The Chapel of St Cuthbert on Inner Farne

The chapel on Inner Farne was once part of a larger monastic complex including the present visitor centre - once itself a chapel - and the surrounding courtyards. It was built in the early fourteenth century and was used by the holy community up until the Henry VIII's Dissolution. It was heavily renovated to its present state in the nineteenth century.

The first monastic buildings on Inner Farne are no longer visible. They were built by Aidan and then Cuthbert, and the passage of time coupled with the weather has removed all sign of these structures. The Venerable Bede, in his Life of St Cuthbert, does though give us some clues as to the nature of these early buildings. Cuthbert's cell, the building that Aidan had first built, was of stone and turf and stood - according to Bede - 'higher than a man'. Another larger structure, a guest house or 'hospitum' probably stood on the site of the present Fish House.

It wasn't until 1370 that we know the present Chapel was in existence, as the building of a new chapel on the site of a previous building is recorded as having begun in 1369, at a cost of £50. The presence of slightly older stone in parts of the north wall suggests an earlier building on the site so at least some of that has been incorporated into the later building. The monks of the House of Farne were wealthy enough to build such structures; they cultivated crops and even had livestock on some of the other islands. Seals were also a valuable commodity as they were classed as creatures of the sea, and so could be eaten on Fridays.

The chapel just before 1914, with furnishings formerly in Durham Cathedral
The interior of St Cuthbert's Chapel on Inner Farne taken before 1914
The chapel just before 1914, with furnishings formerly in Durham Cathedral

At the west end there are the remains of what could have been a porch or 'Galilee' chapel, a feature common to chapels associated with St Cuthbert. The only original medieval window is the one blocked up on the eastern end of the south wall; the others are from the Victorian renovation.

The chapel holds several medieval grave slabs which we brought in from the courtyard in 1929. Outside, there is also a stone coffin which could have belonged to Thomas Sparowe, master of the House of Farne who died in 1430. The interior wood panelling and decoration was designed for Bishop Cosin at Durham Cathedral in 1665 and brought to the Farnes in 1848. Other items such as the altar table and pews came to the chapel later from local sources. The east window was made in Gateshead by the artist and glazier William Wailes and was installed in 1844. It was restored by local stained glass specialist Chris Chesney in 1997.

From saints to shipwrecks, the Farnes have a long and diverse history
The stained glass window in St Cuthbert's Chapel on the Farne Islands
From saints to shipwrecks, the Farnes have a long and diverse history

The cross of St Cuthbert on the eastern gable was installed in 2016 to replace the previous one dating from the Victorian renovation which had been badly eroded by the weather. The new cross was copied from the old design using old photographs and was carved by the Hexham-based stone mason David Edwick. 

We continue to manage the interior of the Chapel today as we would any historic building in National Trust care, with a deep clean of the wood work carried out each year and the building being regular checked and maintained by our building department.