Hexham Abbey

Hexham Abbey is a place of Christian worship dedicated to St Andrew and located in the town of Hexham, Northumberland, in northeast England. Since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537, the Abbey has been the parish church of Hexham.

History

There has been a church on the site for over 1300 years since Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria made a grant of lands to 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. For a little while around that time it was the seat of a bishopric.

In the year 875 Halfdene the Dane ravaged the whole of Tyneside and Hexham Church was plundered and burnt to the ground.

About 1050 one Eilaf was put in charge of Hexham, although as treasurer of Durham, he probably never came 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.

In Norman times, Wilfrid's abbey was replaced by an Augustinian priory. The current church largely dates from that period (c.1170–1250), 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 1860. 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 August 8, 1908.

In 1996 an additional chapel was created at the east end of the north choir aisle. Named St Wilfrid's Chapel, it 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.

Crypt

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. One inscription on a slab, partially erased, is:

Translated it means The Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus Pius Pertinax and his sons the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius 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 an edict was made at Rome ordering that whenever the two names appeared in combination that of Geta was to be erased. This was done but so poorly that the name can still be read.

Bishopric of Hexham

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.

Bishops
  • Eata, 'bishop of Bernicia', with his seat at Hexham and/or Lindisfarne, died 685, succeeded by John of Beverley (Bede, Ecclesiastical History IV.12)
  • Trumbert, 682, as 'bishop of Hexham', at the same time as Trumwine's installation, with Eata continuing as bishop at Lindisfarne
  • Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, 685, after Tumbert's deposition, moving his seat to Lindisfarne to become bishop of Lindisfarne (Bede, IV.28)
  • St. John of Beverley (685-705) (Bede, V.2). From then on, the seat was at Hexham, and the bishopric of Lindisfarne continued independently, with Eadberht succeeding Cuthbert
  • St. Wilfrid, who, resigning the See of York, died as Bishop of Hexham in 709
  • St. Acca, Wilfrid's successor, from 709 (Bede, V.20)
  • Frithubeorht 734–766
  • St. Eahlmund 767–781
  • Tilbeorht 781–789
  • Æthelberht 789–797 transferred from Whithorn
  • Heardred 797–800
  • Eanbehrt 800–813
  • Tidfrith, last bishop in this line, who died about 821
Rectors
  • George Busby
  • Canon Barker 1866 - 18
  • Edwin Sidney Savage 1898 - 1918
  • Canon Hardy
  • Roland Lemon
  • Timothy Withers Green
  • Michael Middleton
  • Canon Michael Nelson
  • Graham Usher 2004-
Notable burials
  • Eata of Hexham
  • Frithubeorht
  • Acca of Hexham
  • Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset
Organ

In 1856 the Abbey acquired a second-hand organ from Carlisle Cathedral dating from 1804. 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.

Organists
  • William Turner ???? - 1834 - 1855 - ????
  • John Nicholson 1865 - 1878
  • James Price 1878 - 1882 (afterwards organist of St. Margaret's Church, Ipswich)
  • Thomas Simpson Camidge 1882 - 1889
  • Richard Seaton
  • Ronald Richardson Potter 1909 - 1911
  • Newell Smith Wallbank 1911 - 1917 (later organist of Wakefield Cathedral)
  • Harry William Tupper 1917 - 1918 (afterwards Organist of Southwell Minster)
  • Hubert H. Norsworthy 1918
  • Newell Smith Wallbank 1918 - 1926 (later organist of Wakefield Cathedral)
  • Cecil S. Richards 1926
  • Reginald Tustin Baker 1928–1929
  • Thomas Christy 1933 - 1945 (formerly sub-organist of Newcastle Cathedral 1928 - 1933)
  • Alfred Southcott Morrish 1945 - 1948
  • Frederick Hudson 1948 - 1949
  • Dr Reginald Cooper
  • Ronald Womersley
  • Terence Atkinson 1965 - 1985
  • John Green 1985 - 2000 (also Director of Music at Dame Allan's Schools, Newcastle, 1967–1990)
  • Michael Haynes 2000 - 2011
  • Marcus Wibberley 2011 -
Assistant organists
  • Colin Basil Fanshaw 1947 - 1949
  • Dorothy Alder
  • John Green 1961 - 1968
  • Ron Lane 1969 - 1977
  • John Green 1977 - 1983
  • Henry Wallace 1983- 1999
  • Hugh Morris 2001 - 2009
  • Alexander Woodrow 2009 -
Choirs

The Hexham Abbey Boys Choir sings choral evensong on Wednesdays and morning and evening services on Sundays. The choir has made two CDs in recent years and has toured to Milan (2005), Paris (2007) and Rome (2009), 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.

The Hexham Abbey Girls Choir sings choral evensong on Thursdays and evensong on the first Sunday of the month. The choir began in September 2001 and is composed of girls aged 10–18. The choir has gone from strength to strength and appeared on BBC Songs of Praise. The choir has toured to Dublin (2007), Glasgow (2008), Paris (2009), Hannover (2011) and several other places.

The Hexham Abbey Chamber Choir is mainly made up of adults and meets once or twice a term for services or concerts. The chamber choir has recently appeared live on BBC 4 Sunday Worship.

Triforium is a recently formed choir, composed principally of senior girl choristers and former boy choristers and current choral scholars. The choir meets occasionally to sing for special events.