Although I don’t usually talk about medieval times, Monday’s posts are called Medieval Mondays, because I like alliteration. In these posts, I look at the history of the English language.
The Vikings invaded Britain on two separate occasions: the first, they pillaged and plundered and were generally as people imagine them today, and the second they came to stay, and set up settlements to live in.
The first Viking age was in the late 700s ad.
They were absolutely stunning, with carpet pages punctuating the script, which was all written in Latin. This was because the Christian faith was spread by the Roman Empire, so Christian teachings were done in Latin, right up until the mid 20th century.
The book would have stayed in Lindisfarne, if it weren’t for the Vikings. They fled Lindisfarne, taking the most sacred and valuable items with them, of which the Lindisfarne gospels were an important item. The gospels then landed themselves in the hands of Aldred, the Minster of Chester-le-Street, in around 970.
What Aldred did then was controversial, but is one of the greatest gifts historical linguists have received. In spite of taboos surrounding translating holy texts, Aldred added an Anglo-Saxon translation in red ink beneath the original Latin. This makes the Lindisfarne gospels an incredible resource for linguists – not only is it the oldest surviving version of the gospels in any form of English, but it also exists directly alongside a translation, leading to few doubts about the meaning of words.
The majority of Old English texts are written in Old West Saxxon, as this was the dialect spoken in the area where the Vikings did the least harm. The Lindisfarne Gospels are written in Old Northumbrian. As they are one of the few surviving texts written in this dialect, they are invaluable in our knowledge of the history of it.