After a glorious dawn on the moors and a leisurely breakfast, we packed our bags and headed out into a morning that looked like spring. We had found there was a Saxon cross at the church in the pretty village of Addingham just a couple of miles away and, although the chances are that the church would either be locked or preparing for a Saturday morning wedding, we thought we would have a wander.
St Peter’s nestles on the edge of the green. Behind it the moors rise gently, sheltering the stones that now grace an ancient place of worship. There was already a Christian community well established here when Bishop Wulfhere found refuge in Addingham from the Danish invaders in 867AD. How far back that went, we cannot know.
The green around the church has plenty of history though… retaining traces of medieval manorial fishponds as well as being the site of an Anglo Saxon cemetery. An odd stone stands just by the gate to the current walled churchyard. So far, I have found no information about it at all. Around it, the first snowdrops of spring are in full bloom and the yellow of daffodils was already beginning to break through the green.
The earliest churches were wooden affairs and leave few traces to posterity unless they are mentioned in surviving historical documents. Prior to the building of churches, the congregation may have gathered around the carved and decorated crosses to learn the stories of their faith. An archaeological investigation at Addingham revelaed a large number of Anglo Saxon burials, not arranged in the traditional east/west axis, but aligned around a central point which may have been the standing stone cross.
Within the church is a fragment of one such carved stone, bearing the image of two people beneath an encircled cross and some intriguing triangular knotwork, which we found to be reminiscent of the Valknut, a symbol of Odin made from interlocking triangles that could, to a Christian population, perhaps have symbolised the Trinity and a link to older, traditional beliefs pre-dating the new religion of Christ. This tradition is very much in evidence at Addingham…and ancient parish with a modern outlook, bringing the two together in the new labyrinth and the carvings we would find later.
The church itself dates back to Norman times, although little now remains of the original building, possibly erected by Sir William le Vavasour, the Lord of the Manor. We do know that the parish had a parson in 1189 from the old records. Some of the chevron-carved stones from the original doorway still survive, recycled as building material for the tower.
There is an abiding and evolving air of peace in the transitions of history in evidence within the building itself, with carved and painted ceilings and loft, a Tudor arcade and a fragment of Viking carving, once thought to be part of a comb, but now believed to be part of the binding or box for a large book…perhaps a bible.
The early morning light washed the interior with the jewel colours of the stained glass as we explored, finding a beautiful book of icons and the many simple treasures that witness the evolution of the life and community of a country parish church. It is in this rich tapestry of human life that the real treasure of such places can be found. It is not simply a link to history, it is a story still being written, by every wondering visitor with a camera, by every baptism, marriage and funeral conducted within its walls… by every act of faith or curiosity that brings people through the old doorway to stand within its walls.