The Calligrapher’s Tale

Tales from End to End
The Calligrapher’s Tale

by Mary Sleeson

Mark and I moved to Holy Island on a cold, wet and windy day in the February of 1997. We had met five years earlier at an Easter event on the Island, started ‘going out’ the following year (at the same event), got engaged on the Island and spent our honeymoon here as well. Every spare weekend was spent on the Island, we always stayed in the same B&B and got to know the owners and other locals quite well.

Between Christmas and New Year 1996 we had a burst pipe in our home in Hertfordshire. It ruined the whole of the downstairs and half of the upstairs and we lived in the midst of repairs and redecoration for five months. Following that, in June we were involved in a car accident; one that we were informed that we shouldn’t have walked away from, let alone escaped with only whiplash. Nobody else involved was injured either, but the two events combined made us seriously consider where we wanted to be in life – and that place was Holy Island. Looking back I think that the call to Lindisfarne for me happened the first time I visited, crossing the causeway I burst into tears, it felt like I was coming home! Every time Mark and I visited it together, it became harder to leave.

The owners of the B&B decided to sell up, the timing was perfect. And so we bought the house we had honeymooned in, the house whose walls we had looked at and wondered what we could add to its 240 year old history. Within a month of moving, all our income stopped, a promised extension of a contract fell through and we were left having swiftly to reconsider our three year plan for living on the Island. The original plan was to continue the B&B for a short while and then, in about three years, open a small Christian bookshop in the dining room and supplement our income with Marks’ contract work. However, the B&B wasn’t going to work for us long-term for several reasons (not least that we hoped one day to fill the spare rooms with little Fleesons!) so we opened ‘The Burning Light – Christian Resources Shop’ that summer.

Some days the Island was so peaceful and quiet that we might only see one customer in a day and rather than just fill the time tidying the shelves (again), surfing the net or reading, I decided to try to illustrate, illuminate and use calligraphy to create artwork around some poetry and prayers that I had written and around Bible passages that had been significant to me in my spiritual journey.

I would work in the shop, swiftly hiding the work under the desk when customers came in so that I could give them my undivided attention but we often had customers who wanted to browse in peace and the artwork crept out again to fill the time. By the time I had started my third piece I was asked if the work was for sale so we started to get prints made and we sold them alongside the books, CDs and puppets!

Mary Fleeson
Mary Fleeson

Thirteen years on, 45 works, 8 books and ‘umpteen’ other associated items later and Lindisfarne Scriptorium now fills the space where The Burning Light was. We still sell some books and CDs but our primary focus is the Scriptorium product which we also supply to Cathedrals, bookshops and retreat centres around the UK.

By Mary Fleeson of Lindisfarne Scriptorium, Holy Island, Northumbria.

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