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St Paull's Church & Monastery (Newcastle)

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The home of the Venerable Bede, partly surviving as the chancel of the parish church, the monastery has become one of the best-understood Anglo-Saxon monastic sites.

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      01.09.2003 21:37
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      St. Paul's Church and Monastery in Jarrow is a working living church with daily worship, however its history dates back to the 7th century. It was home to St. Bede who was medieval Europe's greatest scholar and his extraordinary life (673 to 735) created a rich legacy of learning that is still celebrated today. In 681 AD the Anglo-Saxon monastery of St Paul's, Jarrow was founded and in 685 AD the church was dedicated. The land on which the monastery and church were built was originally owned by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria and given to a Northumbrian nobleman, Benedict Biscop. Less than a decade earlier, in 674 AD, Benidict Biscop founded St Peter's Church and monastery in Wearmouth (now Monkwearmouth, a district of Sunderland). St Paul's was built on the understanding that it worked with the monastery of St Peter and "be bound together by the one spirit of peace and harmony" (Lives of the Abbots - Bede) and that they functioned as a single monastery: "the monastery of the apostles St Peter and St Paul, one part of which stands at the mouth of the river Wear and the other part near the river Tyne in a place called Jarrow" (Ecclesiastical History, V.21 - Bede). At this time the Anglo-Saxon building tradition was to build in timber; the monasteries of St Peter's and St Paul's were amongst the first stone buildings in Northumbria since the days of the Roman empire, and would have created an impressive statement on the landscape. Ready cut stone was brought from the Roman fort at South Shields, just about two mile along the Tyne and some of the stone still shows evidence of Roman writing. Building skills had been lost following the Roman withdrawal so Benedict Biscop brought glaziers and stone masons over from Gaul, cement was made by burning stone until it was reduced to ash, then by adding water a substance was formed that was able to bind individual stones. The craftsmen were able to erect s tone buildings with both plain and coloured glass windows and also teach their skills to the local community. When the monastery and church were first built they were only accessible by a raised causeway across the salt marshes and a bridge over the River Don (a subsidiary river of the Tyne). Today the church is the most popular Anglican Church in the area for marriages because it has an extremely long tree lined path from the road to the door and the monastery ruins make an excellent backdrop for photographs. The seven-year-old Bede entered St Paul's in 680 AD and remained in the monastery until his death in 673 AD. His writings, particularly The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow and The Ecclesiastical History of the English People give a unique insight into life in the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. He came to Jarrow around the time that St Paul's was being dedicated. In his History of the English Church and People Bede writes: "I was born on the lands of this monastery, and on reaching the seven years of age, I was entrusted by my family first to the most reverend Abbot Benedict (Biscop) and later to Abbot Ceolfrith for my education. I have spent all the remainder of my life in this monastery and devoted myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures. And while I have observed the regular discipline and sung the choir offices daily in church, my chief delight has always been in study, teaching and writing. I was ordained deacon in my nineteenth year, and priest in my thirtieth, receiving both these orders at the hands of the most reverend Bishop John at the direction of Abbot Ceolfrith. From the time of my receiving the priesthood until my fifty-ninth year, I have worked, both for my own benefit and that of my brethren, to compile short extracts from the works of the venerable Fathers on Holy Scripture and to comment on their meaning and interpretation." St Bede was a genius, his books, some of which have been in continuous circulation for more that thirteen hundred years, tell us how he understood complex scientific principles, as well as explaining the bible for others and this was in a time when most people could not even read. He wrote what is considered to be the definitive history of England from the coming of Christianity to his own time, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People and he solved the biggest scientific problem of his day in calculating a basis for setting the date of Easter, which is still used today. Bede also wrote about the world being round when it was commonly believed to be flat and he knew about the effect of the moon on tides before gravity had been discovered. People all over Europe looked to Bede for answers and his ideas still influence many people today. Thirteen hundred years ago Jarrow was one of the most important places in the world, the monastery was the home of some very accomplished craftsmen who produced beautifully illustrated manuscripts for use all over Europe, one volume of the bible