A Guide to Peterborough Cathedral Part 1


A Guide to Peterborough Cathedral

A Guide to Peterborough Cathedral Part 1

The New Guide to Peterborough Cathedral.

by George S. Phillips.


_From the foundation of the monastery by Peada, A.D. 655, to its destruction by fire in the reign of Henry the First;--embracing a period of 461 years._

The history of our monastic establishments is but little regarded and as little known. The obscurity in which all monastic inst.i.tutions is involved renders it difficult to give any certain and positive information respecting the origin of the building to whose history these pages are devoted; but it appears to have been founded at a very early period--the churches of Canterbury, Rochester, London, Westminster, York, and Winchester, being the only large sacred edifices that preceded it. The date of the first building is stated to have been A.D.

655--fifty-eight years after the introduction of Christianity into England by St. Augustine; and so large were the foundation stones, that it required eight yoke of oxen to draw them. From this it may be inferred that the structure was not, like many of the Anglo-Saxon churches of this period--built entirely of wood; though it was probably far inferior in size and style of architecture to the building which succeeded it.

It was one of the kings of Mercia who laid the foundation of the monastery of _Medeshamstede_[1] in 655; his name was Peada, the eldest son of Penda, the fourth monarch of that kingdom. The facts are thus related by the Saxon chronicler:--"From the beginning of the world had now elapsed 5,850 winters, when Peada the son of Penda a.s.sumed the government of the Mercians. In his time came together himself and Osway, brother of King Oswald, and said they would rear a _minster_ to the glory of Christ and honour of Saint Peter; and they did so, and gave it the name of _Medeshamstede_, because there is a well there called _Medeswell_. And they began the ground-wall and wrought thereon, after which they committed the work to a monk, whose name was Saxulf.

Peada reigned no while, for he was betrayed by his own queen in Eastertide, 658."

Wolfere was the youngest son of Penda, and when Peada died, King Osway a.s.sumed the government of Mercia, and ruled very despotically for about three years, when the n.o.bles, incensed at his conduct, rebelled against him, drove him from the kingdom, and chose Wolfere for their king. It was in his reign that "_Medeshamstede_ waxed rich," for Wolfere not only caused the monastery to be built, but he endowed it with a great number of lands, and made it "not subject except to Rome alone;" and the abbey, which was by this time completed, was dedicated with great pomp and ceremony to "Christ and St. Peter," and hallowed in the name of "Saint Peter and Saint Andrew."

Saxulf, who had superintended the building of the abbey, was the first abbot whose name is mentioned in the monkish chronicles as its ruler.

He was remarkable for his learning, piety, and humility, and was chiefly instrumental in bringing Christianity into the kingdom of Mercia. Both Saxulf and Cuthbaldus who succeeded him were abbots of the monastery during the rule of Wolfere, although there is little mention made of either in the records which have been handed down to us.

Wolfere died in 683, and was succeeded by his brother Ethelred, who contributed very largely to the monastery, and secured to it by his interest extraordinary privileges. Those who could not afford to go to Rome to offer up vows and get absolved from their sins were allowed both indulgences at this monastery, and could likewise receive "the apostolical benediction." Ethelred built a house for the abbot, which is now the palace of the bishop, but, excepting for its antiquity, it possesses no features of interest.

After a reign of thirty years, Ethelred exchanged the insignia of royalty for the rough garments of a monk, and became abbot of Bardney, in Lincolnshire, where he died, in the year, 716.

From the death of Cuthbaldus to the accession of Beonna in 775, there is a blank in the history of the monastery. During his rule one or two important concessions were made to the monks by King Offa.

The name of the next abbot was Celredus, but of him nothing particular is recorded. He was succeeded by Hedda, in 833, during whose abbacy the first destruction of the monastery by the Danes occurred, which founded an important era in the history of this inst.i.tution. A band of savage Danes, headed by Earl Hubba, invaded the territory of the Mercians, and after committing numerous depredations in the country, they plundered the monastery of Croyland, and proceeded to attack _Medeshamstede_.

