St Augustine's Abbey
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Canterbury (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TR 15496 57856
Reasons for Designation
From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in
the British Isles. Early monasteries were built to house communities of monks.
The main buildings provided facilities for worship, accommodation and
subsistence. They included a series of timber halls and perhaps a stone
church, all located within some form of enclosure. Those sites which have been
excavated indicate that no standard layout of buildings was in use. Rather, a
great diversity in building form, construction, arrangement and function is
evident. Pre-Conquest monastic sites are rare nationally and fewer than
100 sites have been recognized from documentary sources. The locations of less
than half of these have been confirmed. They are of considerable importance
for any analysis of the introduction of Christianity into the country, and all
examples exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are identified as
Monasteries belonged to a wide range of religious orders, each with its own philosophy and rules. The most influential were those written by St Benedict, an Italian monk who founded the abbey of Monte Cassino near Naples in the early sixth century. His rule laid out a code of conduct for leading an ordered way of life based on the teachings of the Gospels, and proposed a timetable for religious observance and other activities. Many early monasteries including that of St Andrew's in Rome where Augustine had been prior followed these basic principles, and it seems likely that the early Saxon monastery of St Peter and St Paul was organized along these lines, although the first real attempt to form a Benedictine order did not come until 1216. Benedictine houses, of which over 150 were eventually founded in England were usually among the earliest monasteries, with their origin in the Saxon period. They were often wealthy, with royal connections, and included those English cathedrals which were run on monastic lines. The monks were distinguishable from monks of other orders by their black robes or habits. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
As the location directly associated with St Augustine's mission to bring Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons, St Augustine's abbey is one of England's earliest and most important monastic sites. Its significance is further enhanced by its use as a burial place for the kings of Kent, the early archbishops of Canterbury and its subsequent conversion into a Royal palace by Henry VIII. Excavation has shown the site to have a long history of use with Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon occupation preceeding the construction of the Saxon abbey. During the Norman period the earlier buildings were almost completely obliterated by rebuilding, and the abbey extended northwards to include land previously outside the ecclesiastical precinct. All will contain extensive archaeological and environmental deposits providing information about the development and use of the site, its economy and the environmental setting from the prehistoric to the immediate post-medieval period. A large proportion of the monument is open to the public and has added significance as a well-used public amenity and educational resource. Its international cultural importance has been recognized by its designation as part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site.
The monument includes the standing and buried remains of St Augustine's
Abbey, situated to the east of Canterbury's city wall, in the area
defined by Longport to the south, Monastery Street to the west and
Havelock Street and North Holmes Road to the north. It includes the
remains of successive periods of the abbey's development as well as Henry
VIII's royal palace (constructed following the Dissolution) and evidence
of Anglo-Saxon and prehistoric occupation discovered in the course of
excavations within and adjacent to the precinct. The southern part of the
monument (including the exposed foundations of the abbey church and
claustral range) is in the care of the Secretary of State and is on
display to the public. The northern part of the abbey precinct is largely
overlain by modern buildings including those of Christ Church College and
St Augustine's College (the King's School). The eastern part is overlain
by Canterbury Prison and the County Court. Areas within the wider
precinct which have not been subjected to significant modern development
are included in the scheduling.
The abbey, originally dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, and established in commemoration of Pope Gregory the Great's successful mission to reintroduce Christianity to southern England, is one of the oldest monastic sites in the country. It was founded by St Augustine on land granted by King Aethelbert of Kent soon after his conversion in c.597. Its situation just outside the Roman (and later) medieval city walls reflects its intended function as a royal and espiscopal funerary site, conforming with the Roman tradition of burial outside the settlement.
The earliest, Saxon, building phase, known from documentary evidence and from several archaeological excavations in the 20th century, included the construction of a series of separate churches or chapels arranged in an east-west line within the area now on public display. All had the same basic ground plan - rectangular nave and apsidal chancel - and, disregarding various porticus (side chapels), were similar in size. Little is known of the accompanying domestic structures, but evidence for these may survive beneath the buried remains of the medieval buildings to the north. According to Bede, the abbey church of St Peter and St Paul was still under construction when Augustine died (by 610), but is thought to have been largely completed and consecrated in time for King Aethelbert's funeral (between 616 and 620).
