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Site of a college and Benedictine Abbey, St Mary's Church

A Scheduled Monument in Stow, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 53.3277 / 53°19'39"N

Longitude: -0.6771 / 0°40'37"W

OS Eastings: 488204.113928

OS Northings: 382011.887383

OS Grid: SK882820

Mapcode National: GBR RYQY.6T

Mapcode Global: WHGHJ.KMS9

Entry Name: Site of a college and Benedictine Abbey, St Mary's Church

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1012976

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22621

County: Lincolnshire

Civil Parish: Stow

Built-Up Area: Stow

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Stow St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln


The monument includes the buried remains of an Anglo-Saxon college for secular
canons, founded in the early 11th century on the site of an earlier church by
Eadnoth, Bishop of Dorchester. The college was enlarged in the mid-11th
century with gifts from Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Godiva, but was
abandoned after the Norman Conquest. In 1091 the Benedictine abbey of St Mary
at Eynsham, Oxfordshire, was transferred here by Bishop Remigius and the
church reconstructed. When the community returned to Eynsham in 1094-5 the
building reverted to use as a parish church. The monument therefore includes
the buried remains of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church overlain by those of the
11th century collegiate and abbey church with associated monastic buildings,
in turn overlain by a medieval and later parish church.

The monument is located at the centre of the village of Stow in St Mary's
churchyard. The present church, which is excluded from the scheduling,
incorporates the transepts and crossing of the early 11th century collegiate
church, rebuilt in the late 11th century as part of the abbey church. The nave
and chancel of the present structure are 12th century in date and overlie the
buried parts of the 11th century churches and their predecessor. Excavations
carried out in 1983 on the north side of the present nave, before the
construction of the modern vestry, uncovered the stone foundations of an
earlier, slightly wider nave with a room attached to the north. Human burials
were found both inside and outside this chamber. This group of features is
considered to represent the nave of the 11th century collegiate and abbey
church, with an aisle or 'porticus' for burial and prayer. Underlying these
remains were found those of an earlier and less substantial stone wall,
believed to relate to the first stone church on the site. Similarly,
excavations undertaken in the 19th century during the restoration of the
Norman chancel revealed the foundations of an earlier chancel, the east wall
of which was found to lie immediately inside the later one. Beneath the
foundations of the south wall of the chancel, several large pieces of dressed
stone were discovered, believed to be pier bases representing a pre-Norman
arcade. Such an opening would have led from the choir to a former aisle or
other part of the 11th century building complex.

The church lies within a churchyard raised approximately 1m above the
surrounding land and retained by a stone wall. The area to the west of the
nave is a small extension to the churchyard made in the mid 19th century. The
remainder of the churchyard, to the north, east and immediately south of the
church, includes archaeological remains associated with the college and abbey
and with earlier and later activity on the site. This area is considered to
have lain within the precinct of both the college and the abbey, where a
cloister, chapter house, dormitory and other domestic buildings would have
stood. The high density of human burials found during the excavation of the
site of the vestry indicates a continuous and intensive use of the site from
the Anglo-Saxon period onwards. Other finds include Anglo-Saxon pottery,
animal bone, and a path paved with limestone and Roman tile fragments leading
northwards from the nave.

St Mary's Church is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
it is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The 11th century institution at Stow, which preceded the Benedictine
monastery, has been called a college. It will have been staffed by a group of
secular clergy living in common and maintaining a round of services in the
church, but they will not necessarily have subscribed to the more rigorous
life style prescribed by a monastic rule. Records of about 100 such
institutions are known from the 11th century, though the documentation is
usually imprecise about their character. Virtually all of these institutions
were reformed in the 11th and 12th centuries; some became regular monasteries
of various orders, some became humble parish churches and a few were converted
into cathedral chapters.

At Stow it is possible to trace the development of a major ecclesiastical site
from its collegiate origin in the Anglo-Saxon period, through its reform as a
major Benedictine monastery (which failed to take root) to its decline to
parish church status. This pattern of development is unusual and the
archaeological remains of the successive institutions on the site will provide
valuable insights into its causes. Limited archaeological excavation on the
site has demonstrated the survival, in good condition, of significant remains
from the early Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods, whilst leaving the great
majority of deposits intact. The site has valuable documentation relating to
the 11th century activity here, and subsequent documentation helping to
interpret its medieval character. The church has recently been included in an
initiative to encourage local education and tourism and is equipped with a
display on the history of the site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fernie, E , The Architecture of the Anglo Saxons, (1983), 124-127
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 65,77
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 118
Taylor, H M, J , , Anglo Saxon Architecture, (1965), 584-593
Roffe, D, 'Lincolnshire History and Archaeology' in The Seventh Century Monastery of Stow Green, Lincolnshire, , Vol. 21, (1986), 31-33
Taylor, M, 'Archaeological Journal' in St. Mary's Church, Stow, , Vol. 131, (1974), 362-366
letter c. 1850-1860, Atkinson, Revd. G., (1850)
letter c.1850-1860, Atkinson, Revd. G., (1850)
North Lincs Archaeology Unit, Atkins, Caroline, Stow Church Archive Report, (1983)

Source: Historic England

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