Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 01 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Alphonsus Liguori
home iconTravel
line break icon

The story of St. Peter-on-the-Wall, one of the oldest churches in England

Marathon - CC BY-SA 2.0

Daniel Esparza - published on 10/28/19

Built by St. Cedd in the year 654, it was reconsecrated much later, in 1920.

The Chapel of St. Peter-On-The-Wall is not an architectural masterpiece, nor is it well known for its ornamentation or the relics it hosts. This small, sober, and unpretentious chapel, located in Bradwell-On-Sea in Essex (on the southeastern British coast, is among the oldest mostly intact Christian churches in England. In fact, some sources claim this is the second oldest Christian building in all Great Britain still standing today (St. Martin’s Church in Canterbury being the first).

The little we know about the man who built it, St. Cedd, we get from St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

According to Bede, Cedd was born in Northumbria, and was taken to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (the great center of Celtic Christianity) by St. Aidan himself. Bede also relates that Cedd had three brothers: Chad, Cynibil, and Caelin. All four were priests, but only Cedd and Chad became bishops. By the year 653 Cedd was already a priest, so we can date his birth around the year 620.

John Salmon - CC BY-SA 2.0

One year after his ordination, in 654, Cedd built St. Peter-on-the-Wall among the ruins of an abandoned Roman fort. Using some of the Roman bricks and stones he found in the place, he built this Anglo-Celtic church for the East Saxons living in the area, as he had been sent from Lindisfarne at the request of the then-king of the Saxons, Sigeberth the Good. Since that time the chapel has belonged to the London diocese, since Cedd served as bishop there. The chapel’s website tells the story of its construction with as much detail as possible:

In 653 Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne and landed at Bradwell. Here he found the ruins of an old deserted Roman fort. He probably first built a small wooden church but as there was so much stone from the fort he soon realised that would provide a much more permanent building, so he replaced it the next year with the chapel we see today! Cedd modelled his church on the style of churches in Egypt and Syria. The Celtic Christians were greatly influenced by the churches in that part of the world and we know that St. Antony of Egypt had built his church from the ruins of a fort on the banks of a river, just as Cedd did on the banks of the River Blackwater in Essex (then known as the River Pant).

But we also know very little about the history of this chapel. We know the year of its foundation from Bede’s texts, and then we hear nothing of it again until the 15th century, when local clergymen report to the bishop of London that they have expanded the church “slightly.” The church suffered a fire and was repaired, and remained in use until the 16th century, when it was abandoned and even used as a barn for a while.

It was only restored and reconsecrated as a chapel in 1920.

ArchitectureCatholic historyEngland
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
Mathilde De Robien
Did you know Princess Di was buried with a rosary?
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Zelda Caldwell
German women’s gymnastics teams modest dress protests sport’s ...
Lauren Daigle
J-P Mauro
After 3 years Lauren Daigle ousts herself from #1 Billboard spot
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.