RELICS OF THE SAXON PERIOD AT ST.PAUL’S.
The Saxon chancel was the first stone building to be built by the monks in 681 after the land for the monastery was given by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria. Built with stones taken from the nearby Roman fort of Arbeia and Hadrian’s wall at Wallsend, the chancel was originally a self-contained chapel dedicated to Our Lady. Over the years the chancel has undergone changes such as enlarging some of the windows. The biggest alteration was probably the erection of the Norman tower, when the east wall of the tower became the west wall of the chancel and the tower arch gave access from the chancel through to the south nave of the church.
The original Saxon aumbry is set into the south wall of the chancel in the sanctuary area, close to the east wall and to the right of the high altar, the position of which was specified by King Ecgfrith. It is round headed and cut from a single stone in similar fashion to the Saxon windows.
It is the original dedication stone laid at the church’s dedication on 23rd. April 685, and is now built into the west wall of the tower arch. Prior to this it was placed in the north wall of the Saxon nave, but moved to its present location at the restoration of 1783. The reading is as follows : –
SCI PAVLI V1111 KL MAI
ANNO XV EGFRIDI REG
CEOLFRIDI ABB EIVSDEMO
ECCLES DO AVCTORE
CONDITORIS ANNO 1111″
The translation from Latin is as follows : –
” The dedication of the church of St. Paul on the 9th. of the Kalends of May ( 23rd. April) in the 15th. year of King Ecgfrith and in the 4th. year of Ceolfrith, Abbot, and with God’s help, founder of this church”.
TREE OF LIFE FRIEZE.
Part of a frieze showing a vine scroll inhabited by two birds.
FRIEZE SHOWING HUNTER AND BEAST.
Part of a frieze showing a plant scroll inhabited by an archer among interlacing work with his bow and arrow pointed upwards towards a beast.
It is not certain what their purpose was in the original church building, but the baluster shafts may have been used to enclose an alter area in a similar fashion to those used in contemporary Roman churches. They measure 28″ X 11″.
The Saxon stone cross was found in 1866 by Sir George Gilbert Scott whilst doing excavations for the Victorian restoration work on the church. The above two sections were found, but the head of the cross is missing. It is thought that the cross may have been built into the original east wall of the church. It is now on display in the north aisle of the church.
The Latin inscription reads as follows :- ” In hoc singulari signo vita redditur mundo” — ” In this unique sign life is restored to the world”
The three Saxon windows shown above are located in the south wall of the chancel. They are splayed internally, but not on the outside. Internal splaying is a feature of Anglo Saxon windows of the earliest period. The eastern most window still has its inserted stone slab and the early Victorian glass depicts St. George and the Dragon. This was no doubt placed there to commemorate the day of the church’s dedication, April 23rd. ( St. George’s day )
The central window also retains its original inserted slab of stone with its small circular light only 7″ in diameter. This now contains fragments of Saxon glass found to the south of the main building in a 1973/74 archaeological dig by Durham University students under the supervision of Dame Rosemary Cramp.
The window to the west of the three has been opened out at the Victorian restoration of 1866 and contains Victorian glass depicting St. Paul.
The Saxon glass window photograph enlarged. The glass is the oldest recorded fragments found to date
The monastic ruins to the south of the church building are a mixture of Saxon, Norman and post Norman buildings. The doorway shown in above photograph is an illustration of the Saxon architecture on the site.