Bamburgh bones brought to life in St Aidan’s new interactive ossuary
The crypt at St Aidan’s Church in Bamburgh, hidden from view for many years, has been blessed by Bishop Christine, marking the opening of a new cutting-edge project recreating Northumbria’s Golden Age.
The project, made possible by a £355,600 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, sees the public reopening of the crypt and the creation of an interpretative display and interactive digital ossuary, telling the story of 110 skeletons dating back to the seventh and eight centuries unearthed in sand dunes nearby.
The skeletons excavated, analysed and researched over a 20-year period, were again laid to rest in 2016 in individual ossuary boxes in a smaller second crypt within the main one at St Aidan’s.
With the help of advanced technology, the secrets the men, women and children took to their graves 1,400 years ago have been unlocked and brought to life for a 21st century audience.
The funding also sees the reopening of the beautiful crypt, which dates back to the 12th century. Access issues meant that up to now the crypt has only been open to the public by special arrangement. However, new stairs have been built to enable access to the main crypt, from where the second one with its neatly stacked boxes containing the bones, can be viewed.
The Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Christine Hardman said: “For so long, the crypt has been hidden from view and I am delighted that as part of this project it is now open for everyone to see.
“The church is on the site of a seventh century church built by St Aidan, and is where he died. It overlooks the beautiful Northumberland coast, where St Aidan established a religious community on Holy Island, which sent missions to grow the Christian faith across England.
“Every year many pilgrims and visitors come to Northumberland to learn more about this incredible man, the faith he shared with others, and the society in which he lived. The story of St Aidan is foundational for the Christian Church in this country today, and this project at Bamburgh is a fitting way to celebrate the very significant part our region plays in our country’s Christian heritage.”
Among the startling revelations from the research is that far from being a sleepy backwater, Bamburgh on the north Northumberland coast was a thriving and cosmopolitan hub drawing people from across Europe to live and work – including St Aidan, who travelled from Iona to establish Christianity in the area and founded a place of worship in 635AD on the site of the present church that bears his name.
It is proof, says the vicar of St Aidan’s, the Revd Louise Taylor-Kenyon, that people have always travelled. “The idea of country boundaries was fragile” she says. “It is a reminder that this nation’s history has continually been one of people visiting, settling, intermingling, and creating relationships and a more diverse society as a consequence.”
The interpretive display and digital ossuary allowing the public to probe a wealth of osteological data is managed by Bamburgh Bones, a collaboration between the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership, St Aidan’s PCC, Durham University, and Bamburgh Heritage Trust.
Visit the Bamburgh Bones website at https://bamburghbones.org