Medieval chapel and associated building on St Cuthbert's Isle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014485

Date first listed: 01-Jul-1996


Ordnance survey map of Medieval chapel and associated building on St Cuthbert's Isle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Holy Island

National Grid Reference: NU 12311 41608


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the pre- Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and were generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the priest and contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were built between the 12th and 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship built for the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main parish church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by manorial lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other high-status residences. Chantry chapels were built and maintained by endowment and were established for the singing of masses for the soul of the founder. Some chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish churches, the majority of which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were often abandoned as their communities and supporting finances declined or disappeared. Many chantry chapels disappeared after the dissolution of their supporting communities in the 1540s. Chapels, like parish churches, have always been major features of the landscape. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as being nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.

The post-Norman Conquest medieval chapel and its associated buildings on St Cuthbert's Isle survive well and will retain significant archaeological deposits. The site has been identified as one of the earliest ecclesiastical foundations in the north east of England and was an important part of the spiritual life of the Christian community on Lindisfarne. It will contribute to the study of the development of Christianity in this area.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of a post-Norman Conquest medieval chapel situated on St Cuthbert's Isle 175m south west of Holy Island. The chapel and its western annexe are stone built. Immediately around the chapel and annexe is a slight earthwork bank and beyond, to the north, east and south, is a gently sloping semicircular platform defined by a ditch. To the north west of the chapel is a low earthwork mound thought to be associated with earlier use of the island as a retreat. To the south east are the remains of a stone built building which it has been suggested may have been a cell or dwelling place of the priest attached to the chapel. The chapel, annexe and building to the south east were surveyed and partly excavated by Sir William Crossman in 1888. A chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert is mentioned by Bede (AD 673-735) and described as being in the outer precincts of the Anglo-Saxon monastery; it is believed to refer to this island. The island was used by Cuthbert (c.AD 630-687) and his successor Eadberht as a retreat. It has been suggested that the Anglo-Saxon retreat might be comparable with that described by Bede on Farne, and comprise a cell and an oratory or chapel for private prayer, and possibly an enclosure. The chapel, possibly on the site of an earlier oratory, is thought to date in its present form to the 13th century AD. It is rectangular in plan and measures 9m east-west by 5.8m north-south with walls 0.75m wide and now standing to a maximum height of 0.8m. There is an entrance 2m wide in the south wall and a threshold stone is visible through the turf. At the east end of the chapel is a modern wooden cross. Attached to the west wall of the chapel is a rectangular annexe, orientated north-south, which measures 5.3m east-west by 10.75m north-south with walls 0.85m thick and standing to a maximum height of 0.95m. The southern section of the west wall of the annexe has collapsed. The annexe appears to have two entrances in its east wall; the northern entrance measures 1.3m wide, the southern one 1.8m wide. At the south entrance a threshold stone is visible through the turf cover which bears the letters CK or CR carved on its internal vertical face. Each entrance from the annexe leads to a platform 0.75m high on the north and south sides of the chapel; on the north side the platform measures 5.9m at its widest point. The walls of the annexe and chapel are constructed of small random rubble bonded with mortar. Beyond the south wall of the annexe is a ditch 1m wide and a bank 0.5m high which flatten to the east. The platform on which the chapel stands is partly delineated on the north, east and south sides by a ditch 0.85m wide and up to 0.4m deep. There is stone lining visible on both faces of the ditch and it has the appearance of a drain; the ditch was described in 1888 as a rough whinstone wall and it was suggested it might be a breakwater. More recently it has been suggested that this feature may be an earlier enclosure associated with an oratory and part of the retreat mentioned by Bede. To the north west of the chapel, 4m from the annexe, is a sub-circular mound measuring c.5m north-south by c.4.5m east-west which has been interpreted as the remains of a circular cell and again part of the retreat mentioned by Bede. At the south east corner of the island, 7.6m from the ditch around the chapel, are the foundations of a rectangular structure which has been interpreted as the dwelling place of the priest attached to the chapel. The overall dimensions of the building are 6.9m east-west by 5.4m north-south, the western wall stands to a height of 0.65m. The north wall is interrupted by two bays, each 1.1m wide. The east and west walls are 0.65m wide, the west wall has been thickened at a later date to 1m wide. The building is constructed of random rubble bonded with mortar. The southern side of the building is obscured by boulders placed there as a breakwater. When the building was excavated in 1888 the stonework was described as beautifully cut and accurately laid and a wall divided the room into two; some large slabs are still visible today on the northern side. It has been suggested that some earlier foundations on the site relate to the site of St Cuthbert's own cell. A plan of the excavations in 1888 shows the remains of a paved causeway which links the platform around the chapel with the building at the south east corner of the island. The chapel is believed to be that of St Cuthbert-in-the-Sea which is mentioned in medieval documents relating to Lindisfarne Priory. An inventory of the chapel exists from 1533. Previous digging on the island, before 1888, had removed some stones, one of which may have been a small Saxon gravestone.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 24610

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
O'Sullivan, D, Young, R, Lindisfarne, Holy Island, (1995), 42-3
Beavitt, P , 'Northern Archaeology' in Fieldwork on Lindisfarne, Northumberland, 1980-1988, , Vol. 8, (1987), 21-22
Crossman, W, 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle' in St Cuthbert's Island, , Vol. 2 ser 3, (1889), 408-409
Crossman, W, 'History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club' in Plan of St Cuthbert's Island, , Vol. 13, (1890)

End of official listing