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St Patrick's early Christian chapel and associated cemetery, Lower Heysham

A Scheduled Monument in Heysham Central, Lancashire

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Latitude: 54.0475 / 54°2'50"N

Longitude: -2.9028 / 2°54'9"W

OS Eastings: 340986.876954

OS Northings: 461654.114018

OS Grid: SD409616

Mapcode National: GBR 8P5M.CV

Mapcode Global: WH845.CJZH

Entry Name: St Patrick's early Christian chapel and associated cemetery, Lower Heysham

Scheduled Date: 24 July 2001

Last Amended: 7 March 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020535

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34983

County: Lancashire

Electoral Ward/Division: Heysham Central

Built-Up Area: Heysham

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Heysham St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of St Patrick's
early Christian chapel together with its associated cemetery and rock-cut
graves. It is located on the exposed headland above the village of Heysham
and the chapel, together with the adjacent church of St Peter, represents
a Christian centre possibly founded here as early as the eighth century.
Local tradition states that St Patrick was shipwrecked off the coast
sometime in the fifth century and subsequently established a small chapel
here. The upstanding remains of the chapel consist of a two-phase
structure; to the west are six rock-cut graves while the main cemetery
lies to the south and south west of the chapel with two more rock-cut
graves to the south east of the chapel.

St Patrick's Chapel is constructed of sandstone rubble with consolidation
work carried out in 1903 using stone tiles. The upstanding remains are
largely those of the chapel's second phase of construction. It is
trapezoidal in plan with internal dimensions of 7.1m east-west by 2.2m at
the west end increasing to 2.75m at the east end. The east wall stands to
gable height of about 5.5m and was built over a squarish hole cut into the
rock which is interpreted as a socket hole for an earlier cross. The north
wall of the chapel survives best at the north east corner where it stands
3.45m above the foundations which here extend to a depth of almost 1m to
give support where the ground falls sharply away. The west wall has gone
completely; all that survives are the footings of the first phase of
construction. The south wall survives only in its central part and stands
up to 3.4m high. An arched doorway built with through stones in long and
short work is typical of Anglo-Saxon style with both the internal and
external faces of the arch being formed by single decorated stones, the
external with three cusped ridges, the internal with a single hollow
moulding. To the east of the door there is a straight joint indicating the
possible position of a window last documented as partially remaining in

A group of six rock-cut graves have been cut into an eminence of millstone
grit to the west of the chapel. Five of the graves have sockets for cross
shafts and a primary date for them on the site appears likely given the
sealing of another cross shaft socket beneath the east wall of the phase
two chapel. The graves are orientated west-east but are cut sufficiently
shallow and narrow as to render difficult the internment of a normal
corpse and may thus have held disarticulated bones. Traces of the
foundations for a wall depicted on 19th century drawings on the north and
west sides of these graves are still visible. To the south east of the
chapel are a further two rock-cut graves on a small eminence of bedrock.
They deviate slightly from a west-east orientation, which may hint at an
early date.

Excavations undertaken in 1977-78 found the remains of an earlier
stone-built chapel beneath the present structure. Its internal dimensions
are 4m long by 2.2m at the west end increasing to 2.4m at the east end. A
stone platform the width of the chapel survives outside the west end of
the building suggesting to the excavators that a doorway existed in the
west wall. There was considerable evidence that the early chapel had been
rendered internally and externally with decorated plaster. Excavation also
revealed that the cemetery contained the remains of about 80 men, women
and children located predominantly in three areas where the bedrock was
sufficiently deep enough to allow a shallow covering of soil. The west
cemetery is contained in a small hollow measuring about 8m by 2m. Thirteen
burials were found, with two phases; the majority belonging to the first
phase. Some lay in stone-lined tombs while others were intered within
crevices in the bedrock. The central cemetery lay in a natural hollow in
the bedrock about 4m wide extending southwards from the chapel. Fifty two
burials were located, many fragmentary. The most notable was a female
thought to have been wrapped in a shroud with whom was placed a bone comb
of Anglo-Scandinavian type with parallels from 10th/11th century contexts
found elsewhere. Two graves were stone-lined and two others lay beneath
stone slabs. A few nails from some burials may imply the use of coffins.
Excavations also located evidence of a wall of two phases enclosing the
central cemetery. Its north wall ran between the central and western
cemeteries and is aligned with the platform of the phase one chapel
suggesting contemporaneity. The wall had a door or gateway with a small
central posthole. Other fragmentary traces suggest the wall enclosed a
burial ground with maximum dimensions of about 12m north-south by 6m
east-west. A flight of four steps running parallel to the chapel's south
wall and leading from the south door and down to the east cemetery are
also considered to belong to an early phase. The cemetery wall was later
wholly or partly rebuilt predominantly on the same alignment as the
earlier wall, however, the south wall of the second phase shortened the
cemetery by 2m. The east cemetery is located in a hollow measuring about
5.5m by 2.5m. It contained 13 burials mostly in two distinct stratified
layers. A series of five graves were lined and covered with stones. One of
these five included a stone with a magnificently carved bird's head which
had been reused by being placed face down and used as the head of a grave.
The carving has been tentatively dated as belonging to the late 7th/early
8th centuries. Another of the graves was covered with a large stone slab.
Overall the elaborate stone-built graves are comparatively late in the
history of the site and must have been prominent visible features. Ten
burials were also located within the chapel, all belonging to phase two or
later. Of these two were located in stone-lined graves. Three of the
burials from St Patrick's were radiocarbon dated and gave calibrated dates
ranging from between AD 970-1185 (one sigma). It is not known precisely
when the chapel and cemetery fell into desuetude. The radiocarbon dates
suggest abandonment by the 12th century, and possibly prior to the Norman
Conquest, and the excavators suggest a link between the decline of St
Patrick's with the expansion of neighbouring St Peter's in the
post-Conquest period.

St Patrick's Chapel, the six rock-cut graves to the west and the two
rock-cut graves to the south east are all Listed Buildings Grade I All
19th century walls are excluded from the scheduling although the ground
beneath them is included. However, the 19th century foundation
strengthening of the north wall of the chapel is included in the

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

An early Christian chapel is a purpose-built structure, usually rectangular
and often comprising a single undivided room, which contained a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the early
medieval period (c.AD 400-1100). Until the seventh century, such chapels were
mostly constructed of wood, often being replaced in stone at a later date. The
Venerable Bede (c.673-735) provides an account of the transition from wooden
to stone building in Northumbria, and there are references in the saints'
vitae and in early Irish sources to the various building traditions. They are
mainly restricted to the northern and western parts of England.
A number of early Christian chapels have been found to be located at earlier
burial sites, the grave of a saint or ecclesiastical founder providing the
focal point. Chapels of this early period are sometimes referred to as
oratories. In all cases, however, the chapels would have served as a place of
prayer for a religious community, in some cases located within an early
monastic site and set with other buildings in an enclosure called a vallum
monasterii. Early Christian chapels of this type and function should be
distinguished from the later parochial chapels of the medieval period which
served a secular community, and were mostly designed for larger congregational
worship. Certain of the early chapels which became identified with particular
saints became places of veneration for medieval pilgrims, and, such was the
desire to be buried close to the relics of the saint, that the burial
tradition often continued in proximity to the chapel.
Many early chapels, with their strong associations with saints, will have been
subsumed within later and grander religious structures, and their survival in
anything like their original form is therefore rare. The remains of early
Christian chapels, where they can be positively identified, will contain
important archaeological information relating to the development of
Christianity, and all examples with significant surviving archaeological
remains are considered to be of national importance.

Early Christian cemeteries range in date from the fifth to the tenth
centuries during which time Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement
predominated. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are dated to the early Anglo-Saxon
period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries, with Viking cemeteries
common from the eighth century onwards. With the conversion to
Christianity during the late sixth and seventh centuries many of the pagan
cemeteries were abandoned in favour of new sites, some of which have
continued in use up to the present day. Burial practices include both
inhumation and cremation. The pagan practice of placing personal
belongings in the grave declined after the conversion to Christianity but
did not cease in its entirety. Early Christian cemeteries represent one of
the principal sources of archaeological evidence for the period between
the abandonment of Britain by the Romans and the Norman Conquest,
providing information on population, social structure and ideology.

St Patrick's early Christian chapel and its associated cemetery and
rock-cut graves, Lower Heysham, survives well and remains one of the best
examples in north west England of an early Christian chapel and cemetery.
It will contribute to any further study of the development and spread of
early Christianity in the region.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Potter, T W, Andrews, R D, 'Antiquaries Journal' in Excavation and Survey at St Patrick's Chapel and St Peter's Church, , Vol. 74, (1994), 55-134
Potter, T W, Andrews, R D, 'Antiquaries Journal' in Excavation and Survey at St Patrick's Chapel and St Peter's Church, , Vol. 74, (1994), 55-134
Potter, T W, Andrews, R D, 'Antiquaries Journal' in Excavation and Survey at St Patrick's Chapel and St Peter's Church, , Vol. 74, (1994), 55-134
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,

Source: Historic England

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