explained, “We often tend to think of early medieval Christianity, especially on islands, as terribly austere; that they were all living a brutal, hard life.”
The Monks Might Have Actually Had An Elitist Life On The Island
Now, Petts and his team had to question everything they thought they knew about medieval Christianity solely because of a glass piece one woman found in the Earth. Instead of the monks living difficult lives on the island, the intricate and colorful game piece suggests otherwise.
Petts said, “The sheer quality of this piece suggests this isn’t any old gaming set. Someone on the island is living an elite lifestyle.”
Historians Were Getting A Look Into Life On The Island
It was extraordinary how such a tiny piece of glass could give historians a detailed glimpse into how people lived on the Holy Island so long ago. Considering they typically found nothing more than old and weathered tombstones and crumbled ruins, it was a welcome find!
During an interview, Petts said, “We are starting to get an insight into the actual lives of the people who were in the monastery, rather than just their cemeteries and their afterlives.”