"The approach to the priory is from the west by a gateway tower of a square form, having a circular exploratory tower, or turret, rather, on each corner; from this gateway, on each hand, a strong double wall has been extended to the rocks on the seashore, which, from their great height, were formerly considered inaccessible. The gate, with its walls, was fortified by a deep outward ditch, over which was a drawbridge defended by moles on each side. The tower has an outward and interior gateway; the outward had two gates about six feet apart; the inner was defended by a portcullis and open gallery; it also was strengthened by double gates. The space between the gateways, a square of about six paces, was open above, to allow the defenders of the priory, who were on the tower and battlements, to pour melted lead or stones on their assailants, if they should have forced the first gate."
The scene inside the gates is strikingly noble and venerable. The enclosed area contains about six acres, and is crowded with stately ruins, several fine arches of the priory being yet standing.
The west gate, leading into the priory, is still entire, and the ruins which present themselves on entering the gateway appear to be the remains of the cloister.
The eastern limb of the church is most beautiful.
Two walls of the church are still standing; the end wall, to the east, contains three long windows; the centre one is nearly twenty feet high, richly ornamented with mouldings. Beneath the centre window at the east end is a door of excellent workmanship leading to a small chamber, supposed to have contained the tomb of St. Oswin.
The lights of Tynemouth Priory formed a beacon for seamen, who gladly hailed them, and thanked St. Oswin and the good fathers for this guidance past the dangerous coast. It must also have been a very strong fortress from its elevated position, and its nearness to the mouth of a great river. More than twelve centuries have passed since the first religious building was reared on the lofty promontory; since, as Ruskin eloquently says, "amid the murmur of the waves, and the beating of the wings of the seabirds against the rock that was strange to them, rose the ancient hymn-
A wooden chapel was built here by Edwin, the first Christian king of Northumbria. This simple sanctuary was removed, and one built of stone in its place by St. Oswald, the successor of Edwin, and a colony of monks was established near it.
No place suffered more from the invasions of the Danes than Tynemouth did. In 865, when their fury was poured on the north, the monastery was burned. The nuns of St. Hilda had fled from Hartlepool to Tynemouth for refuge, but were all slain by the merciless pirates. The monastery was partly rebuilt in 870, and again devastated by the terrible Danes. The Saxon Earls of Northumberland sheltered the church within their castle on the promontory, but the monastery was soon to be restored, and the event was hastened by the discovery of the relics of the holy king and martyr Oswin.
Four hundred years had passed away since Oswin had been entombed, when one evening in the church, after the nocturnal office, a radiant being of noble presence and gentle aspect stood before Edmund, the sacrist of the church.
"I am Oswin," said the vision; "seek for my grave, and restore me to the memory of men where I once bore sway." And then the appearance floated away and disappeared in the shadow.
The sacrist's tale was readily believed. At that time Tosti, Harold's brother, was Earl of Northumberland; his wife, the Lady Judith, came at once with the Bishop of Durham to seek for Oswin's grave, in obedience to the heavenly mandate. They discovered it, and the relics of the saint were joyfully raised and placed on the altar. The earl commenced the erection of a monastery, attached to the church that possessed such precious relics, but was prevented by death from finishing it.
Robert de Mowbray succeeded to the earldom of Northumberland and the custody of the castle of the unfortunate Tosti, who fell at Stamford Bridge. He destined the church of Tynemouth and its possession for St. Albans, that was now a Norman Benedictine abbey; and a colony of monks froth thence were sent for to restore the church of St. Oswin on their newly be stowed property. They came, bearing only their staves and missals, unarmed and barefoot, but their own abbey was very rich, and under the auspices of its second founder, the buildings begun by Tosti were completed, and in 1110 the relics of St. Oswin were translated with much pomp and solemnity to the new monastic church. Then the lights of the priory shone out to cheer the sailor on the North Sea. But Robert de Mowbray was dead ere the consecration took place.
William Rufus grew jealous of the power of his great vassal, and besieged him in his Castle of Tynemouth. When De Mowbray found that further defence of the castle would be impossible, he fled to Barnborough. It also was besieged, and De Mowbray was flying again from thence to join his allies at Newcastle, when, finding that he was pursued, and unable to escape from his adversaries, he turned back to Tynemouth and took sanctuary in the church. But Rufus cared nothing for sanctuary. De Mowbray was forcibly dragged from it, and remained a captive till the death of Rufus and the accession of Henry I. set him free. But then he was an old man, blind, and weary of the world. He entered his beloved abbey of St. Albans and took the vows, remaining there for the rest of his life, "the world forgetting, by the world forgot." In 1106 the refounder of Tynemouth Priory died and was buried in St. Alban's Abbey.
The priory prospered till the evil days of Henry VIII. came, and the brethren of Tynemouth assembled in their Chapter House to execute the enforced deed of surrender of their noble priory. On January 12, 1539, the monastery was given up to the Crown by Robert Blakeney, the last prior, and eighteen monks. The common seal, a beautiful work of ancient art, was broken; the plate and jewels were taken for the king. The movable property was sold, the monastic buildings dismantled, the church and the prior's house only were preserved, the former as the parish church, the latter as a residence for the purchaser of the demesne. The six bells, whose sound had so often floated over the sea and cheered the seaman's heart with the thought of home, were taken down and shipped to London. The lead was torn from the roofs.
The church plate seized by the king's visitors weighed, in gold 62 ounces, in silver 1827 ounces.
A manuscript once belonging to the priory, the book of St. Oswin, is now in the British Museum.
A lighthouse supplies the place of the beacon of Tynemouth Priory.
This line of coast has been delightfully described by Scott in "Marmion," in his voyage of the nuns of Whitby northwards: