Welcome to 1,300 Year Old St. Peter’s, Wearmouth
Home of the Venerable Bede in the 7th century AD, part of the Anglo-Saxon Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery created in 673 AD.
St. Peter’s, built on land given by King Ecgfrith to St. Benedict Biscop in 673 AD, is the earlier of the twin site of Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery to come to life, and in the church can be seen the original carved stone within a reconstruction of the abbot’s seat among many artifacts uncovered during the 1960’s archaeological excavation conducted by Dame Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University.
Outside the present day church are low walls denoting the positions of the 7th century monastery originals preserved underneath. It is believed that there is still considerable archaeology to be discovered that has, hopefully, not been destroyed by the Viking raids, farming and industrial activity carried out in the 1,300 years since.
A guide to St. Peter’s is available when you visit.
This handy large-pocket sized guide by historian Guy Points costs only £3 and includes a timeline history of St. Peters.
The guide also includes a plan of the church with suggestions for your tour. One feature is a view of the church grounds where the footprint has been mapped out of the 8th century monastery buildings.
Look out for your copy at the entrance to the visitor centre when you visit St. Peter’s.
Many Northumbrian saints are connected with St. Peter’s Church along with the Venerable Bede, namely St. Hild, Abbess of Whitby, whom Bede describes as having entered convent life “on land to the north of the Wear”, and the abbots of the twin monastery: St. Benedict Biscop, the patron saint of Sunderland, St. Ceolfrid, St. Eosterwine, St. Hwaetbehrt and St. Sigfrid, and St. Lawrence, to whom a chapel was dedicated at St. Peter’s in the time of the abbots.
St. Benedict Biscop
Benedict Biscop (also referred to in ancient texts as Benet Biscop or Biscop Baducing) is the Patron Saint of Sunderland. He founded the monastery and library of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the 7th C and so is celebrated in services and activities here each year as well as having a stained-glass window dedicated to him.
Benedict Biscop’s Feast Day is 12th. January each year.
Benedict Biscop is the patron saint of painters and musicians.
History of St. Benedict
Of noble birth, in 653 AD St. Benedict left his service as courtier to King Oswiu of Northumbria to embark on a life of spirituality. After pilgrimages around Europe, including Rome, for many years he took his vows as a monk at Saint-Honorat, Lerins, where he stayed as a novice for two years before journeying to Rome again. Returning to Britain in 669 AD with the new Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Theodore, he was appointed as Abbot of St. Peter and St. Paul in Canterbury. After two years he returned to Rome to collect relics, works of art and manuscripts with which he could found a monastery at Wearmouth in the kingdom of Northumbria where the king had given him land.
Benedict created a building that was unique at the time in Britain – bringing in French workmen to create lead roofing, glass windows and detailed carving. Once work was under way St. Benedict returned for a fifth time to Rome and obtained from Pope Agatho’s collections an enormous academic treasure house of manuscripts to establish a library for heritage and teaching in Wearmouth. He also brought to Wearmouth John, the Abbot of St. Martin’s at Rome, who taught to monks the uncial hand – an elegant rounded script for use in creating manuscripts – as well as teaching the chants used for worship in the Roman liturgy. This new monastery was dedicated to St. Peter.
In an effort to spread Christianity even further St. Benedict obtained land (and no doubt support and protection) from King Ecgfrith of Northumbria on the south side of the river Tyne in Jarrow to build another new monastery. This new monastery was dedicated to St. Paul.
The twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow set a new standard in art, design, learning, ministry and worship. Benedict’s library and works of art were unrivaled in Britain.
Monasteries had been devout places in Britain up until this time, but they were remote, often barely accessible places such as on the islands of Iona or Lindisfarne. This ‘new model’ in Britain brought the Church onto the mainland and introduced a civilizing force of arts, worship and learning that encouraged studiousness and respect. His work began a new age in Britain that lead to further mainland monasteries being established and a re-establishment of civilisation based on cultural pursuits that filled a vacuum created by the collapse of Roman rule a few centuries beforehand. He is also widely accepted as the father of Benedictine monasticism in England.
Main Points in Bede’s Life
Venerable Bede is believed to have been born in either 672 or 673 AD in his own words “on the lands of this monastery” (St. Peter’s)
We only know him by the name Bede, we do not have a full name recorded anywhere
Bede, also spelled Baeda or Beda, died May 25, 735
Saint Bede was canonized in 1899
Saint Bede’s Feast Day is 25th. May each year.
Bede is the Patron Saint of English writers and historians
Bede is a Doctor of the Church – the only native of Great Britain who has achieved this designation
Bede is considered to be The Father of English History mostly due to his work Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, however he also wrote some 40 works of a scientific, historical and theological nature, demonstrating an academic mind that researched and wrote about everything from music and metrics to Scripture and tides: helping to bring an end to the ‘Dark Ages’
Bede is the only Englishman mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy [La Divina Commedia – Paradise (Paradiso X.130)]
History of Bede
Benedict Biscop’s Wearmouth-Jarrow monastery in it’s quiet, humble and devout way gave us today Venerable Bede (also spelled in a variety of sources as either Baeda or Beda). Venerable Bede himself opted to travel very little, preferring to live a cloistered, pious, studious lifestyle. The small scale of the 7th Century monastery he worshiped, studied and lived in compared to the enormous buildings as political statement following the Norman invasion and occupation of Britain was as equally important in it’s time as those building are today.
Bede advises us in his own hand that he was born (quite probably) in 672 AD in what is now modern day Sunderland (which he writes as Sonderlonde). At the age of 7, quite possibly because he had become an orphan, he was accepted into the monastery by Benedict Biscop for holy orders. It has been suggested that as Benedict Biscop had so many links to the Northern royal families of the time he did this because Bede was of noble birth. But as we know so little of Bede’s original circumstances and cannot find any documentary links to any families of the time it would be wrong to make such claims about his birth.
What is far more important about Bede are his achievements throughout his life. Despite being very reluctant to travel Bede is widely acknowledged as the father of modern history due to his many works, chiefly Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (“Ecclesiastical History of the English People”) and St. Peter’s, which was once the site of a spectacular scriptorium, is often visited by historians even today. The reason why he is given this honorary title is because he was meticulously careful to separate fact from legend and to cite his sources – an approach that historians still follow today.
Venerable Bede was one of the first to propose that we should have a calender that counted backwards and forwards from the birth of Christ, giving us the modern approach of dates as AD and BC. He was also involved in helping to set the date for Easter each year. So his work still affects us today. You can see a list of Bede’s works by clicking on this link. You can read more about Venerable Bede using the menu above to navigate around this website.
Venerable Bede even gave us the very word by which we are known as a people and for a language which we speak across the world – English