Sunderland academics uncover important find on Christian ‘superhighway’

Colm O'Brien at the Carrowmore monastic site
Colm O'Brien at the Carrowmore monastic site
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A GROUP of Sunderland researchers have found another link in the chain of Christian settlements across Europe.

The team of tutors and students from the University of Sunderland, who are plotting an “ecclesiastical superhighway” of early monastic settlements, made the important find during a field-trip to Culdaff in the Inishowen Peninsular of County Donegal, Ireland.

The expedition was led by the Bernician Study Group, who are all adult learners with the university’s North East Centre for Lifelong Learning’s Explore Programme, which aims to promote learning to the public across the North East.

Using the latest hand-held mapping equipment, the group discovered a circular boundary wall, about 100m in diameter, buried in fields at Carrowmore, an area which has two stone crosses and is known to have been an early 6th century Christian site.

Colm O’Brien, the group leader and an archaeologist, said the discovery provides the first physical proof that an early medieval monastery existed on the spot.

They were able to make the find by using a specialised piece of equipment, a fluxgate gradiometer, which was bought by the university, to conduct the survey.

Colm said: “It is beyond our wildest dreams. This state-of-the-art equipment allows us to examine what is beneath the surface to a depth of about half a metre and will be familiar to those who watch TV’s Time Team programme, where geophysics is regularly featured.

“For the first time, we can see the precinct boundaries of a monastery at Carrowmore, we can say how big it is, exactly where it is, see details of the interior and the context in which to understand those high crosses, one of which would have stood immediately outside the main entrance of the monastery precinct and one in the centre.”

Sunderland University is near the site of Wearmouth monastery and the 7th Century St Peter’s Church.

But, Colm said: “We are also following a trail which takes us back to 635AD, during King Oswald’s kingship in Northumbria, when he sent a message to the monastery at Iona in Western Scotland, asking for a bishop to do a ‘conversion job’ at Lindisfarne.

“Iona Abby was founded by an Irishman called Colm Cille, who hailed from County Donegal.”

Twitter: @sunechoschools