St Aidan’s church is a long low building with a squat tower. The chancel with its pointed roof dominates the nave and south aisle with its lower, flat roof. Most people immediately associate it with the burial place of Grace Darling but it is also where St Aidan died and was buried.
There has been a church on this site since the 7thC when St Aidan arrived as Bishop of Lindisfarne. The original church was built of wood and burnt down many times during Viking raids. The first stone church was built in 1100 which was rebuilt in the 13thC as a monastery church for the Augustinians. The chancel is large as it was needed to accommodate all the canons during services.
During the 19thC restoration the 13thC crypt was rediscovered with the coffins of the Foster Family who owned Bamburgh. It is thought this may originally have been built to hold the relics of St Aidan who died here.
The church is surrounded by a large graveyard which contains the splendid memorial tomb of Grace Darling, surrounded by iron railings and a tall canopy which was designed to be large enough to be seen by boats at sea. View photo. See The story of Grace Darling is still strong in Bamburgh and even in January there was a steady stream of visitors to look at her memorial.
Inside it is a huge church with slender round pillars with pointed arches separating the nave from the side aisles. On the walls are four diamond shaped wooden hatchments. Three have arms of members of the Forster family. The fourth is the arms of the First Lord Armstrong. The south aisle is nearly as wide as the nave and has a low round transept arch leading into the transept with the organ.
The north aisle is narrower and contains the original statue from the Grace Darling Memorial which was moved into the church as it was becoming badly eroded. On the west wall next to it is the splendid Sharp Memorial erected by Frances Sharp in memory of her grandfather, two uncles and husband (in that order) with a carving of herself above.
In the north Transept is St Oswald’s Chapel. This was originally a chantry chapel endowed for the saying of prayers for the soul of Thomas de Bamburgh. It now has a small altar with a painted wood picture of St Oswald and St Aidan. The Grace Darling Memorial window is on the north wall. On the east wall is the window ‘In Honour of Women’ , featuring women saints and reformers.
A narrow pointed chancel arch has a squint on the south side with a stone motif of thorns. This let people in the south aisle see the High Altar.
Just inside the chancel, on the left side, is the tablet marking the spot where St Aidan died in 651. Hanging above is a clear cylinder containing a small cross. St Bede describes Aidan as dying against a wooden beam in a shelter built for him outside his church. Above the font at the back of the church is a large forked beam. This is reputed to be part of the original church of St Aidan and said to be the beam he died against.
The Chancel is dominated by the splendid stone reredos which takes up most of the east wall. This was carved in 1895 and celebrates the Saints of Northumbria, with the size of the carvings giving a hierarchy of importance. There is an information guide in the church identifying them all and gives some of their history. At the top, the figures of St Oswald and St Aidan dwarf the rest who include St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby who hosted the Synod of Whitby in 663 which confirmed the supremacy of Rome over the Celtic church. Below, St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are the largest.
The tall narrow early English windows at the east end have the image of Christ in the centre with St Cuthbert and St james on either side. The other stained glass windows in the chancel have images of other saints.
On the north wall is the Forster family memorial. Next to it is the armour belonging to Ferdinando Forster who was killed in a fight in Newcastle.