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Shrines of Tynemouth
Saxon Political Martyr & Island Hermit Reverred

After his murder in AD 651, the pious King Oswin of Deira was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary, at the mouth of the River Tyne. Reported miracles led to him being hallowed as a saint and an oratory was built over his grave. This developed into a Saxon priory which grew rich on the pilgrims' offerings left at the saintly monarch's shrine. It became a popular place of burial for the local nobility and even the exiled King Osred II of Northumbria was laid to rest there in AD 792. The monastery was, unfortunately, plundered continually throughout the 9th and 10th centuries by the omnipresent Danes and, by 1008, the place was deserted and St. Oswin forgotten.

The Royal saint is said to have been discontented at this negligence and, after the Priory's refoundation in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, he called upon a monk in his sleep, exhorting this brother, named Edmund, to make it known that a saint lay forgotten beneath the pavement. A search was made and the relics found in 1065; and the Bishop translated them into an honourable place within the Priory Church. However, the church stood unfinished for almost twenty years and St. Oswin's bones were translated to Jarrow. They only returned in 1083, when the Jarrow monks transferred to Durham and Tynemouth was at last restored.

Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland, built a great church at Tynemouth around 1090 and St. Oswin was finally given the resting place he deserved, a sumptuous shrine in the choir and then the presbytery, behind and adjoining the high altar. He was joined, in 1127, by a second shrine, just to the south, containing the body of St. Henry of Coquet. Henry was a hermit who, with the permission of the Prior of Tynemouth, had lived on the Island of Coquet, one and a half miles off the Northumberland coast at Amble. He was credited with miracles even within his own lifetime.

By the middle of the 14th century, pilgrimages to the two shrines were beginning to interfere with monastic services. They were therefore removed to a more spacious part of the church, which can only have been the newly built Lady Chapel on the building's north side. What appears to be the remains of St. Henry's shrine can still be seen in the priory ruins today: a deep recess for an important tomb divided into two compartments by trefoiled arches on a slender pillar. St. Oswin's Shrine would, no doubt, have stood in the centre of the Chapel, just to the north, as previously.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.