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St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex

The chapel of St-Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex is generally reckoned to be one of the oldest Christian buildings in England, having been built by St.Cedd in AD 654 on the site of the former Roman coastal fort of Othona.

 

The Roman fort was built around the 3rd century AD to defend against incoming Saxons and it was these same Saxons who later robbed out the building materials and used them to build the present chapel. It was once apse-ended in Eastern church style and formerly had small transepts. These have all disappeared except for their foundations.

 

Historically it is linked with Reculver in Kent (also photographed by me recently) where another Roman fort was taken over and a Saxon church was built, also associated with St.Cedd. The two buildings share some stylistic features.

 

Much of its history is unknown. From the 14th to the 16th century it was a 'chapel of ease' to the main church in Bradwell and was used for Masses three days a week. Sometime in the 17th century it was converted into a barn and the apse-ended chancel was lost. At some stage barn doors were knocked in the side walls for farm carts. These have now been in-filled again.

 

The building attracted historical and spiritual interest in the 20th century and was put in the care of the Church of England Diocese by the local landowner and reconsecrated by the Bishop of Chelmsford in 1920. The building is the subject of a regular pilgrimage in July and is also used by the nearby Othona Community for services in the summer months.

 

It is built of various materials including septaria, Kentish ragstone and some tufa, along with numerous bits of Roman stone and red Roman bonding tiles. Some re-used dressed limestone in the south-west corner of the building show signs of chasing for Roman iron tie bars which were once used to hold them together in their original Roman building.

 

Despite its age the building shows no signs of subsidence and this is credited (in the guidebook) to it being built across the solid footings of wall and gatehouse of the former Roman fort along the alignment of the original Roman road into the fort.

  

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Taken on June 6, 2007