About this church
St Peter’s church and monastery was built on land given by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria in AD 674. It was founded by St Benedict Biscop, who built St Peter’s, Monkwearmouth and then St Paul’s, Jarrow, seven years later as 'one monastery in two places'. The west wall, tower and porch survive from the original saxon church. The carvings in the porch, though under threat of erosion, represent some the most precious extant artwork from those times.
Benedict Biscop brought masons, craftsmen and glaziers from the continent to build in the Roman design and a vast library from Rome to create a centre of study and a scriptorium where the Venerable Bede composed the output of his works.
This was the monastery on whose lands the Venerable Bede was born and it was here at Wearmouth that at the age of 7 he entered the schooling of the monastery. This was the time in the dark middle ages known as the Golden Age of Northumbria, when monastic communities spread from Ireland to Iona to Lindisfarne: from Rome via Canterbury to here.
The major achievement of the twin monastery, and its most renowned scholar Bede, was the output of literature from its saxon scriptorium. Particularly under the abbacy of Biscop’s successor, Ceolfrith, Wearmouth-Jarrow’s status grew as another Rome in its collection of sacred writings, which the monks exported throughout all of Europe. The most well known of these is the Codex Amiatinus, the earliest surviving one volume Latin vulgate text of the Bible, intended for presentation to the Pope by Ceolfrith himself.
Most of the monastic settlement lies under the churchyard of St Peter’s having been largely excavated and recorded by Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University in the 1960’s and covered over again for protection. She stated it was an unique interpretation of an Anglo Saxon site and no other site has been recreated in this way.Some of the stones and artefacts were unearthed and brought into the church where they can be seen on display today. The church recently had funding to research and raise the monastic footprint to show it in a more visual manner. There were also stained glass windows installed in the Bakehouse at the rear of the church depicting Bede's words and the four seasons within twelve windows.