Visitor Guide 15: Saxon Crypt
The Anglo-Saxon Crypt is the only part of Wilfrid’s original church that survives intact, making it over 1300 years old. It is usually open on request to the Abbey verger or a steward, so please do ask if they are on hand – as in taking the stone steps down the crypt, you are taking a journey back in time to the earliest days of Christianity in England.
Wilfrid’s church was probably built entirely from stones taken from Roman remains at nearby Corbridge, and inside you can see evidence of this recycling. There are well-defined frieze patterns in some areas of wall, as well as an attractive leaf and berry design on some of the stones, indicating that they were originally from an important Roman house.
The crypt is complex, with passages, now blocked, that run north and south of the central shrine and its antechamber.
The chamber was built as a showplace for Wilfrid’s relics which he collected, for example those of St Andrew brought back from Rome in 679. Many Pilgrims were attracted by what they heard of a great stone church and ancient relics and they visited the Abbey to wonder and pray.
The relics and casket have long since vanished. They were perhaps buried with other monastic treasures during 9th century troubles. Although around 8,000 coins in a bronze bucket were found 1000 years later, no wooden box or cloth fragment would have survived.
However, there is still the magic of the shrine and the crypt that was created in the earliest days of English Christianity, and a room where many thousands of humble folk once wondered at the beauty and majesty of faith.