A History of the County of Durham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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1. THE MONASTERY OF HARTLEPOOL
The ancient monastery at Hartlepool was founded about A.D. 640 by Hieu, a native of Ireland, under the auspices of St. Aidan. Hieu was the first of the saintly female recluses of Northumbria, (fn. 1) and the first also of the specially gifted women whom St. Aidan placed in charge of double religious houses for men and women. (fn. 2) Nothing is known of her parentage, but her ability as organizer and administrator is vouched for by St. Aidan's selection. (fn. 3)
After ruling the new monastery for a few years Hieu (fn. 4) retired in 649 to Tadcaster, and was succeeded by Hilda, (fn. 5) who, under the direction of Aidan and other learned men, established a regular and orderly monastic life at Hartlepool (Heorthu). (fn. 6) It seems probable that she had under her rule men as well as women; Bede speaks of male students in the monasteries of the Abbess Hilda, (fn. 7) and on the tombstones in the little cemetery of Hartlepool Monastery, which were excavated early in the nineteenth century, some names of men were found. (fn. 8)
In 655 King Oswi, in fulfilment of a vow made before the battle in which he defeated Penda, gave his daughter Elfleda, who had barely completed her first year, (fn. 9) to be consecrated to God in perpetual virginity, (fn. 10) and sent her to Hartlepool to the care of Hilda. Two years later (A.D. 657 or 658) Hilda, by Aidan's desire, (fn. 11) went south to found the house afterwards so renowned as Whitby Abbey, and took Elfleda with her. (fn. 12)
After her departure the monastery at Hartlepool is heard of no more, (fn. 13) but it is thought that it did not long survive. Such at least is the inference to be drawn from the discoveries made in the cemetery. (fn. 14) This was apparently only some 20 yards in length, and in it were two rows of interments, all, with two exceptions, those of females, and all lying, in pagan fashion, north and south. (fn. 15) The heads rested on pillowstones, and the appearance of the teeth shows that these Christians lived on the same kind of food as the pagans in Kent. Some bone pins, a bone needle, and a few pieces of coloured glass were found, and the tombstones were adorned with crosses. (fn. 16)
2. ST. HILDA'S FIRST MONASTERY
In the year 648 Hilda, being recalled from East Anglia to her own country by Bishop Aidan, received from him a hide of land (fn. 17) in the district north of the River Wear called Werhale or Wyrale, where for one year she led a monastic life with a very few companions; (fn. 18) but Hieu relinquishing her charge (fn. 19) in 649, Hilda at once abandoned her small monastery, and repaired to Hartlepool, where she became abbess. (fn. 20)
The site of her first monastery is not known, but it is thought that it may have been at South Shields, where St. Hilda's church now stands. (fn. 21) Churches in Northumbria were usually called after the saints who founded them, and certainly Hilda's name has clung with great pertinacity to this particular locality. The chapel there has always been called 'St. Hild's,' often with no other indication of locality; and the name clings to the spot in other ways, e.g. in the case of the 'St. Hild's fish,' so-called from 1402 to 1734. (fn. 22) Moreover, Bede speaks definitely of a monastery on the south side of the Tyne, near the mouth of the river, as existing in 651 (fn. 23) (i.e. only two years after St. Hilda left her establishment), and relates an anecdote of the brethren belonging to it. This same story occurs in a life of St. Cuthbert written about 1450, (fn. 24) where the site is thus described:—
. . . We rede
Be the telling of Saint Bede,
How sometime was a monastery
That eftir was a nonry [nunnery],
Bot a litil fra Tynemouth.
That mynster stode into the South,
Whare Saint Hilde Chapel standes nowe,
That it stode some tyme trewe.
