Archeologists uncover link between historic Sunderland church and Roman fort

St Peter's, Monkwearmouth
St Peter's, Monkwearmouth
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ACADEMICS have used cutting-edge technology to explore the site of a historic Wearside monastery.

Dr Sarah Semple, of Durham University, and Professor Sam Turner, of Newcastle University, led the research project, which used laser scanning and ground-penetrating radar to examine St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth, Sunderland.

It forms part of the Wearmouth and Jarrow: Northumbrian monasteries in a historic landscape project, which also includes St Paul’s Church, in Jarrow.

Prof Turner said: “It has been a real privilege to study these two ancient churches.

“By using modern technologies, we’ve been able to learn a great deal about how they fitted into the ancient landscape.

“For example, we now know that St Peter’s Church was almost certainly built with Roman masonry recycled from the fort at South Shields.

“We think this shows the Northumbrian kings gave the monks both the land and the materials they needed to build their churches in the seventh century.”

Due to the survival of a large body of archaeological evidence, the churches are also two of Europe’s most important early medieval sites.

The ambitious project involved researchers from a range of backgrounds, including archaeologists, historians, archivists, geographers, environmental scientists and geologists.

It has revealed not only the links between the churches and the region’s political and economic history, but also how their cultural significance for the people living around them has changed over time.

The results are now published in a book written by Alex Turner, research associate in archaeology at Newcastle University, which comes right up to the present day by examining the significance of the two sites for people who live and work in the area today.

Prof Turner added: “The overall approach was to integrate information from many different sources across time and also across a wide geographical area, with data being supplied using a number of different techniques.

“These included petrology – the study of the individual stones used to build the monasteries.

“We also used geoarchaeology, palaeoenvironmental surveys, aerial photography, laser scanning and ground-penetrating radar.

“Bringing this huge amount of data together has given the research team a detailed picture of these two great institutions in their context.”

For more information about the book, visit