apse and built the existing sanctuary over its east end. This has a typical Norman quadripartite cross-vault but it is quite plain: there is none of the dog-tooth moulding of some other Norman vaults and there is no decorated centre boss. The ribs are formed of double roll mouldings.
The sanctuary arch was another matter. Here we do have dog-tooth moulding and of an unusual kind: the pattern faces outwards toward the nave rather downwards towards the floor. We were told that this is one of only two such in the country. Both the arch and the cross-vault spring from clusters of three short piers which rest on projecting masonry courses on either side of the arch. There are corresponding single short piers at the eastern corners of the sanctuary. This is an unusual arrangement. The effect is, as the Church Guide nicely describes it, of “forming a stone canopy over the holy of holies”.
The rest of the apse became part of the existing choir, thus the church became a three-celled one, although both choir and sanctuary are very short. A Norman window survives on the north wall of the sanctuary.
It cannot have been very long before the aisles were added and church extended westwards because the rest of the church is decidedly Early English in character. Pevsner puts the North aisle at about 1200, very early in the EE period. A little later the South aisle was built and the nave remodelled with a third bay extending the nave westwards.
That seems to have been about it until as recently as the 1840s when the there was further extension westwards with a fourth bay being added to the nave. The windows in the North aisle were replaced in 1839 in a pseudo Early English style that did nothing to damage the pleasing appearance of this church. There has never been a tower here.
There are some other curiosities here. Over each of the two pairs of Early English windows in the south side of sanctuary there is a little head set into a recess above. Pevsner describes it as “minimal form of plate tracery”! I haven’t seen anything like this before. In fact, this kind of adornment is quite unusual in the EE period so perhaps it was done later?
Beneath the Norman window in the sanctuary is the head of a stone cross that was found beneath the vestry floor. It is now believed to be an Anglo-Saxon “preaching cross” around which people would gather when churches were few. The Celtic form of Christianity as evinced by St Aidan was much less hung up on the availability of sacred buildings than the Roman version championed by St Wilfred. Escomb in County Durham has a very different example behind its altar of what also might have been a preaching cross.
There are two decorative capitals on the North arcade. Such chunky capitals would be unusual in an Early English arcade and the decorations do not look at all late Norman. The church believes that they were recovered from a disused Roman building.
All in all, there is a lot to see here in a church that seems to be in the shadow of other churches nearby with Anglo-Saxon provenance. Quite why this should be so is not clear to me. Heddon is both attractive and interesting and few churches are more welcoming to visitors. If you are in the area on the Trail of the Anglo-Saxon please don’t miss Heddon-on-the-Wall off your itinerary.