Radical rethink after new discoveries

Perhaps the most exciting, single story to come out of the Peregrini project, specially in terms of its importance away from north Northumberland, was the astonishing finds made by the community archaeology project.

Sunday, 7th January 2018, 7:12 am
The archaeological excavations on The Heugh on Holy Island.

While there is still work to do, last year’s discoveries on Holy Island could be internationally significant due to their links to the early Christian saints.

Until this summer, the assumption had been that the original Anglo-Saxon churches stood down in the shelter of a high rocky ridge known as the Heugh in the area now occupied by St Mary’s Parish Church and the Priory.

But excavations in June up on the Heugh suggest a very different configuration as they revealed the stone foundations of a small rectangular building with a chancel-type configuration at the east end.

The crude and unmortared walls, very simple window arches and positioning of a possible alter stone all suggest an early date which has led to speculation that this is a church building which could date from the seventh century.

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Excavations last year further west on the Heugh revealed a massive foundation wall that archaeologists are now speculating is a foundation for a watch tower. The Venerable Bede, in his Life of St Cuthbert, made reference to a signal from Inner Farne being seen from the watch tower on Holy Island to mark the death of the saint.

In her talk at this year’s Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership Annual Forum, the AONB’s heritage officer, Jessica Turner, highlighted the number of different pieces of information which, based on historical knowledge and other discoveries, lend credence to the theory of this being one of the early churches, despite no dating evidence found so far.