Hexham Abbey Crypt

In the centre of the nave a steep stone stair descends into the original 7th-century crypt.

This was discovered only in 1725 when the tower was being reinforced, but would have been the first part of the Saxon church to be built, delved out of the earth before the walls of the main church were erected and bearing out Wilfrid’s biographer Eddius Stephaunus’ description of ‘crypts of beautifully dressed stone’. Like the nave walls, the crypt contains much re-used Roman stone, some with frieze patterns, some with a recurring leaf and berry design, and one slab in the roof (part of which, the ‘Geta’ stone, is now displayed in the nave) that carries a Latin inscription commemorating the building of a granary by the Emperor Septimus Severus and his two sons in 208 before they marched into Scotland.

The scale and complex plan of the crypt is almost unique in England at this time – only Wilfrid’s church at Ripon has something comparable. The closest parallel is Italy, where small tomb chambers similar to the Roman catacombs were constructed to hold the bodies of relics of saints, and churches dedicated to them were built above. At Hexham the stairs lead down into a narrow tunnel-vaulted antechamber which in turn opens through an archway into the main shrine. Two other passages now blocked, once gave access to the crypt from outside the church, one into the antechamber, one into the shrine itself.

We can imagine pilgrims, drawn by tales of relics brought here by Wilfrid, making their way along a dark passage. When they reached the opening of the central chamber, they would see, in the soft radiance from the lamp niches set in the walls, a display of the precious relics of the apostle Andrew, a close friend of Jesus himself. Filled with awe and wonder, they would offer a prayer, and then climb the steep steps into the church and the daylight.*

*From the Hexham Abbey guidebook

10 Comments CherryPie on Nov 24th 2015

10 Responses to “Hexham Abbey – The Crypt”

  1. ....peter:) says:

    this is a great find Cherie and you have presented this well sculptures step nicely….peter:)

  2. Ginnie says:

    I always know there will be something below the main floor of these great churches/abbeys, Cherry. When you can find them and explore, they’re wonderful.

  3. Alan Rolfe says:

    Crikey, there;s a some history there. It was amazing that it remained hidden all those years.

  4. james higham says:

    The things which must have gone on down there at night!

  5. lisl says:

    I was so interested in reading about the Crypt, Cherie, and the re-use of the Roman stones

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