South to Durham

Today the retreat ends, our pilgrimage draws to a close, and we begin our journey homewards. After Morning Prayer in St Mary’s, and breakfast, we say Goodbye to The Open Gate and to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and drive over the causeway to the mainland. When we reach the A1, I’m so accustomed to following the signs to The North that I almost turn right, until Alison reminds me that, actually, we now need to look for The South.

We’ve decided that we’re going to take a few days on this journey, rather than trying to do it all in one. We’re going to start with a visit to a town we’ve never been to before: Chester-le-Street in County Durham. When the Vikings sacked Lindisfarne Priory, the monks fled with St Cuthbert’s body and travelled with it to several destinations in the north of England. For 12 years it rested in the church in Chester-le-Street, until the saint indicated that he wanted Durham to be his final resting place.

The Journey. Sculpture in Millennium Square, Durham

The Church of St Mary & St Cuthbert, Chester-le-Street, is remarkable in that it contains an anchorage or anchorhold, which was occupied between 1383 and 1547 by six anchorites. These were hermits, each of whom would be walled in to the anchorage for life, able to watch services through a squint into the church which looks down onto a side altar, and fed through another slit to the outside. The most famous anchoress of the Middle Ages is Julian of Norwich, but the story of Chester-le-Street shows that there were other such holy hermits in other English towns.

The Anchorage Window, St Mary & St Cuthbert Church, Chester-le-Street
By John Blackburne – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

We eat lunch at the Lambton Arms before visiting the church and then the remains of the Roman fort of Concangis (not a lot to see here), then take a walk in Riverside Park by the River Wear. Then it’s time to drive on to Durham, one of our favourite places in the whole world, were we lived from 1976-79. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to book a double guest room in St John’s College (all things are possible on a virtual pilgrimage), which includes the use of a parking space on South Bailey.

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