Tuesday 1st. April, 2014 – An exciting visit 

A picture of the exterior of Bede’s World in Jarrow where I spent the majority of today

Up early and walked the dog before Scott arrived to collect me at eight and drive me down to Jarrow (we arrived at about quarter to ten) where we visited Bede’s world. Bede is one of the most important scholars of his time, being born in 673 and living in Jarrow at the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul until his death in 735. Most people remember him as a historian but he was much more than that as he was responsible for the encouragement of music, stained-glass and design during his time in the monastery, and his studies earned him recognition as a scientist as well.

The purpose of my visit was to speak with Mike and Kathy of Bede’s world and to meet with Sheila from the Church of St. Paul, and to talk to them about the Green Pilgrimage network.

I was shown around the facilities and all the while in my mind I was ticking boxes – in fact that’s not true at all because I was far too enthused and excited by all that I was shown to think about boxes but, reflecting on the day, there were so many to be ticked.

Bede’s World in its present form started as a millennium project with a massive injection of funding to create an appropriate centre to remember the world of Bede and to encourage people today to think about the values which he held dear so many centuries ago. In a sense, of course, the project is much, much older because the Church of St. Paul, built on the site of one of the former monasteries has been telling and celebrating the story for generations.

Today, both partners, secular and faith communities, work together and so it was appropriate that, after coffee and chat with Sheila, Mike and Kathy, we walked across the park to St. Paul’s Church where I was shown the ruins of the old monastery before being taken into the church where I met a whole class of youngsters dressed as medieval monks who were learning about life in a monastery. This was a group who were spending the day at Bede’s World and who were now in the ancient church as part of their experience. So partnership is clearly important.

In the oldest part of the ancient church (going right back to the time of Bede) a group of school children were enjoying learning something of the life of a medieval monk

Having visited the church we walked back to the museum where I was shown so many different things – the large ‘city’ farm built on land reclaimed from industrial use and donated by Shell (we are right next to the huge port of Newcastle) – this is all about conservation. But it wasn’t just a city farm, it was a farm designed to reflect farming in Anglo-Saxon times and there were other buildings as well, including the story telling hut and an amphitheatre, recently constructed to reflect what archaeologists had discovered of what was there in Bede’s time.

Inside the hut which is used by staff in costume to tell the ancient stories to the many people who come to visit

I went from there to the museum, a staggering collection of interpretation about an important time in the story of the United Kingdom and beautifully told. I am going to write in some depth about my visit and include many pictures but for today’s entry I want merely to highlight some of my initial observations.

Bede’s World doesn’t just talk the talk but it walks the way of Bede as well. You can’t visit the centre without coming away feeling that the values of Bede are being lived out by the community of twenty-five staff and their volunteers who make the centre buzz with activity and with concern for each other and for those who come to visit.

A central exhibit in the museum which gives some idea of the scale of what is on show. This is a life-size representation of monks working to build their monastery in the time of Bede – I love the wooden scaffolding

And this community does so much: there is a local radio station streamed through the internet and accessed through their web-site, they welcome groups of children from schools from all over the north east of England; they have groups for spinners and weavers, for calligraphers and artists and make space available for adult learning groups, they run a cafe and a shop. But there is much more, not least in the story they have to tell: In Bede’s time three massive copies of the Bible were hand-written by monks. One of these was taken to Italy, the intention being that it was given to the Pope. In fact it has ended up in a monastery near Florence and it is being returned to Jarrow this summer to be on show from May to September, the centre-piece for pilgrims who will make the journey to Bede’s world. By coincidence (if you are boring enough to believe in coincidence) the community in Italy is also a community which used to be a mining community (in their case mercury mining) and is sharing with Jarrow in celebrating their past as well as their working to build something new on the remains of what went before – it is all about conservation. A plan is in place to link several of these former mining areas throughout Europe and to create a St. Barbara’s pilgrimage route – St. Barbara being the patron saint of mining. There is already a Bede’s Way – a pilgrimage route which walks through the lands known to Bede and visits the places of importance to him.

Significantly, Bede’s World is working to become the first museum in the UK to be carbon neutral – they have their own market gardens which will soon assist their catering and plans are afoot to install solar panels to reduce power costs. In time they hope to become the first Green Museum under a programme launched by the Arts Council. There is so much more to record – about staff development (tomorrow eight of the staff are off to the British Museum in London to learn about the Pilgrim Badges which will be coming to the museum in Jarrow on loan); about the stories of the individuals who make up the project and the staff there. But the final thing I want to write tonight is that Museum is not the right word to use when talking of Bede’s World, or if it is, then my experience of museums is considerably out-dated (that is also probably true). This is a living vibrant community, working in partnership with the local faith community, with a story to tell and pilgrims and visitors to welcome, showing the story as it lives the values of Bede in a modern world – and in a very difficult community where poverty still remains part of most people’s lives. I was thoroughly impressed by all that I saw – and even more by those I met.

Scott and I drove home and I was in time to catch two friends of Digger’s (Liz and Ron -- Ron had been best man at Digger's brother's wedding, many years ago) who had been visiting. No sooner had they left than Marie and Robbie, our great friends, arrived from Luss. We shared coffee and a chat and then we showed them around our ‘estate’. We met for sherry in the lounge, dined in the farmhouse kitchen and then chatted in front of the stove in the Granary until after ten at which point our visitors retired to bed and we walked the dogs before making our own way to bed as well. What a wonderful day!


Add Comment
Comments are not available for this entry.