St Oswald’s Church

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St Oswald’s sits high on the banks above the River Wear, surrounded by a large graveyard which is now managed as a wild life area. It is thought there was a church here before the monks carrying the body of St Cuthbert settled on the peninsula and built the cathedral.

The church has a chequered history and the present building dates from the end of the C12th. In the C14th the nave was extended westwards, explaining the octagonal pillars at the back of the church, and the tower was built. Later the north aisle was widened and the chancel extended eastwards. Clerestory windows were added and a hammer beam roof in the C15th. In 1824 the building was in a dangerous state due to subsidence. Proposals to demolish it were opposed by the parishioners and the chancel and south aisle were rebuilt. The roof was replaced reusing the old brackets and a large window inserted under the tower. A vestry was added. Thirty years later, the east end of the chancel was again unstable and had to be rebuilt. A new organ chamber was built. In 1984 a disastrous fire started in the organ which caused serious damage throughout the church and especially in the chancel. Services took place in the Church Institute opposite until the church was repaired.

It is an attractive church with tall square tower at the west end with battlements and corner pinnacles. The long clerestoried nave is battlemented with lower side aisles and chancel. Entry is through the south porch.

Inside it is a very large church with whitewashed walls and flooded with light through the plain glass clerestory windows. The rest of the windows contain C19th stained glass. There are Bible scenes in the south aisle and images of saints in the north aisle including Oswald, Cuthbert, Aidan, Hild and Hugh. The large west window under the tower tells the story of St Oswald and is by William Morris.

The pillars are a mix of round Norman pillars from the C12th church at the east end of the nave with C14th octagonal pillars to the west. Both have pointed arches above. There is now a wood beam ceiling resting on the original C15th brackets with carved heads or angels holding shields at the base.

After the fire of 1984, the organ was moved to the west end above the tower arch. This is a splendid instrument with a carved wood surround and reached by a massive double staircase. To one side are two of the old bells. Beneath the tower are old tombstones.

The newly restored Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II now hangs at the end of the north aisle where the organ used to be. These had to be displayed in churches from the reign of Henry VIII as an expression of loyalty to and supremacy of the king.

The font was moved from under the tower to the back of the north aisle. This is C19th and has an octagonal bowl with carved quatrefoils. The pews in the nave are also C19th.

At the end of the nave is a wooden altar with a carved front. This is used for Sunday services, except for special occasions when it is moved and the high altar used. To one side is a rather nice C19th wood pulpit with carved panels. Across the chancel arch is a C19th screen with three round topped arches which includes some C16/17th wood. A metal gate leads into the chancel.

This contains the original C15th choir stalls with carved fronts and poppyheads as well as the two seat clergy seat. The high altar is a simple table with an embroidered frontispiece with the Lamb of God. The east window has scenes of the disciples asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ carrying his cross and his Resurrection with sleeping Roman soldiers.

This is an attractive church in a lovely setting. It is popular with students who attend services here.

The church is open daily with a weekday morning prayer service at 9.15 There is level access into the church. There is metered parking along Church Street.

There are more pictures here.

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