The church was established to house the body of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 684 to 687. After his death he became one of the most venerated saints of the time, with a significant cultus and the Venerable Bede writing both a verse and prose biography of him. So when driven out of Lindisfarne by Viking raids in 875 the monks took St Cuthbert's coffin along with other valuable items. They wandered for seven years before eventually settling at Chester-le-Street (then called Cunecaster or Conceastre), at the site of the old Roman fort of Concangis, in 883, on land granted to them by Guthred. They built a wooden church and shrine for St Cuthbert's relics, dedicating it to St Mary and St Cuthbert. Though there was no shortage of stone in the ruins of Concangis they did not build a stone church; it has been suggested they did not intend to stay for as long as they eventually did. This was also a cathedral as it contained the seat of the bishop, for the diocese stretching between the boundaries of Danelaw at Teesside in the south, of Alba at Lothian in the north and the Irish sea in the west. The bishop's authority was confirmed by Alfred the Great, and for the next 112 years the community was based here, visited by kings Æthelstan and Edmund, who both left gifts for the community, to add to the treasures brought from Lindisfarne. Most notable among their treasures were the Lindisfarne Gospels, created in Lindisfarne around 715. While here they were translated from Latin into English, sometime between 947 and 968, by bishop Aldred writing a gloss in Old English above the text, making them the oldest surviving English translation of the Gospels. The Gospels and St Cuthbert's coffin were here until 995, when renewed Viking raids drove the monks out, to Ripon before returning to the more easily defended Durham, where they eventually built a stone cathedral around St Cuthbert's remains. The wooden church remained in place until replaced by a stone church in the mid 11th century.
The oldest parts of the building that can be dated, to 1056 when a stone church was built to replace the wooden shrine to St Cuthbert, are the walls of the chancel and the two largest pillars now near the centre of the nave. The church then would have been a third shorter and much narrower, as wide as the chancel today. Lewis holes visible in two stones on a front buttress show that Roman stone was used in later construction. The church was extended around 1267 with the nave, the lower part of the tower and east wall with sedilia all dating from this time. In 1286 it was made a collegiate church, with a dean, seven canons, five chaplains and three deacons, supported by tithes from extensive endowments throughout a large parish. Attached to the church is the former anchorage, one of the few surviving to this day and described as the most complete example of its kind in England. It was created by blocking off one corner of a church in the late 14th century, with an extra room added externally in the 16th century. Originally it was on two levels, but the floor was removed at some point to allow more space and light. From 1383 to 1547 it was occupied by six anchorites, each being walled in to the anchorage for life, able to watch services through a squint into the church which looks down onto a side altar, being fed through another slit to the outside. It was used in this way until the reformation. The anchorage then became a place sporadically occupied by the poor or members of the church. In 1986 it became the Ankers House Museum, one of the smallest museums in the UK. It shows the conditions that an anchorite lived in when it was occupied, as well as containing Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval items found on the site. The Lindisfarne Gospels were kept at Durham until 1539, when during the Dissolution of the Monasteries St Cuthbert's shrine was looted and they were taken to London. Today they are kept at the British Library, but a facsimile copy is kept at the church and can be viewed. There is wheelchair access.
Location : Church Chare, Chester-le-Street, DH3 3QB
Transport: Chester-le-Street (National Rail) 6 minutes. Bus routes 885, 886, 887 and 888 stop nearby.
Opening Times April - Oct.: Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 15:30.
Opening Times Nov. - March: Mon. Tue. Wed. + Fri. 10:00 to 13:00.
Tel: 0191 388 3295