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Accessing Aidan wins 'Hidden Gem' category at the UK Heritage Awards 2020

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The Accessing Aidan project, with its newly opened crypt of St Aidan’s Church in  Bamburgh, won the ‘Hidden Gem’ category at the prestigious awards, which celebrate the best historic houses, gardens, museums and sites around the UK.

In November last year the beautiful 12th century crypt of St Aidan’s church was reopened to the public once again to enable the public to visit the new Bamburgh Ossuary and to learn more about the remarkable story of Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh. 

An interpretive display and animation together with a unique interactive digital ossuary at St Aidan’s Church and Crypt in Bamburgh, tells the story of 110 skeletons dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries unearthed from what is believed to be the burial ground for the royal court of Northumbria. 

The judges of the UK Heritage Awards praised Accessing Aidan for ‘furthering science and education’, for mixing digital elements with archaeology and for the strength of the volunteer and community involvement.

The Accessing Aidan project is a collaboration between the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership, St Aidan’s Parochial Church Council, Durham University, Bamburgh Heritage Trust and Northumberland County Council. The project has been made possible for thanks to a £355,600 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Jessica Turner, the Accessing Aidan Project Officer said “We are absolutely thrilled to be recognised with this fabulous award. This has been a great partnership effort and we are immensely proud that our hidden gem - the crypt and our amazing Anglo-Saxon story - is now open and accessible to all.”

Northumberland County Councillor Jeff Watson is Chair of the Northumberland Coast AONB.  He said: “This is fantastic news for this truly unique Northumberland project, and very well deserved.

“With the help of new technology, the secrets these ancient people took to their graves 1,400 years ago have been unlocked and brought to life for a 21st century audience.  I am so pleased that the beautiful crypt of St Aidan’s church is open to the public once again.”

The 12th century crypt below the chancel is a true hidden gem as difficult external access meant the crypt had been closed to the public for the last 30 years but now new stairs enable access to the main crypt below, from where the second crypt with its neatly stacked ossuary boxes containing the bones, can be viewed. On entering the crypt, visitors are met with a short linocut animation film that tells the story of the ancestors now interred in the Ossuary, with further information panels and the digital ossuary available in the church.

It is hoped the Bamburgh Ossuary will help spread the word about an under-represented period of Bamburgh’s history – namely the regional, national and even global role it played in the spread of Christianity and Anglo Saxon culture. Among the startling revelations is that far from being a quiet, rural village, Bamburgh was a thriving and cosmopolitan hub drawing people from across Europe to live and work – including St Aidan, who travelled from Iona at the invitation of King Oswald 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.

Due to the current Covid-19 restriction the crypt and main body of the church are currently only open on designated days - next week Wednesday 9th and Sunday 13th September. It is also possible to arrange a private tour of the crypt via the website. The digital ossuary is available online through a new dedicated website Bamburgh Bones.