CHRISTIANITY was brought to Britain in the time of the Romans. When the Romans left, invading Jutes, Saxons and Angles drove Christianity out to the more remote regions, where it survived until Irish missionaries reintroduced the faith to England and established monasteries for prayer, worship and teaching. One such monastery was founded here in LASTINGHAM in AD 654.


In AD 563, Columba set out from Ireland to found the monastery of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Seventy years later, Bishop Aiden of Iona was appointed to bring Christianity to Northumbria. He established his See at Lindisfarne in 634, and set up a school there for Anglo-Saxon boys to be trained as priests and missionaries. Among the pupils at this school were four brothers: Cedd, Cynebil, Caelin and Chad. All four brothers eventually became bishops.

There is mention of these brothers by the Venerable Bede in his ‘History of the English Church and People’, completed in 731 when Bede was a monk at Jarrow monastery. He writes about the founding of a monastery in Lastingham by St Cedd, who was later succeeded as abbot by his brother Chad.


During his episcopate among the West Saxons, God’s servant Cedd often visited his own province of Northumbria to preach. Ethelwald, son of King Qswald, knowing Cedd to be a wise, holy and honourable man, asked him to accept a grant of land to found a monastery. In accordance with the King’s wishes, Cedd chose a site for the monastery among some high remote hills, which seemed more suitable for the dens of robbers and haunts of wild beasts than for human habitation. His purpose in this was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: ..in the haunts where once dwelt dragons, with reeds and rushes, and he wished the fruits of good works to spring up where formerly lived only wild beasts, or men who lived like beasts.
When Cedd had been bishop of the province and had administered the affairs of the monastery for many years through his chosen representatives, he happened to visit the monastery during the time of plague (in 664), and there he fell ill and died. He was first buried in the open, but in the course of time a stone church was built and it is thought that his body was reinterred on the right side of the altar.




The bishop bequeathed the abbacy of the monastery to his brother Chad. St Chad was not at Lastingham for long, before becoming Bishop of Lichfield; it was while Chad was Abbot of Lastingham that St Ovin joined the monastery, renouncing a life of privilege and influence in favour of prayer through manual work.

The stone church mentioned by Bede replaced Cedd’s original wooden structure and was built on the site of the present church. Some of the original stones, and possibly the altar, are still here in the Crypt.

In 1078 Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, got permission from William the Conqueror to take some monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen first built the crypt as a shrine to St Cedd over the place where he was thought to have been buried. Above the crypt he began a new abbey church, but the monastery was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved to York, and built St Mary’s Abbey. Their reasons for going are not clear, but the move may have been caused by roving bands of outlaws in the area making life impossible for the monks.

So Stephen’s abbey at Lastingham was never completed, but the work he began formed the basis of the church we see today.

After 1088 the monastery remained the property of St Mary’s Abbey in York, who would have supplied a priest to serve the needs of the people of Lastingham and the surrounding area.  From 1228 a full time priest was appointed and this has been the foundation of the parish church ever since.  Various modifications over the centuries have formed the present church of St Mary here in Lastingham that we know and love today.

A major restoration was undertaken in the late 19th century under the direction of Dr Sydney Ringer, a London physician, who had married Ann Darley, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor. The work was done in memory of their daughter Annie who had sadly died of an intestinal obstruction on her seventh birthday in 1875.  Although she died in London, her body was brought to Lastingham, where she was buried, and her parents are also now buried in the churchyard. The architect for the work was JL Pearson RA.


Page last updated: Wednesday 2nd August 2023 4:11 PM
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