Bede says the house was founded for men, but was afterwards changed, and filled with virgins only. (fn. 25) By 686 this change had taken place, for in his final visitation of his diocese Bishop Cuthbert
came to a monastery of virgins which, as has been shown above, was situated not far from the mouth of the River Tyne, where he was honourably welcomed by the religious, and, in a worldly sense, most noble handmaid of Christ, the Abbess Verca. (fn. 26)
An additional reason for thinking that this might well have been the site of St. Hilda's first house is afforded by the fact that it is thought to have been the birthplace of Oswin. (fn. 27)
Nothing is known of the ultimate fate of this monastery, and no trace of it has been found. It was probably wholly or partially destroyed by the Danes. (fn. 28)
3. GATESHEAD HOUSE
There appears to be no record of the foundation of this house, but it was in existence before A.D. 653. (fn. 29) At that time Uttan the priest, the brother of Adda, was abbot. (fn. 30) He was an illustrious presbyter, a man of great gravity and veracity, and on this account was honoured by all men, even by princes. (fn. 31) Bede tells how Uttan was sent (fn. 32) to Kent to bring thence a wife for King Oswi; how before starting he asked the prayers of Bishop Aidan for himself and his people on their long journey; and how Aidan foretold a great storm at sea, and gave him a flask of oil to pour on the waters, which when he had done the waves subsided. All which, says Bede, was told to a faithful priest of the church by Uttan himself. (fn. 33)
This monastery, which had a chapel of its own, is said to have been a cell to St. Bartholomew's, Newcastle, (fn. 34) and to have paid an annual rent to it of 2s. (fn. 35) Bourne says that Uttan's monastery stood where the present Gateshead House stands; (fn. 36) but the tradition in Leland's time placed it where afterwards was the site of St. Edmund's Hospital. (fn. 37)
4. THE NUNNERY OF EBCHESTER
The nunnery at Ebchester was founded in or before the year 660 by St. Ebba. (fn. 38) She was the daughter of Ethelfrid, king of Northumbria, and was dedicated as a virgin by Finan, formerly bishop of Lindisfarne. (fn. 39) With the help of her brother, King Oswi, (fn. 40) she built a monastery on the banks of the River Derwent in the bishopric of Durham, (fn. 41) at the spot where the little village of Ebchester now stands. (fn. 42)
Ebba did not remain long to preside over her nuns, but was called to be abbess of Coldingham, where she died in 683. (fn. 43) The monastery, however, continued to flourish until the time of the Danish invasion, when it is said to have been utterly destroyed. (fn. 44)
5 AND 6. THE MONASTERIES OF WEARMOUTH AND JARROW
The two foundations of Wearmouth and Jarrow were so closely connected in their early history that, to use the expression of Simeon of Durham, they seem to have been one monastery built upon two sites. They are several times mentioned in the singular number, as the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul. (fn. 45) To deal with them separately would involve so much repetition that it seems better to treat of the two under one heading.
In the latter part of the seventh century Benedict Biscop, on arriving in England from his third journey to Rome, went to the court of Egfrid, king of Northumbria. He there exhibited the relics and literary treasures he had acquired abroad, and found such favour in the king's eyes that Egfrid forthwith gave him 70 hides of land out of his own estates lying at the mouth of the River Wear. On this site Benedict, at the king's desire, established a monastery in the year 674. (fn. 46)
Desiring to have everything of the best, he engaged masons from France to build a stone church, which he dedicated to St. Peter, and glass-workers from the same country to glaze the windows of the church, cloisters, and refectory. Within a year matters had progressed so far that Benedict was able to celebrate mass in the new building; and, having laid down rules for the government of the monastery, he started on his fourth journey to Rome. On his return he brought back, amongst other treasures, a number of sacred pictures which he hung in the church to teach the truths of the gospel story to those who could not read. With him came John, arch-chanter of St. Peter's at Rome, to instruct the English monks in the Roman method of chanting, singing, and ministering in the church. (fn. 47) At the request of King Egfrid Pope Agatho granted to Benedict a letter of privilege by which his monastery was for ever secured from all manner of foreign invasion. (fn. 48)
Delighted at the abbot's religious zeal, the king now gave him forty hides of land on the south side of the River Tyne. Here in 681 he began to build a monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow. (fn. 49) While retaining the headship of both his monasteries, which, in fact, formed but one institution, (fn. 50) Benedict made Ceolfrid abbot of Jarrow under himself, and when he left England on his fifth journey to Rome he placed Easterwin in charge of the house at Wearmouth. (fn. 51)
Ceolfrid arrived at Jarrow in the autumn of 681, with a band of twenty-two (fn. 52) brethren (ten priests and twelve laymen); hastily put up the necessary buildings for their shelter, and began to train them in monastic discipline. Three years later he commenced the building of the church, the king himself marking out the site for the altar. (fn. 53)
The monks of Wearmouth and Jarrow took little or no part in political matters; their history is marked by no very striking incidents; and at first sight their twin monasteries may appear somewhat insignificant. They formed, nevertheless, a very important factor in the history of the time; and it would probably be difficult to over-estimate their influence. They, with one or two kindred institutions, were the chief homes not only of religion but also of civilization in the country. (fn. 54)
Benedict Biscop in effect set the standard of a new type of religious house. The chief monasteries tended now to become more and more self-centred. The pursuit of literature became an end in itself; (fn. 55) art and personal culture were developed. (fn. 56) This could hardly have been the case had Benedict been unaided; but he was singularly fortunate in his assistants.
