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Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Tue 09 Apr 2013
John M Virgoe - Pre-Conquest Churches, History and Archaeology

John is no stranger to our Society having visited us in 2005 when he spoke about Tide Mills and 2010, speaking about Basil Thomas Eccleston.
His welcome return was to give his presentation about Pre-Conquest Churches which demonstrated his wide range of subjects.
There are many post-Conquest churches which are well documented but the pre-Conquest period (generally called Saxon); say pre 1066 is not as easy to research due to lack of documentation and low number of churches.
Many churches that say they are ‘Saxon origin’ are rarely pre 12th century.


John setting up his laptop for the presentation


St Peter's, Heysham
of Saxon origin


Heysham, St Peter's, Hogback Stone.
It originally marked the grave of a Viking warrior but was brought into the Church in 1961 to protect it from the weather


Stone graves overlooking Morecambe Bay,
St. Patrick's Chapel, Heysham


Anglo-Saxon stone St Peter's, Heysham


Anglo-Saxon high cross, Gosforth


Parish Church of St Mary, Gosforth

There is some scant evidence of a Christian Church in the vicinity of Vindolanda near Hadrian’s wall but there no written evidence.
From 303 to 313 Christians were actively persecuted under Diocletianic and the Roman Empire. However, after Constantine in 317 (the first Roman emperor to be converted to Christianity) the faith was legalised.
One of the earliest known Christians was Patrick (born 387 in Scotland) who was abducted to Ireland, eventually returning to Scotland.
Churches were generally of wood and would not survive for long periods.
The founding of Abbeys began and early ones were:
429AD Bardsey,
563AD Iona, Mull,
635AD Lindisfarne, and
657AD Whitby.


Part of the Bayeux tapestry showing Bosham Church

The rise in Christianity took a blow when the Vikings raided Lindisfarne in 738 and the raids intensified in 860 culminating in the capture of York in 867.
However, during the 9th and 10th centuries the Vikings settled and became Christians.
Some features of pre-Conquest Churches are narrow windows and no pulpits.
Probably the best pictorially documented church is that of Holy Trinity, Bosham, East Sussex. It is mentioned by name in the Bayeux Tapestry, referring to the 1064 meeting of Harold and Edward the Confessor on the way to meet William of Normandy. It is also reputed to be the burial place of King Canute's daughter.

John described a fascinating and little know period of out religious history from the Romans to the Saxon/Norman overlap of Churches (1050 – 1125.)
A period which has many questions remaining to be answered.

B.H.