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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.





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].





Death of St Kyneburgha

680AD

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Saint Kyneburgha or Kyneburga was the daughter of Saxon King Penda of Mercia. She converted to Christianity and founded an abbey for both monks and nuns in Castor in the 7th century, becoming the first Abbess. She died 15th September 680 AD and was originally buried in Castor. She was moved to Peterborough Abbey and later still to Thorney Abbey and is remembered on her feast day on 6th March.





Saint Pega Dies

719

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Saint Pega was the sister of Saint Guthlac of Crowland Abbey and the daughter of Mercian nobility. Her name is remembered in the village of Peakirk, or Pega's kirk, an earlier word for church. Pega created a hermitage in what is now Peakirk. The hermitage was based on the edge of the desolate fens, close to Car Dyke. From here she could guarantee a quieter life and one full of many challenges due to the boggy fens. The church of Saint Pega was built after her life, but contains the base of a Saxon cross. It also contains fragments of a monument similar to the Hedda Stone in Peterborough Cathedral. These were said to have been created in her honour. She was said to have sailed to her brother's funeral in Crowland, along the river Welland. Whilst there she cured a blind man from Wisbech. Sometime after the funeral Pega travelled to Rome. She died there in 719. It is rumoured that Pega's heart was returned to the village and kept in a box there as a relic. Her saints day in 8th January. Picture attribution: John Salmon / St Pega, Peakirk - Stained glass window





Fletton Church Fascinations

c.800

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St Margaret's Church in Fletton was identified in the Domesday Book of 1086, but some of its features are considerably older. Safely protected inside the church are Anglo-Saxon carvings, presumed to be 8th or 9th Century, consisting of a frieze and two separate figures. The frieze contains images of saints, angels and mythical beasts, set amongst typical Anglo-Saxon woven designs. The images are thought to be of St. Michael and an Evangelist. All of the stonework is a light pink colour suggesting that it was once in a fire. One theory is that they had been moved from Peterborough Abbey during the great fire of 1116. Another feature of the church is a large cross in the churchyard which may have Anglo-Saxon origins. The cross has had several additions and alterations and contains a rather peculiar Latin inscription at its base.
Access
The cross can be easily accessed in the churchyard, but the internal features can only be viewed when the church is open. Photo credit: St Margaret's Church, Old Fletton, Peterborough cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Julian Dowse - geograph.org.uk/p/147475





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’.





The Arm of St Oswald

1000

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A monk from Peterborough Abbey stole the arm of St Oswald from Bamburgh Castle and took it to his abbot at Peterborough in an effort to gain favour. Oswald was a convert to Christianity and King of Northumbria from 634 to 642. He spent much of his early life in exile, but when he returned to fight for his throne, he raised a cross and prayed for victory. Oswald won the battle and ruled as king of Northumbria until his death. While Oswald was king, he became known for his piety and generosity. During the celebration of an Easter feast, he supposedly gave away all the silver plates along with the food to the poor. The chronicles say his chaplain; Bishop Aidan blessed Oswald, saying “may this arm that has been so generous never perish”. When Oswald died in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, his arm was taken to Bamburgh where it remained uncorrupted. The arm remained the primary relic of Peterborough and the chapel of St Oswald still has a watch-tower where the monks safeguarded it day and night. St. Oswald’s arm disappeared from the chapel during the reformation along with its silver casket.    





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St Augustine’s Saxon Wall

1000

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The parish church of Woodston is St. Augustine's. Sitting on Oundle Road behind some trees, it would be very easy to forget that the church was there. However, there has been a church there for at least 1,000 years. The first written record of Woodston church was in the Domesday Book of 1086. The church, however, dates to the period before the Norman conquest. This is evident in some of the architecture of the west tower. On the west wall of the tower is a small section of wall with a window, which belonged to a Saxon church. St Augustine's Saxon wall is typical of pre-Norman architecture with small rough stones and a small window. Thankfully the wall survived despite much rebuilding of the church. It would be incredibly difficult to date the wall remains, so it has been given the rough date of 1,000AD. This will be changed with any new information. Photo credit: cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Mike Bardill - geograph.org.uk/p/164909





Cnut the Great Visits Nassington

1017

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Around 1017 King Cnut, King of Denmark, England and Norway (also known as King Canute) stayed in Nassington, which was a loyal holding. He arrived with a large retinue, including Aethelric Bishop of Dorchester on Thames. King Cnut’s hall, the remains of which lay beneath the present Prebendal Manor, was discovered in 1986. After Cnut’s death in 1035 the hall continued to be owned by the succeeding kings.





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The Norman Conquest

1066

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The Norman Conquest was the invasion and occupation of England by Duke William II of Normandy. William claimed he was the rightful heir to the childless King Edward the Confessor. This was because Edward the Confessor’s grandfather was William’s great grandfather.  However, after Edward’s death in January 1066, the throne was seized by Edward’s brother in law, Harold Godwinson.
Other Claimants
William was not the only other claimant to the throne. In September 1066 King Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded northern England because he wanted to be king. Harold marched to meet Harald and on the 25th of September 1066 Harald Hardrada was defeated and killed at Battle of Stamford Bridge.
Victory
Within days of this victory William landed in southern England and Harold had to rush to meet him. However, he left a significant part of his army in the north, which meant he did not have enough soldiers to help him. Harold’s army confronted William’s invaders on the 14th of October at the Battle of Hastings. Harold was defeated and killed in the engagement which meant Duke William became King William the Conqueror.    





