St Peter's Church, Bywell - A Summary of History
A church building has probably existed in this place for at least 1200 years. The original Saxon building is mainly known from its foundations which slightly overlap the existing building. However, the area that this building covered suggests a building of great importance. As its floor space was considerably greater than that suggested by the Saxon remains at St Andrew's church, one can make a reasonable assumption that this was this site, rather than St Andrew's, where a bishop was ordained in 803. Records tell us that Egbert was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in Bywell by the Bishops of York, Hexham and Candida Casa (Whithorn).
In Saxon times of course there was no such thing as a parish and churches did not have towers (these were often added to existing church buildings by the Normans). Based on its size and similarities to Monkwearmouth church, the Saxon St Peter's was almost certainly a church serving a monastery. Where was that monastery? Probably the remains are under one of the fields around the church, awaiting discovery!
Norman and Early English workmanship is beautifully preserved and the church has a fine collection of Victorian stained glass windows. Much of the present building is late 13th century. In the Middle Ages the church of St Peter had close links with Durham cathedral and Hexham Abbey and is thought to have been a Benedictine foundation. Monks of this order wore black robes, hence St Peter's was known as the 'Black Church'.
St Andrew's church, lying only 100 metres north of St Peter's, is believed to have been built in the ninth century. Later, this church was served by Premonstratensian monks based in Blanchland and they wore white robes. Hence St Andrew's was known as the 'White Church'