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Monkwearmouth, at the mouth of the Wear, was founded in 674 by a Northumbrian nobleman, Benedict Biscop. All that now remains above ground of his monastery is the west wall of St Peter's church, begun with the aid of Gallic masons in 675, to which the surviving porch was added before 716. These fragments, together with documentary evidence, surviving sculpture, and the results of recent excavations, show that Biscop's work consciously evoked the buildings and culture of the Italian and Merovingian monasteries he had visited in his earlier continental travels. With the donation of Jarrow to Biscop in 682 Monkwearmouth became part of ‘one monastery in two places’ and by 716 there were 600 brethren at the two sites. Monastic life seems to have died in the 9th cent., though the early 11th-cent. tower shows that some ecclesiastical activity continued. Late in the same century the site became a dependent cell of the Durham Benedictines.

Richard N. Bailey

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