St Mary the Virgin Church
Religious Place In Ovingham, Northumberland
A Church in Ovingham with sections dating from the 11th century and location of the grave of famed engraver, Thomas Bewick.
The parish of Ovingham in the Tyne Valley is an ancient one. This is reflected in its name which derives from the Old English “Homestead of Offa's sons”, as well as in St Mary the Virgin Church which dates back to the Saxon period. The church was consecrated in 1050, and was probably built on the site of an even earlier church. The tower dates mostly from the 11th century while the porch is 12th century in origin. There are even thought to be stones in the tower base that were taken from nearby Roman sites. The majority of the church is 13th century although it was restored during the 19th century.
The east wall of St Mary the Virgin Church has three tall lancet windows which are typical features from the 13th century, although the stained glass within them dates to the 19th century. Walking through Ovingham today you would be forgiven for thinking it had always been a peaceful, quiet village but in 1534 the church was the location for an act of defiance that saw the death of the Abbot of Hexham.
In that year Henry VIII sent his church commissioners to dissolve Hexham Abbey, but the Abbot decided he wasn't having any of that and dressed in armour and climbed to the top of St Mary the Virgin's tower and challenged the commissioners. Clerics were forbidden to wear armour, so his act was largely futile as he was arrested and executed by hanging. Hexham Abbey was dissolved as part of Henry's Dissolution of the Monasteries.
One of a number of highlights to see at St Mary the Virgin Church are the collection of medieval cross slabs which reside in the porch and date from between the 11th and 14th centuries. One slab shows a carved sword along with a key, which were traditional symbols to denote male and female. These symbols are rarely found together on the same slabs. There is also a fragment of a 10th century Saxon cross which can be found beneath the pulpit. There are a number of other interesting medieval features throughout the church, including a 13th century font, so it is worth having a good wander round.
One of Ovingham's most famous sons is buried at St Mary the Virgin Church, Thomas Bewick the renowned 19th century wood engraver and natural history author. Most famous for his book “A History of British Birds”, Bewick, along with his wife Isabella are buried beneath the western end of the church tower. Their grave is marked with a simple slab and metal plaques bearing their names. The original gravestone has been moved into the porch for safekeeping and is a wonderfully carved piece.
How To Find St Mary the Virgin Church
Contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.More Places from Andrew
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