English Churches - Northumberland
A large and impressive C15th church
|St Michael's Church is on the edge of the town near the castle, on top of the hillside overlooking the river.
There may have been a church on this site in the C8th, although the first record of a church is in the late C12th. Nothing remains of this building, apart from a few studded stones on either side of the chancel arch. The church was badly damaged during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early C14th and was rebuilt around 1460. All that remains of this building is part of the west and north walls.
By the C15th, the church was in a poor state of repair. Henry VI granted financial aid for the rebuilding using tolls from the port at Alnmouth. This explains the splendid building which is regarded as one of the most outstanding churches in the county.
Much of the present building dates from this rebuild when the chancel was extended, clerestory and tower added. The unusual look out tower at the south east corner, with a winding stair to the roof, was used to warn of raiders during the Border conflicts. It was again used in the early C19th when a landing by Napoleonís army was feared and a series of beacons were set up around the country.
There was a major restoration of the church in the mid C19th by the fourth Duke of Northumberland when the plaster was removed from the walls and ceiling and the west gallery removed. He also gave the oak pews seen in the chancel.
A sacristy and choir vestry (now the parish room) were added to the north wall in the late C19th.
From the outside it is a very attractive church, set in a large graveyard. It has a typical squat Northumbrian square tower at the south west corner. Entry is through the south porch.
Just inside the door, beneath the tower are early medieval grave slabs.
On the window ledge near them are the remains of two statues discovered during the C18th restoration. These were probably thrown out during the Reformation. One is thought to be Henry VI and the other St Sebastian.
The inside is big with arcades of pillars with pointed arches separating nave and chancel from the side aisles. These are unusual as they stretch the full length of the chancel.
The heavy wood truss roof with small carved heads at the base of the beams, dates from the C19th restoration. Between the beams are small square clerestory windows with plain glass.
The modern black Kilkenny limestone font at the back of the nave was added in 2001.
On a pillar at the back of the nave is a memorial slab to officers and men who died in the South African War 1899-1901.
The Royal Coat of Arms of George III is above the north door.
The pillars of the chancel arcade are more delicate than those in the nave and have much more elaborately carved capitals with angels holding a shield with a frieze of fruit and leaves below. There are open carved wooden screens between the aisle chapels and the chancel.
The beautifully carved choir pews date from the C19th restoration. On the floor of the chancel are old grave slabs. The simple table altar in the chancel came from the castle in the 1980s and replaced a smaller altar.
The lovely east window has Christ in the centre with the four evangelists which their symbols on either side.
The side aisles have flat ceilings. The organ is in he north aisle. At the end of the north aisle adjacent to the chancel is St Catherineís Chapel which was refurbished by the eight Duke in memory of his father. It is now used for private prayer. The reredos with the Adoration of the Magi, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection dates from 1926.
At the end of the south aisle are two C14th stone effigies. The lady is thought to be that of LAdy Isabella, widow of William de Vesci, the last Baron of Alnwick. It is not known who the young man was. The identity of the male figure is unknown, although he may also have been a member of the de Vesci family.
The stained glass in the church is C19th.
The small lancet window at the back of the north aisle contains a small fragment of C14th stained glass representing a pelican plucking her breast to feed her young.
When I visited in March 2019, workmen were removing the front few rows of pews in the nave to open up the church for other activities.
I found the outside of the church more impressive than the inside. The church is open daily until 4pm. The post code is NE66 1NP and the grid reference NU 184137.
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