Case Study

Accessing Aidan

Accessing Aidan

Bamburgh Heritage Trust is a small group of community volunteers working together to celebrate and treasure the stories of Bamburgh. They secured funding to deliver the ambitious ‘Accessing Aidan’ Project that:

Enabled access to the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh so that it now welcomes visitors every day.

Installed new interpretation in the crypt and the church to create a heritage space which explores the significance of Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh.

Utilised the extensive research done by Durham University and Bamburgh Research Project to tell the unique stories of the Anglo-Saxon skeletons excavated from the sand dunes and now interred in the newly created ossuary in the second crypt.

Created a 21st century digital ossuary, making all the skeleton analysis available digitally - Visit the digital-ossuary

Delivered a varied and engaging activity programme which will bring new audiences and train local volunteers to support the heritage offer and sustain the project going forward.

What was done

Volunteers and Project staff have given guided tours of the crypt.

Talks by the Project Officer to local history groups, many via zoom due to the pandemic.

Visitor orientation maps created by a local artist and sited at the car park in Bamburgh.

Teaching resources created, including loan boxes of replica artefacts linked to the lives of seven people buried in the Bowl Hole cemetery and a digital resource for six lessons covering archaeology, history and Christianity. Each lesson comes with comprehensive teaching notes and Powerpoint presentations, all available on the website. And also not forgetting ‘Maud’ the disarticulated resin teaching skeleton!

Award success: Hidden Gem Category – UK Heritage Awards; Coast and Countryside Category of the Love Northumberland Award.

Press coverage in national media – Current Archaeology magazine, BBC History Revealed. Also featured on BBC2 Villages by the Sea and Channel 5 Great British Railway Journeys.

Hazelsong Theatre performed a specially commissioned play in St Aidan’s Church called ‘King Oswald Whiteblade – the sword and the cross’: the piece included original song from the Gillespie Brothers and the drama combining old English and Celtic language; myth and legends together with early Christian tradition and drumming, mask and puppetry (a 4-metre dragon)! (Video available below).

Events – Launch event in 2019 with the crypt being opened by the Bishop of Newcastle; Candle-lit private tours of the crypt on All Hallows Eve; Two Talks, Two Authors - Authors Max Adams and John Connell spoke about Early Medieval Northumbria and St Aidan respectively.

Information and interactive displays at the Bamburgh Festival.

Merchandise – t-shirts and tote bags available through online shop. Also Adopt a Box scheme, whereby a donation to adopt one of the charnel boxes in the ossuary will help to support the project.

St Oswald and St Aidan Pies – designed for the project by a local caterer and based on Anglo-Saxon foods and recipes (including lentils for the vegetarian St Aidan’s Pie as these were excavated from the castle site). Recipe cards have been produced.

Automaton donation box created by Keith Newstead showing the miracle of the incorrupt arm. Video can be viewed on the website.

Eight artists in residence from the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts in Partnership with the Creative writing department at Northumbria university. A poetry pamphlet – A Hut A Byens – was produced as the result.

Cemetery survey by volunteers to digitise/photograph churchyard, review previous survey and research individuals buried there.

A beautifully illustrated book telling the story of the creation of the Bamburgh Ossuary - along with tales of Anglo-Saxon ancestors, a study of St. Aidan – the man and the church, and the fascinating archaeology of Bamburgh.

Conference to mark the culmination of the project – a two-day event held in Bamburgh including a ‘poetry, pies and pints night’, workshops in human osteology, archaeology tour of Bamburgh Castle, architectural tour of St Aidan’s church and crypt, an afternoon of talks and tales relating to the project and keynote speakers in the King’s Hall, Bamburgh Castle to celebrate all of the project’s achievements.

Watch video

Hazelsong Theatre presented two specially commissioned performances of 'King Oswald Whiteblade - The Sword and the Cross' at St Aidan's Church in Bamburgh

Northumberland Coast NL - Accessing Aiden - Grille With Ossuary Boxes


Our use of projection for the interpretation in the crypt is innovative and exciting – the 4 minutes long film utilises illustrations by Owain Kirby and tells the story of the Bowl Hole ancestors and the discovery of the site in a beautiful and engaging way. The projection preserves the beautiful space. (highlights of the projection are available at Learning – Bamburgh Bones)

We found ourselves in the very unusual position of creating a new early medieval ossuary (‘Oss’ is Latin for bone and ‘uary’ mean place = place for bones) and to our knowledge we’ve created the first digital ossuary. Access to the digital ossuary is also available in the main body of the church through touchscreens.

We’ve also commissioned an automaton donation box for the church to help secure visitor giving. The automaton was created by the artist Keith Newstead and depicts the miracle of St Oswald’s Arm (a short film can be seen at Learning – Bamburgh Bones)

We have engaged local schools; we’ve given talks and tours to local groups as well as any small group that asks. Most importantly this project is being delivered in partnership with the Parochial Parish Council for St Aidan’s church, the vicar, the wider diocese, Bamburgh Research Project and Durham University. We’ve created a new and engaging website.

In terms of project delivery - evaluation of the crypt installation has been 100% positive with 66% stating that it has exceeded expectation. We have had national media coverage - which is a remarkable achievement for a small community partnership project in rural North Northumberland. We are immensely proud of what we have achieved.

Infographic produced as part of evaluation for project launch activities (April 2019 – March 2020):

Northumberland Coast NL - Accessing Aidan - Infographic


Bamburgh Heritage Trust were inspired to develop and deliver the Accessing Aidan project because nowhere in Bamburgh was telling the story of how significant Bamburgh was 1400 years ago. It was the capital of the most powerful British Kingdom and, like today, people travelled from far and wide to visit, live and work and enjoy its treasures. It is absolutely true to say that without King Oswald calling St Aidan here in 635AD and founding his first church on the site of the current church in Bamburgh that we would not have St Cuthbert, the Lindisfarne Gospels or even Durham Cathedral. The ecclesiastical heritage landscape of the northeast of England, that is celebrated internationally, all stems from Aidan and his first church at Bamburgh. And we, as Bamburgh locals, are justly proud of our remarkable Anglo-Saxon ancestors and we want to share this story and celebrate their remarkable endeavour to travel over continents to settle in Bamburgh.

To our knowledge this is the only new ossuary in the country (an ossuary was a common feature of the ecclesiastical landscape from the 1200s until the reformation) and certainly the first ever digital ossuary. One of the main achievements of the project is blending interactive digital technology with a traditional ecclesiastical setting that ensures the sensitivities of the different partners were appropriately accommodated from the religious considerations of the church to the academic rigour of the university.

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.

Project Manager

There is no doubt that Accessing Aidan is an exemplary project from which others will learn.


Northumberland Coast NL - Accessing Aiden - School Visit story of Aidan and Oswald

School Visit story of Aidan and Oswald