The Devil’s Door

Early Anglo-Saxon churches in the UK often had a north door entrance to the nave of the church. Although not considered to be significant at the time, later medieval superstitions led to the north door of a church being known as “The Devil’s Door.”

The Devil’s Door was intended to be left open during any infant baptisms in the church, so that any evil spirits could escape as the child was christened. In medieval times, the north side of the church was considered to be the “sinister” side (Latin: sinestre = left), the side where the evil spirits could hide in the shadows of the building. Following the Reformation (1530s), many of these doors were removed or blocked up.

The north side of a church yard had similar connotations, as it was sometimes used for the burial of suicides, criminals, and infants who had not been baptised.

I learned all of this while visitng Escomb Saxon Church near Bishop Auckland, England. Escomb Church is considered to be the best preserved Anglo-Saxon church in England. The following images of the church are my contribution to this week’s Thursday Doors blog, published by Norm Frampton.

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the devil’s door
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the north exterior wall
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the south entry to Escomb Saxon Church
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interior of Escomb Saxon Church

Doors of the UK – Church Doors

Our recent trip to the UK included visits to many older churches. One of our first stops was at the Kilmartin House Museum, located south of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. This museum displays some of the 5,000 years of human history in this area, and is well worth a visit. The Kilmartin Parish Church is next door to the museum. The purple church doors were attractive, while the sign “To the Stones” was intriguing. Alas, not the Rolling Stones, but the stones that were on display in the graveyard included a well-preserved collection of early grave slabs. Two late-medieval grave slabs with interesting geometric designs are illustrated here.

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Kilmartin Parish Church
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early 18th Century grave slabs

Travelling north-west from Oban we visited the island of Iona and the Iona Abbey.  The abbey is located on the site of the original monastery established by Columba, who arrived here from Ireland in AD 563. The Book of Kells was started by the monks of Iona, before they had to retreat to Ireland to escape Viking raids.

Next door to the abbey is St. Oran’s Chapel, a simple church structure that was orignally built around 1150. The Romanesque arched doorway is original, although the chapel was abandoned for 100’s of years, and was only recently restored at the same time as the abbey. Surrounding the chapel is Relig Odhráin (Gaelic for Oban), which is a graveyard that has been used for over 1,400 years. Iona is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity, and many Scottish kings have been buried in this graveyard.

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St. Oran’s Chapel
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St. Oran’s Chapel door

Hexham Abbey is another site of an early Anglo-Saxon monastery, founded in the old Kingdom of Northumbria in AD 674-8 by St. Wilfrid. The abbey is located in Hexham, England, in proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. The only remaining portion of the original monastery is the crypt, which is lined with stones recycled from a nearby abandoned Roman fort.

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the view from the crypt at Hexham Abbey

This is my contribution to Norm’s Thursday Doors for the week of October 18. To see what other contributors have posted, check out Norm’s blog post here.