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Finchale Priory Benedictine cell: hermitage, monastic precinct and site of priory watermill

A Scheduled Monument in Framwellgate Moor, County Durham

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Latitude: 54.8179 / 54°49'4"N

Longitude: -1.5407 / 1°32'26"W

OS Eastings: 429614.614703

OS Northings: 547101.661238

OS Grid: NZ296471

Mapcode National: GBR KDPQ.7Q

Mapcode Global: WHC4K.95LC

Entry Name: Finchale Priory Benedictine cell: hermitage, monastic precinct and site of priory watermill

Scheduled Date: 7 August 1916

Last Amended: 28 November 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007561

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23221

County: County Durham

Civil Parish: Framwellgate Moor

Traditional County: Durham

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): County Durham

Church of England Parish: Durham St Oswald

Church of England Diocese: Durham


Finchale Priory is situated on a bend of the River Wear north of Durham. The
monument includes the site of a hermitage established by St Godric in
c.AD 1115, the standing remains and precinct of the Benedictine cell founded
after St Godric's death in 1170, and the site of the priory mill. A line of
three monastic fishponds which formerly existed south of the area of the
scheduling is not included in the scheduling as the feature has been filled in
and further disturbed by the creation of a static caravan park.
Godric's biographers indicate that he lived at Finchale in a simple hut with a
turf roof and built a wooden chapel dedicated to St Mary. In c.1150 a stone
chapel was built dedicated to St John the Baptist and paid for by offerings
left by visitors to the hermitage. This chapel remains as a simple rectangular
structure, incorporated into the quire (choir) of the later priory church. The
earlier wooden chapel stood east of the north transept of the church and was
rebuilt in stone after Godric's death. In the mid-14th century it was
demolished, but its stone foundations survive as a buried feature. The remains
of the earlier wooden chapel are preserved underneath. The chapel of St John
the Baptist contains St Godric's tomb.
The earliest monastic remains are those of the temporary accommodation built
for the first monks in the late 12th century. These lie east of the later
buildings and include the upstanding remains of a hall with a central hearth,
a garderobe or privy and a separate room or solar to the north. The dorter or
sleeping quarters would have been on the first floor and the hall may also
have served as a refectory. Additional buildings lay to the south and their
foundations survive beneath the later prior's house. Further rooms were built
onto the north and east sides of the hall during the 13th century. The
function of this group of buildings, after the canons' permanent accommodation
was built, is uncertain but it may have been used as an infirmary.
The priory church and other cloister buildings were laid out in the period
between 1170 and 1237, and building-work continued into the 14th century. The
church was the first building to be constructed and its nave, which forms the
north range of the cloister, includes at its west end an original 13th century
doorway with three lancet windows above. It is cruciform in plan and
formerly had a low tower with a spire over the crossing. The crossing, where
the nave, transepts and quire intersect, was the only part of the church to be
vaulted. The north and south transepts contained chapels dedicated to St
Cuthbert and St Mary, and the latter has a large east window datable to
c.1300. The east arm of the church contains the quire and, at the east end,
the presbytery. The latter contained the high altar dedicated in 1239 to St
John the Baptist. Originally, the nave and quire had both north and south
aisles. However, to offset the cost of repairs and reduce the size of the
church, all but the south aisle of the nave were demolished and their arches
blocked to create new walls. Windows inserted into the blocked arches
accurately date this work to 1364 and 1365. In the case of the south aisle of
the nave, although the rear of the aisle was blocked up, the aisle itself was
not destroyed but was reused as the north walk of the cloister, replacing the
existing north walk which was demolished. At about the same time, the open
arcades enclosing the rest of the cloister were rebuilt with buttresses and
traceried windows. Only on the south side do the original bases remain,
showing the arches to have had twin-shafted columns. The east cloister range,
extending south from the south transept of the church, dates to the 13th
century with internal alterations carried out in the 15th century. The upper
storey contained the monks' dorter or dormitory and was served by a day stair
in the south west corner and a night stair that led down into the south
transept. On the ground floor was the chapter house, another chamber which may
have been a storeroom, and, between the two, three narrow rooms of uncertain
function which became incorporated into the prior's house in the 15th century.
The chapter house retains the stone benches lining its walls, and also the
prior's seat set beneath three original windows of which the centre one was
blocked in the 15th century and the others replaced. Built onto the south east
corner of the range is the re-redorter or latrine which would have been
