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


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Site of a college and Benedictine Abbey, St Mary's Church
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Lindsey (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SK 88205 82014

Reasons for Designation

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.


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.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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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)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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