THE CATHEDRAL OF THE DALES
The Parish Church of St Romald is 12th Century, Grade I listed building packed with interesting quirks and poignant with quiet beauty.
The village has extensive greens which have since ancient times (and still today) been the property of the Rector who holds the manorial title 'Lord of the Manor.' The village stocks and parish pumps remain on the green.
Much of the building is Norman, but parts of a Saxon church can be seen at the base of the Chancel Arch.
YESTERDAY, TODAY AND...
Romaldkirk, along with most of Teesdale, was settled by the Vikings with Danes entering from the east and Norwegians from the west. In pre Viking days Teesdale was a part of the kingdom of Deira, although with Viking raids, the harrying of the North by William 1st and incursions by King Malcolm of Scotland by the end of the eleventh century the area was in some destitution, it was however a place about to shine!.
THE LARGEST PARISH IN ENGLAND
The parish of Romaldkirk was originally the largest in England. It occupied a total area of 53,302 acres of land. However its population was small with a former rector bemoaning that "my parish consists of over fifty thousand acres of land and my parishioners are mostly grouse!" In 1845 the northern half was separated under its own vicar at Laithkirk. Of claims to fame it has but little; Malcolm of Scotland fought and wone the battle of a hundred springs, now known as 'Hunderthwaite' while many place names reflect the Norse heritage. Balder's dale (Balder was the Son of the Norse God's Odin and Freya) and Woden Croft are a couple of interesting examples.
ROMALD, A SAINTED MYSTERY.
There is uncertainty about which saint the church is dedicated too. The Roman Church celebrates St Romuald, Abbot on February 7th. He was born at Ravenna in Italy and at the age of twenty left home, lived in seclusion and gathered a number of disciples around him.
The second option is (in my view) one of those bizarre medieval tales of the miraculous which needs a bit of unravelling. It may also be that this second option is the most likely. According to legend 'Rumwold' or 'Rumbold' was a noble born son of Northumberland. Following his birth he cried out that 'I am a Christian' was baptised, preached an eloquent sermon and then died three days later. He was reportedly a popular saint in Saxon Britain, and an alternative story has been suggested. In this version Romald was an adult convert, who was then baptised. Following his adult baptism he set about earnestly preaching and teaching those around him. He then suffered an early death, truncated in the myth to three days, as a way to emphasise his likeness to Christ. Surely it would be to this son of Northumberland that the early Christians in Romaldkirk would look, perhaps they were even converts of his missionary zeal!
THE CENTRE OF VILLAGE LIFE
The church has over the centuries being the centre of village life. The rector would hold manorial court, the font remains in its traditional position by the door having seen the baptism of generations of local people over hundreds of years. It remains a popular wedding venue, supports a local choir, is at the centre of the summer fete, Christmas rejoicing, and much more. The many architectural changes over the centuries are testament not just to its history but to the buildings practical application to local life.
The earliest building was of Saxon origin and was partially destroyed by the Scottish wars though some stones remain. In 1155 the Normans put in the arcding with further additions made in 1240. The aisles and south transept were completed at this time which was also the time the chapel of the nine altars was built in Durham Cathedral. Further improvements and changes happened over the centuries with the toilets and kitchen installed in the early 21st century bringing the building up to date.