The Best Places for Plump Little Monks to Hide During a Viking Invasion
Although thou wilt likely still be killed
We all hath been there: thou art peacefully attending to the abbey’s garden on a quiet spring morn as thy chunky little monk fingers dab the sweat from thy brow, when suddenly o’er the hilltop rushes a frenzied band of Viking marauders hungry for plunder and death. They pillage what they can and strike down e’erything with a heartbeat.
Whatfore can a rotund man of the cloth do in such a dire situation?
There be much disinformation out there about how the best options are to cower in fear whilst praying for salvation, or to run about in delirium until thou art slain like quarry.
But fear no more, dear abbot! For our moste thorough analysise hath found that hiding away like a coward is the moste reliable way to survive such a raid. Herein be the best places for plump little monks to hide during a Viking invasion, although in many cases they will still result in thy death.
1. The Chapel
Surely thou wilt be safe from the berzerking savages in the Lord’s house. Hiding in the chapel should be every monk’s first choice during a Viking raid, even though they will ultimately burn it down with thee inside. At the first sight of the invaders, dash to the chapel like a piglet upon thy stubby monk legs.
2. The Cupboard
If death is inevitable, might as well get a snack first. Hasten to the cupboard before the fearsome Northmen steal all the mincemeat pies!
3. The Wine Cellar
The last thing God would want is for His potations to be touched by pagan lips. Descend to the wine cellar and siphon barrels of wine directly into thy gullet before the heathens can get to them.
4. The Sea
Though they be a seafaring people, the fools will never think to look for thy corpulent figure underwater! Dive deep to the bottom of the lough and remain there until either thou drowns or thou art forced to come up for air and get beheaded at the surface. Not an ideal ending either way, but then again maybe thou shouldn’t have built thy monastery on a remote coastline in well-known pillaging territory.
5. The Garderobe
Not the most pleasant place to hide, but if thou can withstand the fæculent bursts of many warriors falling on thy face, thou may manage to escape death by hiding deep in the garderobe basin.
6. Within Thyself
Instead of physically hiding, thou may opt to hide deep within thyself in a state of prayer and meditation. Although this will in no way save thee from the Viking onslaught, ‘tis at least worth a try. Whoso knows? Maybe they’ll think thou art dull or insane, and they shall take pity on thee and just enslave thee instead.
“Year 793. Here were dreadful forewarnings come over the land of Northumbria, and woefully terrified the people: these were amazing sheets of lightning and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. A great famine soon followed these signs, and shortly after in the same year, on the sixth day before the ides of January, the woeful inroads of heathen men destroyed god’s church in Lindisfarne island by fierce robbery and slaughter. And Sicga died on the eighth day before the calends of March.”
On 8 June 793 (the January date above is probably wrong), the Viking Age was launched with a raid on the island monastery of Lindisfarne in the kingdom of Northumbria, in modern day northeastern England.1 It would be one in a long series of attacks that would ravage Europe for centuries.
Lindisfarne is a tidal island: at low tide it’s connected to the mainland by a road and mudflats; at high tide those are covered by water and it becomes an island. Google “Lindisfarne tides” to see lots of pictures of cars getting stuck on the road at high tide.
The Lindisfarne Priory was founded around 635 AD by Irish monk St. Aidan. He successfully converted the area to Christianity at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria. A lot of famous saints cut their teeth there, the most famous being St. Cuthbert (634-687), an on-again, off-again hermit and miracle worker who had a cult-like following for centuries after his death. According to the Venerable Bede, when his body was exhumed eleven years after he died it hadn’t decomposed at all. The island became a popular pilgrimage spot and a center of Christianity in Northumbria in the ensuing years, largely due to Cuthbert’s fame.
In 793 the Vikings arrived. Their raid on Lindisfarne is often used as the date that marks the beginning of the Viking Age in Europe. Contemporary accounts seem to think the attack was particularly fearsome, not just because the place was looted and people were killed — those sorts of things happened all the time — but because it was looted and people were killed AND the people doing it weren’t Christians. As far as the raid itself, it seems like it was pretty typical Viking stuff: arrive in a few ships, kill or enslave most of the inhabitants, plunder everything of value, leave.
One thing they forgot to plunder was the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were created at Lindisfarne over the previous century, and still exist today. Although the Vikings probably didn’t have much use for a Christian book, so maybe they consciously decided not to take it.
Monasteries were a frequent target of early Viking raids, likely because they were largely undefended and had a lot of valuable relics and other goods that could easily be stolen. It also didn’t help that the monks kept building them at remote coastal locations right across the sea from Scandinavia.
There are many potential reasons the Vikings began raiding Europe’s coast at this time. Some of these include:
Economic gain through plundering;
Overpopulation in Scandinavia;
Revenge against Christian Europeans for Charlemagne’s policy of forced conversions to Christianity;
and, dare I say, fun.
I’m curious what the monks actually did during one of these raids. It’s unlikely they just sat there and waited to be killed. They must have made some attempt to run, hide, negotiate with their assailants, or fight back. Most of the accounts of the early Viking raids on monasteries talk in general terms about the destruction and pillaging they wrought, but don’t really get into specifics or into how the monks responded.
Either way, in the long run the monks sort of won, because the Vikings eventually converted to Christianity. Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark, converted to Christianity around 960 AD; it became Iceland’s official religion in 1000 AD; and the rest of Scandinavia gradually followed suit in the ensuing centuries. Instead of raiders of monasteries, the terrifying “Northmen” became ardent spreaders of the faith!
The Lindisfarne Priory was abandoned in 875 due to a Danish invasion, but it was reestablished in 1093. The ruins there today date from this time. There’s also a small castle that was built in the 1500s.
You can still visit Lindisfarne. It has 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. Just make sure to get there at low tide.
Most general information here is taken from an article on the Lindisfarne Raid in the Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Lindisfarne-Raid