In 2013, Ripon was funded to develop small-scale interpretation for the nave which could provide visitors with insights into the cathedral's remarkable 7th-century crypt and the life of St Wilfrid who created it. We created a touchscreen installation which offered the opportunity to explore the life and career of St Wilfrid, his role in the spread of Christianity in the north of England in the late 7th century, a tour of the surviving crypt for those unable to access the steep stairs, and an animated reconstruction of how this extraordinary space originally functioned .
St Wilfrid was one of the most influential figures in the development of Christianity in England in the Anglo-Saxon period. A highly-driven and (by some accounts) somewhat diffcult man, he built the church not only in Ripon but also in Hexham, using continental models as his exemplars. In both case he built a labrynthine crypt (now beneath the nave) which evoked the catacombs of early Christians in Rome, the tomb of Christ himself, and offered a separate and sacred space for the housing of the many relics he brought back from the continent. Carefully designed to disorientate the worshipper and to evoke specific physical responses of kneeling, crawling, turning and moving from light to dark, the crypt experience then was very different to today. Modern regulations around health and safety, lighting and stairs mean the modern visitor takes the route in reverse in largely uniform light. Whilst still a wonderful experience, the chance to show people what it would have been like orginially is a powerful one and one which has proved very popular with visitors.