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Foundation of the First Abbey

655AD

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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.





Vikings Raid the Abbey

870AD

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Peterborough monastery is said to have been attacked and destroyed by Viking invaders in 870. These were most likely to be a group known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’. They were led by ‘Ivar the Boneless’ and also invaded East Anglia in this year. Some scholars have disputed the violence of this event, but other local monasteries were also attacked at the same time. Therefore the Viking attack in Peterborough seems more credible. A relic of this original monastic church is the ‘Hedda Stone’ displayed in the Cathedral today.





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The Abbey is Re-founded

966-970AD

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After it's destruction by vikings in 870 the monastery on the site was re-founded by the authority of King Edgar the Peaceful. Bishop Aethelwold of Winchester worked with Edgar to create a Benedictine Religious house. Aethelwold had a series of dreams and visions encouraging him to set out and re-found the abbey. He initially got lost and ended up in Oundle instead! Further visions put him on the right track and he rebuilt the abbey on its previous site. A township started to spring up to the eastern side of the monastic precincts. The whole area was bounded by a ditched and embanked burgh wall. Within a century, the monastery’s wealth increased dramatically, so it is often nicknamed ‘Guildenburgh’ – the ‘Golden Borough’.





Hereward the Wake

1070

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Hereward the Wake (known at the time as Hereward the Exile) raided the monastery and town with an army of Danish mercenaries, ostensibly to stop the wealth of Peterborough from falling into the hands of the new Norman Abbot. The Danes “came with many ships and wanted [to get] into the minster, and the monks withstood so that they could not come in. Then they laid fire to it, and burned down all the monks' buildings and the town, except for one building. Then, by means of fire, they came in at Bolhithe Gate. The monks came to meet them, asked them for peace, but they did not care about anything, went into the minster, climbed up to the holy rood, took the crown off our Lord's head… They took there so much gold and silver and so many treasures in money and in clothing and in books that no man can tell another…” By now the town is becoming known as ‘Burgh’ or ‘Burgh St Peter’ – Peterborough.





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Chronicle Writers (and a Wild Hunt)

1127

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Much of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written at Peterborough Abbey in this period. It is one of the key sources for medieval history. Today it is preserved in the Peterborough D and E Manuscripts. Another chronicle was written here by a monk called Hugh Candidus, which tells the story of the abbey. One tale he told was of a corrupt abbot, Henry d'Angély, who was a rather godless and worldly man. He planned to loot Peterborough of its wealth. As a result a dread portent followed in the form of a spectral 'wild hunt' sent to terrorise the area. 'In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of lent, throughout the woodland and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. Many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns...'    





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Market Makes a Medieval New Town

1143

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King Stephen visited and stayed at the monastery in 1143, granting a market charter. This allowed Abbot Martin de Bec to create a new market area to the west of the monastic precincts. He was then able to bankroll the building of the new monastic church. The monks created new commercial streets around the outside, leading to the first ‘new town’ development in Peterborough and effectively the street plan which still exists as the city centre today. The market square was later infilled with St John's church and the Guildhall or Buttercross. This almost halved the market square, but provided a religious centre for the townspeople.





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More Holy Relics for Peterborough’s Abbey

1174

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Construction of the Becket Chapel and adjacent hospital began in 1174. They were built to house many of the monastery’s holy relics, not least the relics of the newly canonised St Thomas Becket. Becket had visited the abbey with King Henry II in 1154, but was later murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Abbot Benedict acquired some of Becket’s relics for Peterborough Abbey which were to encourage pilgrims. These included the flagstone his head laid on as he died; a bottle of Becket’s blood (said to never congeal); and furthermore Becket’s bloodied undergown he was wearing as he was murdered. The latter was ceremonially washed on feast days; the washing water was then collected and sold to pilgrims as a cure-all. The Becket Chapel survives today as the Cathedral’s tea-room.





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King John and the Great Charter

1216

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King John stayed at Peterborough's monastery in 1216. He used it as a base of operations to attack his enemies in the region during the Civil War. The war followed his agreement to the text of the Magna Carta and then ripping up of it. He may have left a draft copy of the Magna Carta here, hence the inclusion of it in one of the monastery’s cartularies, known today as ‘the Black Book of Peterborough'. Magna Carta means Great Charter in Latin.





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Peterborough Revolts!

1381

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An assault was made on the monastery by local rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt. The rebels were put down by the intervention of troops commanded by the Bishop of Norwich, as described in a contemporary account by Henry Knighton: “Likewise at Burgh (Peterborough) the neighbours and tenants of the abbot rose against him and proposed to kill him – which they would have done without redress had God not laid his restraining hand upon them at the last moment. For help came in the shape of Lord Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, who arrived with a strong force. He prevented the malefactors from carrying out their aims and scattered the mob, paying them back as they deserved. Sparing no one, he sent some to death and others to prison. Some were struck down with swords and spears near the altar and others at the church walls, both inside and outside the building. For the bishop gladly stretched his avenging hand over them and did not scruple to give them final absolution for their sins with his sword”  





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Royal Visitors to Peterborough

1461

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The abbey and town were sacked by a Lancastrian army led by Queen Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses. The abbey was in the orbit of Fotheringhay Castle, the main seat of the House of York. Both the future Edward IV and Richard III would have visited the monastery as children. Royal visitors to Peterborough Abbey were very common – as well as those mentioned above they have included: Henry III in 1268, Edward I in 1302, Edward II in 1314 (twice), Edward III in 1326, then annually 1332-6, Henry IV in 1392 & 1394, Henry VI in 1452 and Henry VII in 1486.





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