The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin stands in the small village of Longframlington. It occupies a self contained plot which is bounded by Church Street on the north and Rothbury Road on the south, with another minor road defining the western side of the churchyard.
St Mary's is a very ancient church. Much of what you can see today was built by Walter de Framlington in 1190 from locally quarried stone. The lower levels of part of the north wall are constructed of random stone rather than the coursed stones of the rest of the church, and is also made of stone of a different shade.
This is taken to suggest that when St Mary's was built here in 1190, it might have incorporated part of an earlier church, which perhaps dated back to the Anglo-Saxon period. The earlier building would only have had to been standing for a little more than a century to push it back to a pre-Conquest date, and it is an attractive thought that Christian worship might have been taking place on this site for a thousand years or more. But sadly that has to remain speculation.
You enter the church via the round arched doorway from the porch on its south side. The interior of St Mary's is a very simple layout of a nave at the western end with a chancel at the eastern end. The doorway has a typically rounded Norman arch, which comes with the "waterleaf capitals" so characteristic of buildings of the end of the 1100s. A waterleaf capital is a leaf-like design which allowed the supporting column to broaden out to meet the flat slab (or abacus) which supports the base of the arch above. The doorway has lost its supporting columns (or jam shafts) at some point during the last eight centuries, but the arch itself remains in place, as do the capitals.
For a better idea of what the doorway originally looked like, it is worth taking a close look at the other real architectural wonder within the church, the chancel arch separating the nave from the chancel. Here you have the same semicircular stone arch as in the doorway, and the same waterleaf capitals holding up the slabs beneath the ends of the arch. In the chancel arch, however, you have a series of stone columns standing free from the stonework behind, which appear to be supporting the arch. The result is very beautiful, and we should perhaps be grateful that at least this part of the mason's intent has survived. Similarities in the design and work suggest that St Mary's may have been built by the same hand or hands that built nearby Brinkburn Priory, where the master mason was Osbert Colutarius.
What is interesting about the depth of history in the fabric of the church is the way that it is clearly still developing. The porch, probably added in the 1300s, has been given new doors fairly recently, and if you approach along Church Street, it is obvious that a major modern extension has been added to the north side of the building, apparently for a meeting place or church hall. The combination of ancient and modern works very well, and does much to help give the feeling that this is very much a living church.
When originally built the church had a stone flag floor. The flags have at some point been removed, presumably during major renovation work on the chancel in the 1880s and the nave in the 1890s, and replaced by attractive tiling and wood blocks. The original flags were reused to create a path through the churchyard. It is thought that there was originally a second door, in the centre of the west wall. This appears to have been blocked and the wall shored up with a large buttress to help it support the weight of a bellcote added in the early 1700s.
Today the west gable is home to two of the church's stained glass windows, which may be additions made in the 1800s. The windows in the south wall of the nave are thought to be much older, possibly dating back to its building in 1190. The stained glass in the church came later, with perhaps the most impressive window being that in the east gable, above the altar. This depicts a large figure of Christ, above a remarkably detailed medieval townscape.
The carved wooden altar dates back to 1920 and was given in memory of the church's first vicar, the Rev Charles Blackett Carr, who served here from 1891 to 1918, and who personally carved parts of the altar. The slight puzzle of why a church dating from 1190 only gained its first vicar in 1891 is resolved when you know that until that date St Mary's was a daughter church of St Michael's in Felton, three miles to the east.