Easterwin, abbot of Wearmouth, was of noble birth. Although Benedict was his cousin, he neither expected nor received any distinction in the regimen of the monastic life, but underwent with pleasure the usual course of discipline. In 673, when only twenty-four years of age, he had passed from the king's court to the solitude of the recluse's cell. He was an inmate of Wearmouth monastery almost if not quite from its foundation, taking his share in all domestic work. He was a young man of great strength, pleasant voice, handsome appearance, and kindly disposition. After his promotion to the abbacy he still took his part in the indoor and outdoor labours of his brethren, eating and sleeping with them. (fn. 57)
In Ceolfrid, abbot of Jarrow, Benedict also found a sympathetic and efficient coadjutor. 'He was,' says Bede, 'a man of great perseverance and acute intellect, bold in action, experienced in judgement, and zealous in religion.' (fn. 58)
When Benedict returned from Rome in 685 he found that a terrible blow had fallen upon the twin monasteries. A pestilence had carried off many of the monks of Wearmouth, and with them their beloved abbot. The last five days before his death Easterwin had spent in a private chamber, from which on the last day of his life he came out and sat in the open air. He sent for all the monks and took tender leave of them, giving to each weeping brother the kiss of peace. He died on 7 March, 685. (fn. 59)
Jarrow had suffered even more severely. All who could read or preach or say the antiphons and responses had been swept away by the pestilence, except Ceolfrid himself and one little boy whom the abbot brought up and educated, and who afterwards became a priest in the monastery. (fn. 60) In addition to these disasters King Egfrid, the monks' generous patron and benefactor, was killed in battle, May, 685. (fn. 61)
After Easterwin's death the brethren at Wearmouth consulted with Ceolfrid as to the choice of a successor, and finally elected the deacon Sigfrid, a man skilled in theology, of courteous manners and temperate life; he had an incurable disease of the lungs, and his disposition was chastened and sweetened by suffering. When Benedict returned he found Sigfrid duly installed. Benedict brought with him books and pictures; and also two palls of silk of incomparable work, with which he purchased from King Aldfrid three hides of land on the south bank of the River Wear near its mouth. (fn. 62)
Soon after this Benedict was seized with paralysis of the lower limbs. In the three years during which he lingered in partial helplessness he gave many directions as to the conduct of his monasteries after his death, taking counsel with Abbot Sigfrid, whose end was also approaching, as to their government. He urged the brethren frequently and earnestly in making choice of an abbot to seek rather after probity of life and doctrine than after exalted birth, and desired that their selection should fall upon one of their own number. His wishes were obeyed; when Sigfrid passed away, 22 August, 688, Ceolfrid was made abbot of both monasteries. Benedict died in the following January, and was buried in St. Peter's, Wearmouth. (fn. 63)
For nearly twenty-seven years Ceolfrid ruled over Wearmouth and Jarrow. During that time he built several oratories, increased the number of the vessels and ornaments of the church, and doubled the number of books in the monastic library. He received from King Aldfrid eight hides of land near the River Fresca, in exchange for a beautiful codex work on cosmography. Afterwards he paid more and received, instead, twenty hides of land in a village called Sambuce, nearer the monastery. (fn. 64) He obtained from Pope Sergius a bull of protection for Jarrow. (fn. 65) His work must have been arduous, for at the time of his resignation there were nearly six hundred brethren in the two monasteries, (fn. 66) each of which seems to have had two churches. (fn. 67)
In June, 715, finding age and infirmity creeping upon him, Ceolfrid announced his intention of going to Rome to die there. The brethren begged him on their knees not to forsake them, but he remained firm in his determination. Early in the morning of Thursday, 4 June, all received the Holy Eucharist in the churches of St. Mary and St. Peter at Wearmouth, and the Abbot prepared for his journey. Having prayed before the altar in St. Peter's, he blessed and censed the assembled brethren. Singing the Litany, their voices choked with tears, they went into the oratory of St. Lawrence, and there Ceolfrid bade them farewell, giving them his pardon for all transgressions, and asking their forgiveness and prayers for himself. Then they all went down to the shore, and the brethren knelt round him weeping, while he prayed and gave them the kiss of peace. The deacons of the church, carrying lighted tapers and a golden cross, entered the vessel with him. He passed over the stream, knelt in adoration before the cross, mounted his horse and rode away. (fn. 68)
