The Church of St John the Baptist can be found near the tiny hamlet of Edlingham in the valley of the Edlingham Burn just over five miles south-west of Alnwick. It stands at the beginning of a grassy path to the ruins of Edlingham Castle, and we suspect that most people stumble over it while visiting the castle, as we did.
St John the Baptist is a charming church with ancient origins, and visiting it is well worth a journey its own right. Access to the churchyard is from the foot of a lane which offers verge parking, and the area around the church is surprisingly sparsely populated with monuments and memorials.
The two most interesting stones on view are immediately to the east of the entrance to the porch on the south side of the church. One is an obviously worked stone whose shape and size are oddly reminiscent of a concrete trig point, but whose role here is far from clear. The other, easily overlooked, appears to be a socket carved to hold the base of a standing stone cross, the sort of thing which elsewhere (for example at St Mary's Church on Lindisfarne) has been dated back to the 800s or 900s.
Such an early date may well be possible. Records show that Edlingham, at the time known as Eadwulfingham, or the homestead of Eadwulf, and its church were among the properties granted by King Ceolwulf of Northumbria to the monastery on Lindisfarne when he abdicated his crown to become a monk there in 737. It is thought that the village here was a substantial and important settlement at the time. Very little trace of it now remains.
The church granted to Lindisfarne monastery would have been made of wood. It is possible that it was replaced by a second church on the same site, which is recorded as having been consecrated by a Bishop Egred of Lindisfarne in 840: or it might be that the consecration represented not the bringing into use of a new church but rather a tour of inspection of his churches by the bishop, though as he had been in post since 830, a new church seems the more likely explanation.
The first stone church on the site was built from about 1050, and some of the stonework in the west wall of the nave dates back to this period. Much of the nave, including the arched doorway from the porch, dates from the mid 1100s, and an aisle was added to the north side in about 1190. It has been suggested that at this time the church was dedicated to St Helen.
The tower was added in about 1300 and its narrow slit windows suggest the builders designed it primarily as a place of refuge for villagers during a turbulent period in Anglo-Scottish relations. The holes which would have allowed the main door to the church to be barred from the inside also reveal that security was a major concern: the windows in the body of the church were considerably smaller at this time. The north wall of the church was rebuilt in the 1400s, and an earlier doorway which can still be seen from the outside was blocked up.
The chancel arch is typically Norman in design and dates back to the early 1100s. This is also the date of the chancel itself, which may have replaced an earlier and smaller structure attached to the church that was built in the 1050s. In the south wall of the nave is an arched tomb recess. The shield set in the wall above it is that of Sir William de Felton, Lord of Edlingham, who died in 1358. It is very likely that a stone effigy of him, probably in full armour, would have occupied the recess until, presumably, its removal after the Reformation. Today the recess houses several pieces of stone, including part of the shaft of a stone cross which is probably the cross that originally stood in the socket outside the porch.
There are other traces of the early use of the church on view. At the east end of the aisle is an early cross slab, apparently dating from before the Norman Conquest. Another stone, dating back to the 1300s, and carved with a sword and a pair of shears, has been set into the floor immediately inside the door from the porch. To modern eyes this seems less than respectful to the person whose grave this would originally have marked before it was moved into the church from the churchyard; and it also seems a location subject to considerable wear.
There are, of course, more recent additions to the fabric of The Church of St John the Baptist to admire. Most of the current windows were installed during a restoration in 1902. The window at the east end of the chancel is a little older and is especially glorious. This was installed in 1864 in memory of Lewis-de-Crespigny Buckle, who died when the S.S. Nemis was lost at sea. It carries the inscription "The sea gave up the dead which were in it".
Modern fittings include the fine collection of kneelers which have been woven for the church.