Visitor Guide 10: Chapel of St Wilfrid
The Chapel of St Wilfrid is used as a place of reflection and prayer in the Abbey, named and dedicated to the founder of Hexham Abbey, St Wilfrid.
Wilfrid was born in 643 just as the ‘new’ faith arrived in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. A pushful youth, he persuaded the Northumbrian queen to send him for schooling to Aidan’s Holy Island monastery; but there he found that humble Irish monks and tiny wooden churches did not meet his grander vision.
Seeking an alternative, Wilfrid set off on the long journey to Rome, during six exciting years he saw richly decorated stone churches where he heard glorious music and liturgy.
When Wilfrid returned, he was soon in the midst of controversy. Disagreement over customs and calendar between the Celtic churchmen and those who followed the Roman pattern. A synod of church leaders was arranged at Whitby, and there, Wilfrid’s wide experience and fluency in Latin brought him forward as the main spokesman for Rome in opposition to Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne. Following the synod, Oswiu of Northumbria decided to take his people over to the Roman camp; and Wilfrid had helped settle the future of English worship.
Now acclaimed and respected, Wilfrid remained for forty-five tireless years a leader in the English Church. Although he faced many difficulties, for ambition and arrogance brought him into conflict with two successive Northumbrian kings and two archbishops of Canterbury. He was for a time imprisoned, and spent many years journeying to and from Rome to seek help from the Pope. But on his travels he never paused in his mission, and Christianity flourished thanks to his efforts.
The churches he built were places of beauty and awe, the great houses of St Peter at Ripon and St Andrew at Hexham were buildings the like of which had not been seen in Britain since Roman times.
Wilfrid died at the age of 76 in the year 710 and after his death, was venerated as a saint.