Thorney Abbey

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Thorney Abbey
Church of St Mary and St Botolph - - 208930.jpg
Thorney Abbey Church
Cambridgeshire UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Cambridgeshire
Monastery information
Order Benedictine
Heritage designationGrade I listed building 1331263
Designated date22 October 1952
Location Thorney, Cambridgeshire
Coordinates 52°37′13″N0°06′26″W / 52.6204°N 0.1072°W / 52.6204; -0.1072 Coordinates: 52°37′13″N0°06′26″W / 52.6204°N 0.1072°W / 52.6204; -0.1072
The central door of the Thorney Abbey's west front. Thorney Abbey, central door.JPG
The central door of the Thorney Abbey's west front.
Interior of the Abbey, looking east St.Mary and St.Botolph's nave - - 1322463.jpg
Interior of the Abbey, looking east

Thorney Abbey, now the Church of St Mary and St Botolph, was a medieval monastic house established on the island of Thorney in The Fens of Cambridgeshire, England.

Thorney, Cambridgeshire village in the United Kingdom

Thorney is a village about 8 miles (13 km) east of Peterborough city centre, on the A47 in England.

The Fens Natural region in United Kingdom

The Fens, also known as the Fenlands, are a coastal plain in eastern England. This natural marshy region supported a rich ecology and numerous species, as well as absorbing storms. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, dry, low-lying agricultural region supported by a system of drainage channels and man-made rivers and automated pumping stations. There have been unintended consequences to this reclamation, as the land level has continued to sink and the dykes must be built higher to protect it from flooding.

Cambridgeshire County of England

Cambridgeshire is a county in the East of England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the north-east, Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south, and Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire to the west. The city of Cambridge is the county town. Modern Cambridgeshire was formed in 1974 as an amalgamation of the counties of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Huntingdon and Peterborough, the former covering the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the latter covering the historic county of Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough, historically part of Northamptonshire. It contains most of the region known as Silicon Fen.



The earliest documentary sources refer to a mid-7th century hermitage destroyed by a Viking incursion in the late 9th century. A Benedictine monastery was founded in the 970s, and a huge rebuilding programme followed the Norman Conquest of 1066. A new church was begun under the abbacy of Gunther of Le Mans, appointed in 1085. [1] It was in use by 1089, but not entirely finished until 1108. [2] Henry I was a benefactor of the Abbey; [3] a writ survives ordering the return of the manor of Sawbridge in Warwickshire to the Abbey "and there is to be no complaint of injustice".

Hermitage (religious retreat) building, place where a hermit lives in seclusion from the world

Although today's meaning is usually a place where a hermit lives in seclusion from the world, hermitage was more commonly used to mean a building or settlement where a person or a group of people lived religiously, in seclusion. When included in the name of continental European properties or churches, any meaning is often imprecise, and may refer to some distant period of the history of what is today a property that is either a normal parish church, or ceased to have any religious function some time ago. Secondary churches or establishments run from a monastery were often called "hermitages".

Monastery complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.

Henry I of England 12th-century King of England and Duke of Normandy

Henry I, also known as Henry Beauclerc, was King of England from 1100 to his death in 1135. Henry was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and was educated in Latin and the liberal arts. On William's death in 1087, Henry's elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, but Henry was left landless. Henry purchased the County of Cotentin in western Normandy from Robert, but William and Robert deposed him in 1091. Henry gradually rebuilt his power base in the Cotentin and allied himself with William against Robert. Henry was present when William died in a hunting accident in 1100, and he seized the English throne, promising at his coronation to correct many of William's less popular policies. Henry married Matilda of Scotland but continued to have a large number of mistresses by whom he had many illegitimate children.

The focus of the settlement shifted away from the fen edge in the late 12th or early 13th century, the earlier site becoming a rubbish dump, perhaps because of encroaching water. It was reoccupied in the 13th and 14th centuries, when clay layers were laid down to provide a firm foundation for the timber buildings. More substantial buildings were erected in the 16th century and these are thought to have been part of an expanding abbey complex, perhaps for use as guesthouses, stables, or workshops.

