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7th Century Saxon Church
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7th Century Saxon Church
|The famous Saxon church has stood in Escomb for over 1300 years,and remains one of the most exciting and rewarding old churches to visit in the world. It's simple beauty and unassuming dignity provides a sense of peace. When inside the church,visitors may blink in surprise when they realise that this elegant little church was almost 500 years old when nearby Durham Cathedral was built,and about 900 years old when the present Vatican was built!
We must go back a considerable number of years to reach the founding and building of the church,the oldest most complete "Saxon" Church in Europe.It was built about the year 675 (after the Romans had left and before the Norman invasion).The builders thoughtfully used the already-dressed stones removed from the ruins of the Roman fort at nearby Binchester which had fallen into disrepair since the Romans had left Briton more than 200 years earlier.As a result of this early example of "re-cycling",the church stones still retain carved diamond patterns ("broaching")and Latin inscriptions as legacies of their Roman origin, and the chancel arch shows some Saxon original painted decorations.
The dimension and style of the church are Irish-Celtic, and may have required the skills of builders from Lindisfarne,especially as this stile had ceased to be used after Hilda of Whitby's Synod. The most likely period of construction would have been between 625 and 675 A.D since, following the 664 A.D Whitby Synod,churches were built in a different style.
The church appears to have avoided any changes incorporating Norman architecture but,naturally,over the 13 centuries,in addition to maintenance and restorations,there have been a few modifications but these have been thoughtfully introduced,and it is amazing to see the walls,all the way up to the roof,more or less just as the Saxons originally built them.Like most churches ,the alter and chancel is at the East end,and we can use this to help to appreciate the location of the main changes that have occured:Originally,there was a house,(one up one down),with cellar,attached to the West end.This had probably been built to house the first monks.There was also a vestry or sacristy on the north side of the chancel.In the early 11th century,the vestry and the upper story of the house were demolished and provided the stones for building the 11th Century entrance on the South side,at which time also,the main door was enlarged .(The lower part of the house remained to be used as a barn, a store house and finally a charnal house before being demolished in the 18thC)
The church origanally only had five small Saxon windows,and these are still there(with modern glazing):Two on the North side,two on the South side.and one high on the West end.To increase light,in the 11th or 12thCentury,two tall thin "lancet"windows were added on the South side.In one of these, an interesting stone can be found which is inscribed with a pattern closely resembling designs to be found in the Lindisfarn Gospels.The present roof timbers were installed in the 15th Century(confirmed by carbon-dating)and ,finally,in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the three largest windows were added,one on the South side,and one on each end,West and East.
As stated all changes have been thoughtfully carried-out and were respectful of the beauty and antiquity of the Church.Today,apart from just pausing inside to appreciate the simple dignity and peace,when having a look outside the Church,a visitor may like to walk around the North side and just see the whole original North wall of the Church almost as the Saxons built it.