Beckery Chapel and cemetery (site of)
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1006147
Date first listed: 04-Feb-1977
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Mendip (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 48405 38312
Early Christian chapel and cemetery 300m west of Beckery Bridge.
Reasons for Designation
An early Christian chapel is a purpose-built structure, usually rectangular and often comprising a single undivided room, which contained a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the early medieval period (c.AD 400-1100). Until the seventh century, such chapels were mostly constructed of wood, often being replaced in stone at a later date. The Venerable Bede (c.673-735) provides an account of the transition from wooden to stone building in Northumbria, and there are references in the saints' vitae and in early Irish sources to the various building traditions. They are mainly restricted to the northern and western parts of England. A number of early Christian chapels have been found to be located at earlier burial sites, the grave of a saint or ecclesiastical founder providing the focal point. Chapels of this early period are sometimes referred to as oratories. In all cases, however, the chapels would have served as a place of prayer for a religious community, in some cases located within an early monastic site and set with other buildings in an enclosure called a vallum monasterii.
Early Christian chapels of this type and function should be distinguished from the later parochial chapels of the medieval period which served a secular community, and were mostly designed for larger congregational worship. Certain of the early chapels which became identified with particular saints became places of veneration for medieval pilgrims, and, such was the desire to be buried close to the relics of the saint, that the burial tradition often continued in proximity to the chapel. Many early chapels, with their strong associations with saints, will have been subsumed within later and grander religious structures, and their survival in anything like their original form is therefore rare. The Early Christian chapel and cemetery 300m west of Beckery Bridge will contain further important archaeological information relating to the development of Christianity, this particular community and its overall landscape context.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 25 August 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
This monument includes an Early Christian chapel and cemetery situated on the summit of a slight south western projecting spur into the Somerset Levels and overlooking the River Brue. The chapel and cemetery survive as entirely buried features, layers and deposits with little visible surface remains. Partial excavations in 1888-9 and later re-excavations in 1967-8 revealed a palimpsest of chapel buildings, a priest’s house and an associated cemetery. The earliest chapel was timber built and contained a cist grave, and several post holes suggesting an associated structure. Associated with the chapel was an early cemetery bounded by a ditch containing a wattle and daub building and at least 63 skeletons, all supine with no goods and all male except for one woman and two children. The wooden chapel was superseded by a stone built one measuring approximately 5m long by 3.5m wide internally with a later 3m by 2.5m chancel, a ‘Penitent’s Crawl’ along the south wall of the nave, ditches, drains and an 8m by 6m timber building to the north west all surrounded by a horseshoe shaped ditch. This chapel continued in use until the 13th century. The building was then superseded by a third chapel with deep foundations, which completely enclosed the earlier building plan. It measured approximately 13m by 5m internally, was a single cell, floored with ceramic tiles and had diagonal buttresses. To the north were further buildings including one identified as the priest’s house. Known locally as ‘Beckery’ or ‘St Brigid’s Chapel’ it is thought to represent a minor monastic site, possibly with a holy shrine known as an oratory. Documentary evidence mentions the Oratory of St Mary Magdalene by William of Malmesbury c. 1135 and John of Glastonbury c. 1400. No specific archaeological link with St Brigid (c. 450 – 523 AD) was found. Recalibrated radiocarbon dates suggest an occupation range for the earlier chapels of 607 – 1000 AD and stratigraphical evidence from the excavations implies the cemetery remained in use until the 8th or 9th centuries. A resistivity survey of 2003 confirmed the locations of the excavated features and found further buried structures.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: SO 427
Legacy System: RSM - OCN
PastScape Monument No:-193875
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing