Visitor Guide 2: Night Stair
The Night Stair is made up of 35 stone steps which rise from the south transept of the Abbey, worn by constant use since the 13th century.
It serves as a vivid reminder of the time when the canons lived, worked, and worshipped in the Priory. Before dawn each day, the Priory bell would summon them to Matins, their first service of the day. They would descend from their dormitory down the Night Stair, on their way to the service in the Choir.
The canons, 26 of them when the Priory was at full strength, lived together as a close-knit society but worked among the wider community outside the Priory walls. Much of their time was spent at prayer in the Choir; but as ordained priests they also served in village churches, taught the young and ministered to the needy. In this they differed from monks, who chose a secluded life for their worship and godly learning.
When the Priory was dissolved in 1537, the canons were pensioned off and the dormitory fell into decay. It was eventually demolished, and the Song School now inhabits the site where it once stood. But the Night Stair at Hexham survived, unlike those at other abbeys such as Fountains, Rievaulx and Finchale which removed the Night Stair as it was considered a dangerous ruin.
The Night Stair is still in frequent use today. The choir uses it regularly, and it is adorned with candles or flowers on festive occasions.
The gallery at the top of the Night Stair is the perfect place for a fine view of the transepts, and the jewel-like Victorian stained glass that fills the 13th century lancet windows.