793 A.D. marks the beginning of the Viking age because of the brutal attack on St. Cuthbert’s Church in Lindisfarne, England. This wasn’t the Viking’s first attack on English soil; in about 789 A.D., a group of Northmen killed a king’s reeve in Wessex. Before that, there is evidence that Vikings attacked Thanet in 753 A.D. However, the Viking attack on Lindisfarne hit differently for the English people.
Heart of Christianity
Lindisfarne was the center of England’s Christian religion. St. Cuthbert was buried in the church, and contemporaries called it the most sacred place in all of Britain. The Vikings killed or enslaved the clergy and stole the gold and other precious items of the church. Some Christians survived the attack and created the Domesday Stone to depict what happened.
While this attack is often depicted as hoards of pagans coming out of the fog, the reality is much more complicated. The Norse traders had traveled this coast before. They understood what was happening in the area and likely took advantage of the political upheaval the country experienced at the time. For the five years before the attack, the community experienced regicide, and the murder of heirs and royal families. The rulers were dealing with so much intrigue that they necessarily had little time to deal with defenses. The Vikings likely recognized this weakness in government.
Element of Surprise
Since Vikings were trading along the coast, the monks and priests probably didn’t react to the ships as they came ashore. For them, it was probably just another trading party, something that would further improve the financial welfare of the rich area. They wouldn’t have known what was happening until the Vikings had drawn their weapons.
Vestige of Wealth
Up until this point, the Viking traders dealt in slaves and furs. They made very little from their raw resources. Plundering offered a faster route to riches, especially silver. The raiders didn’t destroy the church; in fact, they left the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels alone. They took the items they could use for dowries and to buy land.
The Viking attack on Lindisfarne was a precursor to things to come. The Vikings innovated their ships to travel farther, and they continued their attacks on the countries around them.