Tonight, bitter is the wind;
it tosses the ocean’s white hair.
I fear not the fierce Norse
coursing the Irish sea.
Is acher ingáith innocht
fufuasna faircggae findḟolt
ni ágor réimm mora minn
dondláechraid lainn oua lothlind.
Irish poem circa 850AD.
It was an Irish fellow called Aidan who kicked off Melrose Abbey (photo) by bringing back Christianity to those notoriously godless savages, the English & Scots; more specifically, the Northumbrians. Since he was writing from the diocese Aidan founded, the medieval historian Bede naturally gives him a glowing biography. But a little bit of reading between the lines shows how cleverly Aidan grew his flock. Here's Bede:
"He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest's orders."
Interesting, eh? He went from village to village, talking, preaching, kissing babies (probably). He was allies with the king but he freed slaves & secured the loyalty of the groups they were stolen from. Moreover, he shaped his own disciples, placing these local, loyal men quickly into administration of the church. All the while, he won popular support by appearing sympathetic & portraying the church as a benevolent entity. It's brilliant, really.
The diocese flourished, proving rich pickings for raiding Norsemen 250 years later. It's OK though. Quite a few stayed, were converted, & spent the spoils. #shoplocal
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