Skip to comments.Church's Pre-Historic Past Unearthed
Posted on 02/14/2008 3:54:38 PM PST by blam
Church's pre-historic past unearthed
Feb 14 2008 By Tony Henderson
Work on a towns church has revealed that the site may have been used for ritual and worship for thousands of years.
Major refurbishment work on the Grade I-listed St Michael and All Angels church in Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne and Wear, began last month and has involved digging up the floor to install a new heating system.
The church, dating back to Norman times, is the oldest building in the town.
A carved stone above a tiny doorway, featuring a carving of mysterious intertwined animals known as the Houghton Beasts, may be from before the Norman Conquest.
But investigation by archaeologists as the refurbishment has continued has revealed whinstone boulders under the church, which are thought to have been part of an early prehistoric burial cairn or ritual site. A line of similar boulders has been found under the churchyard wall.
Archaeologist Peter Ryder, of Riding Mill in Northumberland, said: It looks like a prehistoric site. We cant think of any other reason why these very large boulders should be inside the church.
Under the central tower of the church, which was restored in about 1350, the work has uncovered huge Roman stones thought to have come from a Roman temple.
These are massive and spectacular foundations for the tower, using huge stones which must have come from a major Roman building, said Peter.
A Roman stone coffin lid has been in the churchyard for many years.
It is believed it was often the practice that important pagan ritual or worship sites were taken over by subsequent religions.
We have found far more than we ever expected when the work began, said Peter, who is working alongside Newcastle Universitys Archaeological Practice.
Also uncovered has been a maze of mainly 18th Century burial vaults, some brick and some stone, under the church. A number had their tops and bodies removed when Newcastle architect John Dobson carried out remodelling in 1858 during which, the current work has shown, he re-used medieval timbers from the roof.
Pits of bones from this work have been found and the remains will be reburied.
Several intact vaults have been found in the current work and Peter said: We have found evidence for at least several dozen vaults.
There are also signs of a major fire around the time the church was rebuilt in 1330s-40s, probably after a Scottish raid. There is a documentary account of a man having been killed by Scots raiders while hiding in the church belfry.
Another find has been footings of a wall from a late Saxon or early Norman nave. The Rev Derek Newton, associate priest at the church, said the finds would be part of a Houghton heritage centre which will be created in the church as part of the £1m refurbishment project.
Although the finds have delayed the work slightly, this has been a great adventure and everybody has enjoyed what has been revealed, he said.
To help raise funds for the heritage centre, people are being invited to make a donation as they contribute items, photographs or writings to a time capsule which will be sealed beneath the new floor.
Contact Mr Newton on (0191) 584-9169.
The church is considering holding an open day for people to view the finds a week on Saturday.
Another “Church as museum” article not Church as living breathing “alive” body...
There was always a story in my maternal village in Greece that the village church, from the 11th century, was built over the ruins of a small pagan temple. The story was lent some credence by the fact that several of the columns which support the roof of the exonarthex of the church were clearly anachronistic and not at all in the style of the rest of the building. Several years ago the Ephorate of Antiquities, with an EU grant and the assistance of some French archaeologists began excavating underneath the floor of the nave. Sure enough, they found the temple just as the old story said they would.
That floor they took up is itself quite important. It has a large Byzantine eagle in the middle of it and it is at that precise spot where Constantine XI Paleologos, the last Emperor of the Roman Empire stood when the first prayers in Greece were chanted for him upon his election to the Purple.
As I recall Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People,’ Pope Gregory the Great directed St. Augustine of Canterbury (sent to Britain to convert the English people) to build churches on pagan holy sites.
An 1800's image of the church:
St. Michael's & All Angels' Church" for more, including several more pictures.
I have read enough H.P. Lovecraft to know how disturbing pagan crypts is going to turn out.
That’s really interesting. Thanks for posting it.
I’m reminded of a good book which I recently finished for anyone who finds this interesting: Ken Follet’s “The Pillars of the Earth”, which centered around the construction of cathedrals in 12th century England. I thought it was slightly marred by the numerous graphic obligatory rape scenes though.
How is this “pre-historic”? Haven’t people been recording history for millenia? Are not the Scriptures that this church likely used in their services not historical?
Never mind. I mis-read the article. Looks like there’s some old, old things going on beneath that there church.
On even numbered days, I'm glad Bowdler is dead. On odd numbered days, I could find lots for him to apply his talents on.
Maybe publishers could start putting out 'full' and PG versions.
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here be dragons.
Planted by Columba maybe, or a monk of his order?
We have lots of churches today that use vacated theaters, big box stores, and abandoned schools as buildings for worship.
For Christians, ultimately the building is just a building that is used to protect from the elements. Not to say that they didn’t do a restructuring and beautification program once they arrived, but that’s a different subject.
Any standing building no longer used has always been fair game. Even in the New Testament they met in upper rooms, people’s homes, and beside streams.
The building is not the church. The people are the church.
In my town, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (whatever that is) meets in a spare room of a Volunteer Fire Station. On Sundays the parking lot usually has a good crowd.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a denomination determined to return to historic, biblical, reformed teaching.
Oh, kinda like Southern Baptists who baptize by sprinkling?
So, archeologists can never just write about their findings?
I think they are a breakoff of what we today would consider the PCA (Presby Church of America) due to the PCA’s liberalism. J. Grashem Machen (sp?), renowned as an Ivy League expert in Greek (Princeton?) was among their founders, and also among those who came up with the 5 Fundamentals of the Christian faith, from which the word “fundamentalism” eventually derived.
Since the S. Baptists are primarily a calminian, adult anabaptistic denomination, they are really quite different from the OPC’s solidly calvinistic, reformed faith.
It was a very good book, meticulously researched, and full of architectural details about how these soaring monuments to God were built.
Oh what a beautiful church! My ancestors, on my dad’s side hail from that area of England. I would love to visit there some day - and this church would definitely be on my list of places to visit!
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