St Cuthbert's Church, Elsdon
St Cuthbert's Church, Elsdon

In AD 875 Danish raids on Lindisfarne forced the monks of Lindisfarne Priory to abandon their monastery and flee, carrying the body of St Cuthbert. Legend says that the monks rested at Elsdon before continuing their long journey.

A church was founded on the site where the monks rested, dedicated to St Cuthbert. In the 14th century, that first church was rebuilt, incorporating stonework from the earlier building.

In 1388 the bloody Battle of Otterburn was fought nearby, and dead from the battlefield were buried in the churchyard.

The Roman tombstone
The Roman tombstone

The rectors of Elsdon lived in the fortified pele, now known as Elsdon Tower. The Tower stands at the top of the churchyard and is now a private residence.

St Cuthbert's church is known as The Cathedral of the Rede, and acts as the mother church of Redesdale. Its parish was once the largest in England and covered 120 square miles, stretching north to the Scottish border.

The church interior is full of historic remains. Over the entrance door are two re-used medieval grave slabs used as lintels. One bears a carving of a pair of shears, indicating that it covered the grave of a woman. The pillars by the door are heavily scored with deep grooves, said to have been made by 16th-century Border Reivers sharpening their sword blades before setting out on raids.

The stained glass west window commemorates Captain Henry Hall who was killed in the WWI battle for Jerusalem. Hall was a descendent of Judge 'Mad Jack' Hall, who joined the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion and was executed for treason at Tyburn. Under the window is a stone reredos that was originally behind the high altar.

One of the most unusual features in the church is a set of three horse skulls found arranged in a tripod shape in the bell turret. The excellent church guidebook suggests that they may be a survival of an old pagan ritual of sacrificing valuable animals as a way of dedicating a new building.

Medieval stone reredos
The stone reredos

In the north aisle is a Roman tombstone, commemorating a Roman officer and inscribed by his widow Julia Lucilla. The tombstone is unique in Britain because the inscription describes the officer's entire military career.

Over the Roman tombstone is a war memorial. Curiously, the Roll of Honour for WWI only commemorates those local soldiers who died in the European theatre of war and omits two men who fought at Gallipoli and in modern Iran.

On the end pier of the nave is a wall monument to the Brown family of Ravenscleugh, close relatives of landscape gardener Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Brown's parents lived at Ravenscleugh and were married in St Cuthbert's church. In the north porch is the gravestone of Rev William Mitford, who married Brown's parents. Beside it are several medieval gravestones found set into the sanctuary floor.

14th century triple sedilia in the sanctuary
14th-century triple sedilia in the sanctuary

On the vestry wall is a list of rectors from the 13th century to the present day. Among them was Charles Dodgson, the great-grandfather of novelist and mathematician Lewis Carroll.

On the north chancel wall is a memorial to Thomas Arkle, county surveyor of Northumberland, and to Elizabeth Grose, daughter of antiquarian Francis Grose. On the south wall are a medieval triple sedilia, and three 14th century windows. In the south transept is a medieval grave slab set into the wall.

The burial ground is full of fascinating 18th-century gravestones, some with very good carvings in high relief.

St Cuthbert's is a fascinating historic building, with a long history stretching back to Roman Britain, and relics from every time period since then. It is usually open daylight hours to visitors and was open when we visited.

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About Elsdon, St Cuthbert's Church
Address: B6341, Elsdon, Northumberland, England, NE19 1AA
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the north side of the village green, in the centre of the village. Parking along the road verge.
Website: Elsdon, St Cuthbert's Church
Location map
OS: NY936932
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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