Bamburgh crypt project celebrates area’s heritage

29 November 2019

Simon Williams/Crest Photography

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, in the 12th-century crypt at St Aidan’s Bamburgh

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, in the 12th-century crypt at St Aidan’s Bamburgh

A 12TH-CENTURY crypt on the site in Northumberland where St Aidan worshipped and died 1400 years ago has been reopened, and its secrets have been revealed to the public for the first time.

The crypt of St Aidan’s, Bamburgh, on the north Northumberland coast, is the final resting place of 110 men, women, and children who lived in the area in the seventh and eighth centuries, and who were originally buried in Bowl Hole graveyard within the sand dunes, south of Bamburgh Castle. The remains were uncovered during excavations between 1998 to 2007, and, in 2016, were placed in modern ossuary boxes and laid to rest in the crypt.

Thanks to a £355,000-grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, visitors can now view the room through a small gate from the main crypt and learn about the history of the church, crypt, and area through a new interpretative display and interactive digital ossuary.

The new space was reopened last Friday, and blessed by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman. She said: “For so long, the crypt has been hidden from view, and I am delighted that, as part of this project, [Accessing Aidan], it is now open for everyone to see.

“The church is on the site of a seventh-century church built by St Aidan, and is where he died. It overlooks the beautiful Northumberland coast, where St Aidan established a religious community on Holy Island, which sent missions to grow the Christian faith across England. . .

“The story of St Aidan is foundational for the Christian Church in this country today, and this project at Bamburgh is a fitting way to celebrate the very significant part our region plays in our country’s Christian heritage.”

Until now, owing to access issues, the public had been able to visit the crypt and ossuary only by special arrangement. New stairs have been built as part of a wider project celebrating the life of St Aidan and the Anglo-Saxon Golden Age of Northumbria.

The project officer for Accessing Aidan, Jessica Turner, said: “It really was a bright and shining age, with the melting pot of cultures represented reflected in the likes of the Lindisfarne Gospels with its stunning mix of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Mediterranean, and Arabic imagery and calligraphy.”

Isotope analysis revealed that fewer than ten per cent of the skeletons came from the area; most of them originated in the wider British Isles, particularly western Scotland, and as far away as Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

The Vicar of St Aidan’s, the Revd Louise Taylor-Kenyon, said that this confirmed that people had always crossed borders. Even in the seventh century, she said, “the idea of country boundaries was fragile. It is a reminder that this nation’s history has continually been one of people visiting, settling, intermingling, and creating relationships and a more diverse society as a consequence.”

The digital ossuary can be seen free of charge at bamburghbones.org; admission to St Aidan’s and the crypt is free. Opening hours are 9 a.m.-dusk.

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