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Snelshall Priory Aerial Photo.JPG

Snelshall Priory

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument

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.

Although there is now no surface trace of the buildings of Snelshall Priory, the earthwork complex is largely complete and well-defined, and archaeological remains will survive below ground. The water management system with its complex of drainage channels and fishponds allows an insight into the problems faced by the monastic community in occupying such a low lying site and the way in which they attempted to solve them. The abandonment of the site with little subsequent disturbance indicates that archaeological survival of cultural material within the site's confines will be good. The wet nature of the situation may also allow organic survival in the various ditch fills. It is also thought likely that environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which the community existed will survive, particularly in the sediments of the fishponds. Viewed in terms of its relationship to other medieval monuments in the area, such as Tattenhoe moat and village remains which lie only 1.4km to the east, the site represents an important element in a very complete picture of the medieval landscape surviving in this area.

Snelshall Priory: Research
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