This is Escomb Church in County Durham. Built circa 670-675 it is the oldest, still complete, Anglo-Saxon church in England. It is a physical link to the Celtic missionaries and the churches they established in the north of England before the British Church was completely hijacked by Italians. Notice the word "before" in that sentence. St. Augustine did not bring Christianity to England or establish the first church here. In the north of England, Anglo-Saxons were first converted to Christianity by Irish missionaries and their Scottish converts. The Irish were evangelised by a Christian, Patrick, who was from the British mainland somewhere. He was from a Christian community which was, most probably, founded after contact with Christians attached to the Roman army, the Roman civil service or merchants. The form of Christianity espoused by Patrick shows a very strong influence, not from Rome, but from the Syrian and North African churches. And, of course, as regular readers will already know full well and accept as undeniable fact, Jesus and his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea were over here planting holy thorn bushes years before there was any such thing as a church in Palestine. Plus, Saint Peter popped over to establish a church in the Welsh borders on his way to Rome. I hope that is all clear now.

The Saxon church at Escomb is built mostly from stones taken from the Roman fort at nearby Binchester. Waste not, want not and the Romans had long since cleared off back to Italy.

The churchyard is circular which indicates that the church is built on a pagan site or, maybe, a Roman velodrome.

The sundial above the door is likely to be slightly older than the church...

... as is this fine example of an Anglo-Saxon cross. Crosses such as this one were placed outdoors at locations that were regularly visited by missionaries who would preach beside them. If the faith took a church would often be built on the site of the cross.

This gravestone is made of marble mined locally. It is packed with fossils (just like the Church of England is nowadays).

In a couple of places you can see the remnants of the paintings that would have covered the walls during the Middle Ages. These were largely destroyed at the Reformation when it was discovered that God had made a mistake when he gave humans the ability to create beautiful works of art and that God hated the stuff just as much as God hated people enjoying themselves.

The oldest reference in writing we have for the font makes it at least seven hundred years old, but it could be much more ancient. It was made at a time when it was the practice of the Church in England to baptise babies by dunking them fully underwater. Adults would have either been half drowned in a local river or baptised whilst standing in the font, the basin of which would have been on the floor, not a pedestal, back then. On this font you can see the remains of a medieval hinge. A law had been passed making it compulsory to have a locked lid on all fonts so that nobody could steal the holy water which was worth a fair bit on the open market. Nobody was allowed to undercut the pope's prices.

Here's a photo looking back towards the font from the altar. I live with that woman.

Outside there are some fine examples of Seventeenth Century gravestones. My, they were a fun loving people in those days. I didn't take these two photos as I had forgot to recharge the camera batteries and they ran out half way through our visit. This resulted in language coming from my mouth that could also be dated to the Anglo-Saxon period.



  1. Oh, wonderful!

    (And this, of course, is the important part: “And, of course, as regular readers will already know full well and accept as undeniable fact, Jesus and his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea were over here planting holy thorn bushes years before there was any such thing as a church in Palestine.”)

  2. Jesus really got around. Was he there before or after he came to New York State after his resurrection to convert the millions of Jews who had migrated there from Africa?

  3. It is packed with fossils (just like the Church of England is nowadays).

    *snicker*… made the morning kibble shoot right out of my maw…

  4. Oh, how absolutely beautiful, Jonathan! Thank you for this post! What surprised me is that from the view outside, I expected the interior to be gloomy. Instead, it was filled with light. It was probably a wise choice to have the altar window made of clear glass instead of stained glass so the light can come in. We have a couple churches in my area called St. Patrick’s and also St. John’s at Lake Tahoe. The surroundings of the lake and the pine trees are so naturally beautiful, both decided to install clear glass. At St. John’s, the altar cross is made of brass and rests on a glass shelf in the middle of the clear altar window. At sunset, the golden light reflecting off the waves makes it appear the cross is floating on the surface of the lake. It always reminds me of the legend of Excaliber and the Lady of the Lake. I also loved your commentary – especially, the snarky parts! In the West in America, where my church is less than a hundred years old, it’s hard to imagine something so ancient being comparatively right in your backyard.

  5. Thanks for the tour – also envy arising here. Sometime go to Grand Teton National Park and see the Episcopal Church there- the altar window looks out at the Tetons- hard to find a sermon topic that is better than looking at the mountains.

  6. One of the things thatattracted me to the Episcopal Church in my teens was the authenticity of Anglican orders based on the history of the Celtic Church before Rome overcame it. Many people don’t know that history, thank you for making it so clear.