The monks of this abbey had, however, gained intelligence of their intentions, and having closed the gates, resolved to act on the defensive. Hubba and his desperadoes soon surrounded them, and demanded that the gates should be opened; and when he was told that he should not enter, he commenced to batter the walls. In the course of the attack, one of the monks hurled a great stone from the top of the building upon the besiegers, and Tulba, the brother of Hubba, was killed by it. This so incensed the earl, that he vowed to put every monk to death by his own hand; and having forced the gates, proceeded to put his horrible threat into execution,--robbed the monastery of everything that was valuable, and then set it on fire. It burned fifteen days. All the portable valuables were then packed on waggons and taken away. The plunder, however, is said to have been lost, "either in the Nen or in the neighbouring marshes."[2] This was in 870.

In a short time a few monks who escaped at Croyland re-a.s.sembled at their abbey there, and after electing G.o.dric their abbot, proceeded to _Medeshamstede_, and buried the monks of that monastery who had been murdered by the Danish invaders in one vast tomb. G.o.dric likewise had their effigies cut out in stone (a representation of which is here shown, the original being in the Lady Chapel),[3] and, to honour their memory, he went every year to weep over the grave in which he had laid his brethren.

From this time until the reign of Alfred the Great [872] the monastery of _Medeshamstede_ was frequently invaded, and the lands which belonged to it were seized by the conquerors. It was left for the wisdom and courage of Alfred to restore that tranquility to England which it had so long lost, and to give protection and security to his subjects. The Danes who had committed so many depredations before his accession to the throne were now beaten back and finally checked by the powerful fleet which he built to protect the kingdom from invasion.

King Edgar, who succeeded Alfred, followed his example in this respect, and kept up the strength of the fleet. By this means increased security was given to England, and the people, comparatively happy in their internal government, and freed from the fear of foreign interruption, began to improve their public buildings and religious houses.

It was in 966 that the monastery of _Medeshamstede_ was rebuilt after the old model, at the instigation of Athelwold, who was at that time Bishop of Winchester. King Edgar a.s.sisted in the re-construction of the monastery; and so important did he consider religion to be in the amelioration of the morals of his subjects, that he is said to have rebuilt upwards of forty religious establishments during his reign.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Ancient Monumental Stone in the Cathedral.]

After the abbey of _Medeshamstede_ was finished in 972, he ratified all the former charters which it possessed, and gave it the name of Burgh.

The first abbot of the monastery, after its destruction, was called Adulphus, formerly the king's chancellor; but having accidentally been the cause of the death of his only son, he could no longer live happily in the world, and he therefore endowed the abbey with all his wealth, and was elected its first abbot.

The monastery of _Burgh_ was now in a more prosperous and wealthy condition than ever; all the neighbouring country was subject to it, and its possessions were so immense that its name was changed to _Gildenburg_. Adulphus, wishing to increase the value of the estates of the monastery and to encourage agriculture, had all the surrounding forests cut down and the lands cultivated. He was afterwards made Archbishop of York, [992,] and the eloquent Kenulfus succeeded him in the reign of Ethelred. Kenulfus built a high wall round the monastery, part of which is still in existence. He was translated to the see of Winchester, in 1006, and was so celebrated for his virtue and learning, that he gave a character to the monastery, and the monks were for a long time afterwards considered the most enlightened and intelligent men in the island.

Elsinus was the next abbot of whom we read in connection with the monastery, and was remarkable for the number of relics which he had collected. Gunton tells us that the arm of St. Oswald[4] was the most famous, and Walter de Whittlesea informs us that King Stephen came to _Peterburgh_ to witness the miracles which it is said to have performed. During the abbacy of Elsinus, England was invaded by the Danes under King Sweyn, in revenge of a ma.s.sacre of his subjects by the order of King Ethelred. They landed in the north, and, having gained some advantages, proceeded southward to the fen country, which they plundered and laid waste with fire and sword. Heavy fines were extorted from the rich abbeys; that on Crowland amounting to 64,000 of the present value of money. Elsinus died in 1055.

Arwinus was then elected abbot, but he resigned in 1067 to Leofric. He was nephew to Earl Leofric, of Mercia, whose Countess, according to the chroniclers, redeemed Coventry from toll by riding naked through the streets of that town.

During the third year of this abbot, William the Conqueror invaded England, and we are told that Leofric fought for some time in the English army, but in consequence of ill health, was obliged "to return to his monastery, where he died on the third of the kalends of November, A.D. 1066." Braddo (or Brand) was the next successive abbot, but died after a rule of three years.

Thorold of Fescamp, who for some service rendered to the conqueror, had been appointed to an abbacy near Salisbury, was considered by William, on account of his soldier-like qualities, to be a fit person to transfer to the rebellious and disorderly neighbourhood of the Camp of Refuge, and he was accordingly appointed Abbot of Peterborough, in 1069.

Between the death of Braddo and the arrival of his successor, the second destruction of the monastery took place. A band of Danish soldiers, headed by Hereward de Wake, nephew of Braddo, attacked the monastery, and all the valuable treasures which it possessed were either taken away or destroyed. They then set fire to the building. The following is Gunton's account of the treasures which they captured; and, as it puts us in possession of much curious information concerning those times, we will give the extract entire:--"They took the golden crown from the head of the crucifix, the cross with the precious stones, and the footstool under; _duo aurea feretra_ (two golden or gilded biers whereon they carried the saints' reliques, and other such like things, in procession), and nine silver ones; and twelve crosses, some of gold and some of silver. And, besides all this, they went up to the tower and took away the great table which the monks had hidden there, which was all of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and wont to be before the altar, with abundance of books, and other precious things, which were valuable, there being not the like in all England."

The monks were disconsolate at the loss of these valuable treasures, and the abbot solicited William the King to interfere for them, in order that they might be returned. It appears, however, that the conqueror did not pay much attention to their request; and it is probable that, as he had just after this depredation concluded a treaty of peace with the Danish sovereign, he was unwilling to do anything that should cause a breach of peace between them, especially as they were such troublesome and dangerous enemies. The greater part of the treasure was by some means once more restored to the monks,[5] and, according to the Saxon chronicler, they commenced from this time to build ramparts for their own protection, and for the security of the monastery. Tout Hill[6] in the vineyard field was raised at this time, and there is said to have been a subterraneous pa.s.sage which ran thence to Croyland and Thorney. This hill was originally called Mount Thorold.

After the arrival of Thorold at Peterborough, being accompanied by 160 well-armed Frenchmen, he proceeded to turn his attention to the Camp of Refuge, situated near Ely; and, joining Ives of Taillebois in an a.s.sault upon it, was repulsed by Hereward de Wake, and taken prisoner, with many of the monks; nor was he liberated, according to Dean Patrick, until he had paid three thousand marks. After his liberation, he returned to the monastery, and made himself more odious to the monks than before. He was depraved and dissolute, and, to satisfy his licentious desires, he is said to have made free with the treasury. He introduced two monks likewise into the monastery, who were foreigners, and quite as unscrupulous as himself, in purloining the wealth of the abbey. He was afterwards made a bishop in France, but owing to his utter recklessness of conduct and morality, he was sent back to England four days after: was again admitted abbot of the monastery of _Peterburgh_, where he died in 1098, after an odious government of twenty-eight years.

During the reign of Henry I., the son of the Conqueror, Ernulphus became Abbot of _Peterburgh_. This event took place in the year 1107, and he made several important improvements in the monastery; built a new dormitory and refectory, and completed the chapter-house, which had been left in an unfinished state for several years. He likewise enriched the convent by making an arrangement with all who held in rent the abbey lands to pay t.i.thes to him, and, when they died, that they should give the third part of their estates to be buried in the church.

Thus it was that the monastery continued to grow in wealth, and when Ernulphus was made Bishop of Rochester, which happened in 1114, the abbey was ent.i.tled to a t.i.the of 40,800 acres of land.

During the rule of his successor, John de Sais, the monastery was burned down. The fire is said to have occurred accidentally, and such was the violence of the flames, that they reached the village and consumed most of the cottagers' houses. The additions which Ernulphus had made to the abbey, however, are said to have escaped the general ruin.

[1] The most probable etymology of this word is that which is given by Britton in his History of Peterborough Cathedral, viz.--"_Mede_ or _Mead_, a meadow; _ham_, a sheltered habitation; and _sted, stead_, or _stad_, a bank, station, or place of rest."

[2] In cleaning out the river, a little below the bridge, in June, 1820, a dagger was found, which is supposed to have belonged to these Danes. It is in the possession of the present Bishop.

