Hexham Abbey

Last updated

Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey.jpg
East end of Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey
CountryUnited Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church
Website www.hexhamabbey.org.uk
Parish Hexham
Diocese Newcastle
Province York
Rector Rev'd David Glover
Director of music Michael Haynes
Organist(s) Keith Dale
Inside Hexham Abbey Inside Hexham Abbey, Hexham, United Kingdom.jpg
Inside Hexham Abbey
The Choir in 2019 Hexham Abbey Choir.jpg
The Choir in 2019

Hexham Abbey is a Grade I listed place of Christian worship dedicated to St Andrew, in the town of Hexham, Northumberland, in Northeast England. Originally built in AD 674, the Abbey was built up during the 12th century into its current form, with additions around the turn of the 20th century. Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537, the Abbey has been the parish church of Hexham. In 2014 the Abbey regained ownership of its former monastic buildings, which had been used as Hexham magistrates' court, and subsequently developed them into a permanent exhibition and visitor centre, telling the story of the Abbey's history.



There has been a church on the site for over 1300 years since Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria made a grant of lands to St Wilfrid, Bishop of York c.674. Of Wilfrid's Benedictine abbey, which was constructed almost entirely of material salvaged from nearby Roman ruins, the Saxon crypt still remains; as does a frith stool, a 7th/8th century cathedra or throne. [1] For a little while around that time it was the seat of a bishopric.

In the year 875, Halfdene (Halfdan Ragnarsson) the Dane ravaged the whole of Tyneside and Hexham Church was plundered and burnt to the ground. [2]

About 1050, one Eilaf was put in charge of Hexham, although as treasurer of Durham, he probably never went there. Eilaf was instructed to rebuild Hexham Church, which then lay in utter ruin. His son Eilaf II completed the work, probably building in the Norman style. [2]

In Norman times, Wilfrid's abbey was replaced by an Augustinian priory. The current church largely dates from c.1170–1250, built in the Early English style of architecture. The choir, north and south transepts and the cloisters, where canons studied and meditated, date from this period.

The east end was rebuilt in 1858. [3] The Abbey was largely rebuilt during the incumbency of Canon Edwin Sidney Savage, who came to Hexham in 1898 and remained until 1919. This mammoth project involved re-building the nave, whose walls incorporate some of the earlier church, and the restoration of the choir. The nave was re-consecrated on 8 August 1908.

The church was recorded as Grade I listed in 1951. [3] In 1996 an additional chapel was created at the east end of the north choir aisle; named St Wilfrid's Chapel, which offers a place for prayer or quiet reflection.

Stained glass

Four of the stained glass windows in the Abbey are the work of Jersey-born stained glass artist Henry Thomas Bosdet who was commissioned by the Abbey. The east window was the first project and was installed about 1907. Two smaller windows followed and the large west window was installed in 1918. [4]


The crypt is a plain structure of four chambers. Here were exhibited the relics which were a feature of Wilfred's church. It consists of a chapel with an ante-chapel at the west end, two side passages with enlarged vestibules and three stairways. The chapel and ante-chapel are barrel-vaulted. All the stones used are of Roman workmanship and many are carved or with inscriptions. [2] One inscription on a slab, partially erased, is:

IMP •CAES •L •SEP • • •
VS • • • • • • • • •
 • • • •HORTE • • •
FECERVNT SVB • • • • •

Translated, this means The Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus Pius Pertinax and his sons the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Augustus and Publius Geta Caesar the cohorts and detachments made this under the command of ….. The words erased are of great interest: after the Emperor Geta was murdered by his brother Caracalla, an edict was made at Rome ordering that whenever the two names appeared in combination that of Geta was to be erased. This so-called damnatio memoriae was carried out, but so poorly that the name can still be read. [2]

Bishopric of Hexham

Atkinson memorial with list of clerics Rulers of Hexham Abbey Church (674-1945).jpg
Atkinson memorial with list of clerics

The first diocese of Lindisfarne was merged into the Diocese of York in 664. York diocese was then divided in 678 by Theodore of Tarsus, forming a bishopric for the country between the Rivers Aln and Tees, with a seat at Hexham and/or Lindisfarne. This gradually and erratically merged back into the bishopric of Lindisfarne. Eleven bishops of Hexham followed St. Eata, of which six were saints.

No successor was appointed in 821, the condition of the country being too unsettled. A period of disorder followed the Danish devastations, after which Hexham monastery was reconstituted in 1113 as a priory of Austin Canons, which flourished until its dissolution under Henry VIII. Meantime the bishopric had been merged in that of Lindisfarne, which latter see was removed to Chester-le-Street in 883, and thence to Durham in 995.



