Archaeologists find St Cuthbert's tower

Archaeologists may have uncovered a tangible link to St Cuthbert's time on Holy Island more than 1,300 years ago.

Tuesday, 12th July 2016, 11:46 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th July 2016, 12:52 pm
Archaeology volunteers inspect their work on Holy Island.

A dig carried out over recent weeks found two very significant buildings which are thought to be associated with the early Christian foundation of the priory.

It brought a successful conclusion to the Peregrini Lindisfarne Community Archaeology project’s first season.

A possible church found during an archaeological dig on Holy Island.

The season started with training excavations at two limeworkers cottages sites at Cocklawburn and the Kennedy Limekiln site on Holy Island.

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The project, under the expert guidance of Richard Carlton and staff from The Archaeological Practice, Newcastle, then turned their attention to Holy Island Heugh.

The majestic heugh has always piqued archaeologists’ interest given its close proximity to the ancient priory site and the obvious defensive and strategic advantages of the prominent whinstone ridge.

In 1962 the renowned archaeologist Brain Hope-Taylor conducted some preliminary investigation at the site and concluded that the heugh is scattered with buildings of an early date that were possibly associated with the 7th-9th century monastery.

A possible church found during an archaeological dig on Holy Island.

The task for Peregrini Lindisfarne Community Archaeology project this year was to ‘ground truth’ Hope-Taylor’s conclusion in anticipation of carrying out more detailed excavation next year.

The trench opened nearest the war memorial revealed the foundation of a massive 2.5m wide wall.

The size and structure of the wall is suggestive of a tower and the lack of any mortar suggests at least a pre-Conquest date.

A second trench was opened further east and again revealed the foundations of another unmortar stone structure which again is indicative of a building of early medieval origin.

Hope-Taylor is known to have excavated another part of this structure and concluded that the building was a church.

Richard Carlton, director of The Archaeological Practice overseeing the Peregrini Lindisfarne Community Archaeology project said: “These initial excavations are very promising, whilst early days in terms of our understanding the evidence does suggest two early medieval buildings in an important location that is associated with the priory.

“Further excavation planned for 2017 will help us to date the buildings as well as establish their function.”

Historical sources known from the 8th century refer to there being at least two churches on Lindisfarne as well as a guesthouse, a dormitory and a watch tower.

Sara Rushton, conservation manager at Northumberland County Council said “Holy Island is one of the most significant sites in Britain in terms of early medieval heritage, there is a real possibility that we have uncovered two very significant buildings associated with the early Christian foundation of the priory which could provide a tangible link to the time of St. Cuthbert.”

The Venerable Bede, in his ‘Life of St. Cuthbert’, made reference to a signal from Inner Farne being seen on Holy Island to mark the death of St Cuthbert.

This latest find has led to speculation the massive wall could be evidence of the actual watch tower where the signal was received.

The Peregrini Lindisfarne project is a HLF Landscape Partnership Project developed to conserve, enhance and celebrate the natural and cultural heritage of Holy Island and the wider shoreside landscape.

Brenda Stanton, the chair of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Partnership said: “Community participation is at the heart of the Peregrini project and this season of Community Archaeology presented a brilliant opportunity for people to get hands-on experience of absolutely fantastic archaeology. We are immensely grateful to all the fabulous volunteers that came along and made this first season of digging so special.”

Volunteers for the next season of archaeological investigation should contact the Archaeological Practice on or 0191 273 0777

In addition to the Community Archaeology project there are plenty of opportunities to be involved in the project with community geology and archive projects running as well as a wealth of other interesting projects. Visit for more details or contact David Suggett on 07824605465.