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Foundation of the First Abbey

655AD

Information

A monastery was founded on the current Cathedral site on the north bank of the River Nene in Saxon times. At that time the area was called Medeswell, later Medehamstede. This translates as 'the home or farmstead in the water meadows'. The monastery was founded by Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia. It was completed by Peada’s brother Wulfhere. At that time Mercia was a pagan Saxon kingdom, but as part of a marriage contract with neighbouring Christian Northumbria, Christian missionaries were allowed to found a religious house here. The original monastery may have been built of timber, but seems to have been later replaced in stone. These original monks were Celtic Christians.





St. John the Baptist Rebuilt

1407

Information

The citizens of Medehamstede, lived to the east of the abbey and what is now the Cathedral, on the edge of the fenland. After the great fire of 1116, the inhabitants were moved to the west of the abbey where the land was drier. Unfortunately they did not move the church to the west, and for several centuries the inhabitants of the town had to walk round the vast abbey grounds to reach their isolated church. This was made more difficult by flooding from streams that ran in front of the church, making attendance problematic in the winter. A petition was made to move the church to the west of the abbey, which was granted by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1402. The new church was built using stone from the old one and the Becket Chapel, as well as oak from Abbot William Genge's park. He dedicated the church to St John the Baptist on 26th June 1407. It was originally built with a large leaded spire, which was conspicuous from some distance. Unfortunately, due to instability, it was removed in the 1820s, but it can be seen in John Speed's Map, A Prospect of Peterborough and an old photograph.





Abbot Sexwolf, the First Abbot of Medehamstede

655

Information

The first abbey in Medehamstede, now Peterborough, was built around 655. The abbey was founded by King Peada, who also employed the first abbot. The abbot's name has been spelt in a variety of formats including Saxulf, Sexulf, Saxwulf, Seaxwolf and Sexwolf. There are also many different accounts of how he lived his life. Sexwulf was much celebrated in Medehamstede in the past, although the name has now been all but forgotten. He is said to have been wealthy, well-liked and had many connections amongst the elite of the Saxon community. These connections enabled him to convert many others to Christianity and he was rewarded for his hard work by becoming a bishop. He is also credited with establishing the first community in what is now Thorney. A small anchorage was created on Thorney island by him when he was gifted the land, known then as Ancarig. (1)
Citation
(1)'Houses of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Thorney', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1948), pp. 210-217. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol2/pp210-217 [accessed 14 June 2018].