The letter from Mark Horton in CA 382, about the work of the Friends of Repton Parish Church, prompted us to take a closer look at this society, which Mark commended as an example of the way that funds to support the fabric and heritage of a church can be raised without placing further burdens on the congregation.
John Betjeman’s claim that ‘the old churches of England are the story of England’ is undeniably true in the case of St Wystan’s because of its remarkable crypt, a rare survival from the late 7th century. Harold Taylor, in his magisterial account of the church in The Archaeological Journal 144 (1987), detected several phases of development, beginning with construction of the central chamber as a baptistry, before it was elaborated by Æthelbald, King of Mercia (d. 757), as a mausoleum with four recesses, intended as the burial place for himself and his royal successors.
One of those was St Wystan, the Mercian prince murdered by his own godfather for standing in the way of his ambition to acquire the Mercian crown. Wystan was interred in the crypt in 849, and stairs and passageways were then added to create a processional route when Repton became a major pilgrimage centre following his canonisation.
The crypt has remained unaltered ever since, surviving the incorporation of the church into the winter camp of the Viking Great Army in 873-874, when their war dead were interred in a mound-covered mass grave to the west of the church, containing the remains of at least 264 individuals (CA 352). Following the Viking conquest, Cnut (r. 1016-1035) decided that Wystan’s relics should be moved to Evesham in 1019, and his shrine there was destroyed during the 16th-century Reformation.
The Friends of Repton Parish Church came together in 2020, and already they have paid to replace the floodlights that illuminate the prominent spire. Mark Horton and Martin Biddle both spoke at an event in October 2021, when the lights were switched on as the church bells rang out. The next challenge is to raise funds for improving the interpretation of the church to visitors. Annual lectures on subjects of relevance to the history and archaeology of the church and local area are also planned, as well as a new guidebook and information boards.
PHOTOS: Mark Horton.