Saint Cedd’s Cathedral

Cedd 1
“After the failure of the first Christian mission to the East Saxons, from London c.610, St Cedd was sent by sea from Celtic-rite Northumbria in 654. He chose as his base the former Roman fort of Orthona, near Bradwell-on-Sea. A stone cathedral was built, of Roman materials, but St Cedd died of plague 664 at Lastingham, North Yorkshire, together with most of his Essex community. A third mission c.675, from London (which became the see for Essex) succeeded. After centuries of use as a barn, the original church was restored 1920, and has been a chapel for the Orthona Community since 1946. Described as a Saxon cathedral in the guide book. Oddly, the chapel was built on the edge of the Roman foundations, across a wall, rather than more centrally. It has therefore been suggested that the surviving structure may not have been the only church built here, nor the main one.”
St Peters 1
“Said to have been built by the Saxon Bishop Cedd, circa 654. Built astride the former west wall of the Roman fort of Othona, then called Ithancaster, used for various purposes including a barn, restored as a Chapel circa 1920. Excepting C20 restorations, built of re-used Roman materials including brick, ashlar and septaria. C20 red tiled roof. Originally with
apse, north and south porticus and west porch with later tower, now only the nave remains. Approx. soft. x 22ft., the walls rise to a height of 24ft. under the eaves and are 2 1/2ft. thick. In the east wall are Roman brick springers and responds of 2 arches about 2ft. from north and south angles. Upper gable area rebuilt of old material. The north and south walls were apparently divided into bays by tabled buttresses, the remains of 2 to each western bay are visible.
St Peters 4
The central areas of both walls were demolished to allow entrance when the building was used as a barn and have now been rebuilt. Remains of a doorway visible at east end of south wall. High up in the south wall are 2 windows with possibly restored original jambs and splays, a similar window to north wall, the other original window now mainly destroyed. The west wall with the junctions of the original porch walls, stone quoins. Central original round headed window of Roman brick with jambs of stone and brick. Central original doorway with C20 lintel and vertically boarded door.”
St Peters 5
“Here, we are on the edge of the world. The land is flat, the wind races over the Essex fields and the marshes echo with haunting bird cries. A long stretch of Roman road leads east from the village, becomes a track and then a path. At the end of this path, where the sea meets the sky, is the oldest church in England. St Peter’s Chapel, Bradwell-on-Sea, was built to mark the spot where St Cedd landed in 654, on his mission from Lindisfarne to lighten the Dark Ages of the heathen East Angles.
Using bricks and stone from the ruined Roman fort of Othona, the Saxons created what was almost a cathedral, 50 ft (15.2m) long, 22 ft (6.7m) wide and 25 ft (7.6m) high. The people of Essex worshipped here for 600 years or more, but, so remote was this spot, that congregations soon dwindled and the chapel eventually passed out of knowledge, which is probably how it has survived. In 1920, a passing rambler noticed the noble proportions. He started to excavate and soon realised that he was looking at sacred ground. So St Peter’s Chapel was restored as a place for peace and reflection. It is still a long way away from the rest of the world, but well worth the pilgrimage.”
St Peters 3
“1300 years ago there were people working in Ireland and Scotland to spread the Christian faith. In Ireland, Patrick had established many monasteries and from there Columba had come to Iona, a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland, to establish a monastery and many other Christian centres.
From Columba’s monastery, a man called Aidan was sent from Iona at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria to set up a monastery at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast.
It was also to be a school where Anglo-Saxon boys could be trained to become priests and missionaries. It was in this school that Cedd and his brothers Caelin, Cynebil and Chad learnt to read and write in Latin, and learnt to teach the Christian faith.
The four brothers were all ordained as priests and two of them, Cedd and Chad, later became bishops.
Cedd’s first mission was to go to the midlands, then called Mercia, at the request of its ruler, King Paeda, who wanted his people to become Christians. Cedd was so successful that when King Sigbert of the East Saxons (Essex) asked for a similar mission, it was Cedd who was sent.
St Peters 2
So in 653 Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne and landed at Bradwell. Here he found the ruins of an old deserted Roman fort. He probably first built a small wooden church but as there was so much stone from the fort he soon realised that would provide a much more permanent building, so he replaced it the next year with the chapel we see today! Cedd modelled his church on the style of churches in Egypt and Syria. The Celtic Christians were greatly influenced by the churches in that part of the world and we know that St Antony of Egypt had built his church from the ruins of a fort on the banks of a river, just as Cedd did on the banks of the River Blackwater in Essex (then known as the River Pant).

Cedd’s mission to the East Saxons was so successful that the same year he was recalled to Lindisfarne and made Bishop of the East Saxons. His simple monastery at Bradwell would, like those at Iona and Lindisfarne, have been at the same time a church, a community of both men and women, a hospital, a library, a school, an arts centre, a farm, a guest house and a mission base. From there he established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster.
St Peters altar
Cedd often visited his northern childhood home and in 659 was introduced to King Ethelwald who asked him to establish a monastery in Northumbria. Cedd chose a site at Lastingham as it was wild and seemed fit only for wild beast, robbers and demons.
Again this was exactly how St Antony of Egypt chose his sites. In 664, while at his monastery in Lastingham, Cedd caught the plague. As he lay dying 30 of his monks from Bradwell came to be with him. They too caught it and one young boy survived and returned to Bradwell.”
St Peters 6
See further:
See also:
Britains holiest places
Nick Mayhew Smith, (2011) “Britain’s Holiest Places” [Bristol: Lifestyle Press Ltd, 2011]
“The result of a five-year journey from Orkney to the Channel Islands, it opens up a remarkable landscape shaped by centuries of faith. There is something to surprise and enlighten anyone with a sense of the sacred – from miraculous healing pools, astounding works of devotional art, mysterious natural features, world-famous shrines, grand cathedrals to the humblest of country churches.

It includes 500 places in England, Wales and Scotland. Each listing is illustrated and made easily accessible to the visitor, with much to inspire as well as much to challenge modern understanding of spiritual experience. The book encompasses the entire spectrum of church and even folk traditions: Anglican, Catholic, Celtic, Orthodox, Non-Conformist, Presbyterian, Quaker and many others. Written with a keen eye for the surreal as well as the sacred, the absurd as well as the serious, this book is the first complete survey of our islands sacred history.”
See the website: and blog: and the BBC site for the television series based on the book:

For The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, see:

For the Orthona Community, see:


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