About this church
Bede received his education from the age of seven at St Paul's monastery, which was founded in 682 by Ceolfrith, an Anglo Saxon abbot and saint. Its superb library, assembled by Benedict Biscop on his travels to Rome, soon turned it into the cradle English art and literature.
Drawing on these resources, Bede's writings became so celebrated in the 8th century that they assured the reputation of the monastery, which sadly now lies in ruins at the south side of the church that exists to this day.
The dedication stone of St Paul's church, set above the chancel arch and facing you as you enter the west door, declares the date of 687 AD, making it the oldest such stone in the country. As you pass into the chancel, you will see an Anglo Saxon window on the south side, inset with a circular pane holding fragments of 7th century stained glass, the oldest in the world. Sharing this space are 20th century windows by the artists John Piper and Leonard Evetts, which somehow make the great age of the chancel, the oldest part of the building, even more palpable.
In the north aisle you can see the Saxon Cross, excavated by the Victorians when digging the foundations for a nave to replace the Saxon Norman nave, which had collapsed. Some fine early sculptured stones are also to be admired. Another modern piece, a wonderful sculpture of the risen Christ, carved from a single tree, seems to soar above the nave, with no visible means of support.
Just seven miles away and founded 13 years earlier, Wearmouth (or Monkwearmouth) Monastery on the River Wear in Sunderland is coupled with Jarrow as a twin foundation monastery, with the formal name of The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul, Wearmouth-Jarrow. Both monasteries were destroyed by the Danes in about 860 and were probably abandoned by the end of the century, ending a golden age of early Christian scholarship.