Peterborough at the Battle of Hastings

1066

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The Battle of Hastings is the battle where William of Normandy defeated King Harold Godwinson to gain the English throne. Peterborough was involved as Abbot Leofric of Peterborough Abbey and a group of his followers accompanied King Harold as he rushed to meet the invading Normans. Leofric died on the way and all the rest of his party were killed at the battle. Following the death of Leofric the monks appointed their own Abbot, Brando (Hereward the Wake’s uncle), without the consent of William. When Brando died three years later, William took his revenge by appointing Turold as Abbot, who was not a monk and was deeply unpopular. It was this appointment that gave Hereward the excuse to attack the Abbey and town.





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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Knights and a Castle

1071

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William I imposed the living of sixty knights onto Peterborough Abbey and its monastic estates in 1071. He ordered the construction of a motte and bailey castle on the north side of the monastic precincts. This  was a Norman Castle of timber and earth. The motte remains today in the Deanery Gardens as Tout (Tower) Hill, whilst many of the manors in the area given to the knights now bear their names in the villages – Helpston, Longueville, Waterville and so on.





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Oxney Monastic Community

1100

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Oxney was once home to a group of monks. The monks were from Peterborough Abbey and would stay there for short spells and then return to the abbey. A chapel was built there in the reign of Henry I, so between 1100 and 1135. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and on occasion known as the Church of St Mary of Oxney. Six monks would have lived at Oxney in what was known as a small cell. One of the monks took over all control of the site and was known as the warden. The last warden of Oxney was Edward Berney who lost his position in 1538 following the dissolution of the monasteries. The site remained in use as a farm or grange until recent times and several of the present buildings can be dated to the monastic cell. Archaeological investigations have revealed habitation since the late Bronze Age. Other features include the remains of a considerable moat which once encircled the buildings, still partly intact, a figurine and a cauldron. There are also purportedly several previous inhabitants who never quite left the vicinity... The land is privately owned and not accessible to the general public. Photo credit: cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Richard Humphrey - geograph.org.uk/p/2492003





The Thorney Computus

1102

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Medieval monasteries produced a large quantity of high-quality literature, but they also produced diagrams too. The Thorney Computus contains a world map, a diagram of the relationship between the four elements (earth, water, fire and air) and complex tables used to calculate the dates for Easter and other religious festivals important to the monastic community using a lunar calendar. The detail and complexity is outstanding, which is why it now resides in St John's College, Oxford University. This document is usually attributed to the original work of Byrhtferth of Ramsey Abbey, the Ramsey Computus predating that of Thorney. Dates calculated in the work relate to the 10th and 11th centuries when Byrhtferth was alive, suggesting this was created as an exercise, or as training for practising monks. The Peterborough Computus is almost identical and considered a sibling manuscript, it being later in date.





A Monk Drowned in the Fens

1104

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The Annals of the Abbey of Thorney recorded important events for the monks of Thorney Abbey. In 1104 they stated a monk named Master Walter, and five servants, were shipwrecked and drowned in the mere called Saltana. Mere is an old name for a lake. The lake, now drained, was probably south of Whittlesey. The annals do not state how the monk drowned, but monastic clothing is not particularly well-suited to swimming.





Cnut’s Manor Gifted to Lincoln’s Bi...

1107

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In 1107 Henry I gave Cnut's manor at Nassington  to the Bishop of Lincoln to provide a living for the canons of the cathedral. In about 1160 Ranulf de Nassington was the first canon, or prebendary, to be appointed to Nassington.





Mount Thorold (Peterborough Castle) Destroyed

1116

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There are varying accounts regarding the building of a castle in Peterborough. Most accounts agree that it was built by Abbot Thorold just after the Norman Conquest, in response to an attack by Hereward and a large group of Vikings (Danes). It was situated north of the abbey, close to the majority of the residents of the town, and was a simple wooden castle on a motte (hill). The castle was either destroyed in a fire in 1116 with most of the town, or was pulled down by Abbot Martin de Bec when he was rebuilding and redesigning the town: it was never rebuilt or replaced. The remains of the motte exist as a small hill in the cathedral grounds and in the street name Touthill Place. It was previously known as Mount Thorold or Turold and is a scheduled monument.





The Great Fire of Peterborough

1116

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Most of the town was destroyed in the Great fire of Peterborough, including the castle. It is claimed the church tower burnt for nine days. It possibly started from from an unattended fire in the Abbey's bakery. The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle says “all the minster of Peterborough burned, and all the buildings except the chapter-house and the dormitory; and besides, the most part of the town also all burned. All this happened on a Friday; that was 4 August…”  





The Building of the Current Cathedral

1118

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The current Cathedral building started in 1118 with the rounded apse at the east end, which still survives today. The construction took 120 years – about 5 generations of stonemasons and workmen would have helped with the construction. The men who started the work would have known that they or their sons would not live to see the church’s completion. The Cathedral has a rare example of some of the original winding gear used in the building work still surviving inside the West Front.





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