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Over the years, many fragments of sculptured stone have been found in and around Hexham Abbey, buried under floors or built into walls and staircases. When the present Nave was added to the Abbey in the early 20th century, some of these fragments were built into its new walls or set in purpose-built niches.
One of the most interesting examples is that of the 7th century ‘Hexham Lion’, which can be seen in the north side of the west wall of the Nave. It is believed to have been part of a capital from Wilfrid’s original church, and was evidently created by a skilled craftsman.
To the left of the High Altar is the Leschman Chantry Chapel, containing the tomb of Rowland Leschman, Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491. The tomb is decorated with two rows of carvings. The upper row consists of traditional devotional scenes, including St George and the Dragon, St Peter and St Paul, and a lily, the symbol of purity.
The lower row, in dramatic contrast, includes more playful and irreverent scenes. These feature a man playing the bagpipes, a jester, a three-headed figure, and a fox preaching to geese, a satirical comment on the clergy popular at the time.
Many of the Abbey’s pieces of sculpture are now collected together in The Big Story exhibition. One of the earliest carvings here dates from the 3rd century and depicts the god Jupiter draped in a toga. It was probably once a tombstone or part of a frieze, and is likely to have been brought from the old settlement at Corbridge.
Another of the carvings on display here is the Spital Cross. Dating from the 8th century, it is one of the earliest crucifixion scenes in Anglo-Saxon sculpture.
Also to be found in The Big Story are several fragments of 7th century animal carvings, which show the influence of Continental craftsmanship. They include a pair of carvings depicting a boar and a cow, which still contain traces of plaster, indicating that they would originally have been coloured.