Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist


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.
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