Monkwearmouth’s place in history goes far beyond that of its seaside neighbours. This northern part of Sunderland has a key place in British history and western Europe, for it was here in Anglo-Saxon times that art, culture and music thrived in what was then a cultural centre of European significance. Here was a monastery, that partly survives today in the form of the 1,338 year-old church of St Peter overlooking the mouth of the River Wear. Here resided the Sunderland-born Bede, the Venerable first historian of England and a man of such learning that he was perhaps the most famous man in Europe in his time. St Peter’s was home to one of Europe’s greatest libraries in Anglo-Saxon times and along with its daughter monastery at Jarrow was the place where Bede and his contemporaries produced remarkable works of art and learning that were in demand across the continent.
It was at St Peter’s that the Codex Amiatinus or Wearmouth Bible, an ancient book described by some experts as the finest book in the world was produced. A facsimile may be seen in Sunderland’s museum but the original is housed in Florence. It is nothing less than the version of the Bible used by the pope. Such was the importance of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow that Sir Timothy Eden, historian and elder brother of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden once remarked that around these two communities ‘all the light and learning of England was to revolve, and not just England, but of the whole of Europe, during one of the darkest periods in the history of man.’
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