Notable burials

Tombstone of Flavinus, Roman standard-bearer

Tombstone of Flavinus, Roman standard-bearer Tombstone of Flavinus, Roman Standard Bearer, Hexham Abbey - geograph.org.uk - 646986.jpg
Tombstone of Flavinus, Roman standard-bearer

The tombstone of Flavinus is one of the most significant Roman finds in Britain. It can be found in the Abbey in front of a blocked doorway at the foot of the Night Stair. Flavinus was a Roman cavalry officer who died aged 25 in the first century. The slab is thought to have once stood near the fort of Coria near Corbridge and was brought here as a building stone in the 12th century. The slab was laid face-upward in the foundations of the cloister and was rediscovered in 1881. [5]

Hexham Hoard

In 1833 a hoard of approximately 8000 stycas were discovered whilst a grave was being dug in the Campey Hill area close to the north transept. [6] The Hexham Hoard was concealed circa 850. [7] It was composed of coins from the reigns of Eanred, Aethelred II and Redwulf, as well as coins of two archbishops Eanbald and Wigmund. [6]


The organ of 1974 The organ, Hexham Abbey - geograph.org.uk - 733966.jpg
The organ of 1974

In 1865 the Abbey acquired a second-hand organ from Carlisle Cathedral dating from 1804. It was installed in Hexham by Nicholson of Newcastle and opened on 19 October 1865. [8] In 1905 this was rebuilt by Norman and Beard with Sir Frederick Bridge of Westminster Abbey as the consultant.

In 1974 a new instrument by Lawrence Phelps of Pennsylvania was installed. It is a two manual 34-stop mechanical action instrument. [9]


Assistant organists


Hexham Abbey Boys' Choir consists of boys' and men's voices and sings choral evensong on Wednesdays in addition to morning and evening services on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. The choir has made two CDs in recent years and has toured to Paris (2007), Rome (2009), Hanover (2011), Berlin (2012), Antwerp (2014) and Tallinn (2015), in addition to several tours within Great Britain. Several past members of the choir have gone on to win choral/organ scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The choir has appeared on BBC Songs of Praise .

Hexham Abbey Girls' Choir consists of girls and men and sings for the Parish Eucharist & Choral Evensong on the third Sunday of the month. The girls also sing with the boys on the fourth Sunday of the month and girls' voices also sing evensong on Thursdays. The choir began in September 2001 and is divided into junior & senior choristers aging from 7–18. The choir has toured to Dublin (2007), Paris (2009), Hanover (2011), Berlin (2012) and several other places.

Hexham Abbey Chamber Choir is entirely made up of adults. They sing evensong on the first Sunday of the month and when the other Abbey Choirs are unavailable. It has appeared live on BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship.

See also

Related Research Articles

Lindisfarne Tidal island in northeast England

Lindisfarne, also called Holy Island, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, which constitutes the civil parish of Holy Island in Northumberland. Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD; it was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was re-established. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

686 Calendar year

Year 686 (DCLXXXVI) was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 686 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Cuthbert 7th-century Bishop of the church, Bishop of Hexham, and saint

Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was an Anglo-Saxon saint of the early Northumbrian church in the Celtic tradition. He was a monk, bishop and hermit, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne in the Kingdom of Northumbria, today in north eastern England and South Eastern Scotland. Both during his life and after his death he became a popular medieval saint of Northern England, with a cult centred on his tomb at Durham Cathedral. Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of Northumbria. His feast days are 20 March and 4 September.

Wilfrid was an English bishop and saint. Born a Northumbrian noble, he entered religious life as a teenager and studied at Lindisfarne, at Canterbury, in Gaul, and at Rome; he returned to Northumbria in about 660, and became the abbot of a newly founded monastery at Ripon. In 664 Wilfrid acted as spokesman for the Roman position at the Synod of Whitby, and became famous for his speech advocating that the Roman method for calculating the date of Easter should be adopted. His success prompted the king's son, Alhfrith, to appoint him Bishop of Northumbria. Wilfrid chose to be consecrated in Gaul because of the lack of what he considered to be validly consecrated bishops in England at that time. During Wilfrid's absence Alhfrith seems to have led an unsuccessful revolt against his father, Oswiu, leaving a question mark over Wilfrid's appointment as bishop. Before Wilfrid's return Oswiu had appointed Ceadda in his place, resulting in Wilfrid's retirement to Ripon for a few years following his arrival back in Northumbria.

Chad of Mercia 7th-century Bishop of York and Lichfield

Chad was a prominent 7th-century Anglo-Saxon churchman, who became abbot of several monasteries, Bishop of the Northumbrians and subsequently Bishop of the Mercians and Lindsey People. He was later canonised as a saint. He was the brother of Cedd, also a saint. He features strongly in the work of the Venerable Bede and is credited, together with Cedd, with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.

Hilda of Whitby Christian saint

Hilda of Whitby was a Christian saint and the founding abbess of the monastery at Whitby, which was chosen as the venue for the Synod of Whitby in 664. An important figure in the Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England, she was abbess at several monasteries and recognised for the wisdom that drew kings to her for advice.

Hexhamshire is a civil parish in Northern England. It was incorporated into Northumberland in 1572.

Carlisle Cathedral Church in Cumbria, England

Carlisle Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle in Carlisle, Cumbria, England. It was founded as an Augustinian priory and became a cathedral in 1133.

