Lancashire

Churches

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The church, with the nearby St Patrick's Chapel, is a site of great antiquity

St Peter's church is at the edge of Heysham village immediately overlooking Morecambe Bay. The churchyard is adjoining the site of the ruins of St Patrick's Chapel on the nearby cliff top. Religious buildings have occupied this site for the last 1,300 to 1,400 years.

The first record of St Peter's is in 1080, but it is likely that the church is considerably older. There is evidence to suggest that the first church was built in the C7 and reconstructed in the mid C10. The oldest parts of the present church - the west doorway and the west window of the south aisle - date from this rebuilding. ThisSaxon church would have been a single room nave with a square or apsidal chancel, about one quarter ofthe size of the present small building.

The chancel arch is semi-circular with crude Early Norman responds with rope moulding. It opens on to a chancel built in the early 1300s. The east window of three lights with cusped tracery is fromthis time. The south aisle window is also of the Decorated period. It pre-dates thewest part of the south aisle which was added in the C15. The south arcade has two bays with Perpendicular details. The windows of the aisle date from the Decorated and Perpendicular periods and are both pointed and square-headed.

The north aisle is a Victorian addition of 1864. At this date the church was restored. Galleries were taken down and whitewashing was removed. During the renovation work a Saxon doorway was discovered under a buttress. It can be seen today where it was re-erected near the steps leading up to St Patrick's Chapel.

The church has no tower but is topped by a double bellcote at the west end. It was probably raised up in the 1600s, andholds two bells dated 1723 and 1724.

A hog-back tombstone is displayed in the church by the south door. It was formerly in the graveyard and has been brought inside for protection.It is thought to date from C9 or C10. These stones are characteristic of areas of Britain that were subject to Viking settlement. The Heysham example is typical of the type with animal heads - wolves, bears or dragons - biting each end. The surface is covered with carvings of zig-zags, and jumbles of men and beasts.

In the churchyard is the baseof a Saxon cross. On one face isa representation of a gabled building with arches and figures. It has been suggested that the central swathed figure is Lazarus. The other faces have foliage scrollwork and a figure with a halo.

Visitors to the church should also look at the nearby St Patrick's Chapel with its rock-cut graves.

The church from the south east

The original church was probably no bigger than the area under the west part of the nave.

View from the north aisle

The nave arcades lead to the Norman chancel arch on the left.

Base of theSaxon cross

The representation of a gabled building with round-headed niches/windows can be clearlyseen.

Photographs and text Tony Boughen