Hexham Abbey, with its 1300 years of history, is an interesting place to visit. It stands in the heart of the Northumberland town of Hexham, voted in 2019 as the happiest place to live in Britain. It hasn’t always been so happy as the long chronology of the abbey shows.
The first church and monastery on this site was completed in 678 by Bishop (later Saint) Wilfrid who trained as a monk and missionary on the island of Lindisfarne to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons.
Viking raiders destroyed part of the church in 875 and it was rebuilt and expanded in the 1100s. Scottish raiders attacked, burnt and ransacked the church on four occasions during the 1200-1300s, including by William Wallace ‘Braveheart’. (Mel Gibson didn’t mention that dastardly deed in his film did he!)
Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries saw Hexham’s priory closed and assets seized in 1537. The King gave the priory’s land and monastic buildings to his agent Sir Reynold Carnaby. The church itself was allowed to continue as the Church of England parish church for Hexham.
In 1725 a builder working on the Abbey fell into a sinkhole and rediscovered the Saxon crypt which had been forgotten for hundreds of years.
The crypt, which is is now open to the public, has a Roman feel to it, having been influenced by the catacombs of Rome and being built entirely from recycled Roman stones.
This huge stone was hidden face down as part of the Abbey’s foundation for hundreds of years until it was unearthed in 1881. It was identified as a tombstone of a young Roman legionnaire called Flavinus and dates from the Roman conquest of Britain. It shows a Roman cavalryman trampling on a cowering Briton.
The abbey was restored in 1908 to how it looks today.
The streets around Hexham Abbey have an old world feel. This photo was taken before lockdown – hopefully they’ll still be in business when this thing is over!
This short film tells more about Hexham Abbey’s history and the top things to see.