St Michael’s Church, Alnwick

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Things to do


Date of travel

March, 2019

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On your own

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On top of the hillside, over looking the river, St Michael’s Church is at the edge of the town near the castle. It is a very attractive church, set in a large graveyard. It has a typical squat Northumbrian square tower at the south west corner.

There may have been a church on this site in the C8th although the first record for a church is in the late C12th. Nothing remains of this building, apart from a few studded stones on either side of the chancel arch. The church was badly damaged during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early C14th. The church was rebuilt around 1460. All that remains of this building is part of the west and north walls.

By the C15th, the church was in a poor state of repair. Henry VI granted financial aid for the rebuilding using tolls from the port at Alnmouth. This explains the splendid building which is regarded as one of the most outstanding churches in the county.

Much of the present building dates from this rebuild when the chancel was extended, clerestory and tower added. The unusual look out tower at the south east corner, with a winding stair to the roof, was used to warn of raiders during the Border conflicts. It was again used in the early C19th when a landing by Napoleon’s army was feared and a series of beacons were set up around the country.

There was a major restoration of the church in the mid C19th by the fourth Duke of Northumberland when the plaster was removed from the walls and ceiling and took out the west gallery removed. He also gave the oak pews seen in the chancel.

A sacristy and choir vestry (now the parish room) were added to the north wall in the late C19th.

I was possibly a bit disappointed by the inside, which didn’t live up to the exterior… It is a large church but a bit characterless. The inside is big with arcades of pillars with pointed arches separating nave and chancel from the side aisles. These are unusual as they stretch the length of the church. The arcade in the chancel is more delicate than the pillars in the nave and they have much more elaborately carved capitals with angels holding a shield with a frieze of fruit and leaves below. There are open carved wooden screens between the aisle chapels and the chancel.

The chancel itself is very simple. The table altar came from the Castle in the 1980s, replacing a smaller altar. The lovely east window has Christ in the centre with the four evangelists which their symbols on either side.

At the end of the north aisle adjacent to the chancel is St Catherine’s Chapel which was refurbished by the eight Duke in memory of his father. The reredos with the Adoration of the Magi, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection dates from 1926. It is now used for private prayer.

The south aisle no longer has a chapel and is bare apart from two ancient and rather battered stone effigies. The lady is thought to be that of Lady Isabella, widow of William de Vesci, the last Baron of Alnwick. The young man may have been another member of the de Vesci family.

The very modern black Kilkenny limestone font at the back of the nave was added in 2001.

Just inside the door, beneath the tower are some early medieval grave slabs.

On a pillar at the back of the nave is the memorial slab to officers and men who died in the South African War 1899-1901.

The small lancet window at the back of the north aisle contains a small fragment of C14th stained glass representing a pelican plucking her breast to feed her young.

When I visited in March 2019, workmen were removing the front few rows of pews in the nave to open up the church for other activities.

The church is open daily until 4pm. The post code is NE66 1NP and the grid reference NU 184137. There are more pictures “here.”:


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