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Wearmouth Abbey



Located on the river Wear, in Durham, England; a Benedictine monastery founded in 674 by St. Benedict Biscop on land given by Egfrid, King of Northumbria. Benedict dedicated it to St. Peter, and ten years later founded the sister house at Jarrow, on the Tyne, in honour of St. Paul. These two monasteries were so closely connected in their early history that they are often spoken of as one; but they were really six or seven miles apart. The founder brought workmen from France to build his church at Wearmouth in the Roman fashion and furnished it with glass windows (hitherto unknown in England), pictures, and service-books. The abbey was thus the cradle (as Bishop Hedley has said) not only of English art but of English literature, for the Venerable Bede received his early education there. Benedict himself was the first abbot, and the monastery flourished under him and his successors Easterwin, St. Ceolfrid, and others, for two hundred years. It suffered greatly from the Danes about 860, and again, after the Conquest, at the hands of Malcolm of Scotland. Jarrow was destroyed about the same time, but both monasteries were restored, though not to their former independence. They became cells subordinate to the great cathedral priory of Durham, and were thenceforward occupied by a very small number of monks. The names of only two of the superiors (known as magistri) have been preserved-those of Alexander Larnesley and John Norton.

In 1545 "all the house and seite of the late cell of Wearmouth", valued at about £26 yearly, were granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Whitehead, a relative of Prior Whitehead of Durham, who resigned that monastery in 1540 and became the first Protestant dean. Wearmouth passed afterwards to the Widdrington family, then to that of Fenwick. The remains of the monastic buildings were incorporated in a private mansion built in James I's reign; but this was burned down in 1790, and no trace is now visible of the monastery associated with the venerable names of Benedict Biscop, Ceolfrid, and Bede. The present parish church occupies the site of the ancient priory church. The tower dates from Norman times, and doubtless formed part of the building as restored after the Conquest.

DUGDALE, Monast. anglic., I (London, 1813), 501-4; VEN. BEDE, Vitae ss. abbatum monasterii in Wiramutha in P.L., XCIV, 714-30; TANNER, Notitia monastica: Durham (London, 1787), xvi: HEDLEY, Monkwearmouth in Ampleforth Journal (Dec., 1901), 107-21: ZETTINGER, Weremuth-Jarrow und Rom; im 7. Jahrhundert in Der Katholik (Sept., 1901).

D.O. HUNTER-BLAIR








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