Abbey monastery or convent, under the authority of an abbot or an abbess

An abbey is a complex of buildings used by members of a religious order under the governance of an abbot or abbess. It provides a place for religious activities, work, and housing of Christian monks and nuns.

Workshop room or building, with tools, used to repair or make goods

Beginning with the Industrial Revolution era, a workshop may be a room, rooms or building which provides both the area and tools that may be required for the manufacture or repair of manufactured goods. Workshops were the only places of production until the advent of industrialization and the development of larger factories. In the 20th and 21st century, many Western homes contain a workshop in the garage, basement, or an external shed. Home workshops typically contain a workbench, hand tools, power tools and other hardware. Along with their practical applications for repair goods or do small manufacturing runs, workshops are used to tinker and make prototypes.

Many of Thorney Abbey's buildings disappeared without trace after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Its last abbot, Robert Blythe, was a supporter of the King, having signed a letter to the pope urging that his divorce should be allowed. He was rewarded with a pension of £200 a year. The abbey was surrendered to the king's commissioners on 1 December 1539, [1] and most its buildings were later demolished and the stone reused. The site was granted to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford in 1549/50.

Dissolution of the Monasteries legal event which disbanded religious residences in England, Wales and Ireland

The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former personnel and functions. Although the policy was originally envisaged as increasing the regular income of the Crown, much former monastic property was sold off to fund Henry's military campaigns in the 1540s. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus separating England from Papal authority, and by the First Suppression Act (1535) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

Robert Blyth,OSB was a Bishop of Down and Connor in the first half of the sixteenth century.

John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford English royal minister in the Tudor era

John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford was an English royal minister in the Tudor era. He served variously as Lord High Admiral and Lord Privy Seal. Among the lands and property he was given by Henry VIII after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, were the Abbey and town of Tavistock, and the area that is now Covent Garden. Russell is the ancestor of all subsequent Earls and Dukes of Bedford and Earls Russell, including John Russell, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and philosopher Bertrand Russell.

The nave of the church survived, and was restored as the Parish Church of St Mary and St Botolph in 1638. At this date the aisles were demolished and the arcade openings walled up. Some stained glass was installed that possibly came from the Steelyard, the London trading base of the Hanseatic League. The present east end, in the Norman style, is by Edward Blore, and dates from 1840-1. [2] The church is a Grade I listed building. [4]

Steelyard human settlement in United Kingdom

The Steelyard, from the Middle Low German Stalhof, was the main trading base (kontor) of the Hanseatic League in London during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Hanseatic League Confederation in Northern Europe

The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 1100s, the league came to dominate Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the coasts of Northern Europe. Hansa territories stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages, and diminished slowly after 1450.

Edward Blore British artist

Edward Blore was a 19th-century British landscape and architectural artist, architect and antiquary.

There is a model of the monastery in the Thorney Museum.

The name Thorney Abbey is also given to a Grade I listed house, [5] partly late sixteenth and partly seventeenth century, in the village of Thorney. [2]


As a large abbey of Anglo-Saxon England a number of saints have been buried and venerated in Thorney, including:


Excavation was undertaken in 2002 prior to redevelopment, by University of Leicester Archaeological Services. This focused on the northern edge of the former island. As well as pottery, animal bone and roofing material, a large deposit of 13th and 14th century painted glass was found in and around the buildings. The intricate designs were of very high quality.

See also


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  1. 1 2 L.F. Salzman (editor) (1948). "Houses of Benedictine monks: Abbey of Thorney". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 3 August 2011.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. 1 2 3 Pevsner, Nikolaus (1954). Cambridgeshire. The Buildings of England. Penguin Books. pp. 584–5.
  3. Hollister, C. Warren Henry I Yale University Press 2001 pp.160-161
  4. Historic England. "Church of St Mary and St Botolph (1331263)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  5. Historic England. "Thorney Abbey and Abbey House, Abbey Place (1127481)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  6. Charles H. Talbot, The Life of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth Century Recluse (University of Toronto Press, 1998) page 23.