Built from reused Roman brick bonded with a pebbly mortar, the church had a nave 11.7m long by 8.1m wide, with flanking porticus to the north and south (each 8.6m wide), and a porch to the west. The walls were plastered and the floor was of crushed brick and mortar. The chancel was separated from the nave by an arched cross wall. Doors from the nave gave access to the porticus, which were divided by thin internal walls. The southern porticus contained the tombs of King Aethelbert and his wife, Bertha, together with other members of the Kentish royal family; that to the north housed the remains of the first six archbishops of Canterbury including Augustine. An 11th century account describes the removal of these remains prior to the dismantling of the Saxon church and the building of its Norman successor. Three of the empty tombs (of Archbishops Laurence, Mellitus and Justus) together with a section of the north wall of the porticus, are still visible within the area of the remains of the Norman church's north aisle, and represent the earliest church burials in England.
The chapel of St Mary, aligned with, and immediately to the east of the abbey church, was built around 620 by Aethelbert's successor, Eadbald. This, too, had a funerary purpose and is documented as having contained the tombs of King Eadbald and Queen Emma and their successors together with many of the early abbots of the monastery. St Mary's chapel was also constructed from Roman brick and the basic plan was elaborated upon by the addition of porticus around the north, south and west sides. A section of the western wall foundation, all that survives of the chapel, is visible within the choir area of the Norman church.
To the east of St Mary's chapel are the remains of the church of St Pancras. According to a 14th century tradition Augustine celebrated his first mass in Canterbury in this building, then believed to be of pagan origin and subsequently consecrated by Augustine himself. However, it is now thought to have been built in the 7th century. Its dedication may reflect interest in the cult of St Pancras which was fostered by Pope Honorius I (625-38). Using similar construction techniques and materials to those of the abbey church, St Pancras' Church was laid out with a nave 12.6m long and 8m wide, an arcaded cross wall dividing it from the apse. A small square porticus adjoined the apse to the south, and there is some evidence to suggest that a matching northern porticus was also built. In the mid-8th century the church was largely rebuilt to the same plan but with the addition of two square flanking porticus opening from the nave, and a square porch at the west end.
By the 10th century Anglo-Saxon monasticism was in decline, in part due to the depredations of the Vikings, and the abbey was one of only a few early foundations still in existence. It is possible that the growing cult of St Augustine aided its survival: by the 9th century the abbey was popularly known as St Augustine's. Revival began after the accession of King Edgar in 959 when the merits of Benedictine monasticism were promoted. Edgar was instrumental in the appointment of a leading Benedictine, Dunstan, to the archbishopric of Canterbury. It seems likely that the monks already followed the Rule of St Benedict, perhaps incorporating local customs, but Dunstan almost certainly reformed the regime. In 978 Dunstan rededicated the church to St Peter, St Paul and St Augustine, and this may have followed modifications and extensions to the building. Some alterations were carried out to the east end which may have involved the relocation of the altar. At the west end the nave was extended over the area of the porch, and an annexe and new porch were added. In addition a mortuary chapel was constructed to the west of the porch in the lay cemetery area.
It is believed that the domestic ranges, located to the north of the church, received attention at this period. Documentary evidence accredits the building of the cloister to Abbot Aelfmaer (1006-17), but archaeological evidence has demonstrated at least two earlier construction phases. Historical records also mention an infirmary with a church dedicated to St Maurice and the Theban Martys nearby, both of which existed during Aelfmaer's abbacy. The abbey chronicler, Goscelin relates that Aelfmaer dismantled the ornate canopies over the tombs of Augustine and the other archbishops in the north porticus in advance of removal of the burials, reusing the materials to ornament the cloister. This implies that Aelfmaer's work was part of an elaborate plan involving major alterations to the abbey church, perhaps following the sacking of Canterbury by the Vikings in 1011. In this episode Archbishop Aelfheah was murdered but Aelfmaer was captured and escaped. Christ Church, in the centre of Canterbury is said to have been burnt and plundered and it is doubtful that the well-known St Augustine's escaped attack. Aelfmaer's work could, then, have been a response to these events, but one which was not carried to completion.