    Re:clear glass, In Exeter, N. H. Christ Church (Episcopal) is 5 sided, with clear glass panels floor to ceiling, in the middle of each side. Wonderful to sit there , esp. when autumn leaves are drifting down or snow is falling!

    This was a wonderful posting, MP great to start this day!

    I hope that u visit this place often. reaching back past the contemporary bullshit to roots so


  7. Thanks, Rick. The Celtic/Anglo-Saxon church building was just a lid to keep the rain off the sacrament. But their’s wasn’t a simple religion like Quakerism. They had a high view of the sacrament and a developed liturgy. Everything was focussed on the sacrament and nothing was allowed to detract from it.

  8. There was a time, Nij, circa 4th. and 5th. century when the Christian church was strongest and most vibrant in Syria and Ireland. For over a thousand years the Eastern Church dwarfed the Italian Church. If you ever get the chance read “The Lost History of Christianity” by Philip Jenkins. But I warn you, it will make you cry – tears of sadness and tears of rage.

  9. The small, mission-style church of St Barnabas in the tiny desert community of Borrego Springs CA has a lovely clear glass window behind the altar where you can see the mountains rise up. Many people think the desert is bleak and empty but it is beautiful and full of life—if you are patient and willing to look.

    (The link goes to a photo I took)

  10. Just beautiful! I want to go. I sent the link to my mother, the Medieval Art Historian. She took me to several Visigothic churches in Northern Spain that, of course, date from roughly the same period, when we travelled there together in 2000. Maybe I can talk her into some time in Britain, and we can visit this one next summer!

  11. I would love to, it’s margaret. Not least because the incumbent there and his wife have been working to make links with pagans and new agers for some years (so they shouldn’t be boring). Unfortunately, although it is not that far it would still cost more in petrol each week than I can afford at this moment in time.

  12. If you do ever manage to get here, Metella (and this goes for anyone) do contact me first and I will tell you where all the holy places of Northumbria which are not on the tourist circuit are. Hopefully, I could even take you to some of the harder to get to ones.

  13. MP, you bring back lovely memories of when I visited there. I am glad the priest there is friendly with the more interesting folk. Wish I could have been there with you. Prayers for you and the Mrs.

  14. Such a lovely church! Thanks for the introduction to it. I am also glad to hear that it is still in service. A church with that long history should still be serving!!

  15. Gosh wait! an idea blooms! I think I have mentioned a priest that I worked with and really appreciated. He that founded an orphanage for kids in Haiti. When the bishop canned him for encouraging parishioners to contribute to the orphanage, he had to come up with other means of $$$$.
    So on his off and vacation time, he took folks on international tours.He spoke 3 languages. He told me once that in the course of this “business”, he had visited 85 countries. I went on on
    one of these trips to Canada and had more fun than most people have in 20 years. (Who said “church” has to be boring?)
    With your knowledge of history and your love of both church and country why not plan out some tours
    of your area and do some internet advertising and, and, and, oh hell, you fill in the rest of that sentence……
    Those of us who read here now know more about northern England than we ever expected to know………


  16. Speaking of “after his resurrection”: this trip (and posting about it) seems to have revived you from your recent (depths of) gloom. Keep at it!

    {Adds “me too” to praise&gratitude of this post}

  17. PS. I will look up Philip Jenkins’ book, but have to say in advance that I think I have shed a lifetime of tears and rage over what has happened to the two churches that I love in the last 20 years, let alone the 7th century. Sometimes wonder if there are tears left…..Peace,


  18. Thanks, Nij. Mrs MP and myself have talked about this and it is eminently doable. The fact that you have suggested it during what has been one of the weirdest weeks of my life (if I ever get my head round it I will try and put it in writing) makes me think I should do something about it.

  19. Not to be Mawkish (God forbid) but your knowledge and love shine through!
    For references refer folks to Mimi and Cathy. Of course u may have to bribe them with a gratis repeat tour


  20. Yes I’m writing to request the brochure for the MadPriest tours series. Are special diets on offer? Please advise on the quality of the motorcoach and also the Champagne that is served at each tour stop. Thank you.

    (all kidding aside, MadPriest tours sounds like a great idea.)

  21. just comeing to live in escomb the village and its people are wondeful, strange how no one seems to recognise the west gable at the end of the chuch on the west side, which is said leads down to a chamber or tunnel, which as been taken off the end of the church and the chambers underneath blocked off , it is well known by the locals that this was known to lead to binchester fort and under especially one of the houses,where they have a tunnel blocked off. why has the church hid all this i wonder….