written in the monastery measured twenty seven inches by twenty inches when opened and weighed seventy five pounds. Excavations of the monastic site were undertaken in the 1960's and 70's under the direction of Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University. I was fortunate enough to spend many happy weekends helping on the archaeological dig during my late teens. The excavations revealed the central buildings and the layout of the Anglo-Saxon buildings at St Paul's, which have been marked out and can be seen on site. Amongst the finds were finely carved stone, large quantities of coloured window glass, imported pottery and Anglo-Saxon coins. The chancel of St Paul's is the original Anglo-Saxon church built as a separate chapel and dedicated to Our Lady. A large Basilica was built on the site of the present nave and dedicated on 23rd April AD 685. The present nave and north aisle of the church are the work of the Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. The monastery next to the church was were St Bede lived, worked and worshipped and in the seventh and eighth centuries it was a thriving monastery however in AD 794 the Vikings sacked the church and monastery. In 1074 the church was repaired and the monastery re-founded by Aldwin, Prior of Winchcombe Abbey and it became a daughter house of the Benedictine Community of Durham. What to look for in the Church Seventh Century Foundations Exposed in the main aisle of the church you can see part of the north wall of the larger Anglo-Saxon Church. Anglo-Saxon Cross In the centre of the North Nave Exhibition you can see the foot of an Anglo-Saxon Cross and read its Latin inscription, which when translated reads "In this unique sign, life is restored to the world". The Dedication Stone The original dedication stone has now been re-sited and can be seen high above the Chancel arch. Dated 685 AD this stone remains the earliest firmly dated document from the history of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. According to an anonymous plan of 1796 now in the British Museum, the stone was built into the eastern part of the north wall of the old nave, which was demolished in 1782. The Dedication Stone reads: "DEDICATIO BASILICAE SCI PAULI VIIII KL MAI ANNO XV ECFRIDI REG CEOLFRIN AABB EIUSDEM Q ECCLES DO AUCTORE CONDITORIS ANNO IIII." "The dedication of the church of St Paul on the 9th of the Kalends of May in the fifteenth year of King Egfrith and the fourth year of Ceolfrith, abbot, and with God's help, founder of this church." The Anglo-Saxon Chancel In the Chancel there are three splayed Saxon windows, the middle window still contains Saxon glass made in the Monastic workshops. An ancient chair, which is believed to have been S t Bede's, is on display here and on the north side of the Chancel you are able to sit in the late fifteenth century choir stalls. Exhibition of Sculpture There is a unique collection of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture on display in the North Aisle of the church, the three wooden sculptures 'The Risen Ascended Christ', 'The Venerable Bede' and 'St. Michael and the Devil' are the work of the local and well-known artist Fenwick Lawson. The Monastic Site Outside of the church are the remains of the domestic buildings of the Monastery. The standing ruins dating mostly from the eleventh century. Visitor Information about St Paul's Church As I wrote in my opening paragraph the church is working Parish church with daily worship and everyone is welcome to join the service however it is also open daily for visitors. Visitors to the Church and Monastery are welcome free of charge however there is a small Piety Stall in the Narthex of the church selling books, pens, postcards and other small souvenirs and all donations are gratefully accepted (it is hoped that all visitors donate £1 towards the upkeep of the buildings). The monastery is one of the best-understood Anglo-Saxon monastic Sites, it is owned by the Church of England, is in the guardianship of English Heritage, and is managed by Bede's World Museum (Tel: 0191 489 2106 for details) approximately three minutes walk through Druids Park from St Paul's, members of English Heritage receive discounted entry to Bede's World. You could become a member of "The Friends of St. Paul", annual subscription is £5 (concessions and under 18 years old £3) a year payable on 1st January and all membership money goes directly towards the upkeep of the buildings. Opening times are: Monday to Saturday 10.00am to 4.30pm Sunday 2.30pm to 4.30pm Special services can be arranged in advance for Parishe s or Groups who make a Pilgrimage to St Paul's For Information about St Paul's contact: St Andrew's House, Borough Road, Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, NE32 5BL Telephone (0191) 489 3279 or (0191) 489 7052 How to get there: Jarrow lies on the South Bank of the River Tyne and approximately seven miles from Newcastle. To find St Paul's Church by car from the South take the A19 and exit right at the roundabout at the Tyne Tunnel entry, follow the signs for South Shields and take the first left onto Church Bank, St Paul's Church is located half way up Church Bank. Coming from the North take the second exit of the roundabout as soon as you come out of the Tyne Tunnel, follow the signs for South Shields and take the first left onto Church Bank.

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