Church of All Saints
by Stephanie James
T H E C H U R C H O F A L L S A I N T S
All Saints' Church, Brixworth,
"perhaps the most imposing
of the 7th century yet surviving north of the
-- 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 more information.
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 places".
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.
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
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
The New Bell
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.
& Historical Discussion