CHURCH bosses have unveiled a £1million plan to bring an ancient monastery to life at the site of Sunderland’s most historic church.
The ambitious project at St Peter’s Church aims to highlight the origins of the monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow, founded by Benedict Biscop.
Archeological remains at the church are a designated scheduled ancient monument and is part of a twin monastic site, with St Paul’s at Jarrow, and was the UK’s nomination for World Heritage Site status, until the bid was scrapped in 2012.
Funded from Sunderland City Council’s capital investment programme, this latest proposal aims to take buried archaeological remains and use them as a modern garden “replicating the monastic footprint and incorporating interpretive material”.
A planning application has now been submitted, with work hoping to start in the autumn. The plans, which began with discussions in 2008, originally ran in parallel with the failed World Heritage Site bid.
The Reverend Dick Bradshaw, team rector at Monkwearmouth Parish, said: “This is such a significant site of national and international interest.
“It’s something we would really like to raise the profile of the city.”
The plans will see the relighting of the church tower, which was the original heart of the monastery. There will be landscape enhancements to the grounds around St Peter’s Church, including new pedestrian entrances, footpaths, floodlighting and planting.
Later in the year, walls will be built to outline the original walls of the monastery, marking where the cobble footpath went down to the river and the timeline of the journeys of Benedict Biscop to Rome, where he brought back the inspiration for the new-style monastery of St Peter and St Paul’s at Jarrow.
It will also include a community garden, dreamt up by parishioner Rob Hunt, the plans for which were celebrated with a barbecue this weekend, by those who will be looking after it.
“He had a vision for a garden as part of the landscaping,” Rev Bradshaw added.
“Over the last few months, there have been discussions with the university at St Peter’s and the Centrepoint homeless hostel and various other people, to see what interest there is in using the garden for growing vegetables and fruit.
“It will also be used as a prayer garden, where people can come and be quiet. The produce from the garden will be used in meals at Bede’s Bakehouse, an echo of what the monks would have done.”
The low sandstone walls can be used for seating, and a stone map will feature archaeological drawings, made after the excavations of Professor Rosemary Cramp in the 1950s and 1960s. The planning application states: “All these elements combine in a cohesive garden, interesting in itself, but most importantly, illustrating the layout and significance of what lies beneath.”
The work of St Bede will be reflected in the stained glass windows in a 1970s extension currently used as a cafe, the main processional route will be edged with bronze paving blocks, while the southern entrance will be marked by new sandstone piers.
A “highly-visible” lighting scheme has been designed to place an emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon stonework.
Subject to planning approval, the work aims to be complete next spring.
A council spokesman said: “Recognising that St Peter’s is among the city’s most important heritage assets, over £1million of Sunderland City Council’s capital investment programme will be invested in the landscaping, interpretation and other planned improvements to enhance the visitor experience.”