Hexham Abbey font

IMG_7649 - Version 2.jpgSometimes the layers of history that make up our past are on prominent display.  The funny thing is that quite often we simply wander by thousands of years of our heritage without batting an eye let alone pausing to consider the twists and turns that led the elements to be placed as they are.

Take Hexham Abbey for instance.  It’s one of the earliest Christian buildings in the country, founded as it was by St Wilfred in AD674.  Should you feel the urge you can explore the Saxon crypt with its two entrances – one accessed on hands and knees in total darkness by Saxon pilgrims who were then suitably awe-struck (in the correct sense of the word) when they finally arrived at the brightly lit shrine with its relics. The second entry was for the monks who were not required to crawl.  These days, I should add, there’re a handy set of stairs.  There’s also a Saxon frith – or peace- stool that speaks of the abbey’s ancient past in the nave.

However, today’s post is about one item made up of several components which encompasses Hexham Abbey’s history from Roman times up to  and including the twentieth century.

IMG_7564.jpgThe oldest element is the actual font.  It was shaped in medieval times from the base of a Roman column, possibly from Corbridge where much of the dressed stone used to build the abbey comes from which is why the abbey boasts a Roman altar tucked away behind a cupboard.  More famous and more prominently displayed, the Flavinus tombstone which depicts a twenty-five-year-old Roman cavalryman and standard bearer along with an unclad British person who may being trampled upon or who may be about to hamstring Flavinus’ horse thus resulting in the need for the tombstone.   Flavinus was buried in the cemetery at Corbridge. The regimental burial fund paid for his rather fine nine foot tall tomb stone.  Six hundred or so years later St Wilfred’s workmen saw a lovely bit of stone, hauled it from Corbridge to Hexham where it became part of the masonry, Flavinus destined to be hidden from view for a very long time.  He was only rediscovered during renovations in 1881.

The plinth on which the font stands is medieval workmanship whilst the steps to the font are twentieth century.

IMG_7652Moving up: the cover is Jacobean work. Originally there must have been an older font cover.  Medieval requirements were that the water in the font should be kept covered and secure for cleanliness and so that dastardly personages couldn’t pinch it. History does not explain what happened to Hexham’s font cover.  Perhaps it was Henry VIII’s reformation thugs who took exception to its splendour or perhaps it was a bunch of Scots looking for something to burn- having said that the locals weren’t above the odd bit of raiding either and let’s not rule out good old-fashioned woodworm. Examples of medieval font covers do still exist. To find out more about them double click on the link and open a new page.

IMG_7651

 

The canopy that hangs above the font was crafted by a Belgian refugee called Josephus Ceulemans in 1916, part of the canopy is made from wood dating from the fifteenth century.

And there you have it two thousand  (ish) years of history as explained to me by a very friendly guide.

2 Comments

Filed under Cathedrals, Church Architecture, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Hexham Abbey font

  1. Sir Kevin Parr Bt

    Sorry to say never inspected this area. Hexam up the long hill from Carlisle I have visited but once. Heavy snows made progress home a real experience for nightmares. Sounds I missed out on magic that day visiting a friend in hospital.I saw the falling snow and raced nature sideways sometimes but no damage to either my car or I thankfully. Good and interesting read dear Julia. Keep it up. Good luck

    • I’m rather fond of Hexham Abbey not least because of the Saxon carvings and the 15th century misericords – though I’d have to agree its not a good journey in the snow though thankfully we’ve never come down the hill sideways.

Leave a Reply