History and Heritage

Below are some documents that will provide a concise account of the topic. Downloadable copies of these and longer documents are found at the foot of the page.

A Chronology

635 At the request of King Oswald, Aidan comes to Northumbria from Iona and causes the first church to be built, probably on the site of the present church. Tradition has it that the only relic of this first church is the beam over the font. It serves no structural function and is believed to have supported the awning under which Aidan died. Mention of this beam is made by Bede in his chronicles.

1121 By the grant of Henry I Bamburgh Church and Parish were attached to Nostell near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, where there was a religious establishment of the Augustinian Canons.

1170 to 1230 The greater part of the present day church was built. Few traces of the Norman church remain but several authorities state that these are to be found in the window in the east wall of the north transept, which has a round-headed internal splay the exterior of which has been altered to a lancet.

1190 The first extension of the Norman church was the addition of the north aisle in 1190 and the enlargement of the north transept. The arch into the north aisle was rebuilt to its present style and size, and at the same time those into the chancel and south transept were similarly altered.

1230 Construction of the chancel, built to supersede the previous Norman chancel, when the Augustinian Canons came into full possession of their Bamburgh property. The chancel is unusually long – 60 ft. by 21 ft. – in relation to the nave. Within the chancel today are the recumbent effigy of a knight, reputed to be called Sir Lancelot du Lake, dating from 1320 or later and the helmet, breastplate, sword and gauntlets of Ferdinando Forster who was killed in Newcastle in 1701.

14th century Both transepts were lengthened to provide accommodation for the new altars. The north transept was made into a chantry chapel and for many years was known as the Fowberry Porch; today it is known as St. Oswald’s chapel.

16th century With the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII Bamburgh church and its lands were sold to Sir John Forster and thereafter was neglected. In 1611 it was recorded that “the steeple was only half covered with lead and the other half utterly decayed and open. The church was thatched and indecently kept and defiled with doves. The windows thereof not sufficiently glassed..”

1715 First Jacobite rising. Because of the prominent part he played in it Tom Forster, being unable to inherit the family estates, went bankrupt. The Forster estates, including the church, were purchased by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham and whose wife, Dorothy, was Tom Forster’s aunt. This marked the start of the gradual restoration of the Church building.

1757 Thomas Sharpe became curate of Bamburgh. For the rest of this century the Sharpe family played a leading role in the ongoing restoration of the Church. At the west end of the north aisle is a monument given in 1839 by Catherine Sharp to be a memorial to her husband and several members of the Sharp family.

1819 First organ installed in church

1837 In July 1837 the crypt was “rediscovered”. Quite how it had come to be lost is not known. It had been used as a burial chamber both by the Augustinian canons and by the Forster family. The crypt, which is not open to the public, comprises two chambers, the larger of which has a vaulted roof and appears to have been used as a chapel, having and altar, Piscina and aumbry.

1841 – 1852 During this period the box pews were removed. An oil painting by the font shows how the interior of the church looked when the box pews were in situ. Also at this time (1852) a second organ was installed.

1847 The windows in the chancel were glazed with glass from the Netherlands. They depict the twelve Apostles.

1883 Present organ installed in the chancel. Subsequently in 1889 the organ was moved to its present position in the south transept.

1885 The effigy of Grace Darling was placed in the North Aisle. This was originally in the churchyard but following a storm that year when the canopy was blown down the effigy was brought into the church and another one put in its place outside.

1895 – 1900 During this period the roof of the chancel, which for many years had been flat, was restored to its original form thus enabling the lancet windows at the east end of the church to be extended to their original height. The present reredos, carved of Caen stone, was set up being the altar. The 16 carved figures are of Northumbrian and other saints with the two principal figures being Saints Aidan and Oswald respectively. The tower was also raised

1912 Installation of the 7th and Tenor bells completed the peal of eight bells in the tower. Prior to 1885 the church had only two bells and the casting of the new peal took place over a five year period form 1907 to 1912.

 

Saint Aidan

 

Aidan was an Irish monk who was part of St Columba’s community on Iona.

When Oswald was exiled from his kingdom, he had contact with this community of Columba – perhaps living on or near Iona and became a Christian. When King Oswald was restored to his kingdom, uniting the sub-kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, he sent to Iona for monks to establish – or in fact re-establish – Christianity throughout his land.

After a false start led by the monk Corman, Aidan volunteered to come to Oswald of Northumbria and established both a Church at Bamburgh and, with 12 other missionary monks from Iona, a Columban style Community on the island of Lindisfarne. This was in the year 635.

The little that we know of St Aidan’s life is given us by the Venerable Bede. Aidan is remembered as being a gentle, patient and generous shepherd of souls.

Two of the stories that Bede gives us are these:

  • In the beginning Aidan could not speak the language of the people, and so in this partnership between King and Bishop, Oswald himself – who had learned the Irish language whilst in exile – would act as interpreter as Aidan proclaimed the Gospel.
  • Aidan was a great believer in walking the lanes and roads and in this way was able to meet people and engage in conversation with them. On a number of occasions he declined the King’s offer of a horse, preferring to be on the same level as the people he met in the way. However, when Oswin was King, for some reason Aidan eventually accepted the offer of a horse, but quickly realised that he was not comfortable with such a fine gift. When a beggar stopped him on the road looking for a small gift, Aidan gave him the horse. This act of generosity confused and annoyed the King. Aidan simply responded, is the child of a mare of more importance than a child of God? 

What Aidan achieved was the establishment of a centre of learning on Lindisfarne which was to become renowned throughout Europe as the cultural, spiritual and religious hub.

Many such communities already existed and were subsequently created. The difference with Aidan’s community was that it was deliberately established as a place of mission.  From this Community of Lindisfarne founded by Aidan came Eata, Cedd and Chad, Wilfrid, Hilda and Ebba and Cuthbert and the subsequent history of Christianity in this land.

