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St Augustine's Abbey - Canterbury, Kent, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 16.651 E 001° 05.282
31U E 366645 N 5682423
Quick Description: This great abbey, marking the rebirth of Christianity in southern England, was founded shortly after AD 597 by St Augustine. Originally created as a burial place for the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent, it is part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site.
Location: South East England, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 2/2/2014 7:46:43 AM
Waymark Code: WMK2AC
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Tharandter
Views: 2

Long Description:

The Britain Express website tells us:

In this case the abbey isn't just dedicated to St. Augustine, it was actually founded by him, in 598, to house the monks he brought with him to convert the Britons to Christianity.

Shortly after Augustine's arrival in 597 King Ethelbert of Kent granted him a parcel of land stretching to about 30 acres (18 hectares) outside the walls of the city, near the course of the main road to the coast.  In 598 Augustine established a monastic settlement with the small group of monks who had accompanied him to Kent. The abbey lands probably included St Martin's church, an existing Romano-British church where Bertha, Ethelbert's Frankish wife, already worshipped.

The abbey was used as a burial place for kings of Kent and the first archbishops of Canterbury (the archbishops were later within the cathedral itself).  The site used for the burials of kings can still be seen amid the abbey ruins.

When the abbey was built, one of Augustine's companions, named Peter, was elected as the first official abbot of the new monastery. That first abbey included domestic buildings, about which little is known. It also included a linear row of chapels, in a style then common on the European continent. One of the first chapels was the little brick church of St Pancras. The remains of this chapel can be seen at the furthest end of the abbey grounds from the visitor centre. A theory has been put forward that St Pancras was the church established by Queen Bertha, rather than St Martin's. St Pancras is certainly a very early church, and uses Roman bricks extensively.

There was a school attatched to the abbey (or possibly at the cathedral). This school, which may well have been established by Augustine himself, quickly began to draw scholars from across Britain, and by the late 7th century the school had attained a reputation as a place of learning. There was also a library, which included books brought by Augustine, and more sent by Pope Gregory.

The abbey was reorganised by Dunstan, Archbishop from 959 to follow the current reforms in Benedictine rule. Abbey buildings were expanded and the church rebuilt. The early dedication of the abbey was not to Augustine, but to SS Peter and Paul. Dunstan changed that; when his rebuilt church was finished he rededicated it to St Augustine and Peter and Paul. From that point it became popularly known as St Augustine's.

Abbot Wulfric (1047-59) was responsible for the most striking feature of the manastery ruins that still survives. This is the octagonal rotunda built to link the church of St Peter and Paul with the chapel dedicated to St Mary.

The first Norman abbot, Scolland, rebuilt many of the monastic buildings in Romanesque style. When Scolland died, the Archbishop of Canterbury named his successor, despite the objections of the monks. Several of the monks were arrrested (see Canterbury Castle entry) and the objections died down quickly. The rebuilding of the Saxon abbey buildings continued until the end of the 12th century.

Throughout the medieval period St Augustine's Abbey built up estates throughout Kent. Included in the estates was land in Thanet granted by King Cnut. At the fullest extent of its power the abbey held obver 12,000 acres of land. But that power did not last, and like all other monastic houses in the land, St Augustine's suffered at the hands of Henry VIII. On 30 July 1538 the last abbot and monks left the abbey, signalling the end of over 940 years of monastic presence.

Of the famous library, only 200 books survive, and of the abbey plate only a single silver-rimmed cup survives, in the treasury of the cathedral. After the monastey was dissolved by Henry VIII part of the abbey buildings were converted into a royal residence, used as a stopover place on journeys between London and the south coast.

The abbey site was leased out to a succession of noble families. Among these were Lord and Lady Wotton, who rented the site in 1610. The Wotton's engaged John Tradescant the Elder to lay out formal gardens within the abbey grounds. Over the subsequent centuries parts of the abbey were sold off. Some were adapted for use by King's School, the exclusive school established by Henry VIII.

By far the best surviving feature of the medieval abbey is the great 14th century gatehouse, sometimes called Fyndon's Gate. Within the grounds the most impressive remain is the north wall of the nave of the abbey church, which still stands to a great height. Abutting this is a partial wall of the Ethelbert Tower. More interesting, though, is the circular remain of Abbot Wulfric's rotunda, built around 1050.

The abbey makes up part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site, which also includes Canterbury Cathedral and the nearby church of St Martin's, the oldest church in Britain still in use.

The ruin of St Augustine's Abbey is a Scheduled Monument with the entry at the English Heritage website telling us:

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Early monasteries were built to house communities of monks. The main buildings provided facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence. They included a series of timber halls and perhaps a stone church, all located within some form of enclosure. Those sites which have been excavated indicate that no standard layout of buildings was in use. Rather, a great diversity in building form, construction, arrangement and function is evident. Pre-Conquest monastic sites are rare nationally and fewer than 100 sites have been recognized from documentary sources. The locations of less than half of these have been confirmed. They are of considerable importance for any analysis of the introduction of Christianity into the country, and all examples exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are identified as nationally important.