[3] At a meeting of the Archaeological Society at Peterborough, in 1861, Mr. Bloxam read a paper in which he denied the authenticity of this monument, which had previously been regarded as one of the oldest monumental stones extant. Mr. Bloxam regards it as a Norman, and not a Saxon work, and some centuries later in date than the ma.s.sacre of the monks. He considers that the figures are not martyred monks with their abbot, but Christ and his eleven disciples. It has been further conjectured by Canon Westcott that it is part of the shrine erected over the relics of St.

Kyneburgha, which were removed from Castor to Peterborough during the Abbacy of Elsinus, A.D. 1005-1055. A fragment of sculpture in the same style is built into the west wall of the South Transept.

[4] A Saxon King of Northumbria and the second Christian monarch of that province. An interesting account of this prince, and of the extraordinary miracles said to have been performed by his remains after death, will be found in a larger edition of the Guide to the Cathedral, by Thos. Craddock, Esq. Price 2.6 & 15.

[5] Britton says, on the authority of Gunton, that they sent the secretary of the monastery over to Denmark, on purpose to obtain it. It is, however, more probable that Hereward, knowing the disposition of the Norman abbot would lead him to enrich himself at the expense of the monastery, took this means of removing temptation out of the way of Thorold, and subsequently restored the treasure to the monastery, when there was no longer any danger of its being appropriated by the abbot.

[6] Toot is an old Saxon word, signifying to stand out, or be prominent.


_From the Foundation of the New Church, in 1117, to its dissolution as an Abbey by Henry the Eighth, in 1541;--embracing a period of 425 years._

In the first chapter of our history, we traced the rise and progress of the monastery of _Peterburgh_ through a period of 462 years, at the expiration of which time we saw it burned to the ground, with all the treasures which it had acc.u.mulated. We have now to witness its restoration, and to follow it until we come to the nineteenth century, through all the ravages which it has survived.

At the time of the eventful destruction which we have mentioned [1116], John de Sais was abbot of the monastery, and had regained for it several of the lands which had been forfeited by his predecessors. He was, according to Gunton, a very learned man, and possessed great strength of mind and decision of character. He showed his energy by the prompt measures which he took to rebuild the abbey after its destruction, and to get all those lands, manors, and fees confirmed to it which it had so long enjoyed, and which continued daily to increase.

It was a very long time, however, before the new monastery was built.

John de Sais superintended it during his abbacy, but he lived only nine years after he had laid the foundation-stone (which ceremony he performed in the month of March, 1117), and the building was not completed at his death; nor did he succeed in securing to the monastery all its former possessions, although he exerted himself very a.s.siduously to obtain them.

John de Sais was succeeded by Henri de Angeli, in 1128, of whom nothing of moment is recorded. He was a man of no character, and tried to injure the monastery in the estimation of the king, by speaking falsely of the brotherhood. Some writers say that he was detected in his villany by the king, who obliged him to resign his chair, and leave the country; others a.s.sert that he quitted England on account of other crimes. All historians agree, however, that he was a very bad man.

The appointment of the next abbot devolved upon the king, and Martin de Vecti was chosen by him to govern the monastery, in 1133. The monks received him with every expression of respect, as he was reported to be a man of profound erudition and good moral character. He began his rule by forwarding the erection of the new monastery, and it was during his abbacy that it was completed and re-dedicated--which latter ceremony was conducted with great pomp, and all the abbots of the neighbouring monasteries, with numbers of the barons and gentry, were present [1140]. It appears that De Vecti was very zealous in the work of improvement, and that he not only built a new gate to the monastery, but formed a new village on the western side of it; altered the place of wharf.a.ge, erected a new bridge, planted the present vineyard, and built many new houses near the abbey. He is also said to have re-built the parish church, then situate in St. John's close, in the precincts.

The destruction of the castle, which stood near this church, is likewise attributed to this abbot. It is probable that it was situate upon Mount Thorold, or Tout Hill, as it is now called. This hill may yet be seen in a close on the north-western side of the cathedral.

De Vecti ruled twenty-two years, and died in 1155.

After the death of De Vecti, the monks resolved to maintain the right which they possessed of choosing their own abbot, and William de Waterville was elected by them to the government of the monastery: their choice was afterwards ratified by the king. Waterville was formerly a chaplain to Henry II., and having some influence with him, he regained for his abbey "the eight hundreds of that part of the country which had formerly been granted by the king's predecessors;"

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