There has been a church on the site of Hexham Abbey for more than 1,300 years, since Queen Etheldreda made a grant of lands to Wilfrid, Bishop of York c.674. Beneath the floor of the nave, the crypt of Wilfrid’s Saxon church is still intact. A steep stair leads down into a dimly lit chamber where inscriptions show that many of the stones used to build the crypt came from the old Roman fort at Corbridge, 3 miles to the east.
Look up, rather than down, and there is a series of galleried walkways around the south and east transepts. Those on the south are accessed by a small wooden door to the right of the broad gallery at the top of the night stairs, a flight of 35 stone steps rising from the south transept. Through the door, a very narrow steep spiral staircase leads to the first gallery – heading along the gallery another set of spiral steps leads to the ringing chamber. Above that, yet more narrow steps lead to the bell chamber. This is the domain of the Hexham Abbey Guild of Bell Ringers.
The lack of head height and the narrow stairs confirms what we all know – that we are significantly bigger than our ancestors, some more than others. And, this provides the perfect excuse to include my favourite clip from In Bruges 🙂 :