Monasteries belonged to a wide range of religious orders, each with its own philosophy and rules. The most influential were those written by St Benedict, an Italian monk who founded the abbey of Monte Cassino near Naples in the early sixth century. His rule laid out a code of conduct for leading an ordered way of life based on the teachings of the Gospels, and proposed a timetable for religious observance and other activities. Many early monasteries including that of St Andrew's in Rome where Augustine had been prior followed these basic principles, and it seems likely that the early Saxon monastery of St Peter and St Paul was organized along these lines, although the first real attempt to form a Benedictine order did not come until 1216. Benedictine houses, of which over 150 were eventually founded in England were usually among the earliest monasteries, with their origin in the Saxon period. They were often wealthy, with royal connections, and included those English cathedrals which were run on monastic lines. The monks were distinguishable from monks of other orders by their black robes or habits. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

As the location directly associated with St Augustine's mission to bring Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons, St Augustine's abbey is one of England's earliest and most important monastic sites. Its significance is further enhanced by its use as a burial place for the kings of Kent, the early archbishops of Canterbury and its subsequent conversion into a Royal palace by Henry VIII. Excavation has shown the site to have a long history of use with Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon occupation preceeding the construction of the Saxon abbey. During the Norman period the earlier buildings were almost completely obliterated by rebuilding, and the abbey extended northwards to include land previously outside the ecclesiastical precinct. All will contain extensive archaeological and environmental deposits providing information about the development and use of the site, its economy and the environmental setting from the prehistoric to the immediate post-medieval period. A large proportion of the monument is open to the public and has added significance as a well-used public amenity and educational resource. Its international cultural importance has been recognized by its designation as part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site.

The History Extra website also tells us:

At St Augustine’s Abbey the pious have worshipped since AD 598, making it one of Britain’s oldest monastic sites

In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory I dispatched a small group of monks led by St Augustine to bring back Christianity to southern England. King Ethelbert of Kent was easily converted and donated land to set up a monastery. Renowned for its teachings, the abbey enjoyed renewed activity in the late Saxon period but the greatest change came when the Normans rebuilt the church in Romanesque style and remodelled the monks’ quarters.

The abbey flourished under Benedictine rule until the Dissolution when it was surrendered to the Crown in 1538. Treasures were scattered, and buildings converted into a palace where Henry VIII would greet his new queen, Anne of Cleves, or rest on his travels. Some 940 years of monastic life had come to an end. Two centuries later, a brewery and public house took over parts of the palace and a farmhouse stood among the Saxon ruins. Restoration began in the mid-1840s when the site was bought by AJ Beresford Hope.

See the medieval gates on Monastery Street before heading for the modern entrance where a museum displays the story of the abbey and local artefacts. Beyond it, audio-tours guide you through a vast open site scattered with Norman and Saxon remains. Flanked by the ruined Ethelbert Tower, the nave north wall is the most stunning vestige of the Norman church, topped with red bricks dating from when it served as the palace wall. Imagine the size of the nave ahead of you – once lined with 11 bays, the choir and presbytery – almost as large as Canterbury Cathedral. At the far end, steps lead down to the Norman crypt where in the chapel of St Mary and the Angels you can see traces of wall painting and decorative tiles.

Markings on the lawn show the plan of the original churches buried below. The Anglo-Saxon monastery had four chapels and churches, most important of which are St Peter and St Paul’s, whose only visible signs are burial sites and St Gregory’s Porticus wall. But two Anglo-Saxon buildings are relatively well preserved: the chapel of St Pancras, saved from demolition by its more remote location, where St Augustine may have said his first Canterbury Mass; and the Rotunda, designed around 1050 to link St Mary’s chapel to the main church. Abbot Wulfric probably never finished the central tower but below the Norman choir, the 11th-century crypt has been excavated.

Little remains of the cloister or domestic quarters, though you may spot an alcove for storing books or the marble remains of a washing place.

Before you leave, be sure to see the graves of the Saxon kings. These were moved from their original sites by Norman builders and marked by modern tombs, as were the graves of the early abbots such as St Augustine. Close to the north wall is a standing stone which may have been used as a cross by St Augustine.

The "Official Tourism" URL link to the attraction: [Web Link]

The attraction’s own URL: [Web Link]

Hours of Operation:
10am to 4pm extening to 6pm in the summer.


Admission Prices:
Members: Free Adult: £4.80 Concessions: £4.30 Child (5-15): £2.90 Family: £12.50


Approximate amount of time needed to fully experience the attraction: Up to 1 hour

Transportation options to the attraction: Personal Vehicle or Public Transportation

Visit Instructions:

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