While simultaneously creating a back story for Aldred and his family, I am also imagining his writing of the Lindisfarne Gospel‘s colophon, since that is where he reveals his parentage. For a number of reasons having to do with the complicated notion of a “scriptorium,” I have placed Aldred in the church while glossing the Lindisfarne Gospels, since that is where this treasured relic of the community would normally be, one would imagine. Consequently, I needed to invent the interior of the church at Chester-le-Street, pretty much from whole cloth.
Additions and editing to this post based on the good comments of posters below are highlighted in green.
We know it was made of wood rather than stone; we have a guess as to its layout under the multiple layers of the subsequent church building; and we know some of the artifacts brought from Lindisfarne as well as given to the community by King Athelstan.
So what I have to work with is the green rectangular outline of the Saxon-era wooden church, and some ideas about Anglo-Saxon church architecture of this scale, although all of those extant are in stone. It pretty much functioned as a shrine for St. Cuthbert, although one should not forget the other relics transported from Lindisfarne, including the head of St. Oswald and of course the Lindisfarne Gospels.
King Athelstan’s charter, kept in the records of the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto (26), records these gifts to the community in 934:
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, King Athelstan, give to St Cuthbert this gospel-book, two chasubles, and one alb, and one stole with maniple, and one belt, and three altar-coverings, and one silver chalice, and two patens, one finished with gold, the other of Greek workmanship, and one silver thurible, and one cross skilfully finished with gold and ivory, and one royal headdress woven with gold, and two tablets crafted of silver and gold, and two silver candelabra finished with gold, and one missal, and two gospel-books ornamented with gold and silver, and one of St Cuthbert written in verse and in prose, and seven palls, and three curtains, and three tapestries, and two silver cups with covers, and four large bells, and three horns crafted of gold and silver, and two banners, and one lance, and two golden armlets, and my beloved vill of Bishop Wearmouth with its dependencies. [trans. Ted Johnson South, HSC, p. 65]
These gifts would be in addition to those given by other Wessex monarchs, not to mention other nobles who claimed Cuthbert as their patron. But it does give you the impression that, while the exterior of the church may have been plain, the interior was glittering with rich colors from jewels, metals, and cloth.
Claiming literary license, I am modifying the church’s outline a bit in order to accommodate three shrines in the apse and get some window light onto the Lindisfarne Gospels. I must also warn you that I am NOT an artist (that would be my sister, who is free to take over this aspect of the project) and I am terribly inept with the only graphic program I have, Paint. So, with those warnings, here is my working diagram.
The salient features:
The north side porch (grey) is the general entrance for the laity, while the south side porch, with the cloister to the west, is where the monks and clergy enter.
The altar (green) divides nave from chancel, as is usual in this style of church without a crossing (and before rood screens and all). The altar presumably has a large cross and other artifacts.
Beyond the altar are the quire stalls (brown) facing each other.
The hammer-headed apse has three shrines, the center one at the east end being the center-piece facing the altar, the wooden coffin of St. Cuthbert, incised with angels and apostles, as well as runic and Latin inscriptions, covered with a linen cloth (see Æthelwulf, de abbatibus xx, lines 739-41). It is lit by three stained glass windows as well as two tapers. I imagine two tapestries, one on either side, gifts of King Athelstan that highlight stories from Cuthbert’s life.
On the north side of the apse is a shrine (blue) displaying the reliquary of St. Oswald (his head) and related royal relics. The altar could be covered with a woven cloth that hangs down in the front showing scenes from the saint’s life. This means that, in the absence of contrary evidence, I have removed these relics from Cuthbert’s coffin where they were placed when the community left Lindisfarne, and where they were again placed when they moved to Durham (to be rediscovered later).
On the south side of the apse is a shrine (red) dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, also used for displaying the Lindisfarne Gospels on a tall wooden stand, perhaps with a tapestry hanging down the back that faces the chancel. Here is where the three windows, east, south, and west, come into play as sources of light for Aldred. These would be plain glass, undoubtedly smallish (at least stone churches have relatively narrow windows) and with wooden shutters. For my purposes, placing the Gospel book on a stand facing the south window has several advantages: visitors could walk around it; the stand could be moved into the chancel for reading on holy days; and most important, Aldred can move the stand to catch the best light.
I have also put in two candelabras (thanks to King Athelstan) for added candle light, and two table-topped cabinets under the west and east windows.
The west side would display the sacramental utensils (chalice, paten, etc), while the east side could hold a chrism box and portable altar, both used by priests when they traveled. The latter cabinet could be where Aldred stores his writing equipment (ink pot, quill, knife, etc). The tricky bit is where Aldred would put his ink pot while working on the gloss. I am taking some liberties here in having Aldred construct a small shelf attached to the reading stand where he can lay his knife and ink pot.
My main question is whether this design works: Does it violate any known features of Saxon church architecture? Does it accord with liturgical practice? For example, would the clergy have kept chalice and paten, or at least displayed important ones, in the church itself?
Historia de Sancto Cuthberto: A History of Saint Cuthbert and a Record of His Patrimony, ed. and trans. Ted Johnson South, Anglo-Saxon Texts 2 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002)
Æthelwulf, De abbatibus, ed. A Campbell (Oxford, 1967).
Bonner, Gerald, David Rollason, and Clare Stancliffe, eds. St. Cuthbert, His Cult and Community to AD 1200 (Woodbridge, 1989).