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The Twin Monastery of Wearmouth Jarrow

Date of Submission: 27/01/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
State, Province or Region:
England, Tyne and Wear, Sunderland City and South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough
Ref.: 5681
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Wearmouth: Lat/ Long 54º 54' 48" N; 1º 22' 29" W
Jarrow: Lat/ Long 54º 58' 49" N; 1º 28' 20" W

The twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow was founded in the seventh century AD as a twin monastery intended, by its creator Benedict Biscop, to function as one organisation. The monastery had two liturgical foci: St Peter's, at Wearmouth (founded in 672/3), and St Paul's, at Jarrow (added in 681), around which lay the lands of their extensive monastic estates. The two sites are some 14.2 km (8.8 miles) apart, on the south bank of the River Tyne and the north bank of the River Wear in north-east England. Under Benedict Biscop's inspirational leadership and that of his assistant and successor Ceolfrith, Wearmouth-Jarrow went on to become a wonder of its time: a powerhouse of intellectual endeavour. It nurtured the great scholar Bede, and was a place full of beauty and fine craftsmanship, also having assembled one of the greatest libraries to be found in Europe at the time. Its architectural style and the techniques used to build the twin monastery had hardly been seen in Anglo-Saxon England since the departure of the Romans three centuries earlier.

The Property included in the two parts of this serial Nomination includes all of the known standing and buried remains of both of the Anglo-Saxon monastic complexes which saw these great developments. Its direct association with Bede, Biscop and Bede's teacher Ceolfrith makes it one of the most influential monastic sites in Europe.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The late seventh-century twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow is a milestone in the development of Christian Europe. Its architectural remains in the original monastic churches and below-ground remains of the associated monastic complexes, exceptional both in quality and quantity, provide a visible link between the past world of late Roman antiquity and the coming world of the European Middle Ages. Its innovative architecture epitomizes the introduction of building in stone with Roman-style sculpture and coloured glass windows into the British Isles. In its design, it was a key stepping-stone on the way to the greater formalisation of monastic claustral layouts, and communal as opposed to eremitic life, which accompanied the development of written monastic rules across Europe during the course of the next century, leading to the standard claustral layout which would come to dominate medieval European society and then be transferred to other parts of the world.

The founders of Wearmouth-Jarrow and the scholarly ideas of Bede created a gateway for the ideas of late-Roman antiquity to enter the emerging early medieval world: through Wearmouth-Jarrow the skills and learning of late antiquity centred on the Mediterranean Sea, and the ideas of the early Christian world were not only transferred to the northern limits of the emerging literate world, but combined, developed, remodelled and expanded, then exported back to Europe and beyond.

The outstanding library and teaching assembled at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and its scholarly ethos, were unlike anything else available in its day. Particularly through the prolific and wide-ranging works of its most renowned thinker, Bede, Wearmouth-Jarrow at its apex became the primary intellectual centre of Western Europe, the scriptorium developing a faster script in order to keep up with demand from across Europe for copies of its scholarly output.

Criteria met:

(ii) The considerable surviving monastic complex at Wearmouth-Jarrow was founded in a transitional period during which Christianity was gaining wider acceptance and developing new forms across Europe. It provides evidence of the arrival in Britain and development in Europe in the seventh century of ordered, communal monasticism, and the revival of the Roman style of architecture and is an early and formative example of the cloister layout which became standard in Europe north of the Alps during the next millennium and was later transferred to other parts of the world

(iii) The surviving monastic complex at Wearmouth-Jarrow provides an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of Western European Christian monasticism at an early, formative stage

(iv) The complex at Wearmouth-Jarrow is the earliest surviving and most completely excavated Western European example of a monastic foundation, purpose-built for communal living and scholarship at a formative period for Europe north of the Alps during its transition from late-Roman antiquity, dominated by the culture and learning of Greece and Rome, to the emerging Christian European Middle Ages. This style of monastic plan is the forerunner of the claustral layout for communal living which came to be the dominant form, which is evident elsewhere at the later sites of the Carolingian Renaissance, such as ninth-century Lorsch in Germany and St Gall in Switzerland, and later medieval monasteries such as Fountains Abbey in England.

(vi) Wearmouth-Jarrow is directly associated with the ideas and scholarship of the Venerable Bede, who spent his whole life from the age of seven in the twin monastery. Bede was a polymath. Wearmouth-Jarrow's exceptional library, teaching, and innovative environment equipped him to become the intellectual giant of his age, and one of the most influential European thinkers of the first millennium AD.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: the Nominated Property is complete, in that all of the physical attributes necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value are entirely contained within the Boundaries of its two parts, including the known physical remains above and below ground and the extant monastic plan. These formed the liturgical heart of the monastery and contain the area from which evidence for technological innovation was recovered, all dating to Bede's lifetime. Its estuarine setting can be readily appreciated and is protected by the buffer zone.

The Property is of adequate size, as there are no known physical remains of the monastic complex which fall outside the designated Boundary. Although both sites are situated within urban areas where there is inevitably some development pressure, local planning frameworks contain policies to ensure the protection of the Property's Outstanding Universal Value. The twin monastery sat originally within a built environment, including buildings for liturgy, learning, cultural development and domestic needs, and that context remains today.

Authenticity: The estuarine locations and settings of the two parts of the monastery have not changed, although through time the surrounding areas have inevitably changed and developed. The surviving above ground structures remain remarkably intact for their period, and preserve a significant amount of original fabric. The substantial below-ground remains have a very high degree of authenticity, and show that the basic plan of both monasteries is clear and survives well. Both above- and below-ground survivals demonstrate that the monastery was built in a Roman style, with stonemasonry, Roman-style coloured-glass windows, painted plaster walls and opus signinum floors decorating the monastery, and incorporating an innovative communal pre-claustral layout; this is the best survival of its date from Western Europe.

Comparison with other similar properties

Wearmouth-Jarrow is outstanding not only because it was exceptional in its own day , but that it survives at all, and is still in use for its original purpose today. No similar Property has already been inscribed on the World Heritage List, and no comparable Property, on current Tentative Lists or otherwise, exists to be put forward for World Heritage Nomination. Tangible remains of documented western religious houses of this era have usually been erased by later rebuilding. Exceptionally, Wearmouth-Jarrow retains substantial fabric from the age when it was at the forefront of monastic culture, west of Byzantium. This significance is increased by the survival of records produced within the monastery, and by archaeology, and by the contribution made to learning by the monastery.

Wearmouth-Jarrow articulates a historical turning point, which would in the future produce foundations such as Lorsch and Corvey, representing the transformation of the Roman world into that of medieval Europe. Inscription of Wearmouth-Jarrow would therefore fill a gap on the current World Heritage List by uniquely representing this key phase in European history. Due to the quality of its surviving remains, the comprehensive archaeological record, and its direct association with the renowned scholar Bede, no other Property could fill this gap so completely.