Brixworth Priory Saxon Church, Northamptonshire

Brixworth Church is the largest surviving Anglo-Saxon building in England. It has been in continuous use as a church since at least 675 AD as it is mentioned as having been founded as a Monastery before the death of King Wulfhere of Mercia – who died in 675 AD.

Incredibly much of the work from this early structure survives in the church at Brixworth today. The tower is largely Saxon and has one of only four exterior stair turrets that survive in England (the circular attachment can be seen running down the side of the tower). At the opposite end of the church can be seen the remnants of the ring crypt – one of only three left in the whole of Europe. It is thought the ring crypt was an ambulatory to allow pilgrims to view the relic set into the wall of the apse.

The relic itself was uncovered in 1809 by workmen. They discovered a stone sticking out of the south wall and removed it. This turned out to be reliquary from the 14th Century. Inside it was a small wooden box containing a human throat bone wrapped in cloth. The cloth, unfortunately, disintegrated as soon as it was exposed to the air and so there is uncertainty over which saint the throat bone belongs to. The likeliest candidate appears to be St. Boniface.

The tower was enlarged in the 10th Century and other parts of the church date to the 13th and 19th Centuries. However, there is enough Saxon work here to make it one of Europe’s most important Saxon sites and it is quite surprising it is not better known as such.

Brixworth may have been the site of Clofesho, the site of Anglo-Saxon synods of the 8th and 9th Centuries. If this is the case then it may have been one of the most important towns and Monasteries in the whole country.

Today Brixworth is a tiny, quiet and pretty village and the church is almost hidden up a tiny lane. But for fans of church architecture it is unrivalled in England for the amount of Saxon work surviving.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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