NGR: NU 23964 28707. The grassed-over scanty remains of St Ebba’s Chapel are situated on a narrow promontory known as Ebb’s Nook (Snook), which juts out into the North Sea, on the opposite side of Beadnell Harbour, near Seahouses. Northumberland. These grassy humps and lumps are all that remains of a 12th or 13th century chapel named after St Ebba or Æbba, a Northumbrian princess who died in 683 AD. There are also some earthworks surrounding the ruined chapel (E side) which are said to be those of a small pre-Conquest monastery possibly founded by St Æbba, the step-daughter of King Æthelfrith of Bernicia, who is ‘one and the same’ as St Abb, abbess of a monastery at Coldingham, near Eyemouth, on the East Berwickshire coast. She was also the sister of St Oswald, King and Martyr (d 642).
The chapel site can be reached by going through Beadnell village (north end): going (south) along Harbour Road and then Marl-borough Road. At the south end where the road bends to the southwest take the footpath (south) for a short while between the buildings, and then (east) along the promontory (Beadnell Point), with Little Rock in the distance; the chapel ruins are about half-way along this narrow, grassy promontory.
Nigel & Mary Kerr (1982) tell us that: “The situation of the small ruined chapel at Ebb’s Nook is all-important. It stands bleakly beside the North Sea, looking up the forlorn and storm-swept coast of Northumbria, and we may well wonder at the piety and faith which made men choose this of all places to build a chapel. There can be few more powerful examples of the juxtaposition of the spiritual and elemental than this small outpost of Christianity.
“The ruins of the chapel, originally a simple two-roomed structure of nave and chancel which was later extended by a western annexe, were uncovered in 1853. There is no certain date for the building, but the place name recording its associations with St Ebba, stepdaughter of Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, suggests a site of ancient usage.
“St Ebba, whose feast day is 25th August, fled from Northumbria to Scotland when Edwin invaded the kingdom in 616. She later became a nun and was famed for her wisdom. She reputedly secured the release of St Wilfrid one occasion by telling Ecgfrith, the king who had imprisoned him, that his wife’s illness was a divine punishment for depriving the saint of his freedom: he was speedily released! Later, however, St Ebba was criticized for relaxed state of her community of nuns at Ely. Particular attention was drawn to the nuns’ weaving of fine clothes with which they sought to attract attentions of ‘strange men’. Despite this temporary lapse from grace, Ebba’s reputation for holiness continued after her death, and she was especially venerated during the 12th century in the north of England and south Scotland following the discovery of her relics.
“Perhaps, therefore, the little chapel on Ebb’s Nook is of the 12th century, and was constructed when her cult underwent a revival. But in lieu of direct evidence to the contrary, we will follow the confident assertion of the 19th-century excavators that this was the site of a chapel dedicated to her during the halcyon days of Northumbria in the 7th century.”
Northumberland National Park Guide (1990) tells us that: “The small pile of grass-covered rubble near the point is the re-mains of Ebba’s Chapel, a 13th century structure excavated in 1853 after being buried for many years. Ebba was the sister of King Oswald; she may have been responsible for the building of a small chapel on this site in the 7th century. The stones and debris of the chapel have been colonised by thrift and scurvy-grass.”
David Hugh Farmer (1982) has much more on St Ebba or Ebbe, saying she was: “first abbess of Coldingham (Berwickshire). Daughter of Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, she fled to Scotland on his death in 616, when Edwin conquered Northumbria. Later she became a nun at Cold-ingham and subsequently abbess of this double monastery. In 672 Etheldreda was separated from her husband, King Egfrith, with the counsel of Wilfrid, and became a nun under Ebbe (who was her aunt) before founding her own monastery at Ely. In 681 Egfrith visited Cold-ingham with his second wife Ermenburga, who was then seized with some kind of sudden illness. Ebba, now famous for wisdom, interpreted this as a punishment for the imprisonment of Wilfrid, disobedience to Roman decisions in his favour, and the theft of his relics and reli-quaries by Ermenburga. Egfrith released Wilfrid; Ermenburga restored the relics and soon recovered.
“Not long afterwards, the aged Ebbe was warned by the priest Adomnan of the relaxed state of her community. The nuns were said to spend their time weaving fine clothes, to adorn themselves like brides or to attract the attention of strange men, while both monks and nuns alike neglected vigils and prayers. In spite of Adomnan’s threat of divine punishment, the community mended its ways only for a little while. A few years after Ebbe’s death, the monastery was burnt down (686). These failures of Ebbe’s community did not destroy her reputation for holiness. Her name was given to Ebchester and to St Abb’s Head, where the remains of a fort possibly indicate the site of her monastery. Interest revived in her during the 12th century, following the discovery of her relics in the late 11th. At this time, according to an account attributed to Reginald of Durham, she was known from York to Lanark. Calendar evidence for her feast comes from Durham, Aberdeen, and Winch-combe, while Durham and Coldingham shared her relics. She is also the titular of a church and street in Oxford. The present church at Coldingham (part of the priory founded by Durham) is more than a mile away from Ebbe’s monastery. Feast 25th August.”
The 19th Century parish church in the centre of Beadnell village is also dedicated to the local saint, Ebba. There are three late 18th Century (restored) limekilns at Beadnell Harbour (east side).
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Photos (above) are the © copyright of Anne T. Many thanks Anne for your help and kindness. Please see the Link: https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=50082&m_distance=0.0
Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1982.
Kerr, Nigel & Mary, A Guide to Anglo-Saxon Sites, Granada Publishing Limited, St Alban’s, Hearts, 1982.
Northumberland National Park, Walks on the Northumberland Coast, Northumberland County Council National Park and Countryside Department, Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, 1990.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.