The Gospel first came to the northern English in 627, When King Edwin of Northumbria was converted by a mission from Canterbury led by Bishop Paulinus, who established his see at York. Edwin's death in battle in 632 was followed by a severe pagan reaction. A year later, Edwin's exiled nephew Oswald gained the kingdom, and proceeded at once to restore the Christian mission.
During his exile, Oswald had lived at Columba's monastery of Iona, where he had been converted and baptized. Hence he sent to Iona, rather than to Canterbury, for missionaries. The head of the first mission was a man of no tact, who soon returned home to report that the English were unteachable. A fellow monk named Aidan suggested that his approach was too harsh. Thereupon Aidan was sent out to replace him. He centered his work, not at York, but in imitation of his home monastery, on Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England, not far south of the Scottish border, now often called simply Holy Island (latitude 55d41m N, longitude 1d48m W). It is a tidal island, or semi-island. As Walter Scott says somewhere in Marmion,
For, with the ebb and flow, its style
Varies from continent to isle.
Twice o'er its sands, dry-shod, each day
the weary pilgrims find their way,
and twice each day the waves efface
of stave and sandal every trace.
(Since I have mentioned Marmion, I will add that the poem includes a sensationalist episode at Lindisfarne which is without any basis in fact. (The evidence which Scott cited in a footnote is now known to be a hoax by which Scott was taken in.)
With his fellow monks and the English youths whom he trained, Aidan restored Christianity in Northumbria, King Oswald often serving as his interpreter, and extended the mission through the midlands as far south as London.
Aidan died at the royal town of Bamborough, 31 August, 651. The historian Bede said of him: "He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works."
O loving God, who didst call thy servant Aidan from the Peace of a cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and didst endow him with gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, following his example, may use what thou hast given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever.
O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a Cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.