It was a pilgrimage of sorts, by train, bus, then walking to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh, to experience ‘Antiphonal’, two sound installations by Tom Schofield comprising poetry by 12 North East poets. The poems, also published in pamphlet form as ‘Shadow Script’, were commissioned by Linda Anderson of Newcastle University’s Centre for Literature Arts as a response to the medieval texts and this undulating landscape of historical narrative.
We stayed in Durham to see the Lindisfarne Gospels (on temporary exhibition) first-hand, the pen and colour still so fresh and real, then retraced their dispersal from Lindsifarne following the Viking attacks.
The bus dropped us at Beal, about five miles from Lindisfarne, where we camped overlooking the sea – walking to the island early the next morning with a tent and heavy rucksacks seemed appropriate for seventh century monastic life and Cuthbert’s ascetic existence. But as time went by, and the long causeway and sweep of the Snook stretched out before us, the distant nub of the village and abbey ruins seemed to get no closer. We pondered on getting provisions and building materials onto the island without motorised transport when St Aidan founded the monastery, what could be grown on the island and how hard life must have been. Then as we arrived, the spell was broken by bus loads of tourists, cafes and shops.


The words of poems were broadcasting in the Tower, reaching with the eye into the seascape, and back and forth in time. But others coming in were in a different space, so we descended to Cuthbert’s isle and read two of the poems from Shadow Script to each other.


He’s sad to see my tattoo go
under the laser, blistering
from Lindisfarne knot to hot dough,
I got inked up too young –
too full of hell,
I say to him
and he smiles his hermit crab smile,
suggests I think of the Book
his acolyte wrote on skin
with soot and gold, how it reconciles
gannets, cats and dogs as word
of love, how every page is flawed
on purpose, saying to people
perfection makes us much too proud –
wear your mistakes like gospel.

Christy Ducker

By contrast, the installation in the cool, dark crypt at St Aidan’s church, Bamburgh, provided a more intimate contemplation, the landscape horizons no longer visible. In many ways, this felt closer to an understanding of the medieval condition than the museum interpretation of the gospels in Durham – but it was good to have experienced this knowledge tempered in both ways.
Ben and Paula