In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wearmouth-Jarrow

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anglo-Saxon Royal and Political Contexts
  • Bede, the Venerable Bede, Saint Bede
  • Benedict Biscop, Biscop Baducing, Saint Benedict Biscop
  • Ceolfrid, Ceolfrith, Abbot
  • Norman Restoration, the Cells of Durham, and After
  • Modern Contexts and Interpretations

Medieval Studies Wearmouth-Jarrow
Kelley M. Wickham-Crowley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0140


The northeastern English monasteries of Wearmouth, located at the mouth of the River Wear, and Jarrow, on the Tyne near a former natural anchorage called Jarrow Slake, are physically separate Anglo-Saxon period foundations but referred to as a twin monastery. Benedict Biscop (d. 689) founded Wearmouth in c. 672 (in modern times called “Monkwearmouth”) and Jarrow in 681 after King Ecgfrith granted him lands. They are most famous for their association with the preeminent historian Bede (c. 672–735), author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum), and for producing notable early manuscripts, especially the St. Cuthbert Gospel, the Leningrad Bede, and the Codex Amiatinus (The Great Bible of Monte Amiata), the only surviving copy of three massive, complete Bibles (pandects) that Abbot Ceolfrith had made between 692 and 716. By the early 8th century, The Life of Saint Ceolfrid claims some six hundred lived at the two sites. They likely survived until the late 9th century, perhaps failing as a consequence of local Viking raids, though this is as yet unproven. The Norman Aldwin restored both foundations in the 1070s, but by 1083 the resident monks were transferred to Durham; between 1225 and 1235, both monasteries had become cells of Durham, with domestic and farm buildings. After the Dissolution (1536), both sites were acquired by families who then erected halls and outbuildings serving secular purposes. By the 8th century, both sites had a minister or parson resident, but much of what remained was in ruins or in poor condition. Trial archaeological excavations at Jarrow took place in 1935 under E. Birley and in 1954 under C. A. R. Radford, while a full program of excavation on both sites began in 1963 under the direction of Rosemary Cramp and continued into the 1970s, finishing with excavation of Jarrow Slake by C. D. Morris. A small excavation by Stephen Speak took place from 1989 to 1991 northwest of the Jarrow church at Church Bank, north of Jarrow Hall. Monkwearmouth produced early buildings and a cemetery to the south of the current church, as did Jarrow. Both showed evidence of adopting Roman and Celtic/Irish building aspects, with stone walls, plastered and tinted walls and floors (opus signinum), and window glass. Jarrow also showed evidence of glass production and metalworking. Beside the current Jarrow Church, the modern Bede’s World incorporates reconstructed Anglo-Saxon building types, a working farm with old breeds and heirloom plants, an education and study center, and a museum. Today, this twin monastery is a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage site classification.

General Overviews

Wearmouth-Jarrow’s importance derives from its Anglo-Saxon period, so citations here focus on aspects of that historical context. For those interested in later historical periods for these sites, the most accessible (if brief) coverage appears in Cramp 2005–2006, which is an excavation report. See also Modern Contexts and Interpretations. Because these monasteries were apparently mostly abandoned in the Viking period (likely the 9th century) until Norman times, most references in this section relate to the earlier half of the Anglo-Saxon period (6th to 9th, rather than 6th to 11th centuries). Primary texts Bede, et al. 1998 and Bede 1999 cover important abbots of the twin monastery as well as his famous Ecclesiastical History of Britain from Roman times through the 8th century and Christian conversion and expansion. The revised edition of Hunter Blair and Keynes’s classic history (Hunter Blair and Keynes 2003) narrates key information in a readable manner and is updated by Keynes to discuss the contributions of archaeology. Foot 2006 provides more focused coverage of monasteries and monastic life in the period, and Hawkes and Mills 1999 details the Northumbrian kingdom’s accomplishments at its height. For specifics on art and artifacts from the sites, Cramp 1984 covers sculptural remains for the counties of Durham and Northumberland while Cramp 2005–2006 discusses excavated remains of all types for both sites. Webster 2012 surveys and analyzes the development of Anglo-Saxon art and themes in various media, including a useful glossary of terms and giving context to finds from these two sites.

  • Bede, J. F. Webb, and D. H. Farmer. The Age of Bede. Translated by D. H. Farmer and J. F. Webb. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1998.

    Primary texts in accessible edition. Includes Bede’s Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, his life of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, anonymous Life of Abbot Ceolfrith, Eddius Stephanus’s Life of Wilfrid, The Voyage of St. Brendan. See also Grocock and Wood 2013 Latin, English translation under Religious Life.

  • Bede. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins. Translated by Bertram Colgrave. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    This is the most important text on early English history and conversion to Christianity, especially reliable for the North of England. Scholars depend on Bede for crucial detail and sources oral and written, while noting his limited southern sources and focus on history as salvation history. Latin: Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.

  • Cramp, Rosemary. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. County Durham and Northumberland. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

    Includes all surviving Anglo-Saxon sculpture in these counties as of publication, placing Wearmouth-Jarrow’s materials in a regional context. All pieces are illustrated, described in detail, and discussed. Part of a series (abbreviated as CASSS, from the title above).

  • Cramp, Rosemary. Wearmouth and Jarrow Monastic Sites. 2 vols. Swindon, UK: English Heritage, 2005–2006.

    Full archaeological and historical contexts for both sites, while post-medieval materials are summarized, archived. Volume 1 focuses on pre-16th-century contexts; selected documentary sources; and collected graphic depictions of the 16th to 20th centuries. Volume 2 contains specialist reports with discussion, and catalogues and illustrates material remains found (ecological remains, artifacts, human and animal bones).

  • Foot, Sarah. Monastic Life in Anglo-Saxon England c. 600–900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Divided into coverage of what goes on within the walls of minsters/monasteries and outside of them, with comprehensive coverage of terms, foundation and endowment, economic bases, religious vocation and daily life, dependencies, and relations with the laity. Engages current debates and gaps in knowledge. Extensive bibliography.

  • Hawkes, Jane, and Susan Mills, eds. Northumbria’s Golden Age. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1999.

    Wide-ranging collection of articles by major scholars covering archaeology and history, material culture, manuscripts, and Bede, in the first culturally dominant kingdom of the early Anglo-Saxons.

  • Hunter Blair, Peter, and Simon Keynes. An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    Classic work surveying history from the end of Roman Britain to the Norman Conquest, covering the church, government, economy, and letters (language, scholarship, texts). Keynes’s introduction updates the state of the field. Some graphics are no longer reliable (e.g., burials in southeast England date to 1966). Originally published 1956.

  • Webster, Leslie. Anglo-Saxon Art. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

    Accessible, up-to-date, richly illustrated, original in thought and organization. Especially useful aspects include how Anglo-Saxons read images, close discussion of Style I and II animal art, thematic links among periods and styles and between art and texts, Celtic and Eastern influences, and Anglo-Saxon cultural survival in early modern to Victorian contexts.

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