Aidan was an Irish monk who left his home in Ireland with a band of his monk-companions and initially settled in Iona, the monastery established by St Columba. At the urging of his great friend and supporter, King Oswald of Northumbria, Aidan was enlisted to help convert Oswald’s pagan subjects. The original missioner to the Anglo-Saxons had proven to be too hotheaded for the job; whereas Aidan was known by his even-tempered, gentle nature and his manner of teaching by example even more than words.
Arriving in Northumbria in 635, Aidan established his headquarters at Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the cost of Northeastern England. Eventually he became its first bishop and abbot. Stories of Aidan attribute to him the most ancient and enduring trait of true Christian spirituality: care and love for the poor and the stranger.
The name Aidan actually means “flame” in Gaelic, so his association of being the patron-saint of firefighters is most appropriate. But more so, his “flame” of eagerness to project his own practical faith to ordinary people burned passionately. Through Aidan’s story, we touch upon the Celtic perspective of evangelizing. Aidan instructed his monks – first and foremost – to never make the people they met think that everything they believed was wrong. The Celts they first encountered were very religious (albeit pagan) and they revered their holy men, the Druids. They were to explain how the Druid’s wisdom was a preparation for the Christian Faith … not necessarily a detriment to it. Aidan mapped out a 5-step procedure for the monks to follow that is still valid today: First, greet each person you meet. To do that, you have to be at “eye-level,” meeting a person within the bounds of their daily life, meeting them where they are, physically and spiritually. Second, take time with each person who might return your greeting. Third, ask them what they believe. Fourth, ask if they’d like to know what you believe. And fifth, respond ONLY if they invite you to do so. Aidan’s gentle, non-obtrusive, non-judgmental way of approaching people met with not only his and the other monks’ acceptance … but the people’s acceptance of Christ and the Gospel message.
St. Aidan died at Bamburgh on the last day of August, 651, and his remains were carried to Lindisfarne. His feast day is August 31.