History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
Godric (or Goderic) was an interesting character; a sailor - some say a pirate - who retired from the seas and adopted a religious life. Born in Norfolk around 1065, he worked as a pedlar, then became a sailor. He may have been captain of the ship that carried King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to Jaffa in 1102. He visited Lindisfarne, possibly to visit St Cuthbert's shrine. There he underwent a religious conversion, and gave up his seafaring life. He went on several overseas pilgrimages, and worked for a time as a humble doorkeeper at St Giles Hospital church in Durham.
In 1115 he persuaded Ranulf Flambard, the powerful Bishop of Durham, to grant him land at Finchale to establish a hermitage, in a loop of the River Wear. There he lived out the final 60 years of his life as a hermit, establishing a growing reputation for piety and wisdom. He is known for his simple lifestyle; he slept outside in all weather, using only branches for protection from the elements. Leaders such as Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Alexander III sought his advice. He was never formally canonised, so the term 'saint' is a bit of a misnomer.
Construction of the priory was a long process, and buildings on the site have been identified from the late 12th century to the mid-16th century, but the earliest surviving stonework dates to 1196. These would have beeen temporary structures used by the prior and monks while the more permanent priory buildings were constructed. The main buildings date to 1237, and the church was completed in 1277. Partial wall paintings can be seen on the piers of the church nave, but the paint is faded and difficult to make out. The nave arches show well-preserved tracery, and the carved capitals are highly decorated. A double piscina is set in the south wall of the priory church, and two seats of a sedilia have survived.
Finchale Priory is in the care of English Heritage, but the site is on private land, beside a camping and caranning site with a gated entrance system. You can pay for parking (£3 when we visited) or park higher up the lane and walk down to the priory site, which is what we did. In theory the priory grounds opened at 10am, but the gate was open when we arrived well before that time. I asked in the camping kiosk, and the owner of the site said the grounds are usually left open, despite the 'official' opening hours. You can also take a footbridge over the river to the far bank where there are lovely walking trails and excellent views to the monastic buildings on the near bank.
The location is utterly wonderful, and you can see why Finchale was considered a place for the monks to rest and recharge their batteries. One drawback to visiting is that there are not any obvious information panels around the site, so it is hard to really get a sense of what the various parts of the ruins were used for, or how the priory developed over time. The walls of the priory church still stand to a good height, but for me the best feature by far was the vaulted undercroft of the frater in the south range. This is a wonderfully atmospheric space, with ribbed vaulting dividing up the interior into a series of bays.
At the east end of the church, contained within the later presbytery, are the remains of the chapel of St St Godric, where you can still see remnants of the saint's tomb.
Finchale is a wonderful historic site. Though not large, it is well worth a visit, if only for the atmosphere; I can imagine being a monk here!
About Finchale Priory
Address: Durham, County Durham, England, DH1 5SH
Attraction Type: Abbey
Location: 3 m NE Durham, off A167
Website: Finchale Priory
English Heritage - see also: English Heritage memberships (official website)
OS: NZ296 470
Photo Credit: brian sowerby, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
Opening Details: Open access site, usually accessible at any reasonable time
We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.
Historic Time Periods:
Find other attractions tagged with:
12th century (Time Period) - 13th century (Time Period) - 15th century (Time Period) - 16th century (Time Period) - 18th century (Time Period) - Decorated (Architecture) - Henry VIII (Person) - Lindisfarne (Place) - Medieval (Time Period) - wall paintings (Historical Reference) -
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Crook Hall - 2.8 miles (Historic Building)
Durham Castle - 3.3 miles (Castle)
Durham Cathedral - 3.3 miles (Cathedral)
Houghton-le-Spring, St Michael and All Angels - 3.3 miles (Historic Church)
Washington Old Hall - 5.9 miles (Historic Building)
Hylton Castle - 8.2 miles (Castle)
Sunderland, Holy Trinity Church - 9.2 miles (Historic Church)
Gibside - 10.4 miles (Garden)
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