During the seventh century Northumbria, an area in northern England comprising the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, was a violent battleground. Rival kings determined whether or not the Gospel could advance and in what form (Roman or Celtic). In 616, Edwin, the new king, was converted by a mission from Canterbury led by Bishop Paulinus, who established his see at York. Edwin's death in battle in 632 was followed by a severe pagan reaction. The next year, Edwin's exiled nephew Oswald gained the throne, and proceeded immediately to restore the Christian missionary Church.
During his exile, Oswald had lived at Columba's monastery of Iona (in Scotland), where he had been converted and baptized. He therefore asked the Bishop of Iona for a missionary instead of Canterbury. The first Bishop to preach was a monk named Corman, who had little success, and returned to Iona to complain that the Northumbrians were an unteachable race of savages.
The historian Bede writes that, at a meeting to discuss the problem, a young Irish monk called Aidan, said: "Perhaps you were too harsh with them, and they might have responded better to a gentler approach." Aidan, therefore, found himself appointed to lead a second expedition to Northumbria. He centered his work, not at York, but in imitation of his home monastery, on Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England, now often called Holy Isle.
With his fellow monks and the young English men he trained, Aidan restored Christianity in Northumbria, King Oswald supported him and even served as his interpreter from time to time. The mission was extended through the midlands as far south as London.
Aidan lived a frugal life, and encouraged the people to fast and study the scriptures. He himself fasted every Wednesday and Friday, and rarely ate at the royal table. When he was required to attend a feast, the food set before him would be given away to the hungry. He was often given rich presents, but these he gave to the poor or used to buy the freedom of slaves, some of these freed slaves entered the priesthood. During Lent Aidan would go to the small island of Farne for prayer and penance.
Aidan died at the royal town of Bamborough, 31 August, 651. The historian Bede said of him:
"He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works."
That is quite a testimony, and one any Christian could be proud of. Perhaps a kinder, gentler way of talking to people would attract more converts even these days!
O loving God, Who called Your servant Aidan from the peace of a cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what You have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
*Many of the words and ideas above are from various sources around the web, not all my own.