A successor to Aelfmaer, Wulfric II (1047-61) was responsible for the next significant building phase which included a massive tower probably commenced by his predecessor since it was completed in the year of Wulfric's election. This tower, perhaps a belfry, may be identified with substantial foundations, square in plan, found to the south west of the Saxon church. It is thought that a further small chapel with a circular tower situated close to the west door of the abbey church was also built about this time. However, Wulfric's main project was an innovative plan to link the abbey church with St Mary's chapel by means of a rotunda, an undertaking which involved the demolition of the chancel of the abbey church and the western porticus of St Mary's. The proposed new structure, octagonal in plan outside, and circular within, measured 9.3m in diameter overall and was to be supported by columns based on eight wedge-shaped foundation piers. Similar buildings in France suggest that the central tower would have been three storeys high with a crypt below, and that the interior, although open to the roof, would have included galleries with a circular ambulatory around the lower levels. The piers and foundations of the ambulatory were revealed during excavations early in the 20th century and are still visible within the choir area of the Norman church remains.
It is unlikely that Wulfric's rotunda was ever completed since the next abbot, Scolland (1070-87), horrified by the piecemeal modifications, and worried that the original fabric was in danger of collapse, proposed a complete rebuild in the new Romanesque style. By this period the abbey housed so many relics and burials (in addition to those of the early archbishops and royal family) that the rebuild had to be carried out in stages to allow for the removal and reinterrment of relics and remains. Goscelin's eye-witness account provides a detailed and vividly descriptive chronology of the work up to about 1100. This new building, wider than the Saxon church and extending over the areas occupied by the western chapel and that of St Mary's, was constructed from stone imported from Caen and Marquise in France, and from the Isle of Wight. The floor was tiled and some of the tiling survives in its original position. Cruciform in plan with an apsidal presbytery to the east, the church had twin towers flanking the west door. The nave aisles to the north and south supported galleries with a clerestory level above. Each transept had a semi-circular chapel projecting from its east wall and six similar chapels were incorporated into the east end, three at presbytery level and three opening from the crypt below. Each set of chapels was accessed from an ambulatory and provided accommodation for some of the numerous relics. This phase, which also included construction of the choir (over the infilled crypt of Wulfric's rotunda) the transepts and the foundations of the nave, was completed by 1091 when the remains of the early archbishops were exhumed. The bones of King Aethelbert were also moved to a reliquary above the high altar. The nave, with a lantern tower over the crossing, was completed under Abbot Wido (1087-99) who may also have laid the foundations for the towers at the west end. The southernmost tower is thought have incorporated part of Wulfric's belfry as buttressing, and both were completed by Abbot Hugh of Fleury (1099-24) who also commenced a renewal of the claustral and domestic ranges.
Although historical records attest to the existence of a number of early monastic buildings, including an 8th century chapter house, few of these records are contemporary, and evidence revealed by excavation is slight. However, the remains of many of the post-Conquest buildings can be seen in plan on the ground, with significant portions surviving as standing remains (Listed Grade I). The cloister as laid out in the 11th century and completed in 1276 by the addition of covered alleys, lies to the immediate north of the abbey church. The surrounding and adjacent buildings were rebuilt or remodelled over a period from the late 11th century until the 15th century. Following the demolition of the Saxon buildings a chapter house, dormitory, reredorter, frater and cellarium were constructed around the cloister. The northern gable and two western buttresses of the dormitory are still visible. A new infirmary and chapel were constructed to the east of these ranges about the same time, all initial work being completed in the 13th century. These buildings, known from archaeological excavation and aerial survey evidence, are no longer visible but survive as buried remains beneath the playing fields to the north of the abbey church.
The precinct wall was also reconstructed to include an extension of the lay cemetery south into Longport, probably in 1103 when the abbey was granted the right to hold an August fair in the cemetery. A section of the precinct wall to the south west, adjacent to the cemetery gate formed the north wall of a new sacrist's yard and part of the new southern wall (Listed Grade II) survives to the west of the Visitor Centre. By this period the wall which still stands between the east end of the abbey church and the porch of St Pancras' church had been constructed to separate the lay cemetery to the south from the monastic buildings to the north.
