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Medieval chapel and associated building on St Cuthbert's Isle

A Scheduled Monument in Holy Island, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.6678 / 55°40'4"N

Longitude: -1.8059 / 1°48'21"W

OS Eastings: 412308.773335

OS Northings: 641609.137928

OS Grid: NU123416

Mapcode National: GBR H2TX.T2

Mapcode Global: WHC05.7S9T

Entry Name: Medieval chapel and associated building on St Cuthbert's Isle

Scheduled Date: 1 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014485

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24610

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Holy Island

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Holy Island St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the remains of a post-Norman Conquest medieval chapel
situated on St Cuthbert's Isle 175m south west of Holy Island. The chapel and
its western annexe are stone built. Immediately around the chapel and annexe
is a slight earthwork bank and beyond, to the north, east and south, is a
gently sloping semicircular platform defined by a ditch. To the north west of
the chapel is a low earthwork mound thought to be associated with earlier use
of the island as a retreat. To the south east are the remains of a stone built
building which it has been suggested may have been a cell or dwelling place of
the priest attached to the chapel. The chapel, annexe and building to the
south east were surveyed and partly excavated by Sir William Crossman in
A chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert is mentioned by Bede (AD 673-735) and
described as being in the outer precincts of the Anglo-Saxon monastery; it is
believed to refer to this island. The island was used by Cuthbert (c.AD
630-687) and his successor Eadberht as a retreat. It has been suggested that
the Anglo-Saxon retreat might be comparable with that described by Bede on
Farne, and comprise a cell and an oratory or chapel for private prayer, and
possibly an enclosure.
The chapel, possibly on the site of an earlier oratory, is thought to date
in its present form to the 13th century AD. It is rectangular in plan and
measures 9m east-west by 5.8m north-south with walls 0.75m wide and now
standing to a maximum height of 0.8m. There is an entrance 2m wide in the
south wall and a threshold stone is visible through the turf. At the east end
of the chapel is a modern wooden cross. Attached to the west wall of the
chapel is a rectangular annexe, orientated north-south, which measures 5.3m
east-west by 10.75m north-south with walls 0.85m thick and standing to a
maximum height of 0.95m. The southern section of the west wall of the annexe
has collapsed. The annexe appears to have two entrances in its east wall; the
northern entrance measures 1.3m wide, the southern one 1.8m wide. At the south
entrance a threshold stone is visible through the turf cover which bears the
letters CK or CR carved on its internal vertical face. Each entrance from the
annexe leads to a platform 0.75m high on the north and south sides of the
chapel; on the north side the platform measures 5.9m at its widest point. The
walls of the annexe and chapel are constructed of small random rubble bonded
with mortar. Beyond the south wall of the annexe is a ditch 1m wide and a bank
0.5m high which flatten to the east.
The platform on which the chapel stands is partly delineated on the north,
east and south sides by a ditch 0.85m wide and up to 0.4m deep. There is stone
lining visible on both faces of the ditch and it has the appearance of a
drain; the ditch was described in 1888 as a rough whinstone wall and it was
suggested it might be a breakwater. More recently it has been suggested that
this feature may be an earlier enclosure associated with an oratory and part
of the retreat mentioned by Bede. To the north west of the chapel, 4m from the
annexe, is a sub-circular mound measuring c.5m north-south by c.4.5m east-west
which has been interpreted as the remains of a circular cell and again part
of the retreat mentioned by Bede. At the south east corner of the island, 7.6m
from the ditch around the chapel, are the foundations of a rectangular
structure which has been interpreted as the dwelling place of the priest
attached to the chapel. The overall dimensions of the building are 6.9m
east-west by 5.4m north-south, the western wall stands to a height of 0.65m.
The north wall is interrupted by two bays, each 1.1m wide. The east and west
walls are 0.65m wide, the west wall has been thickened at a later date to 1m
wide. The building is constructed of random rubble bonded with mortar. The
southern side of the building is obscured by boulders placed there as a
breakwater. When the building was excavated in 1888 the stonework was
described as beautifully cut and accurately laid and a wall divided the room
into two; some large slabs are still visible today on the northern side. It
has been suggested that some earlier foundations on the site relate to the
site of St Cuthbert's own cell. A plan of the excavations in 1888 shows the
remains of a paved causeway which links the platform around the chapel with
the building at the south east corner of the island.
The chapel is believed to be that of St Cuthbert-in-the-Sea which is
mentioned in medieval documents relating to Lindisfarne Priory. An inventory
of the chapel exists from 1533. Previous digging on the island, before 1888,
had removed some stones, one of which may have been a small Saxon gravestone.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre-
Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were
generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation
for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and
contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built
between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for
the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish
church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial
lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status
residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were
established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some
chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of
which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their
communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry
chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in
the 1540s.
Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the
landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being
nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively
identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often
left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the
nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

The post-Norman Conquest medieval chapel and its associated buildings on St
Cuthbert's Isle survive well and will retain significant archaeological
deposits. The site has been identified as one of the earliest ecclesiastical
foundations in the north east of England and was an important part of the
spiritual life of the Christian community on Lindisfarne. It will contribute
to the study of the development of Christianity in this area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
O'Sullivan, D, Young, R, Lindisfarne, Holy Island, (1995), 42-3
Beavitt, P , 'Northern Archaeology' in Fieldwork on Lindisfarne, Northumberland, 1980-1988, , Vol. 8, (1987), 21-22
Crossman, W, 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle' in St Cuthbert's Island, , Vol. 2 ser 3, (1889), 408-409
Crossman, W, 'History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club' in Plan of St Cuthbert's Island, , Vol. 13, (1890)

Source: Historic England

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