The international image of the North-East was given a huge boost today as the Government backed the region's bid for a third world heritage site.
The twin Anglo-Saxon monastery site of Wearmouth-Jarrow will be the Government's nomination for 2009 for world heritage site status.
The monastery was the home of the Venerable Bede, one of Europe's greatest ever scholars whose work is still being read today after 1,300 years.
The decision by the Government is reward for four years' work on the bid by a partnership chaired by Bishop of Jarrow John Pritchard and which includes Bede's World, Sunderland and South Tyneside councils, the Seventh Century churches of St Paul's at Jarrow and St Peter's at Monkwearmouth, English Heritage and Tyne Wear Museums.
The nomination will go to UNESCO's International Council on Monuments and Sites, which makes its decision in 2010.
Government nomination makes it virtually certain that world heritage status will be granted. Only one UK Government nomination has ever been deferred. This was the case of the Lake District and that decision was a technicality based on previous, less flexible criteria.
World heritage status would be a major lift for the economy of South Tyneside, Sunderland and the region, not least through tourism, and also for its education potential and for the international profile of the region.
Wearmouth-Jarrow would join Hadrian's Wall and Durham Cathedral and Castle as world heritage sites.
"There aren't many places in the world which have three world heritage sites so close together. It would be of immense importance to the region economically and culturally and would be one more reason to persuade visitors arriving in the North-East to stay for several days instead of heading off to York or Edinburgh," said Peter Stone, Professor of Heritage Studies at Newcastle University. "This decision flags up to One NorthEast and other bodies that the Government is serious and that funding should be available to have everything ready for 2009."
The Bishop of Jarrow, who toasted the announcement with a glass of Venerable Bede ale from Jarrow Brewery, said: "We have a place of huge international significance and the home of one of history's great intellectual giants in the Venerable Bede. It would be a tremendous achievement to have three sites and will give great confidence to South Tyneside, Sunderland and the region."
One NorthEast has already provided £90,000 for the project, which has included studies on strategies for the site including planning, education, conservation, tourism and economic impact and visitor management.
One study shows that the two sites already attract over 80,000 visitors a year - which could rise by 50% with world status - and bring in £2.4m annually into the local economy, supporting 95 jobs. The nomination has also kick started talks on Wearmouth-Jarrow as a key component in a Northumbria Christian heritage trail which would include places like Lindisfarne, Hexham Abbey and Durham Cathedral. The Wearmouth-Jarrow sites have the two ancient churches, plus a £4m museum at Bede's World which was opened six years ago by the Queen, an 11-acre Anglo-Saxon farm and Georgian Jarrow Hall.
The partnership will now forge ahead with the preparation of the management plan and nomination document for presentation to UNESCO in 2009.
The site was put on the Government's list because "rare early medieval standing fabric with one of the most enduring and influential figures in contemporary culture make Wearmouth-Jarrow a site of world importance".
Page 2: Remarkable life of England's first historian
Remarkable life of England's first historian
The Venerable Bede, born in 673, entered the monastery at the age of seven and became arguably the greatest scholar in 8th Century Europe.
His great work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, covered 800 years over five volumes and was finished in 731. It earned him the accolade of being England's first historian. At a time when most writing was a recording of fact, Bede created the concept of writing history and the idea of a unified England centuries before it happened.
He also produced scores of books discussing theology, astronomy, natural science, poetry, grammar, mathematics and chronology, and popularised the BC/AD dating system and the calculation of the date of Easter.
Bede made the North-East the centre of European learning. The scriptorium at Jarrow, where books were copied by hand, could not keep up with the demand for Bede's works from across Europe.
In 1899 Bede was confirmed by the Pope as a saint and a doctor of the Church - the only Englishman to be honoured with the title.
Page 3: Praise be for North's heritage bid
Praise be for North's heritage bid
The likelihood of a third world heritage site for the North-East was welcomed across the region:
* "It is fantastic news. It really gives us something to shout about and would put the region on the map." - Ailsa Anderson, head of culture, One NorthEast.
* "We now hope the region will get behind the bid." - Keith Merrin, director of Bede's World.
* "The site fully deserves worldwide recognition. It will bring a significant boost in tourism, potentially worth millions of pounds to the local economy." - Paul Waggott, South Tyneside Council leader.
* "This is a major coup for the whole region in terms of the economic and cultural impact it would have." - Bob Symonds, Sunderland City Council leader.
* "Bede left a legacy of learning which has been treasured, used, copied and imitated by generations to the present day." - Durham University Emeritus Professor of Archaeology.