The next day we headed into Hexham on the very convenient Hadrian's Wall Country Bus, which passes the Old Repeater Station as it ferries visitors to various points along Hadrian's Wall.
First stop was Hexham Abbey, which has been around in some form or other for over 1300 years. An Anglo-Saxon crypt was discovered in the bowels of the Abbey while it was being renovated in the late 19th century. The entrance to the crypt is in the middle of the church, in the nave. If I were a child attending services, this hole in the floor would have creeped me out.
We descended the narrow stairs into the dim low-ceilinged space and bumped and shuffled our way around corners and through passageways. It was easy to imagine the shrine illuminated by flickering candlelight, standing out in the pools of darkness filling the corners. How many pilgrims from long ago venerated the relics kept here?
The builders made free with stone from the nearby Roman fort Carla and probably Hadrian's Wall as well. The Romans had been gone 300 years by the time this crypt was built. Stone blocks like these, with decorative borders, were scattered throughout the crypt walls, positioned where they were for structural purposes rather than to maintain whatever design they had originally been carved for. How would the Roman stonemasons have reacted if they had seen how their handiwork was re-used?
When a couple joined us in the crypt, the smallness of the crypt quickly became self-evident and we made our way back up the well-worn steps...
into the soaring airiness of Hexham Abbey. The nave above was built in 1908. Spaces were set into the wall on the right to show off various stone fragments that were uncovered along with the crypt.
Tons of these fragments were scattered throughout the Abbey, set in seemingly random places, as if they had so many Roman and Anglo-Saxon artifacts that they could afford to be careless with placement.
At the far end of the nave was the Sunday school space. I loved the homely warmth of the children's area juxtaposed against the cold stone grandeur of the Abbey.