under this Creative Commons Licence.
When fire swept through the medieval
of St. Brandon’s, Brancepeth, in September 1998, the locals – and, in fact,
everyone of a historical bent in the North-East – couldn’t imagine that
anything good could ever come out of the tragedy. A smouldering shell was all
that was left of the building – no roof, no windows, no internal fixtures or
fittings and, importantly, not a trace of the famed 17th century
Cosin woodwork. It all seemed like a very, very bad result indeed.
It took more than 15 years to complete a £3 million renovation of the building – and a beautiful one it is, too – but it turns out that the fiery intervention actually had, unbelievably, a really rather impressive silver lining: the discovery of a large horde of rare medieval tombstones hidden in the heights of the structure.
More than 100 of these curious artefacts were found – essentially large stone grave covers – all of them engraved with crosses, swords and other emblems, and dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. They are known as ‘cross slabs’ because of the preponderance of large cross-like images to be found on the pieces; but many of the etchings remain a mystery, and have been collectively termed the ‘Brancepeth Code’. Furthermore, it is the largest collection of its kind in the north of
It seems that the slabs were placed up in the heights of the church by Bishop Cosin in the 17th century – possibly to keep them hidden from puritan reformers (they were found facing upwards), or maybe for purely structural purposes. A selection of the best examples are on display in the refurbished church and more can be found on view at Brancepeth Castle – whilst the rest have been retained in the structure of the church.
Note: Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any decent images of the Brancepeth cross slabs online, though a general search of the subject matter will give you a good idea of the look of the items.