May 16th, 2008


Wilfred, Archbishop of York, founded a Benedictine Abbey at Hexham in the 670s, using stone salvaged from Roman sites. The Abbey has disappeared under later buildings but its poky little crypt survives. A Saxon crypt- this is not something one comes across every day! Some of the stone had carving on it, but Wilfred's masons didn't try to make any sense or pattern out of it but just bunged it into the wall as it came to hand. I guess if they were planning a plaster finish- as they probably were- it didn't matter what lay underneath.

The crypt held relics of St Andrew. There are two entrances: one, used by the monks, which is now blocked off, and a second, for the use of pilgrims, accessed by a trapdoor in the floor of the present church, which is only opened when there's an attendant on hand to warm visitors about the steps- which are treacherously steep and deep.

Here's Ruth, my sister-in-law, admiring some recycled Roman fancywork.

The present church is spectacular but, if you're a medieval nut like me, a bit of a disappointment. The 19th century restoration was so thorough that it was more like a rebuild- and there's hardly any stonework showing that isn't crisp and machine-cut .  By way of compensation the building houses so many antiquities and curiosities and ancient artworks that it's virtually a museum. There are Roman altars and tombstones, sections of Saxon crosses, a set of misericords, a collection of fifteenth century paintings on wood- including several panels of the Dance of Death and- most splendid of all- a group of medieval grotesques in high relief, including these critters.

The town is very pretty. There's an old gaol we didn't visit. I recommend the Chinese takeaway in the town centre.

Fishers Of Men

Fishers of Men


Once upon a time there was a man called Andrew

Who lived beside the sea.

He had a more famous brother and a fishing boat.

One day the Lord came walking on the shore.

It had been a bad day’s fishing but the Lord said,

Cast your net in one more time

And they did and caught such a shoal of fish-

A great slap-happy mass of silver- they had to call for help

Then the lord said stow your nets; from now on you’ll be catching men.


After that it was all travelling, looking for men to catch.

He went to Constantinople, then Patras where he died on a crux decussata

Because he wasn’t worthy of a straight-up one;

His word, not mine.

After that he traveled some more. Wilfred brought him to Hexham

Where they made him a house, digged into the earth

And lined with stone from the houses of the Romans.

Later Acca took him over the wall

And gave him to the Picts because their need was greater.


Travelling is some men’s wyrd; mine is to stay in the one place-

In the house Wilfred built, where Andrew dwelt briefly-

And sit in the scriptorium all hours that light lasts

Writing words in books-

As I am bidden, as I am very happy to do-

A maker not a caster of nets.

But my sneaking, prideful hope is this-

That my books will be given to kings or bishops or other great men

And so travel from place to place- like Andrew.