In the 13th century the northern claustral range (Listed Grade I), including the lavatorium, frater and kitchen, was totally rebuilt, the lavatorium including a water tower supplied from a conduit house (the subject of a separate scheduling) on St Martin's Hill to the east of the site. The cellarium, in the western range of the cloister buildings, became the site of a new abbot's lodging with a great hall to the north. The Great Court was enlarged and a new main gate in the western precinct wall - the Fyndon Gate (Listed Grade I) - was completed, together with a guest hall, in 1309. During this century the chapter house, adjoining the northern transept of the church, was also rebuilt. Expansion of the precinct to the north allowed the construction of an outer court with a cellarer's range, brewhouse and bakehouse, and, by 1320, a walled vineyard. The western gable of the brewhouse and bakehouse stands adjacent to Coleridge House and is Listed Grade II. Expansion also took place on the eastern side of the abbey where a series of lodgings was added to the infirmary and a new walled cellarer's garden was laid out in the south eastern corner of the precinct. The precinct wall was rebuilt and a new cemetery gate put up in 1390 by the sacrist, Thomas of Ickham. The gate, which has been heavily remodelled, still stands to the south west of the abbey church remains and is a Listed Building Grade I. Thomas also donated bells to the church and to a bell tower which is thought to have been situated on the mound located in the south eastern area of the site. Excavations here in 1964 revealed foundation walls for what was probably a timber framed structure similar to that which survives at Brookland near Appledore.
Thomas of Ickham was also responsible for repairs to the church of St Pancras when the apsidal east end was replaced with a square chancel. St Pancras' Church, including the east wall of the chancel, walls and foundations of the nave, and the porch survives as a substantial standing ruin and is a Grade I Listed Building.
The abbey church was largely rebuilt during a fire in the 12th century, with no significant change to the plan, and, except for the addition of St Anne's chapel, in the angle of the nave and the south transept, in 1362, little further work was carried out on the church until the 15th century. At this time a rectangular buttressed Lady Chapel was added to the east end of the abbey church. This may not have reached completion before it was removed and replaced by a smaller chapel of similar design, probably the work of Abbot John Dygon (1497-1509) who was buried in the crypt.
In 1538 John Essex, last abbot of St Augustine's, surrendered the abbey to the King's Commissioners. Unlike many ecclesiastical properties following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, St Augustine's was retained by the Crown and, in 1539, some of the buildings of the Great Court were converted to a royal residence in advance of the arrival of Anne of Cleves. The abbot's lodgings, situated on the eastern side of the Great Court, were adapted to provide accommodation for Henry VIII and his chaplain, with a hall for guests. A new building for Anne of Cleves was put up on the south side abutting part of the north wall of the church and of the north western tower (known as Ethelbert's Tower). In addition, a rectangular area immediately to the west of the church was enclosed by a wall extending south from the west door to the north wall of the sacrist's yard, forming the King's Privy Garden.
Demolition of the church and monastic buildings commenced in 1541 and there are records of stone from the site being sold over the next 20 years. However, a number of paintings and other illustrations from the 18th century show that substantial standing ruins survived for several hundred years. The Ethelbert Tower which was integral to the structure of the royal palace, largely collapsed in 1822. After Henry VIII's reign the royal palace, known as the New Lodgings, and the monastic precinct were leased and by 1612 they were in the hands of Lord and Lady Wotton who engaged John Tradescant the Elder to lay out formal gardens and orchards over the greater part of the site. A map of 1640 depicts the gardens but is not considered to be accurate. By 1659 the property had been acquired by the Hales family who retained it until the 19th century. During their tenure the palace was used as a brewery, maltings and public house known as The Old Palace, with the courtyard laid out for bowls and skittles, and a cockpit in the Fyndon Gate. The remaining area of the precinct was leased as grazing land with the church of St Pancras being converted to a farmhouse.
Parcels of land were sold in 1791, that to the south - the old lay cemetery area - for the building of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital (opened 1793), while the portion to the east became the site of the County Gaol and House of Correction (opened 1808). The remainder of the site was sold in lots to pay off family debts in 1804 and 1805. A need for further accommodation for the King's School prompted the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to consider purchasing the brewery in 1834, a scheme which failed due to legal difficulties, and it was eventually acquired, 10 years later, by Alexander James Beresford Hope with a view to some degree of restoration and reuse. His initial purchase led to the foundation, under the auspices of Edward Coleridge, of St Augustine's College, an establishment for the training of missionaries, with new buildings erected by architect William Butterfield to the north west of the church ruins between 1845 and 1848.
