From intriguing settlements, abundant with archaeological treasures to crumbling church steeples, discover the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon architecture .
The Anglo-Saxons used what was at their disposal, building largely in wood from the surrounding forests. Much of their handiwork has now succumbed to the ravages of time. Nevertheless- there are extraordinary sites to explore.
You’ll find the world’s oldest wooden church (albeit much altered by later generations) at Greensted, near Chipping Ongar in Essex, ‘stave built’ with massive split oak-tree trunks. The 51 timber planks you see today date from c1060, while excavations have revealed two earlier timber structures of the 6th and 7th centuries.
Roman influence is found in apsidal chancels, such as St Paul’s in Jarrow, and Celtic echoes in square-ended chancels. Windows, which mostly had no glass, are small, narrow and round- or triangular-headed.
You may well find Roman brick, as seen within the walls of Hexham Abbey mixed into the ‘new build’ – recycling has always been popular! Hidden beneath such medieval buildings, you may also discover astonishing 7th-century crypts.
Noble little St Laurence in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, is noted for its lofty proportions and is one of Britain’s most complete late Saxon churches.
St Mary’s Priory Church, Deerhurst, Gloucestershire has many elaborate Saxon details including its font, twin windows and sculpture of the Virgin and Child over the inner doorway.
All Saints, Earls Barton in Northamptonshire, boasts the country’s finest Saxon tower and has superb 10th-century ‘long-and-short- work’: a sequence of tall narrow stone followed by a short wide one running up the tower’s corners. Other strips of stone, called lesenes, create a diamond pattern.
For a more ambitiously Romanesque, basilica-type construction visit All Saints at Brixworth, also Northamptonshire, from the 7th century; spot the Roman brick in its round arches.
Roman bricks and stones certainly came in handy for the construction of The Chapel of St Peter-on-the- Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, in 654 AD by St Cedd.
Meanwhile, Bede tells us that Benedict Biscop, 7th-century founder of the twin monastery of St Paul’s (Jarrow) and St Peter’s(Monkwearmouth), brought stonemasons and glaziers from Gaul to build ‘in the Roman style he had always loved so much.’
Remains at both sites, and excavated finds of carved stone and coloured windowglass displayed at Bede’s World, give insights into what must have been impressive constructions.
Several Anglo-Saxon burial sites have been excavated and you can see the discoveries in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester and perhaps most famously at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
Photos: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford/Alamy, Tom Mcgahon, Colin Underhill, Angelo Hornak, Frank Naylor, ASP Religion/Jenny Butler
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