Founded in the Mid-8th Century
All Saints' Church,
Brixworth, Northamptonshire is
"perhaps the most imposing architectural monument of the 7th
century yet surviving north of the Alps"
-- Sir Alfred Clapham
The date of the
construction of All Saints' Church, Brixworth is unclear; however, it is
without question one of the most outstanding churches of its period in
England. It has been in continuous use as a centre of Christian worship
from its building to the present day. It is also the largest structure to
survive from those early years although it is thought that a Viking attack
destroyed the side aisles in AD 870.
Although the date of
construction is debatable, I have attempted to show both sides. This
initial page has been adapted from the guide produced by Revd. Nicholas
Chubb and is available for sale at the church. For the other side of the
debate, see the detailed essay for
was this church built?
Brixworth was thought of as a suitable centre from which to spread the
Gospel to the non-Christian natives of Mercia, the middle kingdom of early
England. Christianity spread through the country from two directions:
north and south. It was first established in the north in Celtic parts
where the monks settled many communities. Each community was a centre for
new work and in time the monks who lived at Lindisfarne formed a centre at
Medeshamstede (modern Peterborough). The monks from Medeshamstede formed
their own new centres. According to an early twelfth century passage in
the Peterborough Chronicle following the appointment of Sexwulf as Bishop
of Mercia in AD 675 "it came to pass that from that very monastery
were founded many others with monks and abbots from the same congregation,
as at ... Brixworth, Bredon, Bermondsey, Repton, Woking and at many other
inspired the building of a church here?
One theory supposes that it was Wilfrid, Bishop of Hexham. His work was
chiefly in the North and the Midlands, and he was a regular visitor to
France and Italy. In his enthusiasm for converting his fellow countrymen
to the new faith he spared no effort. It is believed that he brought
crafts-people back with him on his trips to the continent to help build
the churches which he was founding. There is no doubt that Brixworth shows
both Saxon and Italian or Syrian influence in a marked degree and this in
itself is a puzzle that needs explanation.
All of these arguments
for an early date are interesting, but it must be borne in mind that the
church we have today may not be that mentioned in the Peterborough
Chronicle but one built in the 8th or early 9th century. It could have
been built about 750 by King Ethelbald of Mercia in honour of his friend
Boniface. This would fit in very well with the existence today of the
relic thought to be from the larynx of St. Boniface. In which case the
chamber in the tower could have been a chapel for the King himself. A
later date than 680 would also help in the argument surrounding the
building of a first apse and crypt-chapel underneath. Although Brixworth
has similarities with many contemporary buildings, it does not follow any
one type slavishly, and this may well be because of its geographical
position where it was open to many influences from all sides. For more
details on the debate about the date see the detailed
essay link below.
has the church survived so long?
Probably due to a number of fortunate coincidences. At first it was an
important monastic centre an then quite quickly the church became the
parish church of a not very important village and perhaps it was just
ignored. Whatever happened we are very lucky that we have a fine example
of early Anglo-Saxon architecture at Brixworth modified comparatively
little by succeeding generations.
The following was
furnished by Michael Lewis, a Brixworth resident and a member of the All
Saints' Council and choir. He has kindly responded to my questions about
the church and surrounding area.
The church had a new bell hung in 1993. It was installed to commemorate
the end of a restoration compaign spearheaded by the Friends of All
Saints' Brixworth to reinforce the spire and tower. For many years the
bells were silent on account of the weak structure of the tower. Recent
restoration has started on the Lady Chapel to replace the decayed leading
in the windows. In a church of All Saints' age, restoration projects are
more or less continuous.
The 'Brixworth Relic' has quite an involved history. The reliquary was
found beneath the middle window of the Lady Chapel when some restoration
work was being undertaken in 1821. When it was opened a wooden box was
discovered containing a fragment of bone wrapped in cloth. The wooden box
had an inscription believed to be the initials of Thomas Bassenden, the
last chantry priest, and the date when he had the relic bricked up in the
wall for posterity - circa 1500. In some early parish documentation
there are several references to guilds of St Boniface and in wills and
accounts referring to festivities around St Boniface's Day (5th June).
This connection with an early Christian who was born in Crediton, Devon,
travelled to Europe as a missionary, later became the Bishop of Mainz, is
a bit suspicious. Nevertheless, it is believed that St Boniface was
martyred in his own cathedral and that someone acquired his larynx bone
and brought it to Brixworth. It was considered important in those early
times to have some connection with a known holy person. The reliquary was
displayed for many years above the pulpit, but increased vandalism and
theft of the building in recent years has forced its removal to a safer
place, the location of which I cannot disclose! The feast of St Boniface
is commemorated today with the annual church fete, always on the first
weekend in June.
magnificent, Brixworth Church is not the oldest archaeological site in
Brixworth. There have been extensive excavations at the site of a Roman
villa north of the Church. Much of the fabric of the church comprises
re-worked Roman tiles and the Eagle in the doorway is carved on a stone
used in the original Roman building. It is hoped that one day the Eagle
may be removed to discover what lies on its reverse side.
Article by Stephanie
2: Architectural & Historical