From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

St Augustine's Abbey

51° 16′ 41.26″ N, 1° 5′ 17.54″ E

  • History
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St Augustine's Abbey is located in Canterbury, Kent. It followed the Benedictine way of life whose order was started by Benedict around 530.

Augustine was sent to England by Pope Gregory I to try and convert Æthelberht, King of Kent, to christianity in the year 597. King Æthelberht was seen as an easy target because he was married to Bertha who just happened to be a christian. He allowed Augustine to build a monastery just to the east of Canterbury outside its walls. King Æthelberht. The site chosen had three churches already built, dedicated to St Pancras, Peter and Paul and Mary. These churches were kept intact by Augustine. The abbey became a burial place for the Kings of Kent and its Archbishops of Canterbury. In 978 a new larger building was finished, it was dedicated by Archbishop Dunstan to the Saints Peter, Paul, and Augustine.

After the Norman conquest of England, the monasteries were taken over and rebuilt in a Norman style, St Augustine's was no exception. The churches of St Peter and Paul and Mary were merged into one building but the church of St Pancras was kept complete for a while. By 1100 the whole site was rebuilt utilising stone and tile remains mined from Roman buildings. An Almonry was added in 1154 and then some rebuilding and repair work from fire damage in 1168.

The abbey was altered again in 1250, the cloister, frater, lavatorium were totally rebuilt and the range extended to include a great hall and a new lavish abbots lodging was constructed near the cloister. In 1309 the great gate house was built with crenellations and land was acquired to build a new outer court with cellarer's range, brewhouse and bakehouse as well as a series of lodgings. An earthquake in 1382 caused minor damage which was soon repaired. Another gate house was built in 1390 and finally the Lady Chapel to the east of the church.

The dissolution took its toll on the abbey in 1538, most of the buildings were stone mined but part of it was converted into a palace for Anne of Cleves. The palace was eventually sold to Edward Lord Wotton, who employed John Tradescant the elder, to lay out formal gardens around it. This palace is thought to have survived until a great storm in 1703, which caused great damage to the already ruinous structure of the abbey.

Today the ruin precincts cover a substantial area east of the cathedral, in its heyday the abbey's church rivaled nearby Canterbury Cathedral in size and is now in the care of English Heritage.