Butterfield's ranges still stand (Listed Grade II) following the line of the inner court boundaries and designed to reflect the ambience of the monastic establishment and to incorporate some elements of the original layout (the Fyndon and cemetery gates, both Listed Grade I). The hospital, having closed in 1937 and seen subsequent use as a technical college, was demolished in 1971 allowing excavations to take place before the area was opened as a garden in 1977. The main area of ruins was placed in State Guardianship in 1938, with further land being included in 1941, 1960 and 1974 following the demolition of the hospital. In 1996 the public gardens alongside Longport were incorporated and the whole southern part of the monastic precinct, including the building remains around the cloister, is now managed by English Heritage.
The northern part of the site (north of Butterfield's ranges) was sold for the development of a teacher training college (now Christ Church College) in 1961. Excavations have taken place in the area towards North Holmes Road since 1983 as the development advanced. This work has provided evidence that the earliest church was probably built in an area of Saxon occupation, including a site of pre-abbey industrial activity in the form of metal working. Further west, towards Havelock Street, an excavation in 1987 revealed Saxon occupation extending beyond the western side of the outer court, and showed evidence of occupation dating from the Bronze Age and Neolithic period - the earliest yet known within the area of the city.
The abbey ruins (Listed Grade I), the medieval undercroft beneath the chapel incorporated in Butterfield's north-south range, sections of medieval walls alongside Longport and to the east of St Pancras' Chapel and the western gable of the cellarer's range (all Listed Grade II) are included in the scheduling. All other structures, both modern and Listed, are excluded from the scheduling together with all fences, display, security and custodial fittings and facilities, modern services and the surfaces of all paths, tracks and hardstandings. However, the ground beneath these features is included in the scheduling.
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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Canterbury Archaeological Trust, , Christ Church College Background Material. Annual Reports etc., (1995)
English Heritage, , St. Augustine's Abbey: Publications, (1995)
Sparks, M, St. Augustine's Abbey, (1988)
Sparks, M, The Recovery and Exc of the St. Augustine's Abbey Site 1844-1947, (1984)
Bennett, P, 'Canterbury Archaeological Trust Annual Report' in Christ Church College Paramedical Centre, (1988)
Saunders, A D, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Excavations in the Church of St. Augustine's Abbey 1955-58, , Vol. 22, (1978)
Sparks, M, 'St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury' in The Abbey Site 1538-1997, (1997)
Hicks, M., Interim Report: Excavations at Christ Church College 1993, 1993,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 124 - St. Augustine's abbey,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 131 - Monastic Cemetery,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 222 - Cemetery Gate,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 223 - Abbey Gate,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 224 - Hall and Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 225 - Library,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 226 - Cloister,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 227 - Ethelbert's Tower,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 246 - Charnel Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 247 - Chapter House,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 248 - Abbey Kitchen,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 249 - Lady Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 250 - Saxon Tower,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 251 - SW Tower,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 265 - Saxon Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 266 - Abbot Wulfric's Rotunda,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 267 - The Chapel of St. Mary,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 269 - Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 270 - Frater at St. Augustine's Abbey,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 271 - Dormitory,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 272 - W end of Brewhouse/Bakehouse,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 275 - Abbot's Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 277 - Vineyard,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 289 - The Royal Palace,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 290 - The Nave, St. Augustine's Abbey Church,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 291 - Juliana De Leyborne's Chapel,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 292 - The Great Court,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 301 - Passage to infirmary,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 302 - Saxon Cemetery,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 303 - Monk's Cemetery,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 304 - Reredorter,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 305 - Cellarer's Range,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 306 - Slype, St. Augustine's Abbey,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 307 - Brewhouse/Bakery,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 308 - Infirmary,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 309 - Crypt and Presbytery,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 310 - Transepts and Crossing,
Kent County Council, TR 15 NE 83 - St. Pancras Church,
Title: Annotated 1:2500 Map showing Guardianship Area and Ownership Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map of Christ Church College Campus, showing extent of Ownership Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map showing Areas of Archaeological Examination 1983-1993 Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map showing areas of Archaeological Examination 1983-1993 Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Site 4.8 Paramedical Studies Centre
Title: Map showing Extent of Ownership of King's School Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Map showing medieval buildings exposed during excavation 1983-93 Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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