Geraldine and John Keeling, Friends who live close to Bradwell Chapel write:
Living in Essex in the Diocese of Chelmsford has given us a church life that owes much of its richness to the early missionary work of the Celtic monks. One of those missionaries was Cedd who brought the word of the Gospels to the kingdom of the East Saxons in 653. The chapel still stands at Bradwell-on-Sea on the Essex coast. It was here Cedd built his first community. He also established several other communities as missionary centres throughout what is now the County of Essex and his legacy can still be found in the continuing work of our Church today.
When Sigbert, King of the East Saxons, asked Aidan of Lindisfarne for a missionary to be sent to evangelise the people of his kingdom it was Cedd who was chosen. He travelled south from Lindisfarne by sea in his small currach, landing in 653 on the southern side of what is now the Blackwater Estuary in Essex. He found the deserted remains of the Roman fort of Othona, called Ythancester by the Saxons. It was here that he built his monastery and probably built his first church of wood. After returning to Lindisfarne to be consecrated Bishop of the East Saxons he came south again in 654 and built a stone chapel over the Roman gateway of the fort, reusing the material around. He dedicated it to St. Peter and built a monastery nearby. From Bradwell Cedd built another monastery at Tilbury and established other Christian Centres at West Mersea, at Prittlewell near Southend, and at Upminster.
St Peter’s-on-the-Wall** still stands at Bradwell-on-Sea against a backdrop of saltings, sea and a great skyscape. There is a silence and a stillness which brings an immense degree of peace to mind and heart in this place of Christian worship which goes back over 1350 years. When a new church was built in Bradwell village, St Peter's became a chapel-of-ease. The little tower was for a long time used as a beacon for shipping. Some time in the seventeenth century the chancel was pulled down and the nave was used as a barn until the time came when Essex remembered her past. A new interest began to be taken in the building and its owner put it under trustees for the Chelmsford Diocese. The Bishop of Chelmsford reconsecrated St. Peter’s-on-the-Wall on the 22nd June 1920. On Easter Eve 1964, the jubilee year of the Chelmsford Diocese, the Bishop lit the Paschal candle from which a light was taken, first to the cathedral and thence to each parish in the diocese, symbolising the spread of Christianity from this ancient bridgehead on the Essex coast.
The altar in Bradwell Chapel was consecrated on the 6th July 1985 by the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. The three stones set in the supporting pillar represent the three other communities involved in Cedd’s ministry. The left stone is a gift from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne where Cedd was trained by St. Aidan, apostle of the north. The centre stone is a gift from the island of Iona where the Celtic mission in Britain began and where St. Aidan was trained. The right stone is a gift from Lastingham*. Above this altar hangs a crucifix which was dedicated by the Bishop of Chelmsford in July 1949. It is in the Byzantine style and, as on a traditional rood crucifix, the Virgin Mary and St. John are depicted on either side of the crucified Jesus. At the foot of the crucifix kneels Saint Cedd with his pastoral staff.In recent years the Chapel, has been the focus of an annual ecumenical pilgrimage that has become one of the chief events of the Chelmsford diocesan year. The pilgrims follow the very line that Cedd must have travelled so many times as he went out into the Essex countryside on his missionary journeys including his journeys to Lastingham. The chapel remains open twenty-four hours a day throughout the year and is used regularly for services and meetings in the summer months. The nearby Othona Community gathers there for worship twice a day
AND PROF. MORRIS SAID…
It would be really helpful if we could take Bradwell on Sea as a model of the first stone building at Lastingham but in the Second Lastingham Lecture Richard Morris, in referring Bradwell Chapel and it’s community, said:-
“When news of Cedd’s death reached his monastery in the province of the East Saxons, what we now call Essex, Bede tells us that some thirty of its members decided to relocate to Lastingham to live near the body of their father or, if the Lord so willed, to die and be buried there.
We don’t yet know if this Church in the Roman fort of Bradwell on Sea was standing in Cedd’s day or whether it was built a generation or so after but either way it belonged to that community and can remind us of it now. Architecturally we note it’s layout with an apse, which has gone but which has been marked out and side chambers. This reminds us how careful we have to be in painting Irish trained bishops into corners - this is a very continental kind of layout. According to Bede the Essex men were gladly received here (i.e. at Lastingham ed.) although all but one did soon die in another epidemic.”
Many readers will know of another superficially strikingly similar church also built substantially from stone from Roman ruins (this time not at the site but from the Roman Fort at Binchester). This is the Saxon church at Escomb. (seen in the photo to the left) It was the remarkable circular enclosure here that led us to search for a similar feature at Lastingham. Then there is the church at Iken thought to be the site of St Botolph’s Minster established, amazingly, in the same year as Lastingham 654 A.D. Not mentioned by Bede but recorded in the ancient Saxon Chronicle under the year 654 which says “Botolph began to timber that Minster at Ikenhoe” (the word timber tends to refer to the fact that a more durable building of timber was erected, in place of a temporary erection of mud and wattle). The Church building there has nothing of the original but it is situated in a circular enclosure (Llan) of the type seen at Escomb and we believe at Lastingham.