flushed by a drain fed from the river. The same drain would have flushed the
monks' kitchen which lay to the south west, adjoining the south cloister
The south range was built in the early 14th century and includes, on the
ground floor, a vaulted undercroft used for cellarage, and, on the second
floor, the monks' frater or refectory. To the west is a separate suite with a
vaulted ground floor and a room, above which was altered in the 15th century
and may have been a guest house. Unusually, there is no west cloister range,
merely a 13th century screen wall pierced, in the 14th century, by a doorway.
Also in the 14th century, a square building with a vaulted ground floor was
built against the outside of the screen wall at its north end. To the east of
the cloister are the remains of a separate range of buildings which formed the
two-storey prior's house. Originally built in the 13th century, they included
a vaulted ground floor and an upper floor with separate rooms representing the
prior's hall, private room, offices and chapel. In the 15th century, an
entrance hall and kitchen was built onto the west end, joining it to the east
range of the cloister and incorporating part of it. What appears to have been
an entirely new building was built to the east and is interpreted as a
brewhouse and bakehouse. The house itself was greatly altered in the 15th
century, with the addition of fireplaces and new windows. According to the
priory's inventories, one room was given over to visiting monks and was known
as the Player Chamber; a reference to Finchale's special function as a retreat
for the monks of Durham cathedral. In addition to the main buildings, there
was a wide range of ancillary structures and features, all recorded in the
inventories. These included an orchard, a west and a south gate, a gate-
chapel, a byre, a granary, a smithy, a henhouse and a piggery, a farm and a
slaughterhouse. In addition there was a mill with a mill-dam across the River
Wear. The farmhouse and a barn of Finchale Abbey Farm, whilst altered and
added to in the 17th century, are medieval in origin and occupy the sites of
two of these buildings. The remains of others survive beneath the later farm
buildings and in the enclosure south of the ruins which also contains a
filled-in pond of probable modern date. Although the wall surrounding this
enclosure is also relatively modern, it is believed to occupy the line of a
monastic wall as medieval architectural features have been observed in the L-
shaped section at the south east corner where a building formerly stood. At
the north east corner, abutting the south cloister range, a rectangular
depression and the remains of a wall mark the position of a monastic
courtyard. In addition, the earthwork remains of medieval ridge and furrow
ploughing can be seen within the enclosure.
After St Godric's death, Finchale came under the control of the Prior and
Convent of Durham. It continued as a hermitage till 1196, occupied by two
monks from Durham. In that year, however, it was settled by Benedictine monks
and became a cell of the cathedral priory. It was a wealthy monastery due to
being a place of pilgrimage. However, the community was always small and,
during the 14th century, it became a retreat for the monks of Durham, four of
whom, in strict rota, would spend three weeks leave there in the company of
its five permanent inmates. This practice continued until the priory's
dissolution in 1538 and it is thought that most of the buidings fell out of
use in the 15th and 16th centuries. The site has been in State care since 1916
and the standing remains are a Grade I Listed Building. The farmhouse of
Finchale Abbey Farm is Listed Grade II* and the barn to the west is Grade II
A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling. These
are all existing roofed buildings, including those of Finchale Abbey Farm and
the chalets on the south side of the precinct, the fixtures and fittings of
the caravan site occupying the southern half of the precinct, the surfaces of
all paths, carparks and tracks, the silage pit in the farmyard, all railings
and modern fencing, the footings of the footbridge over the river and all
English Heritage fixtures and fittings, although the ground underneath all
these exclusions is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Finchale Priory is an important example of a small Benedictine house founded
to be a cell of Durham Cathedral. Its standing remains are extremely
well-preserved and provide a good illustration of a wide variety of monastic
buildings. The prior's house, which is unusually extensive, reflects the
monastery's particular function as a retreat for cathedral monks; a
role which appears to have been unique to Finchale and which demonstrates the
easier life led by monks in the later Middle Ages. In addition to the
upstanding remains, field survey and documentary evidence indicate the
survival of a wide range of ancillary buildings and features.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Peers, C, Finchale Priory, (1933)
Peers, C, Finchale Priory, (1933)
'Publications of the Surtees Society' in The Charters of Endowment, Inventories and Account Rolls..., , Vol. 2, (1837)
Hawkins, Rodney, F Priory Co.Durham: a study of the remains..outside (the GAM).., 1989, Dissertation project, Univ. Durham

Source: Historic England

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