St Augustine's Abbey
This grand holy place was constructed the year after the arrival of St Augustine and became the centre of the English Christian movement. It is the burial place of the early Archbishops of Canterbury, as well as St Augustine himself.
In the year 597, Saint Augustine arrived in England, having been sent by Pope Gregory I. The King of Kent at this time was Ethelbert, who was married to a Christian, Bertha. He allowed Augustine to found a monastery just outside the walls of Canterbury. Already standing on the site were three Saxon churches, dedicated respectively to Saints Pancras, Peter and Paul, and finally Mary. The Saxon remains of the church of Saint Pancras are still in existence; however, the other two churches were rebuilt by the Normans into one building. One of the main purposes of the abbey right from the beginning was as a burial place for the Kings of Kent and the Archbishops of Canterbury. In 978 a new larger building was dedicated by Archbishop Dunstan, to the Saints Peter, Paul and Augustine.
From about 1250 onwards the abbey was added to with a considerable number of buildings. The cloister, lavatorium, frater and kitchen were completely rebuilt and a impressive new abbot's lodging was constructed. The range was also extended to provide a great hall. In 1390 the gatehouse that still survives was built. The last thing to be built was a Lady Chapel, to the east of the church. By 1500 the abbey covered a very large area, and its library contained in excess of 2000 volumes.
In 1535, Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries discovered to have a yearly income less than £100. It survived this first round of closures, as its income was found to be £1733. But on July 30, 1538, the abbey finally fell to the dissolution of Henry VIII. The abbey was methodically dismantled over the next fifteen years, although part of the site was transformed into a palace, ready for the arrival of Anne of Cleves, from France.
This palace was leased to a string of nobles, and in the early 1600s was in the possession of Edward Lord Wotton who engaged John Tradescant the elder to lay out formal gardens around it. This palace is believed to have survived until a great storm in 1703, which caused enormous damage to the already weakened structure of the abbey.
St Augustine's Abbey is a difficult site to understand, the immensity of which may be even more complicated to imagine. For example, it is known that it took some 20 years to take apart the buildings after the Dissolution. A new museum and exhibition hall has lately been added to the site by English Heritage which provides many fascinating facts and finds about St Augustine and the renewal of the Christian faith in England. It is now a World Heritage Site.
Local Tourist Information: Canterbury 01227 766567
Click the English Heritage link on the right for opening times.
Disclaimer: The information on this attraction was presented with the best of intentions. Any reported errors will be corrected immediately. People interested in contacting the above leisure attraction should confirm for themselves the accuracy of any data presented.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015