St Wilfrid, who built the stone church at Ripon, with its still-surviving crypt, died in 710. Only four years later, an account of his life was written by a monk, known to us as Stephen of Ripon. He tells us that this was the first church to be built by Wilfrid, and that the church and its monastic community remained the favourite of all of his foundations. It was to Ripon that his body was brought after his death at Oundle, one of his later monasteries. If you would like to read Stephen’s account of the dedication of the church at Ripon in c.672, it can be found just below. In order to build it, Wilfrid followed a practice that he had observed in the great basilicas of Rome: he re-used Roman stone and Roman columns, in this case bringing them from the major Roman site of Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum), only a few miles away. The church was dedicated to St Peter, reflecting Wilfrid’s strong commitment to the Roman tradition of Christianity at a time when the Celtic tradition was still strong in Northumbria.
The dedication of the church in Ripon, c.672
Translated from Chapter 17 of Stephen of Ripon’s Vita Wilfridi
In Ripon he built and completed, from the foundations in the earth up to the roof, a basilica of dressed stone, with varied columns and side chapels. Afterwards, when the building had been finished, he invited the two most Christian and pious kings and brothers, Ecfrith and Aelfwine, to the day of its dedication, together with the abbots, the reeves and the sub-kings, and all the dignitaries. They assembled at the same time in the one place and, like the most wise Solomon, they consecrated the house and dedicated it to the Lord in honour of Saint Peter, the chief of the Apostles, to assist the prayers of the people within it. The altar also, with its bases, they dedicated to the Lord and dressed it in purple woven with gold.
Stephen then provides an account of the extensive landed endowments that had been secured for the monastery, a list of which Wilfrid read out as part of the ceremony. He also reports that the great event was rounded off with a feast which lasted for three days and three nights. He concludes:
Amongst other treasures for the adornment of the house of God, our holy bishop also provided a wondrous thing never previously heard of in our times. Indeed, for the good of his soul he ordered the four gospels to be written out in letters of purest gold on purpled parchment and illuminated. He also ordered a case to be constructed for the books, skilfully made entirely from purest gold and set with most precious gems. All these things and others besides are preserved in our church to the present day as a witness to his blessed memory. Here too his remains rest, and daily, without any intermission, his name is remembered in our prayers.