English Churches - Northumberland
Grace Darling and a reredos with all the Northumbrian
is a pleasant small village of stone houses built round a
triangular green, dominated by the massive Bamburgh Castle.
St Aidanís church is a long, low building with a squat tower. The chancel with its pointed roof dominates the nave and south aisle with its lower, flat roof. Most people immediately associate the church with the burial place of Grace Darling but it is also where St Aidan died and was buried.
There has been a church on this site since the C7th when St Aidan arrived as Bishop of Lindisfarne. The original church was built of wood and burnt down many times during the Viking raids. Aidan died here in 651 and the spot is marked by a small memorial stone at the north west corner of the chancel. The first stone church was built in 1100 and was rebuilt in the C13th as a monastery church for the Augustinians. The chancel is large as it was needed to accommodate all the canons during services.
During the C19th restoration the C13th crypt was rediscovered with the coffins of the Foster Family who owned Bamburgh. It is thought this may originally have been built to hold the relics of St Aidan.
The church is surrounded by a large graveyard, containing many old gravestones.
The splendid memorial tomb of Grace Darling is surrounded by iron railings and a tall canopy which was designed to be large enough to be seen by boats at sea. The story of Grace Darling is still strong in Bamburgh and even on a cold January day there was a steady stream of visitors to look at her memorial.
Inside, it is a huge church with slender round pillars with pointed arches separating the nave from the side aisles. On the walls are four diamond shaped wooden hatchments. Three have arms of members of the Forster family. The fourth is the arms of the First Lord Armstrong who rebuilt Bamburgh Castle. The south aisle is nearly as wide as the nave and has a low round transept arch leading into the transept with the organ.
The north aisle is narrower and contains the original statue from the Grace Darling Memorial which was moved into the church as it was becoming badly eroded. On the west wall next to it is the splendid Sharp Memorial erected by Frances Sharp in memory of her grandfather, two uncles and husband (in that order) with a carving of herself above.
In the north Transept is St Oswaldís Chapel. This was originally a chantry chapel endowed for the saying of prayers for the soul of Thomas de Bamburgh. It now has a small altar with a painted wood picture of St Oswald and St Aidan. The Grace Darling Memorial window is on the north wall. On the east wall is the window ĎIn Honour of Womení, featuring women saints and reformers.
A narrow pointed chancel arch has a squint on the south side with a stone motif of thorns. This let people in the south aisle see the High Altar.
Just inside the chancel, on the left side, is the tablet marking the spot where St Aidan died in 651. Hanging above is a clear cylinder containing a small cross. St Bede describes Aidan as dying against a wooden beam in a shelter built for him outside his church. Above the font at the back of the church is a large forked beam. This is reputed to be part of the original church of St Aidan and said to be the beam he died against.
The Chancel is dominated by the splendid stone reredos which takes up most of the east wall. This was carved in 1895 and celebrates the Saints of Northumbria, with the size of the carvings giving a hierarchy of importance. There is an information guide in the church identifying them all and gives some of their history. At the top, the figures of St Oswald and St Aidan dwarf the rest who include St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, who hosted the Synod of Whitby in 663 which confirmed the supremacy of Rome over the Celtic church. Below, St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are the largest.
The tall narrow early English windows at the east end have the image of Christ in the centre with St Cuthbert and St james on either side. The other stained glass windows in the chancel have images of other saints.
On the north wall is the Forster family memorial. Next to it is the armour belonging to Ferdinando Forster who was killed in a fight in Newcastle.
The church is open daily and there is parking nearby.
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