Saint Betti of Wirksworth c653 AD
Bede and Betti were two monks living in Northumberland in the 7th
century. Edwin, king of Northumbria, accepted Christianity in AD 627.
Bede (672-735) was a Benedictine monk living at Monkwearmouth.
He was an author and scholar whose most famous work was
"The Ecclesiastical History of the English People".
He became known as the Venerable Bede soon after his death, and
his tomb is in Durham cathedral.
Betti was a Saxon monk who, in 653 AD came down from Northumberland
as a missionary and founded the Christian church at Wirksworth,
becoming its first priest. His tomb is probably
"The Wirksworth Stone"
in St Mary's Parish Church in Wirksworth.
Bede says that Peada,
who was the son of the pagan king Penda of Mercia, wanted to marry Alchfled,
daughter of the Christian king Oswiu of Northumbria. Oswiu agreed, on
condition that he became a Christian. On hearing the gospel, he willingly
converted. Bede says that Peada was baptised at a village called At-Wall,
which may be Walton, near Newcastle. An interesting local tradition
independent of Bede suggests that the baptism took place at Sandbach.
Alchfled came south with four priests in 653; their names were Adda, Betti,
Cedd and Diuma. That was the start of the Christian mission to Mercia.
Diuma became bishop of the Mercians and Middle Angles, settling at the
Mercian capital, Repton. Cedd was soon recalled to Northumberland, and
was to have a later mission to East Anglia. Tradition says Betti founded
the church at Wirksworth. It is not clear what happened to Adda.
In 1820 a Saxon grave-lid was discovered in the chancel of the church.
Known as the Wirksworth Stone and highly
decorated with religious scenes,
it is dated before 692 AD. Beneath this stone lay a well preserved
skeleton of a tall man, probably that of Betti.
The date of Betti's death is not recorded, but it is eminently possible
that he was buried beneath the Wirksworth Stone. The upper register of
the carvings includes a crucified lamb, which of course represents Jesus,
"the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Christian
iconography has always had the purpose of communicating the truth of
the Gospel, but in the seventh century, people were not as literate as
they are today, and some Christian leaders were worried that a
representation of a crucified lamb might mislead some people into thinking
that it really was a lamb, rather than a man who was crucified. This was
one of the matters discussed at a Christian Council held in Constantinople
in 692; they issued a canon or church law, that banned such artistic
representations. Thus, this stone must have been carved either before 692
or else in defiance of canon law, which seems much less likely. Everything
about this artefact is consistent with it having been the cover of Betti's
grave - an exciting confirmation that Bede and others who documented
Anglo-Saxon history were recording real facts, real events and the
activities of real people.
This mediaeval cross-shaft
(left) is standing in a corner of the churchyard
on a base that appears
somewhat older, and may also be of Saxon Age - perhaps it is the base of
the first preaching cross erected here, which may therefore be the oldest
relic at the site.
Embedded in the wall of the south transept is the
Saxon carving of a
lead miner, complete with pick and kibble which was brought from nearby
Bonsall in 1876. Known as T'owd man, it has become
synonymous with Wirksworth and is regarded by most as an emblem of the