Eata of Hexham 7th-century Bishop of Lindisfarne, Bishop of Hexham, and saint

Eata, also known as Eata of Lindisfarne, was Bishop of Hexham from 678 until 681, and of then Bishop of Lindisfarne from before 681 until 685. He then was translated back to Hexham where he served until his death in 685 or 686. He was the first native of Northumbria to occupy the bishopric of Lindisfarne.

Trumbert was a monk of Jarrow, a disciple of Chad and later Bishop of Hexham.

Acca of Hexham 8th-century Bishop of Hexham

Acca of Hexham was a Northumbrian saint and Bishop of Hexham from 709 until 732.

Bishop of Hexham

The Bishop of Hexham was an episcopal title which took its name after the market town of Hexham in Northumberland, England. The title was first used by the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th and 9th centuries, and then by the Roman Catholic Church since the 19th century.

Bosa was an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of York during the 7th and early 8th centuries. He was educated at Whitby Abbey, where he became a monk. Following Wilfrid's removal from York in 678 the diocese was divided into three, leaving a greatly reduced see of York, to which Bosa was appointed bishop. He was himself removed in 687 and replaced by Wilfrid, but in 691 Wilfrid was once more ejected and Bosa returned to the see. He died in about 705, and subsequently appears as a saint in an 8th-century liturgical calendar.

This timeline summarises significant events in the history of Northumbria and Northumberland.

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford Church in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral of the Anglican diocese of Oxford, which consists of the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. It is also the chapel of Christ Church at the University of Oxford. This dual role as cathedral and college chapel is unique in the Church of England.

Fenwick Lawson English sculptor

Fenwick Justin John Lawson, ARCA is an English sculptor based in the north-east of England.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is a Roman Catholic diocese of the Latin Rite centred on St Mary's Cathedral in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in England. The diocese is one of the six suffragan sees in the ecclesiastical Province of Liverpool and covers the historic boundaries of County Durham and Northumberland.

St Cuthberts Church, Durham Church in Durham, United Kingdom

St Cuthbert's Church is a Roman Catholic parish church in Durham, England. It was opened on 31 May 1827 to replace two previous chapels, one run by the secular clergy and the other by the Jesuits. It is also the home of the Durham University Catholic Chaplaincy and Catholic Society. From 2012 to 2016 the parish was entrusted, along with the chaplaincy, to the Dominican Order, and its congregation has since maintained the Dominicans' influence. The church is a protected building, being part of the Elvet Green Conservation Area. It is named for St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, the 7th century bishop, healer and patron of Northern England.

Graham Barham Usher is an Anglican bishop and ecologist. Since 2019, he has been the Bishop of Norwich; he had previously served as Bishop of Dudley, a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Worcester.

Alfred, son of Westou was a medieval English priest and relic collector, active in Northumberland. He is now best known for allegedly stealing the remains of Bede and bringing them in secret to the shrine of St Cuthbert in Durham, although some modern scholars consider this unlikely. He is also documented as having translated the remains of Boisil of Melrose Abbey, as well as numerous northern English minor saints of the 7th and 8th centuries: the anchorites Balther and Bilfrid; Acca, Alchmund and Eata, bishops of Hexham; Oswin, king of Deira; and the abbesses Ebba and Æthelgitha. He served as the sacristan at Cuthbert's shrine under three bishops, and was renowned for his devotion to the saint.


  1. "Old ruins, new world". British Archaeology. Archived from the original on 23 May 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Graham, Frank (1992). Hexham and Corbridge: a Short History and Guide. Thropton, Rothbury, Northumberland: Butler Publishing. pp. 2, 4, 5. ISBN   0-946928-19-3.
  3. 1 2 Historic England. "The Priory Church of St Andrew (1042576)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  4. Dixon, Rebecca. "Documentary sheds new light on Abbey windows". Hexham Courant (Friday, 3 July 2009): 19.
  5. "The Flavius tombstone". wessexarch.co.uk. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  6. 1 2 Adamson, John (1844). "An Account of the Discovery, at Hexham, in Northumberland, of a Brass Vessel, containing a Number of Anglo-Saxon Coins, called Stycas. Reprinted from the Archaeologia, Vol. XXV". Archaeologia Aeliana. 3.
  7. Lyon, C S (1955). "A REAPPRAISAL OF THE SCEATTA AND STYCA COINAGE OF NORTHUMBRIA" (PDF). British Numismatic Journal. 28: 227–38.
  8. "Ecclesiastical Intelligence, Hexham Abbey Church". Newcastle Journal. Newcastle. 20 October 1865. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  9. Wright, Donald. Hexham Abbey. The Organ. Hexham: Peter Robson Ltd.
  10. Hodges, Charles Clement; Gibson, John (1919). Hexham and its Abbey. Hexham: Gibson and Son. p. 94.
  11. 1834 Pigot's Directory for Northumberland
  12. 1855 Whellan's Directory of Northumberland
  13. "John Nicholson". The Newcastle Courant (Friday 1 September 1865).
  14. 1 2 3 Who's Who in Music. London (First Post-war Edition): Shaw Publishing Co. Ltd. 1949.

Coordinates: 54°58′19″N2°06′11″W / 54.972°N 2.103°W / 54.972; -2.103