Thursday, 1 December 2011

St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury

It seems unclear why exactly St Augustine came to England - was he sent by Pope Gregory I or was he invited by Aethelberht?  In the end it doesn't seem to matter because there are traces of his presence all over the south east of England.

He arrived near the Roman fort of Richborough where you can see remains of a Saxon chapel dedicated to him, but it was just outside the city walls of Canterbury where he founded the monastery that later became St Augustine's Abbey, on the site of three Saxon churches, St Peter and St Paul, St Pancras, and St Mary,  some of which can still be seen.

The remains of the chapel foundations at Richborough Castle

Unfortunately remains as old as this tend not to be terribly eye-catching and it's usually the history surrounding them that is more interesting.  If you aren't so interested in history it looks much like many others.  "Is this going to be more ruins?", is a question I'm often asked.

The Abbey in Canterbury is, admittedly, a lot more ruins but possibly enough of them remain to be a little more interesting.  It's hard to believe though that once is was a similar size to Canterbury Cathedral.

The site as it is today, cathedral in the background

A hexagonal tower that was never completed.  It was intended to link the Saxon church of St Peter and St Paul with the chapel of St Mary.

Part of the crypt

Eventually the Abbey became part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.  In the first round of dissolution, monasteries with an income of less than £100 were targeted.  St Augustine's escaped at that time but it didn't escape the second round.  It was dismantled and many of the stones were transported for use elsewhere. It was such a large site it took about 20 years to complete the process.

Part of the site was kept and remodelled so that Anne of Cleves could use it as a royal palace though apparently not very often.

Walls of the Royal Palace

Later, in the early 17th century, John Tradescant the Elder laid out formal gardens and mazes over the ruins of the Abbey which he had covered with soil.  John Tradescant was a great traveller, gardener and naturalist, as was his son - both featured in Philippa Gregory novels.

It's fairly remarkable that so much of the Abbey has remained.  Later on the site was used for a brewery then the Kent & Canterbury Hospital.  It wasn't until the hospital moved to a new and larger site that excavations could reveal as much as we have today.  
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Marvelous tour! How can ruins be boring I ask?

  2. Thank you. :) I don't know how people find ruins boring at all, but you probably guessed that.

  3. A cool and informative photo-essay, A.

    Re the Tradescents: I associate them with cabinets of curiosities... and Oxford's Ashmolean Museum! :)

  4. Some superb photographs here, would like to include one of St Augustines Abbey in our forthcoming Canterbury dvd, it would sit well amongst our superb aerial views of the city and the Cathedral. If inclusion is a problem, please get in touch asap.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin