"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 17 October 2019

St Wystan's, Repton

Those of you who read my blog regularly will probably have gathered that my family are not at all interested in visiting churches although D will usually come along with me if there is a castle or a picturesque village, a pub lunch on offer or the church has medieval grotesques and gargoyles. So I was a trifle surprised when D himself suggested visiting a church at Repton until I discovered he had been reading "The Story of Britain in 100 Places" by Neil Oliver which mentions the Anglo-Saxon crypt at St Wystan's, Repton, as one of the places.

Repton has been a site of religious and royal importance since the 8th century. Different styles of architecture in the church reflect many alterations over the centuries and the chancel walls are Saxon (8th/9th century).

There is historical evidence of an abbey (of which the church formed a part) at the end of the 7th century. The "Anglo Saxon Chronicle" states that in 757 King Ethelbald of Mercia was buried at Repton. There are also records from Florence of Worcester that Wiglaf, King of Mercia 827 - c839 was also buried in the crypt as was his grandson St Wystan. It is believed the abbey was destroyed by the Danes but afterwards the church itself was repaired. Later a new religious group, the Augustinians, established a priory near the church in 1153-9 which remained until The Dissolution. Most of the Augustinian priory was destroyed but parts can be seen in Repton School buildings including foundations in the school grounds.

Pevsner describes the church as "one of the most precious survivals of Anglo-Saxon architecture in England".

A quick look around the churchyard first.

The tower and spire are 15th century and the spire rises to 212 feet.

The tower clock was made by Rippon of Sheffield in 1868 and the tower contains 8 bells of varying ages with the eldest dated 1513.

St Wystan

The earliest record of St Wystan appears before 1030 in an Anglo-Saxon list of Saints' burial places and it mentions that St Wystan was buried in the monastery at Repton. Florence of Worcester (a Norman historian) wrote that Wystan was the grandson of King Wiglaf and he was murdered by Wiglaf's successor Berhtfert in 849. Following his martyrdom a column of light from the place where he was murdered rose towards heaven for 30 days. Later "Chronicles of Evesham" recorded that King Cnut (1016-35) had Wystan's remains removed from Repton to Evesham and many miracles occurred at his shrine there. A small relic of Wystan was returned to Repton in the 13th century.

The porch contains some interesting stones, and carvings including one of St Wystan whose sword was restored to the statue in 2003, and what looks like a tomb cover.

Church interior

The nave was rebuilt in the 14th century

Alabaster monument of a knight who may represent Sir Robert Frances of Foremark who lived locally at the end of the 14th century.

Entrance to the crypt is on the north side of the church by this small chapel.

The stairs are uneven and worn due to the steps of thousands of pilgrims visiting St Wystan's shrine.

Unfortunately the crypt was very dark only lit by one candle and a small amount of light filtering through boarded up windows and a door so I am afraid the photos are pretty poor.

The crypt a relic of pre-Conquest architecture was completed by the end of the 9th century and is one of the oldest unaltered religious sites in England. It has square and round piers with spiral fluting and square capitals supporting the arches and vaults. It is around 16 feet square and 10 feet high and contains 9 square bays and four recesses. It may have been used initially as a baptistery and was later turned into a mausoleum for Kings of Mercia. Sir John Betjeman described it as "holy air encased in stone". The crypt was re-discovered in 1779 when a labourer digging a grave in the chancel fell into it. The stairs on the North side were not re-discovered until 1802.

In one of the recesses I thought I could see traces of a wall painting (no information in the church guides) so I got D to shine a little pen torch and he took this photo of part of the area.


There again perhaps rather than paint it was crystals forming as in my photo you can see what look like tiny purple quartz chrystals.

While I continued to look round the church D, mission accomplished, disappeared to have a look round the town with B.

The stained glass is from the late 19th and early 20th century and made mainly by Dudley Forsyth and James Powell and Sons.

The angel Gabriel visits Mary.

The baby Jesus is taken to the temple.

There were several displays of fruit and flowers around the church presumably for harvest festival.

Jesus the Good Shepherd


The chancel dates from before 840AD when King Wiglaf ordered the crypt to be made more ornate so that it could be used for his own burial. The windows and chancel arch have changed over time but the chancel walls seen today are much as they were when the Vikings arrived.

This modern door high on the wall marks the entrance to an upper chamber or rood loft above the chancel where relics may have once been displayed on feast days.

St Wystan

Plain East Window

I loved these musical hassocks.

Looking back towards the nave.

St Wystan

The 21 stop organ was built in 1998 by Peter Collins. Inspiration for the oak case came from the oldest in Britain which is the 16th century case at Old Radnor in Wales.

This window features St Diuma - 1st Bishop of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Merica, St Wystan - Christian martyr, grandson of King Wiglaf and prince of Mercia, murdered 849 due to a quarrel over succession to the throne, St Guthlac - a Mercian soldier at Repton Abbey who became a monk and later a hermit living on an island in the fens, St Chad - appointed Bishop of Lichfield.

Man Sowing the Seeds and Angels reaping the harvest (Revelations).

I couldn't find any information on the age of the font.

West Window

Timothy - who was exceedingly impressed with the crypt if a trifle nervous of the dark!

Fungi in the churchyard.

I will do a much shorter post in a few days on the town of Repton mainly using D's photos as I spent that much time in the church I didn't get chance to see much of the town itself!

*D Photo taken by my son with the Canon SX50HS bridge camera
Rest of photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera

Reference: Church leaflets on Stained Glass, The Tower Bells, Church Guide, The Crypt and Church Organ
Booklet on St Wystan's Church, Repton A Guide and History by Dr H M Taylor


Rustic Pumpkin said...

A superb collection {if that's the correct word} of stained glass. Happy for you to have a bonus church visit. I see Timothy is back in his colourful winter sweater now.

Rosie said...

The church looks wonderful inside. I loved seeing down in the crypt as for some reason it was closed when we took a quick peek in the church a few years ago. I wonder what happened to the labourer who discovered it by falling in? I hope he lived to tell the tale. The blue colouring in or on the stone is fascinating. I like the quote from Sir John Betjeman about the crypt as both church and town are redolent of times past and of ancient history:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rustic Pumpkin - Thanks so much. The stained glass was rather lovely there. I am still a bit in shock that my son suggested the visit although he was off like a shot once he had seen the crypt! Timothy's t-shirt has gone away until next Spring :)

Rosie - Thanks so much. I am sorry the crypt was closed when you went. A tip if you return there is a light to illuminate the stairs which we missed until afterwards! Hence we gingerly made our way down using a tiny pen torch! I am not sure why I didn't think there might be a light!! There is nothing in the church guides to explain whether the labourer survived or not I am afraid. Hopefully, he did. I would love to know what the colours on the wall were. I agree about the Betjeman quote the church and especially the crypt has that special atmosphere you get in ancient places.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

That's a very pointy spire!

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks and yes it is :)

CherryPie said...

Wonderful photos :-)

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thank you.