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Research

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Wearmouth and Jarrow: One Monastery in Two Places

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.

Background

The twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow were founded in the late 7th century by Benedict Biscop. Bede described them as ‘one monastery in two places’ and in its day, it was one of the world’s greatest international cultural centres. From its foundation until its destruction by Scandinavian raiders in the ninth century, it operated as a centre of learning, hosting travellers, pilgrims and royalty from across Europe.

'One Monastery in Two Places' is a collaborative project funded by English Heritage that has brought together the expertise of Newcastle and Durham Universities. Research and fieldwork were carried out between 2009-12, led by Sam Turner (Newcastle) and Sarah Semple (Durham) and implemented by Alex Turner (Newcastle). Taking inspiration from the research and publications of Professor Rosemary Cramp on her seminal excavations at the sites, our project has sought to examine these early Christian monuments in their landscape setting across time, from their foundation to their place in contemporary society.

The project has brought together a large team of archaeologists and other heritage professionals and has sought to harness the value of different sources by integrating historical records and archaeological data in an innovative GIS (Geographical Information System). We have drawn together and interpreted information gathered from Historic Landscape Characterisation, the National Mapping Programme, historic maps, written records, place-name data, aerial photography, buried archaeology and new surveys.

New fieldwork has included geophysical and palaeoenvironmental surveys around the monasteries and in their hinterland, providing new data on the full extent and form of the monastic sites and their impact on the wider landscape. A new digital survey of the structures has also been completed and complemented by geological analyses of the buildings’ fabric providing new information on the construction of these remarkable buildings. The project has thus been methodologically innovative and has sought to adopt a different 'landscape' persepctive on the sites.

In addition we have brought our study right up to the present. Sophie Laidler, on behalf of the project, conducted an assessment of contemporary perceptions of the two sites, interviewing key stakeholders, running focus groups and organising elicitation exercises and work with local schools. By collecting and analysing current public perceptions and understandings of the monasteries we have raise awareness of how these sites are perceived and valued in the locality. The combined results of the project are now published in a new volume, and have been disseminated further through lectures, conference papers and public engagement and through an exhibition mounted at Bede’s World in 2011.

Published Results

Authored book

  • Turner, S., Semple, S. J. & Turner, A. (2013). Wearmouth and Jarrow: Northumbrian Monasteries in an Historic Landscape. Hatfield, Hertfordshire: English Heritage.

Staff

From the Department of Archaeology