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 28. Sunderland (2) The Historic St Peter's Church Monkwearmouth


See also 31a. Bede's World Museum, Jarrow and 31b. St Paul's Church and Monastery, Jarrow

The Church of St Peter (with St Cuthbert), Monkwearmouth dates from the late 7th century and so is one of the oldest churches in England with a working life of over 1300 years! Founded in Saxon times during the great age of Northumbria 'Celtic' Christianity. In the 8th and 9th centuries the monastery here was one of the greatest in England and influenced much of England and parts of Europe too. It was in Monkwearmouth St Peter's monastery the St Bede began his monastic life. The Anglo-Saxon Wearmouth monastery flourished for two hundred years after its foundation in AD 674 by St Biscop as a highly significant important centre of Christian learning and culture, including the production of religious manuscripts, the first stained glass and artwork decorating the church walls. Seven years later in AD 681 Bishop Biscop founded the church and monastery at Jarrow.

 PLEASE leave a donation and/or purchase the excellent guidebook available to help with the upkeep of this fine ancient historic church, which I may say, is beautifully looked after and the visitor afforded a most friendly and helpful welcome!


The top section of the tower showing the Romanesque style of the late 11th Century windows. The tower is all that remains of Benedict's Wearmouth monastery. At the end of the 9th century the Anglo-Saxon Christian based culture came under threat, and ultimately, direct attack by raiding Viking warriors and in due cause the monastery at Wearmouth was destroyed.


The west wall and west tower of St Peters'. The lowest section of the tower and the porch, incredibly, date from the late 7th century. Higher up on the tower, above the porch entrance, is a badly eroded figure of a man, probably a statue of Christ or St Peter, the church's patron saint. The middle section of the tower is 9th or 10th century. The upper part of the tower is probably early Norman from the late 11th century.  Apart from the tower, most of the rest of the church is relatively modern, much from the Victorian work of the 1870's. In the late 11th century, under Norman 'rule', St Peter's became a 'cell' of the monastery of Durham and the rebuilt church was the parish church as well as the monastic church. The monastic tradition lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the late 1530's under King Henry VIII, but the church has continued in use as the 'local' church until the present time. In the 18th century the great Methodist preacher John Wesley visited St Peter's on many occasions and a frequent guest of the vicar-priest the Rev. Thomas Godday as well as preaching in the church itself.


Looking through the Saxon west door and porch, down the nave to the chancel and east window. Traces of carving survive but they are not easy to make out. The Venerable Bede would have, and other Saints, regularly passed through this door as part of his monastic training and education prior to his work as priest, teacher and author of important books on all subjects.


The head of a tombstone, possibly that of a Knight Templar.


Looking down the nave towards the chancel, sanctuary, altar and east window with the arcades and columns of the north aisle on the left. During the 19th century the church was substantial reconstruction and reorganisation. The fine chancel arch, dividing the nave and chancel, would have been Norman but its replacement is fine simple piece of masonry.


The three modern stained glass windows by L. C. Evans after WWII in the north wall of the north aisle of the nave which was added to the church in 1874.


1. Saint Ceolfrith 2. Saint Hilda 3. Saint Benedict Biscop 4. Saint Francis

by Mike Davis

The stained glass windows 1. to 3. are in the north wall of the nave and 4. is in the west end of the south wall.

From left to right

1. St Ceolfrith succeeded St Biscop at Wearmouth monastery on the latter's death in AD 689

2. St Hilda was a Northumbrian noblewoman who eventually founded, and became Abbess of Whitby.

3. St Benedict Biscop (St Benet) was a Northumbrian nobleman by birth and after his conversion to Christianity he made his first pilgrimage to the holy city of Rome aged only 25. He returned to build a new monastic community which, with support of Egfrith, King of Northumbria, was started on this site in AD 674 and a new monastery emerged at Wearmouth.

4. St Francis, a Catholic priest who lived from ~1181 to 1226 and most familiarly known as the patron saint of animals, in this window, acknowledged in terms of this location, most appropriately by seagulls!


View from the north-west corner of St Peters', between the pillars of the aisle bays, towards the chancel arch, nave and the south wall windows.


The chancel, sanctuary, altar and east window.


More detailed picture of the altar and the sanctuary.


Details of the lovely east window - stained glass by L. C. Evetts that replacing the Victorian stained glass by Kempe damaged in the Second World War. From left to right they are:

St Aidan, a Celtic missionary who brought Christianity who brought Christianity to Northumbria (Lindisfarne monastery) from Iona

The Venerable Bede, famous scholar, teacher and historian and a native of Wearmouth.

St Peter, part founder of the Church of Rome and patron saint of this church.

St Paulinus was a Roman missionary who was the first, but unsuccessful, missionary to wild Northumbria!

St Cuthbert was a 7th century Celtic monk and Bishop of Lindisfarne.


After an arson attack in 1984 the chancel roof was destroyed but superb restoration work of the earlier Victorian ceiling has produced this wonderful new roof ceiling which is meant to represent heaven via the words Jesus spoke to Peter declaring him the "rock on which I shall build my church' and giving him "the keys to the kingdom of heaven".


Looking west down the nave from the chancel towards the west wall and the amazing 7th-10th century stone walling of the tower on the left. The small door leads into the Saxon porch.


A window in the south wall of the chancel is dedicated to the Royal Naval Association (NRA) and consists of biblical and maritime symbols.


The St Michael and St George stained glass west window is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the First World War.


After a thorough and most interesting tour of the church, Bede's Bakehouse Cafe completed the fine hospitality of St Peter's Church and an extra study of the guidebook (Bede would approve!) and washed down with a mug of coffee, a fine helping of chocolate pudding and custard. Not sure what Bede would make of the latter!

What a great historic church to attend for a church service or part of an audience attending a concert.

SUNDERLAND INDEX 27. Sunderland (1) River Wear Bridges, Monkwearmouth Station & Museum * 28. Sunderland (2) St Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth * 29. Sunderland (3) National Glass Centre, River Wear & Harbour Views * 30. Sunderland (4) St Andrew's Church, Roker * 32 Sunderland (5) The Winter Gardens

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See also 31a. Bede's World Museum, Jarrow

and 31b. St Paul's Church and Monastery, Jarrow

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