Monday, October 19, 2015

Repton's Saxon crypt

click photo to enlarge
The main building material of the Anglo-Saxons was wood, mud and turf. Consequently few of their buildings have survived. However, important buildings, particularly those associated with the church, were built in stone. These often copied, in a debased, rather crude way, the Byzantine influenced buildings of Southern Europe, sometimes with details that echoed in stone the decorative forms that they incorporated in their timber structures. Whole Anglo-Saxon churches are rare in Britain but churches with parts that date from this period are relatively easy to find. Often its a tower that survives, or perhaps a doorway or window, sometimes it is part of a lower wall. Sculpture and crosses are not uncommon.

We recently visited the church of St Wystan at Repton in Derbyshire. Here the chancel, part of a transept and some walling around the crossing survive from the Anglo-Saxon period. However, the most remarkable and interesting survival is the crypt. Repton is today a small settlement but in the eighth and ninth centuries it had a double monastery and was sufficiently important to be the burial place of three Mercian kings.There is some argument over the age of the crypt but it may well date from that period i.e.the 700s or 800s AD.

The four columns and pilasters that support the domical vaulting show crude bases and capitals with spiral and other decoration copied from classical and Byzantine precedents. The builders may have seen continental European examples or travelled in the Mediterranean region. On the other hand they may have based their work on drawings they had seen. Interestingly, for centuries the crypt was unknown. It was rediscovered in 1779 when a workman who was digging a hole for a grave in the chancel floor broke through into the space below! Today it is open to the public and to descend the stairs into the columned space makes for an evocative experience.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On