A Brief History of St. Peter's Church

St. Peter's, Monkwearmouth is one of the oldest churches in Britain, where Christians have gathered for more than 1300 years. This is a place of worship and prayer, ministry and mission.

St. Peter’s was built in 674AD by Benedict Biscop (Patron Saint of Sunderland), a pioneering monk who was given a grant of land by the Northumbrian King, Egfrith.  There is a stained glass window in the church dedicated to Benedict Biscop.  The area was part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. Stonemasons and glassworkers from Gaul were brought to Northumbria to build the church as the craftsmen were skilled and these crafts were not yet well established in Anglo-Saxon England.  Benedict built an important complex of church and monastic buildings in the Roman style, probably on the site of a settlement founded by Hilda of Whitby.  It was one of two churches of the Benedictine double monastery of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey - the other church being St. Paul’s, at Jarrow.  

Another famous Saint connected with St. Peter's is the Venerable Bede who was born in Sunderland. At the age of 7 he joined the monastery taking holy orders. Little is known about Bede's background although it is accepted that he came to the monastery as an orphan and was welcomed by Benedict Biscop.  

St. Peter's was originally built as part of a monastery and had a famous library which contained many original documents and manuscripts.  It is a Grade 1 listed building and now a parish church. Of the original building only the west wall and porch survive.  The ground floor of the porch is barrel vaulted.  Its outer arch at the west end of the porch is of an elaborate design and is decorated with stone reliefs.

The rest of the church dates from around the 13th century when the north aisle was first built and in the 14th century a five-light east window was inserted in the chancel.

Much of the interior dates from a major restoration carried out in the 1870s, though medieval stonework is visible at the south side of the chancel arch. Following an arson attack in 1984, there were more changes during which the nave sanctuary and exhibition area were built, the chancel ceiling was repainted, and a fine Copeman-Hart organ was installed on the north side of the chancel.

Nowadays, St. Peter’s Church is still a well used church with regular Christian services and numerous activities take place within the building and grounds.  There is also a small cafe - Bede’s Bakehouse - which is very popular and well used by tourists and visitors to the church.