Founded AD 705
This page includes a basic outline about the Anglo-Saxon Chapel at Bradford-on-Avon. If you would like to go into more depth, please click on the related links as they include a much more detailed analysis of the structure and the complications with assigning a date to the building.
There is much debate about the date of construction of the Chapel of St. Laurence at Bradford-on-Avon. The estimates range from the early eighth century to the mid eleventh century, depending upon the dating technique used. Based on the written evidence, the building should be dated to the early eighth century but stylistically, it reflects a date in the late tenth or more likely, the early eleventh century.
Some have suggested that it was the church built in AD 705 by St. Aldhelm as recorded by William of Malmesbury; however, the stylistic features suggest that it was built at a later date. Others have tried to reconcile these two theories by explaining that the church was rebuilt on the foundations of Aldhelm's original church in the tenth or eleventh century, thus incorporating both the written evidence and the stylistic evidence.
The Saxon church was discovered by chance. After the ecclesiastical uses of the building ceased, it was converted for secular use. The nave had been used as a school since 1715 and the chancel was owned by somebody different and was used as a private cottage. Because of the Saxon tradition of building tall churches, it was possible to divide the building horizontally and thus add an upper storey for living space. The chancel was actually divided into 3 stories.
The Saxon fabric of the building was recognized in 1856 by Canon Jones, Vicar of Bradford. During some repairs on the building, the Bradford Angels were discovered. This discovery led Canon Jones to believe that the building was an ancient church. He began research and discovered a passage in William of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontificum (dated circa 1125) which stated that "to this day at that place there exists a little church which Aldhelm is said to have built to the name of the most blessed Laurence".
In 1871 the church was purchased and recognized as an "ancient monument" as Jones believed it to be the church about which William of Malmesbury wrote. Thus, it was rededicated to St. Laurence, reconsecrated, and opened to the public. It remains one of the gems of Anglo-Saxon architecture and is well worth the visit.
Article by Stephanie James
Part 2: Architectural & Historical Discussion
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