Huetbert was chosen abbot in his place. With some of the brethren he went at once to Ceolfrid, who had not yet embarked, and on Whitsunday, 7 June, received his approval and blessing. Ceolfrid never reached Rome, but died at Langres, 25 September, 715, aged seventy-four. (fn. 69)
Huetbert had been trained in the monastery from boyhood, and had been to Rome, where he had learned and copied everything which he thought useful or worthy to be brought away. (fn. 70) He is said to have gained many privileges for the monastery. He took up the bones of Easterwin and Sigfrid and buried them in one coffin, divided by a partition, inside St. Peter's Church, near the grave of Biscop. (fn. 71) During his abbacy the arts of writing and illuminating were pursued by the monks, and they began to be noted also for bell-founding and metal-work. (fn. 72)
In 735 Bede died at Jarrow in his sixty-third year, and was buried there. (fn. 73) His life from early childhood had been passed in the monastery, and the monks were constantly employed in making copies of his writings to be sent to distant lands. In a letter written in 764 to Lul, bishop of Maintz, Cuthbert, then abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow, acknowledged the receipt of a request from the bishop for copies of Bede's works. He said he was sending the 'Life of St. Cuthbert' in prose and verse; he and his boys had done their best, but the bitter cold of the winter had so benumbed their hands that they had no more to send at present. He thanked the bishop for the gift of an embroidered rug; it had been intended for his own use in the cold weather, but he had with great joy devoted it for a covering for the altar in St. Paul's Church, as a thankoffering for his forty-six years in the monastery.
Abbot Cuthbert mentioned twenty knives, a bell, and some books which had been previously sent from Jarrow to the bishop, and asked him to send over a glass-worker, as the monks had forgotten the art taught by Benedict's foreign workmen. (fn. 74)
Amongst the letters of Alcuin (fn. 75) are two congratulating Ethelbald and Fridwin respectively on their several elections to the abbacy of the twin monasteries, but there is nothing to indicate the order or exact dates of their succession. (fn. 76) In another letter Alcuin told the monks of Wearmouth that all he saw whilst with them (fn. 77) of their domestic arrangements and manner of life pleased him exceedingly; (fn. 78) but on yet another occasion he urged them to pay closer attention to the training of the boys in their charge, to educate them for teachers, and not to let them waste their time in hunting hares and foxes. (fn. 79)
In 794 the house at Jarrow was attacked and pillaged by the Danes, who, however, lost their leader and were defeated. (fn. 80) Nearly a hundred years later both monasteries were devastated by the same savage foes, (fn. 81) and from that time until the Norman Conquest they were represented by churches, grievously despoiled indeed, but not wholly ruinous nor deserted. The priest Alfred of Westoe had attended the commemoration of Bede's festival at Jarrow regularly for some years before, in 1022, he succeeded in carrying off the saint's bones by stealth to Durham, (fn. 82) and it is thought that though no restoration of the monastery buildings had taken place since the Danish invasion, some part of St. Peter's Church had been so far repaired as to be usable by the inhabitants of the country round. (fn. 83) This theory is borne out by the fact that in 1069, when Bishop Ethelwin and his companions fled from Durham to Lindisfarne with the body of St. Cuthbert, they found shelter on the first night of their journey in St. Paul's Church, (fn. 84) and in 1070 English fugitives took refuge at Wearmouth. (fn. 85) In the former of these years King William attacked and fired the church at Jarrow; (fn. 86) and in the latter year Malcolm, king of Scotland, in a raid, burnt down St. Peter's, 'himself looking on.' (fn. 87)