Aidan died in the year 651 at Bamburgh – and the spot where he died, leaning it is said, against the pillar or outside wall of the church, is marked within the present day church building (dedicated to St Aidan) by a simple shrine. His body was taken across to his community on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and there it was laid to rest.

Everlasting God,
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility, and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Saint Oswald, King Of Northumbria

St OswaldOswald was the eldest son of Aethelfrith, King of Bernicia and was probably born in the royal palace of Yeavering in the year 605.

After the death of his father, who was killed in battle by Edwin, Oswald and his brothers went into exile. Certainly this was into what we now call Scotland, possibly even onto the island of Iona. During his 16 years exile Oswald certainly came into contact with the Community of Columba and, being influenced by their teaching and life-style, became a Christian.

After the death of Edwin, Oswald returned in 634 from his exile and sought to regain his kingdom through battle with Cadwallon. The night before the Battle of Heavenfield – near to Hexham – Oswald made a wooden cross, erected it and had his army gather around it and pray for victory. 

Oswald’s victory led to the unification of the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira into the kingdom of Northumbria. He set up his royal palace and court at Bamburgh and called for monks from Iona to establish – or in fact re-establish more firmly – Christianity throughout his land.

Aidan responded to this call from Iona, and he established a church at Bamburgh and a Community, based on Columba’s Community on the island of Lindisfarne. This was to be a place of learning, of culture and of mission.

We know from Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” that Oswald and Aidan forged a deep friendship and partnership; the King acted as interpreter for the Bishop, who to begin with only spoke his native Irish language.

Bede also tells this story: One Easter Oswald and Aidan were feasting at the Palace, when a silver dish of food was set before them. Just as they were saying their prayers of blessing a servant, who looked after the needs of the poor, came into the Hall to tell the King that a great crowd of hungry folk were sitting outside the palace begging alms. The king immediately ordered his food to be taken out to them and the silver platter to be broken up and shared among them.  Aidan, impressed by the generosity of the King, raised Oswald’s right hand and prayed, “May this hand never wither with age”.

Oswald met a violent death in the year 642 when he and the Mercian King, Penda clashed in battle. Oswald died on 5th August at Oswestry in Shropshire. His head and arms were severed from his body and stuck onto poles. Legend has it that the right arm of Oswald, which Aidan had raised in prayer, found its way, incorrupt back to Bamburgh and was installed into a silver casket in the church here. Oswald’s head was returned to Lindisfarne and was eventually buried in the coffin of St Cuthbert.

Oswald, who despite living in violent days, is renowned as a diplomat, a unifier, a generous and humble king, who is remembered as a martyr.

Lord God almighty,
who so kindled the faith of King Oswald with your Spirit
that he set up the sign of the cross in his kingdom
and turned his people to the light of Christ:
grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit,
may always bear our cross before the world
and be found faithful servants of the gospel;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Robert John Scott Bertram 1871 – 1953 [Stained Glass]

The family wanted Robert to enter the Commercial world and in 1885 he was apprenticed to the German Coal exporting firm of ‘Besallers’ at the Quayside, Newcastle. It was here that he first gained his love of the older Newcastle streets and historic buildings. He attended evening classes and developed his natural talents for drawing and design. He won a scholarship to the Durham College of Science and Art and his exceptional ability with Pencil and Pen were soon realised when in 1893 he did the illustrations for the first volume of the Northumberland County History.

Stained Glass WindowIn 1895 Robert was appointed Part-time assistant at the Art School (now King Edward V11 School of Art, Armstrong College in Durham University) where the professor of Fine Art was Richard George Hatton, a follower of the William Morris
Movement. He worked very closely with Hatton and was now skilled in the techniques of lettering, illustrations, heraldry, painting in oils and watercolours, lithography and etching.

In 1919 Robert was appointed Head of Design at the University.  At the Theatre Royal in Grey Street he painted, with assistants all the drops for the Northumberland Pageant in 1923. He was selected in 1928 to paint a large lunette spanning a gallery in The Laing Art Gallery and chose as his subject ‘the partial destruction of the Tyne Bridge during the 1771 flood’. He was now examiner for Art
in the Universities School Certificate Exam Board,  a member of the Bishop’s advisory committee for the care of churches, later becoming secretary, member of the Pen and Palette Club and the Lit and Phil soc.

Unfortunately no precise record of his work was kept, but his output was amazing. Always busy with commissioned work, his work on committees, his college duties as well as his own interest in landscape painting.

But  here are listed a few documented work  In the 1890’s he illustrate several books including guide books to the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire; in 1905 ‘A Fishers Garland’ by John Harbottle; ‘The Borders’ by William Sitwell; ‘Nortumbrian Decameron’by Howard Pease;’Account of Belsay Castle by Sir Arthur Middleton.In 1908 a large folder of 15 lithographs entitled ‘Old Newcastle’ was published by Mawson Swan and Morgan and in the same ear he has a picture of Warkworth Castle in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Just before the outbreak of war in 1914 his Newcastle upon Tyne Sketchbook was published by A.&C Black but similar books on York and Chester were abandoned. However in 1920 A ‘Durham Sketch Book was published.

"He had three children who all made careers in the Art/Teaching world – Bryan, Neville and Helen Joyce. The design of the window in the South aisle by James Ballantine FSA (Scot) is attributed to RJS Bertram by his family. It is said by them that Helen and Neville were used as models for his figures of St Frideswide and St Cuthbert."

Pete Loud has some pictures of the stained glass windows in St Aidans, on his web site. Go there

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A Chronology (download pdf) St Aidan (download pdf) Robert John Scott Bertram (download pdf) St Oswald (download pdf)