Some three or four years later a priest named Aldwin, prior of Winchcombe, conceived a desire to visit the northern monasteries. Coming to the abbey at Evesham he was joined by two companions, Elfwin and Reinfrid. They travelled forward on foot, taking only an ass to carry the books and vestments they needed for the celebration of divine service. They settled at Newcastle [Monkchester], within the bishopric of Durham, but under the jurisdiction of the earl of Northumberland. Before long Walcher, bishop of Durham, sent to them, asking them to come and live where they would be under the immediate control of holy church. They acceded to his request, and he received them with great joy, giving them as a place of residence the monastery at Jarrow, of which only the roofless walls were then standing. Roofing it with untrimmed beams and thatch, the monks began to celebrate divine service there, and built for themselves a little hut. The fame of their ascetic life soon spread, and many abandoned the world and joined them. Bishop Walcher rejoiced greatly at the revival of monasticism, and to help the monks in the work of restoration and rebuilding gave them the vill of Jarrow with its dependencies, viz. Preston, Monkton, Hedworth, Hebburn, Westoe, and Harton. (fn. 88) Waltheof, earl of Northumberland, bestowed on them the church of St. Mary at Tynemouth, with the body of St. Oswald which rested therein, and all lands, &c., belonging thereto. (fn. 89)
After a time Aldwin, desiring to revive other monasteries, left Elfwin in charge at Jarrow, went north accompanied by Turgot, and settled at Melrose. The bishop entreated them to return, and finally threatened them with excommunication if they refused. In the end they obeyed, and Walcher gave them St. Peter's monastery at Wearmouth, which was then totally ruined. Here they erected huts of boughs and taught the people, and here Turgot received the habit. They cleared away the trees and undergrowth from the ruins and rebuilt the church. Others soon joined them, and, inspired by their example, embraced the monastic life with fervour.
Bishop Walcher frequently visited them, invited them to his councils, and generously assisted them. He intended to have joined their order, and to have established them in a permanent home near St. Cuthbert's tomb. With this object in view he laid the foundations of the monastic buildings at Durham. (fn. 90) But in May, 1080, he was murdered at Gateshead. The monks of Jarrow sailed up the Tyne and received into their little vessel the mutilated body of their friend and patron. They conveyed his remains to their monastery, whence they were afterwards removed to Durham. (fn. 91)
Three years later Bishop William, anxious to find suitable inmates for the house at Durham, selected the brethren of Wearmouth and Jarrow, then twenty-three in number, as being the only regular monks in the diocese, (fn. 92) and removed them to Durham, where Aldwin became the first prior. (fn. 93) With them came Simeon the historian, who had been for some time at Jarrow, (fn. 94) but was probably not yet a professed monk. (fn. 95)
In explanation of this transference Bishop William represented to the pope that the size of his diocese did not admit of the existence of three monasteries, (fn. 96) but this does not seem a very adequate reason.
From this time until the dissolution Wearmouth and Jarrow remained cells under Durham, inhabited only by a few monks, and occasionally used as a retreat by the priors of St. Cuthbert after their resignation. (fn. 97) The history of Wearmouth consists chiefly of disputes and litigation with the powerful barons of Hilton, relative to burial rights and to contested claims to tithes and offerings. (fn. 98)
In 1144 William Cumin the younger attacked the bishop of Durham at Jarrow, but Aldwin's walls proved strong enough to resist his onslaught. (fn. 99)
A contest took place early in the fourteenth century between the prior of Durham and the archdeacons of Durham and Northumberland, about the jurisdiction of dependent churches belonging to the abbey. Wearmouth and Jarrow were reserved to the prior, who had always exercised archidiaconal control over them. (fn. 100)
In 1394 Jarrow was granted to ex-Prior Robert of Walworth in lieu of Finchale. If he were disturbed by a Scottish invasion he was to have Coldingham instead. (fn. 101)
Both cells were dissolved amongst the smaller monasteries in 1536. (fn. 102) The annual value of Jarrow is given by Dugdale as £38 14s. 4d., and by Speed as £40 7s. 8d.; and that of Wearmouth by Dugdale as £25 8s. 4d., and by Speed as £26 9s. 9d. Wearmouth was granted to Thomas Whitehead, (fn. 103) and Jarrow to William Lord Eure. (fn. 104)
Abbots Of Wearmouth and Jarrow (fn. 105)
Masters of Jarrow (fn. 106)
Masters Of Wearmouth (fn. 107)
William Chambre, (fn. 108) 1486